I just put up a post that I wrote last week and only just got out. In the meanwhile, life went on, and in the due course of things, we took the Symphony to its annual appearance at Stern Grove last Sunday. At the end of the concert I was busily packing up the various bits and pieces when suddenly our concertmaster, Sasha Barantschik, was standing next to me.

As with Esa-Pekka, my relationship with Sasha has been cordial and professional. Unlike Esa-Pekka, Sasha is not an international star. He has been concertmaster for the SF Symphony for more than 25 years, a not insignificant accomplishment. Not being a jet setter, Sasha goes out into the trenches every week, playing whatever and for whoever, happens to be on the program that week. Given that, I have a more relaxed relationship with him. We can make little jokes with each other when it’s time for him to go out and tune the orchestra. Or, at Stern Grove, where we don’t have our usual methods of signaling, I had to walk out to where he was sitting on stage to tell him it was time to start. We always get a little chuckle out of that.

Sasha’s wife, Alena, plays occasionally with the orchestra as a sub. She was with him on Sunday.

He came up to me and said, ‘This is goodbye.’

I was taken aback until I realized that Sasha always takes off for the summer pops season. This had been our last concert together with me as Stage Manager. Flashing on my picture with Esa-Pekka, I said, ‘Can we get a picture?’ He said, of course, and Alena took this lovely photo.

Sasha has the same birth year as me. I made a little joke about him joining me in retirement. He didn’t bite.


I don’t usually think about having my picture taken with anyone, much less famous people. I’ve spent my whole career working with more or less famous people and, for the most part, they’re there to do a job just like I am.

With the end of my time with the Symphony approaching, I thought about my relationship with Esa-Pekka Salonen. His time with the Symphony is not coming to an end like mine but his status has changed profoundly in the last six months. Like mine.

Our relationship has been cordial but businesslike. I like to think I’ve earned his respect as a stage manager. Any social contact I’ve had with him has been in the context of a party with lots of other people around competing for his time.

Anyway, with the orchestra retirement party last week, I thought it would be cool to have a picture taken of just the two of us. It turned out he wasn’t at the party very long so I missed that opportunity.

Yesterday was his last concert and I was sure he’d be jetting off somewhere right away. I asked Shoko, his secretary, if she could identify a moment when I could get a picture with him. Her first question was, what about tomorrow? He was staying for the Principal Bassoon audition.

But we already had plans to go to Mom’s after Sepi’s PT appointment. I resigned myself to not getting one.

The concert was Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, a six movement, 100 minute behemoth performed without intermission. Afterwards, we were busy clearing the stage for the auditions so I was running around, not thinking about it, when suddenly there he was in the hallway with Shoko!

She said, do you want to take that photo?  I said yes and it was done!

Retirement party

Trying to write after a long layoff . . .

I get ideas – usually in the small hours of the morning – but translating them to written text has been extremely difficult. Is it writers’ block? I don’t really consider myself a writer. I would like to write more. I think I write well. I don’t think I am a ‘writer’.

I spend a lot of time at work on a computer. At home, I actually have a decent setup but there always seems to be something else I should do. I keep thinking I will use that early morning good energy time to write. Someday . . .

And someday may be approaching. After Sepi and I made the decision last January that I could retire, the actual date has crept closer and closer. Jon at work got me a countdown display that shows days and hours (and minutes and seconds!). I keep it on the Stage Manager’s desk for anyone to see. I believe it’s on 41 days today.

Yesterday at work was an annual event honoring the members of the orchestra who are retiring. Surprisingly to me, I was included in the celebration. Esa-Pekka made a little speech during the concert in which I was called out on stage for applause from the orchestra and the audience.

After the show there was a gathering with food and drink in one of the backstage rooms. Michele got up and said some nice things about me. I then spoke briefly, thanking my crew, Michele and Tim but forgetting Sepi. I found that I got rather emotional doing it. I really love the orchestra. They all appreciate what we do.

I really do consider it the pinnacle of my career. It’s a hard job but being part of the team that helps a great orchestra make great music is very satisfying.

After many years of hiding it, I let the cat out of the bag to certain members of the orchestra that I like to play music. I was reluctant to do that because I know how good these musicians really are. I’m not even close to their level. To a person, though, they have been supportive of my music making.

Lately, a common question I get is what am I going to do in my retirement. I say play more music. Then I say write more.


