Tag Archives: Symphony

Burt Bacharach

Yesterday we had what we call an outside event at Davies. Davies ‘Symphony Hall’ was of course built for the San Francisco Symphony but other entities use it when they can. It’s a beautiful hall and prestigious. In the last six weeks, we’ve had our usual spring spate of graduation ceremonies squeezed in amongst the symphony rehearsals and concerts.

Last night’s outside event was Burt Bacharach. We last had Burt a couple of years ago when he appeared with the Symphony accompanying him. This concert was promoted by SF Jazz and was Burt with his band only. Burt is particularly interesting because Hal toured with him for 12 years and talks often about the great education he got from it.

When I say squeezed in, I really mean it. Yesterday the orchestra was on stage rehearsing Rite of Spring until 12:30. Large orchestra with lots of percussion. As soon as they were released, the hands fell on the stage removing stands and chairs and rearranging risers while the sound crew unloaded their truck and began to install the PA. Actually, we have an in-house PA now that is good so there was no rolling in of large speaker boxes and tedious stacking and raising them on motors.That’s all permanent now. What Hal and his guys did have to do was bring in the mixing consoles, Front Of House and monitor, run the snakes, connect everything, build the mic stands and wire the stage: mics, monitors, keyboards. All in 2 hours.

Instead of being on the sound crew as I have many times in the past, I’ve recently moved up to Head Carpenter/Stage Manager for most of these outside events. I was wrestling risers, bringing in and setting up the backline. Besides the grand piano for Burt, the band had a drummer, a bass player, a violinist, a sax guy and a trumpet guy, three singers, and three keyboard players (five keyboards). The keyboards too the most time.

So I was busy too. A little later in the afternoon, after the sound check was underway, the production manager came to me and asked who was on the crew that could do stage moves. Well, that would be me. So, she says, one of the singers plays acoustic guitar for two of the numbers on the show. They didn’t want the guitar sitting on stage so I was the one to bring it on, along with a stool, at the proper time – twice.

That’s all really normal stuff. As they (the PM and the singer) were finishing up telling me all this, they said, can you tune the guitar? They had an electronic tuner so I said sure. They didn’t ask me if I was a musician or knew anything about guitars or anything, just, can you tune it. OK. When the sound check was done, I took the guitar offstage and tuned it up.

The first number was about a half hour into the show so we got started and I went over and checked the tuning but then I started thinking. The singer never said anything else to me after that initial orientation. As far as I know he never picked up the guitar to check the tuning before he went on stage. Wow! That seems really odd to me.

The handoffs went fine and the guitar was in tune. After the show I was working with one of the keyboard guys putting things away and I mentioned it to him. He said, ‘Yeah, last week we were in LA and the guitar came out all out of tune.’ He was kind of laughing about it but I was stunned. These guys are all really good musicians but evidently they have a blind spot on this. The numbers were basically solo pieces for the guitar. Pretty exposed.

Well, they’re gone now and tonight we have somebody named Ben Gribbard. It’s a similar deal: the orchestra is on stage until 3:30, then we come in and put in the show again. 8 o’clock start, I don’t know when the sound check is. Maybe 5 or 5:30. Hal was able to leave the mixers in so that part doesn’t need to be done again. It’ll still be a panic.

By the way, Burt Bacharach was born in 1928. He’s older than my father. He’s little guy and bent over but still going out there on stage, playing the piano, talking to the audience. I didn’t think to ask how much they’re touring but there’s no end date. Rumor is that the Symphony is having him back next year. He did two hours last night on stage without a break. Amazing. He told the audience there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing.

band update

SoundBox Saturday. We opened last night and close tonight. I’ve got the day free until 7 to rest. The week was not without challenges but all in all was easier than most. The only night I worked late was last night for the show. Everyone involved is very proud of doing something special but there is no funding for beyond the next set in April. The Symphony has made huge investment in infrastructure but admission prices do not begin to cover the costs. The Constellation System will continue to be used for orchestra rehearsals and the odd special event but the lighting and projection stuff will go into boxes except for a few times a year in the big room.

