When opportunity knocks, be ready.

Seems only fitting to quote my Dad on Father’s Day. He really did know everything, that’s for sure. And the older I get, the more I realize that.

Last night was an example of a great last minute opportunity and being ready … well, sort of.

Let’s start with this past Tuesday, when Steve, Auggie and I set out on a camping adventure to Big Bear. A few days at 7,000 feet, breathing that fresh, clean mountain air, and relaxing by the campfire was exactly what we both needed after a very full spring orchestral season, and before our busy summers get underway. Although I brought my flute, I didn’t really intend on “practicing” per se, but wanted to do some body mapping study in preparation for our upcoming Andover Educators Conference this week. First thing Saturday morning, we made our way back home to Long Beach and back to reality. I had to teach a student and then go play a wedding down in South Orange County, and then since I’d be nearby, I thought I might stop off at the cemetery and spend a few minutes with my sister Marilyn before heading home and calling it a night.

I finished the wedding, was waiting at the valet for my car to be pulled around, and looked at my cell phone to see a missed call and voice mail from an 818 area code number. “OH S#*%!” I thought. As a freelancer in LA, whenever you see an 818 call that you don’t immediately recognize, it could very well be The Dateline, which is the service that makes the calls for a lot of the work here in town. Sure enough, it was them. They left me a voice mail at 6:54 pm about subbing with the Pacific Symphony for an 8 pm concert. It was now 7:11 pm, so I quickly called them back to see if they had found someone. They hadn’t, and in fact figured that they’d just have to do the concert without that third player since it was so late. I let them know I was about 20 minutes away, with my flute, and already wearing concert black, it was now 7:15 pm and I could make it to the Segerstrom Hall in time. When I asked what chair I’d be covering and her reply of “piccolo” hit my ears, I said to myself “OH S#*%! You don’t have your piccolo with you!” OK, think Rena, think! I knew I could get there in time, so I drove like a mad woman and called Steve. Fortunately, he was home and able to drive down to Costa Mesa to bring me my piccolo. He hit the road in Long Beach at 7:32 pm, meanwhile, I continued my commute from S. Orange County. I left a couple of voice mails for Ben Smolen, the Principal Flutist, to let him know I was on the way so if he still needed me, I’d be there very soon. If not and they found someone else, no prob. As I was nearing the parking structure, I saw a trombonist crossing the street, wearing a white dinner jacket.  Again with the profanity “S#*%, it’s POPS!!!” … which meant white tops. Not black, like I was wearing. Then, I remembered that in order to park in the structure I needed $10 cash because it was an event night. Awesome. Guess what else I didn’t have? $10 cash. OK, let’s recap, shall we: it’s about 7:40 pm, I’m in all black with my flute, I need a white top and a piccolo, neither of which I currently have, I also need money to park, which I also do not have, I haven’t eaten AND I have to pee. Great. Breathe Rena, just breathe. I knew for a fact that the parking attendants would not let me in unless I had cash because the previous week when I was working with Pacific, I didn’t have cash to park for a rehearsal and the mean parking attendant guy made me go over to the Westin next door to get money from their ATM. That process took about 5 minutes … 5 minutes I absolutely did not have to spare last night. So, I pulled in and calmly explained to the parking attendant that I did not have $10 cash, but I did have $7 cash and that I was just called 30 minutes ago to play tonight’s concert, and that I was in the wrong clothes and didn’t have the instrument I needed. He was totally  cool, gave me a parking ticket from the machine and said “It’s OK, no problem, really, I understand … GO!”

As I was parking, I saw a violinist in the orchestra and I stopped her to ask if there was any chance she might have a spare white top in her locker or car. She didn’t. So, I ran, literally, and went to the closest door to me which was not the Artists Entrance but another, locked, guarded door. Fortunately, the guard was super cool, opened up the door and must have sensed the urgency of things because when I tried to explain to him who I was, and what I was doing there, he laughed and said “Flute player, right? Go ahead. Have a good show.”

I arrived backstage dressed in concert black, with my super stylish and very comfortable T-strap sandals — perfect for a warm, outdoor wedding that requires a lot of walking, especially up and down many stairs, but considerably less perfect for formal concert attire. I was greeted by a a handful of friends and colleagues from the orchestra with “OH MY GOD, YOU MADE IT, YOU’VE SAVED THE DAY!”  Can’t tell you how nice it is to be met with that kind of greeting, thanks, guys!