I turned 70 a couple of months ago. It’s completely freaky to be referring to myself as being that age. I suppose that because I still have hair, most people I tell are amazed. They say I am well preserved for that age. I tell them I’m rotten inside!

I was a freshman in high school when the Simon and Garfunkel record ‘Bookends’ came out. It had the hits Mrs. Robinson, At the Zoo and Hazy Shade of Winter on it but it also had some different tracks that didn’t make much impression on my 14 year old self: Save the Life of My Child was a strange story about someone’s child jumping off of a building. Voices of Old People was recordings of old people talking about nothing in particular – I thought. Then there was the Bookends Theme, with the line ‘ . . . how terribly strange to be 70.’

That line has been rolling around in my head for the past few months. I don’t know what Paul Simon – then not even 30 – was referring to specifically, but it sure resonates in me now.

I get to have lunch with a group of stagehand friends every couple of months. Everyone in the group is retired except for me. The first question I am asked when I see them is, ‘Are you retired yet?’

So far, the answer has been no but that will change this year. While the Symphony Stage Manager job is tremendously rewarding in some ways, it is very stressful and I decided that last years’ Christmas Holiday programming – always the hardest month of the year – would be my last. My friend and colleague Jim J. finally retired last fall at the age of 75. Many of us thought he should have gone sooner. Not because he couldn’t do his job but because we all recognized that sometimes the body doesn’t work the way it used to. And sometimes that happens with little warning. I’m ready to enjoy life a little before it’s too late!

I think about my friend and former band mate Tim I., dead from prostate cancer at the age of 59. I’ve had my PSA checked every year since then. So far, it’s still very low.

I had three surgeries last year under general anesthesia and one more (skin cancer) under local. It’s time to not take anything for granted.


Eight years today since we lost Zach.

It’s still early afternoon here in California as I write this. At this time on this day eight years ago, Zach was riding his bike around the LSU tailgate parties visiting with friends.

It’s a measure of how far I’ve come that I had to look up the date to make sure I had the right one. I get the 14th and 15th confused for some reason. Zach was killed on the evening of the 14th. November 14, 2015. Many of us got on an airplane the next day and were in Baton Rouge less than 24 hours after it happened.

I had a resolution for a long time that I would not mark Zach’s death date but instead focus on his birth date. On the whole, that hasn’t worked very well. This year is the first time I haven’t been counting down the days to November 14th. I will take that as a good thing.

I’ve averaged about one or two crying jags over Zach per year in the last 5 or so years. Sometimes a photo of him comes up on the screen saver and I have to catch my breath.

No one else in the family has mentioned it and, aside from this post, I’m not going to bring it up.

Sepi and I came down to Mom’s today. We usually come on Sundays but because of a quirk in my schedule, my only option this week was today, a Tuesday. All the way down here I kept thinking the traffic was weird for a Sunday. Somehow, my confusion over the exact date of Zach’s death seems related. My work is very stressful and I think of retirement often. I also know Zach would have something interesting and useful to say about my work situation.


Memories . . .

I remember a warm day, the smell of pine, sun on canvas. I was at Camp HIgh Sierra with my Boy Scout troop. I was a pre-teen, 11 or 12. I had never been anywhere without my family before.

So the memory that inspired this post was really not any of those things, although I am sure they were all there. It was going into my tent, probably after lunch since it was full day, and finding a nice neat turd on my sleeping bag.

I remember that there were three or four other boys there, laughing at my predicament. I remember wondering how it could have gotten there, what animal could it have been. I don’t remember much about the environs. Of course, it was the high Sierra, probably 4 or 5 thousand feet elevation, among the pines. Whether there were wild animals around was the subject of some debate but, regardless, something had gotten in and pooped on my sleeping bag.

I think I knew enough to know that it wasn’t a human turd but beyond that I was clueless. I think the best explanation seemed to be a that it was from a raccoon. That raccoons are night creatures was not known to me.

Of course the other boys in the tent thought it was hilarious. I remember thinking that maybe I could reach into the bag under the turd and fling it out of the tent. The sides were open and it seemed possible in my desperation. Why I didn’t go get a paper towel and pick it up remains a mystery. Maybe there were no paper towels in the bathrooms. I certainly remember a major aversion to touching it.

By now, gentle reader, you will have realized that it was a prank. The ‘turd’ was a bit of plastic. After 10 or 15 minutes of hilarity, it was revealed to me by the perpetrator. I don’t remember anything about him or any of the other boys who were there. There were no other incidents like that during my time at Camp High Sierra.

