Eight services into a nine-service week, and it was still only Saturday. Tempers were frayed further by it being the second of two consecutive days in the orchestra’s least favorite venue, an aging vaudeville palace with no backstage facilities except for a cramped below-stage crossover reached by steep but badly-lit staircases apparently designed more for defense against marauders than movement, not to mention an HVAC system that invariably picked up the nastiest odors within four blocks and delivered them straight to the musicians.
Bad things had happened to both musicians and instruments in this venue in the past. The staircases were bad enough, but, to make matters worse, the orchestra was always a back-up band here. So the stage setup was both cramped and lit only by stand lights. The combination of discomfort, hazard, and repertoire made personal business days for services in this venue a highly desirable commodity.
Unfortunately, our musician had neglected to ask for any, so he dutifully showed up for the first of four services in the venue only to find that the stage setup rendered his usual trick of being the last on stage almost impossible to pull off. The several times he nearly knocked his instrument on a mic stand or a colleague getting to his seat convinced him that, for the remaining three services, he’d better bring his case to his seat and not risk any further damage beyond that he’d done a few years ago on the same stage by running his instrument into a mic stand sans mic.
Having left his case on stage after the afternoon rehearsal (at management’s invitation,and because his car was a long way away), he showed up that evening only to hear the Personnel Manager requesting other musicians to take their cases off-stage. “No way,” he says to himself, having being pre-annoyed by being turned away from the stage door by security and forced to shove his way through the crowd entering the front of house. “No way,” he tells the Personnel Manager, before carefully picking his way through the piles of equipment in the blackness between him and the badly-light stairwell down to the basement to put his coat somewhere and see if anyone brought cookies. He is all set for a nice satisfying fight with management, which he knows he will win. He knows management doesn’t like the situation any more than he does, and that they remember the scratches and bruises from previous incidents in the venue as well as the musicians do.
The musician comes back up upstairs, retracing his route through the blackness and piles of equipment and itching for a fight, only to be met at his seat by the Personnel Manager, who tells him “we’ve made a place for your case just offstage, if you’d like to use it.” Any other combination of words and action would have provoked the fight the musician was looking for. But the Personnel Manager had figured out the only way to defuse the situation, even though finding places for musicians’ cases was hardly part of her job description.
The musician looked at the spot the Personnel Manager had cleared on a table offstage, meekly returned to his chair, got his case and put in in the assigned spot. And, by the time he returned to his seat with his instrument, he wasn’t even angry anymore.
We all appreciate a perfectly played phrase, or a perfectly paced crescendo. But a perfectly handled situation is just as an important an achievement in the life of an orchestra, and deserves just as much appreciation.