One of the kind and incredibly accommodating members of the staff literally gave me the shirt off her back! Then, a violinist came walking up with an extra white T-shirt, and just like that, I had suitable Pops concert attire! At this point I realized I still had no idea what the program was. I mean, I knew it was a Pops concert but what Pops? Pops can be a piece of cake or the opposite of a piece of cake. For a split second I was flooded with images of a folder filled with John Williams piccolo parts. Yikes, what have I just signed up for?! I found out right away that it was “The Midtown Men.” Cool. No John Williams. Whew! Now, about that piccolo. Inside the Segerstrom Hall there is basically zero cell reception, at least for me anyway. So, I had no idea where Steve was in his piccolo delivery adventure, and couldn’t really take the time to run outside to the guards desk where I actually do get a signal, text or call him, and find out his ETA. Fortunately, the Operations Manager was on it. She notified the guards that a man would be delivering an instrument, then she went out to meet him and get my instrument, which then changed hands to the Personnel Manager who then delivered it to me on stage less than 5 minutes before downbeat. I didn’t have my flute/picc stand with me, which in hindsight would have been a great thing to ask Steve to also bring, but Pam Martchev was kind enough to give me her shelf and flute stand. So, now I was all set. Except, I still hadn’t looked through the book, not to mention I hadn’t played a note on my piccolo since finishing my last fortissimo high A on the Rite of Spring with them one week earlier. No warm up for me tonight. Nope, this was a ‘put your head down and run’ kind of night. Ben pointed out the places I should be aware of, I took a quick look at them, and it was show time. It’s also worth mentioning that my super star husband made it down to Costa Mesa in record time: 14 minutes! Yay, Steve!

Aside from a few heart pounding tricky spots, I made it through just fine. Later, a small but enthusiastic group of us celebrated the end of a great season with a decadent arrary of food and drink. Can’t think of a better way to send off the 2012-13 season, or a better group of people to do it with. Cheers, guys!

During one of my tacets in the concert, I sat back in my chair, reflecting back on the events that had just taken place over the past couple of hours and smiled, thinking about my Dad and the many lessons I learned from him about the life of an orchestral musician.

1. Be ready.

He used to say, “Opportunity will knock once, be ready.  If you’re lucky, it’ll knock more than once.”

2. Be a good colleague.

“Go in, sit down, do your job and keep your damn mouth shut!”  Again, more wisdom from the great sage himself. Seriously, after 46 years in the Detroit Symphony, several of which as Assistant Concertmaster, not to mention all of those Motown sessions, he knew.

I carry these two little golden nuggets of wisdom with me all the time. They’re simple and to the point.

The events of last night got me thinking about advice for my students. In addition to those two little gems from Santo, here is another bit of advice: Work to develop your sight reading skills and be equally at home on piccolo and alto flute. Ideally, you want to be just as comfortable on your doubling instruments as you are on your primary instrument. Sure you can practice the big orchestral solos day in and day out, and if you aspire to have an orchestral career, it is essential that you do so. But, when that first work call comes in, it’s a pretty good bet that you’ll either be A. sight reading a concert with little lead time, or at they very least, have far less rehearsal time than you are accustomed to, and/or B. hired to play 4th flute or 2nd piccolo on some brand new, crazy hard, avant garde orchestral work. So, be ready. For anything. Being ready also means that your daily practice routine absolutely must include long tones and other tone studies, and plenty of technical studies, i.e. Taffanel and Gaubert, Reichert, Moyse, etc. These are the building blocks that will truly develop your foundation so that when opportunity knocks, you have the stores of technique and control you need, are as ready as possible, and can do whatever is required of you.

So I say once again, thank you Dad, for all of the wonderful lessons you taught me.  Day after day I am reminded of them. You continue to inspire me in many ways. I love you, and I miss you everyday. I wish you were here so we could have our regular coffee and cake, anytime really, but ideally after concerts. Or, to have you come in while I’m practicing, with your violin, and give me a lesson (and lecture) on Beethoven style, or how to phrase the various tutti lines with the violins in Scheherazade, for example. But then, after nights like last night, I know you are here with me, and always will be.

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