Tag Archives: Symphony

end of the MTT run

Saturday was the last night of MTT’s fall time with the Symphony. He conducted the season opening gala, the Metallica concerts, a Mahler 6th, a new John Adams piece, and a bunch of other pieces that I can’ t think of right now. It’s been a blur of rehearsals and concerts for just over 4 weeks. Seemingly everything we did had massive percussion or huge orchestras – or both – so packing the musicians into the stage at Davies was a constant challenge.

There were a couple of hiccups but on the whole, the orchestra and MTT was forgiving of my foibles. There is a massive amount of detail to remember when putting the orchestra on stage. At one time I had it all under my fingers but working the house electric job for the past three years has overwritten some of it. My crew has been helpful in keeping me off the worst off the rocks.

One story. When performing programs of unusual music, MTT will often talk to the audience at the top of the show to give some personal insight into the music. Last week, we had three Stravinsky pieces on the program so MTT set the stage with some stories of his time as a teenager playing piano at Stravinsky’s house in LA. Of course, he uses a wireless microphone which I set on his stand ahead of time.

Except the last night, Saturday. I just forgot, plain and simple. Some things happened and I dealt with them and they pushed the microphone task out of my head.

Until about two seconds after I sent MTT and the two soloists out onto the stage to start the show. Then I remembered!

I tore off my headset and ran to the office where the microphone was stored, switched it on, and came back to the door to the stage and looked out. MTT was standing out there on the podium waiting for me! Gulp!

So, I went on out there with the microphone. MTT was smiling at me when I handed it to him. I apologized. He may have said something but I don’t remember. I do remember that he reached out to shake my hand before I turned and fled offstage. All I could think about was that I had to make sure that the sound system was properly turned on.

It was.

At the end of the evening, many people came backstage to talk to MTT. I waited a half hour or so for the crush to subside and went into his office. Mostly I wanted to thank him for putting up with me for the month but I also wanted to apologize again for forgetting the microphone. He smiled again when he saw me. He said, ‘Some people will do anything for a curtain call!’

He’ll be back in January.

view from my bed

It’s been a hectic month. Almost six weeks, in fact, since I was offered the Symphony stage manager job. Incredibly, I officially started less than a week later. Partly because of that accelerated schedule, I had leftover commitments to JJ so I worked several nights and weekends for him after that.

At the Symphony, during the regular work week, I had personnel issues, new computers, new computer systems, new (to me) software. I had to plan for six orchestra moves in the first ten days of the season. Almost like being on tour!

I haven’t toured with the Symphony yet so that’s a little cheeky to say. At least I’ll be sleeping in my own bed each night.

Speaking of bed, I slept in this morning, seemingly for the first time in weeks. As I was waking up, I saw this view:

For months I had kept Hobbes in a box, along with many other personal things that there just wasn’t room for in the new house. One day a couple of months ago I happened to see him and thought that this little spot behind the lamp would be good for him. To be completely honest, I hadn’t noticed him or thought about him very much but today I did.

I have thought of Zach a lot during this past month of stress. He would have given me valuable insight into strategies for organizations and people. I’ve been thinking of the 4th anniversary of his death upcoming this fall. That seems important because it is supposedly the end of the statute of limitations on criminal charges surrounding his death. For a long time I wanted to beat on the Baton Rouge DA to reopen the case and charge Shawn Allen with vehicular manslaughter. Or something more than speeding. Or implicate the other driver, who I believe was complicit in the whole thing and got away with nothing. This post tells more about my feelings.

Anyway, I think I’ve let go of the whole idea. As I’ve said before, nothing will bring Zach back and the Baton Rouge authorities are not interested. My plate is full with this new job so I’ll just go on hoping Mr Allen still has nightmares and try to think of good things.

more about the new job

It’s really a drag that this is more on my mind than my visit with Jeremy’s family today. The Symphony hired me for the job of Stage Manager over an individual who was doing the job on an interim basis. He has been cooperative with me but another crew member seems to be quite resentful – he thinks the Symphony should have promoted from within – and has been less cooperative.

They are all off on their vacations now and meanwhile I am going to work every day, learning the computer systems, trying to plan for the Gala opening in a month and doing necessary maintenance. This is all important stuff, but now I am having to have meetings with management and HR about how to respond to this intransigence.

More importantly for me, I am losing sleep thinking about all this stupid stuff. This person doesn’t seem to understand or care that the Symphony is not going to change their minds and hire the other guy instead. The only thing he can hope for is that I will decide that I don’t need the headache and bail out. Indeed, I’ve talked to some other people who were asked to apply and did not because of this very reason. I was aware of the issues going in and I’m not going to bail but there is a cost and that makes me resentful. As a leader, I have to put that aside which I can do while at work. At night, the demons come, though.

