Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Nutcracker (Updated 12/23/12)

The Nutcracker. For the purposes of this discussion, when I refer to the Nutcracker, I mean the full-length ballet. I played my first Nutcracker in 1979, for a local dance company. When I got my job with the now-defunct SJ Symphony, I started on a lifelong love/hate relationship with the Nutcracker. This is really wonderful music, well crafted, FULL of passion and emotion. It’s fun to play, and really enjoyable to hear. I sat down this year and tried to calculate exactly how many times I have played the Nutcracker. I AM fond of saying, “I’ve played the Nutcracker over 600 times.” I played 3 in 1979 & 1980; I’ll add these six in later on. Starting 1981, Pat O’Gara hired me to play the Nutcracker at the Flint Center with, I believe, The Peninsula Dance Theater. This was 6 or 7 performances. Also, we did a weekend at the CPA with the SJ Dance Theater. My recollection is that this was 5 or 6. It seems to me this went on through the early 90’s. So figure 12 a year for 12 years, 144. In the late 80’s the Cleveland Ballet did a co-venture in San Jose, calling themselves the San Jose/Cleveland Ballet. In Cleveland, they were the Cleveland/San Jose Ballet. In the early years, we started right around Thanksgiving and ended at Xmas Eve. So I believe we did between 20 & 30 Nutcrackers a year. Figure 25 for 10 years (250), then the numbers dwindled to today’s 14. We’ve done 14 for about 10 years (140). I have done some in SF with that GREAT Ballet Orchestra (around 10), a few in Sacto, when Mark Wolfe was the tubist (about 5) and a run in Modesto (6). Added 12/23/12 - Since this blog was written (2008) there have been a few changes. Lets add 48 (12 x 4 years) to the total. This year (2012) there has been some upheaval in Ballet San Jose. Dennis Nahat is out, Dwight Oltman (the stick) is also gone. One of the premiere ballerinas of our time (Karen Gabay) has choreographed the entire ballet. We are playing the music as written (minus Mirlitons) and it is shorter, 2:05 by my reckoning. Not counting the countless times I have played the Ballet SUITE or ANY rehearsals the number is (including the 6 in LA) 609.
Here are some Nutcracker stories: One year, my music disappeared. I have a set of low brass parts for the ballet, but OUR Nutcracker isn’t THE Nutcracker. Not only are there cuts and jumps all around the work, but also right in the middle, we play “Capriccio Italien.” And near the end, instead of playing the real Nutcracker music, we put in the Polonaise from “Eugene Onegin.” This is not a problem for me, because anyone who really KNOWS me knows that I use the Nutcracker to catch up on reading all my motorcycle magazines. Yes, it is true; I can play the Grand Pas de Deux while reading “Easyriders.” I needed to miss a few services so poor Vicki had to come up with a part. We (she) called the old Cleveland Ballet librarian to see if SHE had a part; she did. So we got their part and my sub had something to read. We have since put together a really nice part that I use to hold up my magazines. 
In the old days, we used to play AM student matinees (now they use a tape). Once some students started throwing frozen grapes into the pit. One of them hit Joanne Tanner’s violin and cracked the top. Another time, the little darlings started throwing quarters into the pit; Phil’s horn got hit. We had to activate the Players’ Committee and Bob Havlice, Ed Church and VOODY (IATSE stagehands) came up with this pit cover to protect us. It had a big HOLE where the conductor (Dwight) stood. So only he’d get pelted. It was good protection, but it got hot as hell down there; I started bringing a fan.
In our Nutcracker, during the fight scene between the rats & soldiers, our crew uses R/C mice that scurry all over the stage. How those dancers DON’T step on those damned things, I’ll never know. Well one year, for some reason there was a bit of radio interference, and the mice went out of control. Those things were running all over the CPA stage. At one point, several of them came FLYING into the pit. One went right over my head and landed on the timps. One of the heads was damaged and it scared the heck out of us as it got caught on the tuning handle and the wheels kept running producing a rather unique rolling sound.
I was telling one of my students about the number of Nutcrackers I have played and he asked, “How can you stand it?” I point to my BMW 335i and say, “See that car? The Nutcracker bought me that.” “Ahhhhh. NOW I get it,” was his reply.
I had a GREAT time playing "Nutcracker" this year (2012). We are playing the score as intended, the orchestra sounds great and I have a new clean part that is really legible. PLUS the pit is set up differently. With the horns moved, I can hear our wonderful woodwind section. I complain a lot about the Nutcracker, but really, I am SO lucky to be making a living playing the tuba.  I thank God each night that I have managed to make a good life and career out of music. The business has been good to me. The “Grand Pas de Deux” is STILL in, Grrrrrr.....

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bail ME out!