I was an introverted, bookish boy. I don’t remember why I joined the Boy Scouts, I remember the troop met at the church parish hall so there was some connection there. I went to Camp High Sierra twice, each time for a week, in the summer. It was the only time I did any serious work on merit badges. Merit badges, for those who don’t know, were the raison d’etre of the Boy Scouts. One started out as a Tenderfoot and rose through the ranks by earning merit badges. The really cool kids had a sash to put their badges on. The top of the heap was an Eagle Scout. I didn’t get enough merit badges to merit a sash.

At Camp High Sierra, somehow, I learned to do what we called ‘lanyards’. Lanyards were these long skinny multicolored plastic things that could be woven into shapes. Ironically, there were no merit badges for ‘lanyards’. Or perhaps that is telling that that is what I spent so much time on. Anyway, I made a kind of a key fob that I still have. It’s all that’s left besides memories.

His Last Bow?

It’s always a zoo when Michael Tilson Thomas comes back to the Symphony to conduct but this week has been extraordinary. Michael was diagnosed with an agressive form of brain cancer a couple of years ago and his cognitive abilities are slipping. He was last here in February and the difference is painfully obvious.

The usual entourage has been supplemented with a male nurse and an extra assistant conductor. He needs to be shepherded carefully on and off stage. Teddy, the extra assistant conductor, has a seat in the front row and we have special stairs installed so he can get up the the podium quickly if necessary. In my role as Stage Manager, I have been the one to send him out there many times so I know his quirks. He’s not the same person.

What’s really interesting, though, is what he can do. Despite his limitations, he was still an engaged presence on the podium.

In rehearsal is when his difficulties were more evident. He lost his train of thought sometimes. He got confused about what rehearsal or measure number he wanted. He had problems articulating his desires.

The orchestra has enormous respect and love for Michael and went out of their way to be attentive and helpful. It’s an enormous strain on them, though. I had several people comment to me that, as a player, you can’t just let the music flow when his cues and tempi cannot be depended on.

But Teddy said to me early in the week that audiences aren’t coming to see the definitive performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  They are coming to see Michael. They want to pay what might be their final respects to a giant of the classical music world who was also an outsized presence in San Francisco for 25 years. Joshua Kosman, who has written classical music reviews in San Francisco for many years, wrote a lovely review of opening night.

As I write this, we’ve done two performances with a third scheduled for this afternoon. The auditorium has been packed to the rafters and there are no tickets available for today.

One of the things I do as Stage Manager is keep timings of the shows. Opening night, the applause at the end of the show went on for 8 1/2 minutes. Most shows have 3 or 4 minutes of applause.

Last night, the rhythm of the bows were interrupted by the Mayor, who made an announcement that one block of the street in front of Davies Hall would be renamed MTT Way. Michael then got the microphone and, after thanking her, asked her if that meant he didn’t have to worry about getting parking tickets any more. Classic!

Early in the week, many people were saying that Michael would not make it to the Sunday performance. I believe he will answer the bell today. He has shown us that his performing instincts are extraordinarily strong.

MTT is scheduled to conduct here again in February but no one believes that will happen. Sadly, this week is likely to be Michael Tilson Thomas’ last bow.

Diaries and legacies

I’ve kept journals – diaries if you will – for many years. I remember writing some diary-type things even in high school. I don’t know if I digitized that writing I could go look but if I did that I wouldn’t write this post. I know I purged a lot of paper from that time when I moved in with Sepi.

When I was about to become a father, I started writing a journal more seriously. I suppose I thought it would be something that my children could go back to and find interesting. In fact, all of my kids did read the accounts of the day of their birth. We had some interesting discussions of that back in the day.

Originally, there was a journal for each child but it eventually devolved into general journals of my life. I’ve gone back and looked at some of them over the years. It can be troublesome emotionally but I am glad I have the option to revisit those times if I want to.

Zach, as readers of this blog know, kept a diary regularly during his time in Baton Rouge. I have read some of it with the range of emotions one might expect. A couple of entries I have shared here. I have tried to be sensitive to the privacy of the people mentioned so that is a significant limiting factor.

I know Mom has journals. The ones I’ve seen are travel journals but I suspect there may be other more personal diaries. The travel journals take up about 6 feet of shelf space. When will I – or anyone else – read those? I haven’t asked Mom about what purpose she felt in writing originally. I think it will be the same as me: it’s just something I do. If it has value to later generations, then that’s a plus.

