Tag Archives: Opera


Lots to say, but little of it organized. I got my monthly email from The Compassionate Friends today. Their monthly meeting is tomorrow night. This week is SoundBox so it is not practical to fight rush hour traffic to go down to Santa Clara then come back to work the next morning. I went and looked back at what I’ve written about The Compassionate Friends before and I think it’s pretty good. While my need for grief support has lessened in the last year, I haven’t yet achieved the strength to attend with the rationale of supporting others.

I have a phone consultation this morning with a person from TIAA. Mom and Dad’s retirement funds are with TIAA and I’ve been trying to understand how they all work. With my own retirement looming, I’ve been more motivated to do this.

I spent some time last week looking over my own funds. My broker says they should be balanced in a certain way, different from how they’re balanced now. Should I make changes? Precisely how and when get very confusing very quickly. Is the stock market a bubble that will pop soon? Aiee!

Speaking of SoundBox and retirement, I’ve found myself thinking in the last couple of weeks about giving up SoundBox. I never thought I’d feel that way. Being involved in the SoundBox shows in the last 3+ years has been a thrilling experience. I’ve been stretched physically and intellectually in ways that are really good for a man in his 60s, but I find that my interest is turning to other things. My friend Denise has – at my request – taken on the lead position for this months’ show and has shown that SoundBox audio is in good hands.

Having said all that, I’m not walking away. Denise and I will talk later in the week about who will do what for the April set. Funding for SoundBox is rather precarious so no one knows if there will be shows again starting in December. (Remember that the space is in use by the Opera from May through November so there is only the five month window every year anyway.) Symphony management has a lot on their plate, not least of which is the upcoming retirement of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. Planning for SoundBox is a bit further down the list.

Sarah’s quartet had a concert last Saturday night. The Symphony generously allowed me to borrow a few items from their sound inventory to support their performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains. I found myself worrying about technical things during the performance so I couldn’t relax into the music. The first half of the program, though, I found very moving, with narration about the composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s visit to Dresden after World War II.

The venue was The Hillside Club in Berkeley. I had been there before but hadn’t had the reason to work with the staff. Bruce and Araceli turned out to be very nice folks. I’m going to try to go back for some different concerts.

Tonight is jazz band. The confusion that bothered me last semester has been resolved and I’m having fun again. I’m still sharing bass duties with Steve M. who is good people. It’s a completely different head space compared to playing guitar. Guitar can be looser in big band so that’s a little more fun, but bass drives the bus and there’s nothing else like it. I have to concentrate more but that’s ok.

Next week Mom and Dad will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. Mom was talking the other day about doing something special but I haven’t heard any details. I’m planning to be down there.

voices of my children

After posting twice already today with posts that were largely written my children, I found myself thinking tonight about my third child, my only daughter, Sarah.

Sarah is a writer too but her writing is hidden from me. At one time I handled some diaries from her youth. I promised I would not read them and I have kept that promise. I do not know if she still writes like that. She is a very busy person although I will go out on a limb to say that her life has simplified in the last year or so.

When she first returned to California after earning her doctorate in music, she took jobs playing music wherever they presented themselves. Orchestra musicians in the Sf Bay Area sometimes refer to these jobs as ‘The Freeway Philharmonic.’ They are rather widely spread. A friend of hers from college had started a music academy and Sarah got some students there. It was nothing like a regular job, though. Her pay was directly dependent on the number of student she had. In fact, she was more like a contractor in both cases.

One reason for coming back to the Bay Are was that she wanted to continue her study of body mechanics called the Alexander Method. There was a particularly good teacher in San Francisco.

So, for two years she juggled all these things while getting more and more discouraged that she could not make a decent living without spending hours in Bay Area traffic. She even talked to me about going back to school to get a degree in something that she could make a living at.

There are really only three orchestras in the Bay Area that pay well enough for members to live decently without taking other work: San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, and San Francisco Ballet. Sarah took auditions with all three of these organizations but did not play well enough to be hired. She did play well enough, however, to get put on the substitute list for all of them. Who would call first?

It was the Symphony. In October of 2015 I had the great joy of seeing my daughter’s name on the list of string players for that morning’s rehearsal at Davies Symphony Hall. I don’t think it was that first morning, but not long after, my colleague Nancy Foreman snapped this picture of the two of us in the hallway just offstage right:

I told everyone in sight how proud I was of her, and how amazing it was that she was working for the Symphony, but she always told me to be quiet. She said, ‘I’m just one mistake from never being called again!’