Meanwhile, I’ve been faithfully going to jazz band rehearsals every Monday. A couple of the charts we’re doing have exposed guitar parts and solos which require a lot more practice than I’ve been getting away with previously. We have sort of a mid-term coming up. Zack has a deal with a local Daly City bar for us to play a set there on Monday the 27th. Last week he assigned which guitarist – there is myself and one other – will play which charts. One assigned to me is African Skies by Michael Brecker where the guitar plays the head with the tenor sax. I’m doing my best to channel Pat Metheney who played on the original track. At the end I trade twos in (more or less) F minor with the tenor. That’s fun.

We’re also doing a version of Bags’ Groove with both guitars playing the vibraphone part, then we each get a couple of solo choruses. It’s fun but there are some tricky rhythmic bits in it. Zack has been very patient with his guitar players who don’t read that well.

After the first rehearsal in January, I emailed Zack to say I was having trouble picking up the guitar away from rehearsal. He was gently encouraging and I’ve gotten better. I just spent a solid half hour working on African Skies. That’s more real practicing than I’ve done in a very long time.

My other band, Loose Gravel, is playing in Loomis a week from tomorrow. They’re not really my band, but I’ve been allowed to sit in with them whenever I want. This time I decided a couple of weeks ago that I really wanted to go so I arranged my work schedule to keep the Sunday free. When Tom was down here he said he was trying to sing less with them so I thought I would try to resurrect my singing. He’s given me Big Boss Man, which I used to do back in the days of April and Dry Creek, and Dizzy Miss Lizzy, which was always his to sing. We’re familiar with The Beatles version which features John Lennon on vocals. I dunno, I’m no John Lennon singing. We’ll see . . .



Sarah’s birthday was the other day. I was at Davies for SoundBox and she was there for the program on the big stage. A little before the rehearsal at ten I went into the back hall looking for her but I didn’t see her. One of the other violinists came up to me and asked if I was her Dad and I said yes. She told me that she was so happy that Sarah was getting hired and that she played beautifully. About this time, Sarah came up and joined us so I gave her my birthday card but hesitated before saying anything in front of her friend.

It didn’t matter. She laughed and said she knew it was her birthday and she wished Sarah a happy birthday. I thought, what more could a father want than for his child to have the kind of success that Sarah is having.

Sarah, of course, is more in the weeds about it than I am. It can be a strain on her. She has to be able to practice enough to continue to play well while still keeping all her other jobs going. The Symphony pays well but as a sub, Sarah can’t depend on getting called on any particular week. She’s in a good run now but it could end at any time. The contract Symphony musicians are constantly polled about the quality of the subs’ playing. It’s hard to say how much one’s personality is a factor. Neither of us is kidding ourselves that it’s an emotionless rating system so she has to be friendly to everyone. (Not that she wouldn’t be but it ‘s just another thing to have to think about.)

So, I enjoy seeing her there when I do. I don’t take it for granted. I treasure the comments from her colleagues about her playing. I know every one of them has put in the thousands of hours of unbelievably tedious work to be able to make music at that level, as has she. They certainly don’t say those things just to make me feel good. But they do!

Dia de los Muertos

Every year the Symphony does an art exhibit in the lobbies to commemorate the Mexican Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos. I’ve been peripherally involved in past years. This year I happened to be on the crew that helped the artists bring their works into the building. Without exception, they were lovely people, very respectful of the building. We in our turn did our best to help them realize their artistic vision in our house.

All the exhibits are thought-provoking but one in particular has held my attention. It’s called ‘The Tear’ by Indira Urrutia. I took an artsy picture of it one day. The idea was that you could see the piece in the mirror. You can, but only if you know what to look for. I guess I’ll have to take a better picture.