Today and tomorrow, I am not working, but driving up to Grass Valley where Jeremy will be coming with his family to Tom’s house. Yay for a Rosalie day!

new job

Sepi posted this on Facebook. Now I’m getting around to posting here. I have a new job.

It’s a strange thing for a stagehand to say, because we typically have new jobs all the time. When I was working a lot out of the hiring hall, it wasn’t uncommon for me to have 25 W-2s at the end of the year. 25 different employers, some for jobs that only lasted one day.

In the last few years that number has gone down. I have recently been working primarily in one location, Davies Symphony Hall, but, depending on the circumstance, only three employers. Now it will be one only: the San Francisco Symphony.

The Symphony has chosen me to be their Stage Manager. My primary responsibility is to see that the stage is set up properly for the orchestra and to get them on and off stage for performances. In the transition from three to one, I worked 9 straight days ending Saturday. Starting today, I have 4 weeks of relative calm before the next season starts. The orchestra and the crew who have been working all season are off on vacation. As a new hire, I don’t have vacation yet . . .

Now I’m off to work!

interviews

I did an interview today. It was weird. Up until a couple of months ago, I thought I was on the glide path to retirement, putting in time at Davies Hall as the relief house electrician. Decent pay, not too much responsibility, what’s not to like?

Then the news came that the Stage Manager for the Symphony resigned unexpectedly.

And a strange thing happened to me. I found that I was interested in that job. It was more hours and much more responsibility but the pay was higher than I had been getting and it had 6 weeks of paid vacation. And it would be working on stage with the orchestra, which I had really missed the past three years.

So, I dusted off my resume and sent it in and today was my first interview.

It was with people I have worked with a lot over the past 7+ years so there wasn’t much new to me. I got to talk some about my career trajectory with an emphasis on my supervisory experience. They asked me to tell them something about myself that they didn’t already know and it turned out that they hadn’t heard the story of Noah. You can read it here. It brought some tears to my eyes which probably isn’t too common in job interviews.  Noah is 10 now. Wow.

RIP Dennis

Dennis D. died yesterday. He was 65. Dennis was a member of the Symphony stage crew for more than 25 years until his retirement in July 2016. Here’s a picture of all of us at the end of the load out on his last day. Dennis is sitting at the piano.

I first got to know Dennis when I worked with him at the Opera House in the 1980s. He was on the Props crew. I didn’t see him again until he came with the Symphony to the Mondavi Center at UC Davis around 2006 when I was the Local 50 Business Agent. The Symphony always hired a Union crew there. We had dinner together and had a good time reminiscing.

After I came back to San Francisco, I eventually started working more regularly with the Symphony at Davies Hall and was glad to see Dennis again. Despite my many years of stagehand experience, I was uneducated in the ways of the Symphony. Dennis helped me both directly by instruction and indirectly by example. There are a million details in dealing with a Symphony orchestra and Dennis knew all of them. I noticed that all the other stagehands would come to Dennis whenever they were stuck and couldn’t remember how to do some odd thing that hadn’t been done for a long time. Dennis always had the answer.

Even though Dennis was a life long smoker, he always had plenty of energy and seemed in good health. Two months ago, he went to the doctor with pain in his hip. It turned out to be a large cancerous mass and there were others throughout his body. He was determined to live until his daughter’s wedding, scheduled for New Years’ Eve, but it was not to be.

Our friend and colleague Arno was bereft last night. ‘Why do the good ones die young?’, he asked. I had no answer for him. All I could think of was Zach, but it would do no good to mention that.

Dennis, like Zach, lived life to the fullest. We should honor their memory by doing the same.

work

I turned down work Sunday night. The circumstances were a little different from usual so I feel a need for some explanation. After Zach was killed, I really pulled my head in as far as the type of work I was doing. Prior to that, I was doing a lot of sound jobs. They were mostly at the Symphony but also around town in hotels. I enjoyed the challenges.

When I came back from Baton Rouge, I had a Soundbox right away but I also did a substitute day for one of the holiday pops shows in the main room at Davies.

I made it through Soundbox without any major problems but during the other job I made some mistakes that would have been uncharacteristic before. My response to this was to reduce the number of jobs I did on sound and concentrate on the substitute house electric job instead. The house electric job required much less initiative and was much more clearly defined.

About a year into this I realized that the spark that I had had for many years in the theater was gone. The desire for knowledge and to provide the best for my employers just wasn’t there any more. This is not to say that I suddenly was doing bad work. Except for the change in emphasis, no one really noticed.

But I did. And all the talk about retirement meant more to me than finding a better way to prepare for a graduation, for example.

So, while I kept in touch with the sound part of my business, I started letting all of that go. I stopped doing jobs on Hal’s crew (although I still work with him as house electrician). I gave up the Soundbox head job to Denise. I settled in to being JJ’s loyal lieutenant, working generally two or three days a week.