While perhaps not literally true, it was true in one respect: if you didn’t continue to play well, the Symphony would call someone else to sub. Sarah knew – knows! – that there are many good violinists out there who would love to play in the Symphony.

So she kept her head down and practiced like a mad person, tried to predict when the Symphony would need another violin and adjust her schedule accordingly. I don’t remember exactly how the early days went. She got a week in October, then I think it was a while before she was called again, then it was more weeks with nothing.

But by a year ago she was working almost every week for the Symphony and she had shed most of the other activities.that were discouraging her so much. Unlike the early times, she now knew sometimes as much as three weeks before the first rehearsal what music she would be playing. (At the beginning, they would often call on the morning of a rehearsal. Come in in two hours and sight read difficult music under the eyes and ears of the best musicians in the world. No pressure!)

I tried my best to allow her space at Davies. When I was there I had my own work to do and I didn’t want to add to the pressure. We see each other when it is needful and most people there know of our relationship. I’ve had the experience of tenured orchestra musicians coming up to me when she isn’t there and asking me why she’s not there, where is she, if she’s all right.They like her!

Best of all, I get to see her step out onto that stage and take her seat with that great orchestra and take care of business.

Back to my original point . . . I caught her backstage Saturday night to give her a birthday present. It was early and few other musicians were around. We chatted and I asked her how she liked the show she was doing. It was Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide with MTT conducting. No pressure.

I was actually surprised when she said she was really enjoying it. She said she could see the singers and hear the dialog. I said, ‘Isn’t the music difficult?’ She said yes but she practiced it.

You can see her name here in the middle of the second violins for her first week in 2015 but most of the last year she’s been playing in the firsts.

Tim Wilson

I just read this article and tears are in my eyes. Tim and Deanne Wilson were good friends of ours during our time in San Francisco at the Opera. They were passionate, caring people then. The article clearly shows that that hasn’t changed.

When we went away, we didn’t stay in touch with Tim and Deanne. We really didn’t stay in touch with anybody at the Opera but that’s another story. I worked Opera in the Park a couple of times after I came back to SF and said hello to several members of the orchestra who knew me. In the brief conversations we had, no one mentioned Tim and I don’t remember asking.

Now he has glaucoma and other health issues that are serious enough to make him quit his job – again! What makes me sad is not just that Tim is ill or that I’ve ignored a friend for so many years. It’s that our society – our country – values music education so little that heroic efforts like this are needed.

OK. I’m resolving right here to get back in touch with Tim and Deanne. Meanwhile, I’ll put up one picture. It’s Tim, but you can’t tell. He’s showing Jeremy and Sarah how to make pizza from scratch. I’m pretty sure it was vegetarian, too.


I went to a memorial yesterday. That’s what I was calling it anyway. It could have been styled as a celebration of life, as we did for Zach. I’ve been calling it a memorial since celebrating a dead person doesn’t work very well for me.

Lynn McKee was a stage electrician for the Opera for the whole time I worked there, with the exception of one year away at ACT. He went on for quite a while after I left. I don’t know exactly when he retired but it was less than ten years ago. He died earlier this year in Thailand, where he had been living. Lynn was 69 years old and had children and grandchildren in his life, most of whom were at the memorial. They all seemed like very nice people.

Many of my old friends and colleagues were there. Late in the afternoon, when it was time to leave for the memorial, I hesitated because I had had a bad day grieving Zach. I thought I would have a hard time handling the emotions. Luckily, I went, but it was a roller coaster ride.

Several people express sympathy over my loss of Zach but when I asked how they were doing, I heard stories of spouses with cancer, children on heroin, strokes, and divorces. In most cases, these people had a vision of a certain kind of life going forward and now everything was changed. Sound familiar?

There’s another memorial today, for Kirk. I’ve committed to driving a couple of other people so I have to go. I want to go, because I get to see people I like and respect and I don’t often get to see them. And I want to pay my respects to the family of the dead man, just as I did yesterday. We are a community.


Kirk Schriel died last Saturday. Kirk was a member of Local 16 and on a job. He collapsed at the mixing board during a show and could not be revived.

I first met Kirk when he was working for ProMedia and I was working for the Opera. He was a sassy guy but he knew what he was doing. At that time he was doing the scut work of a big rental sound company. At some point, while I was gone in the foothills, he left ProMedia and started working out of the Union hall. He completed the apprentice program and became a full member.

I was on a job Sunday morning with Hal, who called me to give me the news. Hal was pretty broken up. Kirk had been the best man at his wedding. Hal had talked to him two weeks ago. There had been no warning signs.