Seventeen point four BILLION! So, our president, in his infinite wisdom has agreed to an emergency LOAN (hack, hack, cough, cough) to GM & Chrysler to bail them out. This fries my cookies. Where were the Feds when I wasn’t making any money selling tubas? Jeez, two hundred grand would have been plenty for me. I was buying a Christmas tree last Saturday and this topic came up. The guy was blaming the Auto Union. He said, “These guys are making $78 an hour. THEY (the union) sunk the automobile industry.” Whoa! My lawyer charges me $450 an hour. A shrink will cost you $300 a session. Hell, a decent massage will cost you a hundred bucks. Let’s say he’s right and most autoworkers will make $78 an hour. This totals about $162K a year. Figure a 30% tax bracket. This brings this down the yearly salary to $113K. If the average home in the US were about $250K the payments would be $2,500 a month, that’s ABOUT 25% of the monthly income. Right about where it SHOULD be for a decent standard of living. Even if he (the tree guy) WAS right, what about the guys with the seven- and EIGHT-figure salaries? Aren’t THEY the individuals who decide on what to build? Aren’t THEY the ones who decide what the American car buyer wants? Aren’t THEY the ones who design the autos? Aren’t THEY responsible for marketing? Unfortunately, the tree guy isn’t alone. My Dad (a STAUNCH Republican) feels exactly the same. I would guess many (if not all) Republicans would feel the same, or find the Union Men (AND WOMEN) to blame. Hey, how about building a car I would buy? My wife’s last FOUR cars were not American cars. The last American car I bought was in 1984 and had it for 3 years. Since then, I’ll buy well-crafted, German engineering, thank you. Except for my brother’s Vette, his family has been buying Nissans since they were Datsuns. Except for a few Saturns, I don’t know if anyone I know owns an American car. I see a lot of Japanese cars and a few Volvos. I have no faith in the American Automobile industry and it has NOTHING to do with the men & women who actually BUILD the vehicles. It’s the pencil pushers and the bean counters.


So, Mister President, when is this loan due and what interest are they paying? How come you can give them $17.4 BILLION, and I haven’t gotten my “Economic Stimulus” check yet.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Music

Christmas music. What is it about Christmas music? I LOVE Christmas music. With both my Wind Ensembles, my brass band and tuba ensemble, we just did a Christmas Extravaganza. Something about those familiar tunes that just gets me in the Christmas spirit. 

         It could be my first chamber music experience. In 6th grade, I played a Christmas concert (At Kellum Street Elementary School) and on the concert, I played my white plastic Conn sousaphone with both the brass ensemble AND the woodwind ensemble. I loved standing out in front of the curtain with a small group of my friends playing those songs; Let it Snow, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, O Christmas Tree. When I got older (High School), I put together a group of my band friends and went around to the convalescent homes and played Christmas Carols for the people who couldn’t get out. We even played a parade once and won first prize for special music. 

         When I moved to San Jose in 1982, I had to put on a Tuba Christmas, later changed to Christmas Tubafest®. Over the years, hundreds of people have said to me, “Christmas season doesn’t start until I hear Tony’s tubas.” God, I miss that. 

         Maybe because at Christmas time, people are more kind to each other, generous with their time and hard earned resources. Even when Valley Fair is so crowded, I seem to get more smiles from people during this time of year. Why is it only this time of year? Imagine what our world would be like if we were that kind & generous all year long. 

         My tuba friends came over this morning to play tuba quartets. What did we play for 2 ½ hours? Christmas Music! Thanks, guys! 

         I love Christmas Music. What about you?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

First Blog

Seems like everyone is blogging these days. Most seem self serving and boastful, that's why I have hesitated. Hopefully, I'll post something of interest and can stimulate a dialogue.

The thing that has been foremost in my mind these days is how a middle aged man can alter his career and his view (opinion) of himself. Many people judge who they are by what they do. SO much of my own self impression was (is!) tied up into being the tubist of the San Jose Symphony. When that went away, I had a heckuva time figuring out who the hell I was. Working 40 weeks, sitting next to my best friend, Phil Zahorsky, was a life I loved and the only one for which I was really prepared. I LOVED that life. Went to work in the same place, parked in the same place, knew what to expect from week to week. We even had a lot of fun in the trombone section. I was so fortunate in that both John Russell (2nd trombone) & Phil were students of our principal trombonist, Bob Szabo, that we knew each other so well and we really enjoyed each others' company. Even as Bob was readying to retire, I still felt like the new guy in the section.

After the San Jose Symphony went bankrupt, not only did I have to find work, but I was struggling with self image. LUCKILY, Phil passed the baton of the Ohlone Wind Orchestra to me, AND I had been made Personnel Manager of the Ballet Orchestra, here in San Jose. At the same time, I was hired to conduct the El Camino Youth Symphony's wind orchestra.

To make a VERY long story short, I became more of a conductor, and less of a tubist. As of now, I get about 13 weeks' work with the new Symphony & Ballet and I have 4 wonderful ensembles to conduct: The OWO, the Ohlone Community Band, the newly formed Silicon Valley Brass Band & the terrific Ohlone Tuba Ensemble.

In January of 2008, I was installed as President of the Musicians Union, Local 153; I LOVE this. The Union has been very good to me and I love serving. I feel like I can actually help out my fellow professional musicians, rather than just sitting around, complaining about stuff.

Over the next weeks, I'll post more info about our ensembles and bands, brass & Union happenings in the South Bay.