Now, the other part of all this is how I get my jobs. Back in, say, 2014 or 2015, I worked a lot at Davies Hall and I would essentially be hired directly by Jim or Rob or Hal. The Union office would sometimes be made aware of those hirings but they played no role in getting me those jobs. When I had holes in my schedule I would make myself available to the Local 16 office and they would often call me with work.

After Zach was killed, that all ended. Once in a while I would get a call, but I was usually already busy so I was able to avoid going to other places. Davies Hall was safe and a known quantity for me. Sometimes I felt bad about doing this because I wanted to support the Local by filling the jobs they needed to fill. But I remembered the mistakes I had made before due to lack of concentration and I didn’t want to jeopardize any more jobs that way. And the spark was gone.

So when the office called me Sunday night for a job today, I said I couldn’t do it. I had already committed to going down to Santa Clara to see Mom and Dad. In years past, I would have changed that. The other issue was operating a big digital sound mixer. I’m out of practice and I said so. If I had the spark, I would have pulled it off. Now, I just don’t want to.

The Local stood by me when I came back to San Francisco and I will be eternally grateful for that. But I have to be cognizant of my own health. I can’t do every job.

Hal

I’m never quite sure how to handle writing about other people in these days of identity stealing. I’m following my general rule of no last names. Hal is a colleague of mine and a friend. He’s been the primary SF Symphony sound man since Davies Hall opened in 1980. I had worked on his crew for Symphony Pops at the Civic Auditorium in the late ’80s as well as some other jobs around town. When I came back to San Francisco ten years ago and got sent to a call at Davies, it was good to see him again.

In 2012, my involvement with the Symphony grew and I found myself working with Hal much more. Our birthdays are only about a week apart and our professional paths have some similarities. Neither of us had family or neighborhood contacts to help us get started in the business. We were driven by an intense interest in sound reinforcement and became successful by determination and hard work.

Our experiences coming of age in the ’60s was another commonality. The San Francisco music scene then was world class. We’ve had a lot of fun in the last few years talking about arcana from those days. He grew up in the City and I was on the Peninsula so he had more opportunity to see the various venues but I knew the names of who was in the bands, what instruments they played, and on what albums.

My first day back at work after Zach died was helping to put in the PA at Davies for Hal. (That was before we got the permanent one we have now.) When I asked to leave early he defended me to others who did not understand my grief as well. Over the next few months he showed me constant compassion and understanding for my grief.

After Sepi agreed to marry me, I started to think about the wedding and realized I needed a best man. Hal was an easy choice and he did not hesitate to say yes.

Last week I talked to him about some details of the wedding day and he told me he would take care of them because that was part of the deal. My nature is not to ask for help but, as he did before, he stepped up because he knew it was the right thing to do.

As of a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy was able to get his work to release him so he will be standing with me as well but Hal is still the best man. Sarah will be up there too. I am proud to be supported by such fine people.

the Symphony

I work at Davies Symphony Hall and ‘hear’ the San Francisco Symphony a lot. I put ‘hear’ in quotes because I usually ‘hear’ them from inside the lighting booth through one microphone hanging above the stage and some inexpensive speakers.

Today I went into the hall for some minor maintenance reason while the rehearsal was going on. OMG, what a sound!

I’ll tell you, live music on real instruments. There’s nothing like it!

BTW, MTT was conducting Mahler in what’s called the antiphonal setup. That is when the first and second violins are on opposite sides of the stage. No surround sound system can duplicate this!

quote

Our last SoundBox for the season opened last night. Someone said to me, ‘Last of the year.’ and of course I had to correct her. Unlike this time last year, we do have a SoundBox scheduled for next December. This is an improvement.

For myself, I’m not sure if I will continue working SoundBox. I enjoy it tremendously but the thrill I’ve had for 45 years working in live theatre is diminishing and I have begun thinking seriously about my next chapter.

Sarah had been scheduled to play for the movie in the main hall but someone dropped out of the SoundBox orchestra and she got moved over. It was her first time playing in SoundBox. The music was difficult and there are only a few players so everyone’s playing is exposed. She handled it with grace and aplomb. Perhaps she was churning inside but I didn’t see it.

Aside from the fact of her continuing to get hired by the Symphony, the best thing about seeing her with this orchestra is seeing her interact with her fellow musicians in a friendly and relaxed way. They like her!

Now for my quote. This was posted about a friend of a friend of a friend on FaceBook but it caught my eye just before I deleted it. Credited to Daisaku Ikeda:

In the Buddhist view, the bonds that link people are not a matter of this lifetime alone. And because those who have died in a sense live on within us, our happiness is naturally shared with those who have passed away. So, the most important thing is for those of us who are alive at this moment to live with hope and strive to become happy. By becoming happy ourselves, we can send invisible ‘waves’ of happiness to those who have passed away.