I used to do a lot of photography with an SLR camera. Now that I carry a different camera with me all the time – we generally call it a ‘phone’ – I take pictures of this or that but don’t spend any time thinking about the longer term. Why did I take pictures before? Why did I haul that big camera with me everywhere? I took pictures of people gathering to memorialize the event but I also took ‘art’ pictures. Why? Now that everything is digital I’ve saved everything carefully in my hard drive. Mom has another 6 feet of shelf space dedicated to photo albums. With few exceptions, they are untouched. When she passes and her house is to be sold, who will take them? Who will take the journals? Do they have value to her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren? People outside the family?

Getting back to journals, I hope that my children and grandchildren read my writing and feel that they can know me in a new way.

When Zach was killed, we were faced with the issue of what to do with his things. More importantly, our relationships with Zach were no longer dynamic. Memory became the only relationships we had. I see his journals and this blog as a way to keep a person alive. Of course, it’s not the same but it’s all we have.

The Blue Angels part 2

Well, I went upon the roof yesterday to watch the Blue Angels. I didn’t have to be at work until 5 and the show was from 3 to 4. I thought it would be dumb to not use one of the benefits of living where we do. The weather has been warm – really warm, 85 in SF – but I thought  the breeze would come up and the fog would come in as it usually does at the end of the second hot day so I put on my work clothes instead of the shorts I had been wearing. Hot and still it was on the roof. Hmmm . . .

We got up there early and saw something called an ‘F35 demo’ which was one military jet flying around and doing some interesting things. I wondered if that was the same type of plane that went missing a couple of weeks ago after the pilot bailed out. Later, at work, someone told me the US has spent one Trillion dollars! on developing that airplane and it can’t even do some of the things its predecessor can do. It does a lot of things: it flies fast, it flies slow, it goes straight up, it hovers. Whatever.

Just before the BAs came, we saw the BA support plane fly by a few times. It’s a C-130. The C-130 is a four engine prop plane that’s been around forever. I built a plastic model of one when I was about 12 so I thought it was cool.

Oh, yeah, there was a flyby of a United 777. That’s a big airplane after looking at little military jets. No barrel rolls or flying straight up but it did some cool things. It was interesting how quiet it was compared to the war machines.

Eventually the Blue Angels appeared in the distance. There was a group of four plus two others who did kind of solo stuff. The main group came up from the bridge along the waterfront but suddenly one of the soloists came from behind Telegraph Hill. Right. Over. Our. Heads! Ho-lee shit!!

I tried to get some pictures but taking pictures with a cell phone in bright sunshine is highly problematic especially when your subject is traveling at 500 miles per hour.

So, the Blue Angels did all the things that I expected. The flying was amazing. After about ten minutes, I found myself in tears. I still don’t know exactly why. Maybe it’s that humans can do amazing things but it’s too bad so much has to be for the purpose of killing other humans.

We left early because the show had started late and we had to get to work. We went down the elevator to the roars of jets overhead.

The Blue Angels

The Blue Angels are back. They had told us that they would be practicing today for the Fleet Week air shows this weekend. We thought originally they might wait their practice time until after the Feinstein memorial was completed. But no doubt someone thought it would be cool to have them fly over City Hall during the ceremony so I thought they would combine that with their practicing. They were flying around for at least an hour. We figured, OK, maybe they didn’t want to disrupt rush hour traffic. Never mind. They’re back. It’s 4:30 now and they’ve been wailing over our condo for a half hour already.

We were watching the memorial on TV and it was interesting to see the (small) difference between us hearing them fly over our condo and the speakers having to pause as they flew over City Hall. It’s about two miles away. They move fast! And they are loud. I resisted the temptation to go up on the roof. We would have a fantastic view because we are so close to the waterfront and the flying is spectacular, but I am sure I would be left with the same feelings I’ve had in years past when watching them from the roof of Davies Hall.

They are war machines, designed and built to terrorize and kill people. The fact that so many people gloss over that fact to wallow in the thrill of loud noises bothers me deeply. What would it be like if this was another place and they were attacking my city? I’m terrified now when I know they are not armed. How would I feel if they were launching rockets and blowing up buildings with people in them? Perhaps friends, colleagues or family members? OMFG.

Mostly I keep my feelings to myself but today I decided to post this. RIP Dianne Feinstein. I know you would have loved the flyovers.

(I posted this to Facebook first. I don’t know why. I know very few people are reading this blog and more would see the FB post.)