I’ll quote from the placard since it’s hard to read here: ‘A Tear has been hand woven on wire with crochet wire baskets techniques originating in Mexico. A tear is our first reaction when we lose a loved one. No matter where we are from or what our rituals are in connection with death, a tear is one common thing we all express.

‘This work was created to honor those that have gone ahead of us.’


After weeks of looking at this nearly every day, and seeing many additions to it, I finally gathered my courage tonight and placed my tribute to Zach on the tear. It says simply ‘My Z.’


Well I had a couple of doses of reality, as one might say, today. Why would one bit of reality be more significant than another? As one of my science fiction authors said in another context, reality is just a shared hallucination. True enough, but some things are more important than others.

Reality first came to my attention this morning about 6:45 when I woke up but that isn’t what I’m writing about. I had received an email yesterday from the Assistant District Attorney in Baton Rouge telling me that he had finished his investigation of Zach’s death and wanted to discuss his conclusions with me over the phone. I responded telling him that this morning was a good time and he called me about an hour ago.

I spent yesterday evening steeling myself for the news that there would be no criminal prosecution and that in fact is what the gentleman had to say. I do not use the word lightly. This man, who I will not here name, was a gentleman from start to finish. This in addition to being completely professional. He was very familiar in our conversation with all aspects of the evidence and circumstances.

Bottom line: he felt that the driver was ‘negligent’ but not ‘criminally negligent’, thus there would be no charges. I’m not going to go into all of his reasons now but they were all good enough.

The ADA was emphatic in telling me that he would be happy to talk to me at any time; answer any questions, etc. I told him how much of the rather fine points I was raising were on the basis of one reading of the police report months ago, that I haven’t been able to look at it with anything close to the objective eye needed for legalistic thinking. He reminded me that the statute of limitations for criminal action is 4 years so there is time.

Towards the end of our conversation he asked what I did for a living. This was after I commented that I could only admire people like him and the police Traffic Homicide Unit who faced death and other horrible things daily and didn’t go crazy. I told him worked at the Symphony Hall in San Francisco. He said how great it must be to work with such a good orchestra and I had to agree. Then I told him how Sarah has been playing with that orchestra as a sub since last fall and that really started the waterworks. I held most of it in until I got off the phone.

After I calmed down I got in the shower and got my second dose of reality. The shower drain was backing up! I choose to interpret this as Zach telling me that I have to press on.



My job tonight was running the house electrics at Davies Symphony Hall. I’m filling in for JJ who is on vacation. I’ve been doing this on and off for over a year now and I’m still not completely confident that I will remember all the little details.

Anyway, the Symphony is playing Mahler’s 2nd Symphony with a huge orchestra and chorus & I’m a little tense. MTT is conducting. I have a couple of internal cues so I have to hang in the light booth more than I might ordinarily. I can hear but only through speakers in the booth. About 30 minutes in I notice that the audience is unusually rapt and quiet during the very quiet parts. By the last 20 minutes – now over an hour into the piece –  when the chorus stands up to sing, I can see that the audience is hardly moving they’re so intent. A couple sitting right in front of the booth just look at each other briefly as if to say, ‘Can you believe this?’

MTT is a man possessed and yet not. He’s in complete control. Sometimes I look at the monitor that shows the face that the orchestra sees and he is seemingly relaxed. From the audience he is willowy yet taut. Once again I have to reflect on the treasure we have here in San Francisco. Now that I’ve been here with the Symphony for a while, I know more of his story. He’s a living link to great artists of the 20th Century like Gershwin and Bernstein. He often seems mercurial when shows are in development such as what I’ve witnessed in SoundBox but the results are almost always astounding. He is a treasure.

Edit after (sort of) seeing this show two more times. The band is pretty good too! It was hard to quantify my own take the second and third hearings. Actually none of them were true experiences of the music. I saw Lolly Lewis at the Friday show and I expect she will put a review up on her blog. It’s not there yet but check out her writing anyway: https://lollylewis.wordpress.com/