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Community of Musicians by Nicky Roosevelt

I’ve been thinking about and appreciating the experience of growing older with my colleagues in the Bay Area, especially those of the Freeway Philharmonic.  Our lives together resemble a small town in many ways. We “grew up” together, meeting in school or getting our first jobs together. People have moved in or moved away over the years, but there are many of us (a hundred or so?) who have been together for some 25 years or more now.  We have a history together.

Since we typically have contracts with 3 or 4 different orchestras during the concert season, and play with many more as subs, we see different combinations of our friends in different places. It’s something we look forward to and count on. The orchestras often perform in the same week, so the commutes, especially on the weekends, can be pretty crazy: Marin to Santa Rosa, Monterey to Modesto, San Jose to Marin, and so many other combinations. Carpooling with our friends can keep us sane, as can walking in and seeing them at the gig.

Our carpools remind me of golfing foursomes: a lot of the time you have a standing arrangement with the same people year after year, and sometimes you meet for the first time going to the job. We spend that quality driving time eating dinner, solving the problems of the world, or discussing the ups and downs of orchestra and family life. You get to know people pretty well.

The tours we’ve been on together resonate with us like favored old summer vacations. The shows we’ve played tie us together, the conductors, the commutes. Summer festivals are another thing we might share, spending 2 weeks together, rehearsing the music and going hiking, sharing meals and good times.

Some of us form chamber groups with friends to play for school children in the mornings, using our creativity to figure out how to impart our love of music to kids. It is part of many orchestras’ mission statements, and a welcome extra source of income. Those “kiddie shows” are yet another thing we share over the years.

We don’t have the luxury of going to the same place to work every day, or knowing just what kind of income we’ll have every year, but we can weight our schedule with gigs that we most enjoy, as long as we can win those jobs or get asked to play with those orchestras. Other than festivals, a lot of us are unemployed during the summers. We don’t have control over when work is offered, but we can also get away in nontraditional vacation times. We pay our own health insurance and try to put away money for retirement. We may have a small union pension when we’re done. That’s what a graduate degree gets most of us. On the other hand, we’re not often bored.

Many of us teach privately or in schools, and our days are filled with the task of juggling students, practice time and family. Rehearsals are generally in the afternoon, evening and weekends, and one can end up with as many as 10-14 services (rehearsals or concerts) in a week. If our partners are musicians, we’re lucky if they are in the same orchestras so we can be with them. If they are in different orchestras or work a 9-5 job, time together can be something to treasure.

We celebrate each others marriages, the birth of children, their growing up and starting college. We enjoy our younger colleagues as they mature and develop and join our ranks. We also are witness to the deaths of colleagues and mentors, people who have been a part of the fabric of our lives. We remember all the good times together over the years, and try to remember to tell those left behind how much we appreciate sitting next to them year in and year out, making music and living the life of the Freeway Philharmonic.

Dedicated to Donelle Page and

Walter Green.

Published in the July/August 2008 Musical News