I had seen Kirk a few times since I returned to SF but not recently. In the community of big time sound mixers, I am only on the edges, but Kirk was the real deal.


I’ve gotten headaches for a long time. Not just garden variety headaches, whatever those are, but really nasty headaches. Despite the fact that these headaches have been serious, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that they were migraines. I was usually able to control them with ibuprofen. I never had to go to a darkened room for three days or anything like that. There were difficult times, to be sure, but mostly I soldiered on.

I remember keeping track of my aspirin and ibuprofen for a while during my Opera days in the ’80’s. Somewhere in a box there is a calendar with those notes. Thinking about this post this morning, I remembered a particularly nasty one that had to be in 1977. Eventually I stopped using aspirin and took ibuprofen only. It worked sometimes.

I was never a coffee drinker but I knew about caffeine. What I didn’t know was the effect it had on headaches. It wasn’t until I was talking to my doctor in Grass Valley sometime in the mid-90s that I found out how caffeine could stop my headaches. What a revelation that was!

That was good for a long time. I had to be careful not to take Excedrin, my drug of choice containing caffeine, for the nasty headaches, too late in the afternoon or I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep. Nor could I take it in the middle of the night unless I was prepared to stay awake.

About two years ago, I was talking to my doctor here about my nighttime headaches during my annual physical. When I told her about the efficacy of caffeine, she immediately said, ‘Migraines!’ She gave me a prescription – Maxalt – that has been helpful for the times when caffeine is contraindicated.

There are basically two times of the day when the bad headaches show up. One is in the night, usually waking me up in the wee hours, one or two in the morning. My strategy had been to take ibuprofen and hope for a couple of hours more sleep to get me to 5 or 6 am when I could take Excedrin. Now I can take the Maxalt and (usually) sleep better. I always felt these headaches were due to some kind of reaction to food. Maybe some kind of spice as they often came after a dinner of Mexican food. They didn’t always come after such a dinner, though. I couldn’t pin it down. I didn’t stop eating Mexican food, either.

The other type usually started coming on in the middle part of the day. These I believe are tension headaches. I can sometimes identify what is contributing to it and try to deal with the source, as it were. Sometimes . . .

This is my subject today because I’ve had headaches now in the early morning for the last 5 days. It seems unlikely that food is causing them. My diet isn’t great but I haven’t been eating particularly spicy foods. I’ve taken Excedrin at variously 4, 5 or 6 am but it hasn’t knocked the headache out. I’ve had to take the Maxalt at around 8 and a couple of days that didn’t even work. I suspect an element of tension.

I have my annual physical scheduled for two weeks from yesterday so I will definitely be discussing this with Dr Amara. I have some theories about what is causing the headaches this week but that will have to wait for another post. One more day of work today then a couple of days off.


The Symphony played Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet tonight. They didn’t play the whole thing – it was the second half of the program – but they played 45 minutes of it. I had forgotten how much I liked that piece. It took me back to my days of working American Ballet Theater (ABT) at the Opera House. They would come in every February for two weeks. It was promoted by the Opera so the Opera department heads would get the call to do the shows. That wasn’t a sure thing for me back in those days so it they were very welcome when they came.

MTT didn’t really do it like a ballet. His tempos were all over the place, but in a good way. It sounded very romantic to me tonight. Of course I’m just listening over a speaker in the lighting control room so it’s not close to the real experience. I suppose I should go out in the hall tomorrow and listen.

And Sarah is in the band! It never fails to give me enormous pride at seeing her up there.

I did have a rather strange trip down memory lane tonight, though. I saw that one of the sections being played was the death of Tybalt. It took me back to the night our cat, Tybalt, died. I was alone in the Suisun house. Nancy had moved out several months before. Tybalt had been very ill for some weeks and we all knew that the end was near. One day I went to work in the morning and didn’t come home until pretty late, 11 or so . He was right where I had left him, in the living room, cold.

All the emotions of the previous months came washing over me and I remember sitting by myself for at least an hour at the dining room table sobbing and telling Tybalt’s body ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’ over and over. But I texted the kids and Sarah responded. We had a kind of conversation in the midst of my tears. She comforted me.

And I knew I had saved the text so I looked in my (new) phone for a text that was 6 1/2 years ago. It wasn’t there, but upon scrolling back to look I did happen to see this picture of Jeremy, Sarah and Zach taken at the wedding of their cousin Sean in August 2015. They all look so happy and healthy . . .

. . . then I got all weepy again.