Walter Bitner

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A Day at the Hall

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

6:56 am: drive into town in pouring rain and heavy traffic – listen to Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96 and drink my coffee on the way in

7:37 am: after walking to the hall from the parking lot a block and a half away, enter through the stage door and make my way up to my office: nobody else is here yet – take a few minutes to begin this blog post

7:54 am: change into my suit


note Maestro Giulini on my office wall looking over my shoulder

8:05 am: there is still nobody here so I pose for a quick suit selfie to insert here later

8:10 am: sit quietly for a few minutes

8:30 am: Education & Community Engagement Program Manager Kelley Bell arrives and we head down to a kitchen on the second floor to prepare what seems like a vast amount of coffee for the volunteers who will arrive shortly to help us this morning.  Since neither of us have done this before we manage to make a bit of a mess (which we clean up as best we can) and only acceptable coffee, but we finally make our way with the cart down to the West Atrium where several volunteers are waiting.  After some rearranging of tables and conferring with the volunteers and members of security staff (who will help with traffic flow for the buses full of elementary school students that are about to arrive), everything seems ready so I head backstage to try to catch concertmaster Jun Iwasaki before the buses pull in.  Luckily I run into Jun in the hall and we hold a brief meeting in his dressing room about a program we are planning together for May.  I stop by the Green Room to check on our guest artists for today’s concerts (more about them later), then I head back towards One Symphony Place where the first buses are beginning to pull in – it’s now about 9:45 am.

elementary school students arrive at Schermerhorn Symphony Center for a Young People's Concert, March 4, 2015

students arrive at Schermerhorn for a Young People’s Concert, March 4, 2015

Like many symphony orchestras, the Nashville Symphony performs many Young People’s Concerts (YPCs) each year, bringing the experience of our superb orchestra performing live at beautiful Schermerhorn Symphony Center to thousands of children free of charge.  In the 2013-2014 season, more than 20,000 students attended these concerts.  Four separate programs are designed for specific grade levels (K-2, 3-4, 5-8, and 9-12), the K-8 concerts are performed several times, and participating teachers are provided with preparatory material (program notes and lesson plans) to prepare their students for the concerts.  Our K-8 YPCs are commonly performed as what are called “back-to-backs” – the same program is performed twice in a morning for separate groups of students attending concerts at 10:15 and 11:45.

This morning’s event is a back-to-back, with over 3000 students from Kindergarten through Second Grade scheduled to attend – 39 school buses will arrive in two shifts as well as hundreds of homeschool students.  It is raining intermittently and the weather is forecasted to turn bitter later in the day – there is talk among the musicians and staff about whether or not we will have to cancel tomorrow’s concerts (a repetition of today’s back-to-back YPCs).

It’s nearly 10 am now and only a few buses have arrived, when it seems like all of the remaining buses show up at once, and of course the rain picks up as they pull in.  Most members of the orchestra are already on the stage by now.  We are a bit short staffed on the volunteers who help with crowd management – several staff members have donned their raincoats and are helping out.  I find myself trying to fill in where somebody is needed: greeting a bus here, escorting a group of students into the hall there.  Soon everyone has arrived.  By the time I make it backstage the concert has already begun and I listen for a few minutes from behind the stage right door before heading up to the light booth to check in with Kelley.

Kelley runs the powerpoint projection from the Schermerhorn light booth, March 3, 2015

Kelley runs the powerpoint projection from the Schermerhorn light booth, March 4, 2015

Kelley and I confer for a few minutes in the light booth about the next hour.  The concert ends at 11, but I have an appointment at 11, and the 45 minute period between concerts is a touch-and-go operation: the students in the hall need to be dismissed and to board their (19) buses and (hopefully) depart before the 20 buses arrive with students for the second show.  We decide that she will hand off the powerpoint to me near the end of the show so she can dismiss students from the stage, and then I can zip down to the stage door for my appointment

10:32 am: back in my office, I ditch my raincoat and umbrella, respond to an email about the upcoming Curb Concerto Competition, then it’s back to the light booth with a few minutes to spare.  After Vinay and the orchestra take their final bows, I reset the powerpoint for the next show and make my way down to the stage door

11:00 am: in the stage door lobby I greet Vicki Yates and Charlie Woodward from NewsChannel 5, who are here to shoot footage and interviews about today’s YPCs.  The highlight of this morning’s concerts are a performance by the students enrolled in the Nashville Symphony’s Suzuki Program – a collaboration with W.O. Smith Music School – who join the orchestra on stage in each concert and play a medley of tunes from the Suzuki curriculum accompanied by the symphony, in a special arrangement by local composer and arranger Jim Gray created for this week’s performances.  Amidst the between sets hubbub backstage we look around for a good place to film my interview, which ends up with me standing on stage left with my back to the stage, providing a shot of the orchestra’s chairs, stands, and some instruments behind me, and with Kelley further in the background as she dismisses the students who attended the first show

Kelley Bell dismisses students from a Young People's Concert, March 4, 2015

Kelley Bell dismisses students from a Young People’s Concert, March 4, 2015

We are joined by Dave Felipe, the symphony’s publicist, and for the next hour and fifteen minutes we accompany Vicky and Charlie as Vicky conducts interviews and Charlie captures footage at several places throughout the hall.  One of our Suzuki teachers, Anna Lisa Hoepfinger, is a member of the symphony’s first violin section and they interview her right on stage.  Our other Suzuki teacher Deidre Bacco (now retired from the Nashville Symphony) conducts her interview upstairs in Curb Education Hall, and then Charlie films the students there as they warm up and prepare to go on stage for the second show

NewsChannel 5's Charlie Woodward films students in the Nashville Symphony Suzuki Program as they warm up for a performance with the orchestra, March 4, 2015

NewsChannel 5’s Charlie Woodward films students in the Nashville Symphony Suzuki Program as they warm up for a performance with the orchestra, March 4, 2015

As the students make their way to line up backstage, I help Charlie and Vicky find a spot in the hall from which to film their performance, and leaving them in Dave’s hands I make my way back to the light booth by 12:15 pm, where Kelley and I do the powerpoint handoff again so she can dismiss students from the second show

Nashville Symphony Suzuki Program students perform with the Nashville Symphony at a Young People's Concert.March 4, 2015

Nashville Symphony Suzuki Program students perform with the Nashville Symphony at a Young People’s Concert, March 4, 2015

12:27 pm: the show ends and I finish up business in the light booth and make my way back downstairs.  I join Kelley on stage for the end of bus dismissal, chatting with the stage manager and the orchestra personnel manager about the possibility (probability) of canceling tomorrow’s concerts while the last students leave the hall. Kelley and I then head back to the West Atrium to clean up from the morning and find that someone (undoubtably volunteers) has already done most of this.  Kelley heads out into the rain to check with security staff that everyone has left, and while I wait in the West Atrium I respond to an email inquiry (on my phone) from the librarian about repertoire and rights for YPC programs scheduled for 2016.  When Kelley comes back inside we gather up the last of our materials and head back to our offices.  On the way back, I stop by the box office to purchase tickets for my family to attend the upcoming performance of the Vienna Boys Choir

1:11 pm: arrive back in my office and change out of my suit.  Principal second violin Carrie Bailey drops by to confer with me about judging the preliminary round of the Curb Competition and about performance in an upcoming Onstage event (more about this program later) and I manage to attend to some more email correspondence

1:42 pm: Kelley and I head to Blackstone for a celebratory lunch: we got through today’s YPCs successfully!  Most of our meal is spent discussing upcoming projects and programs, reviewing how things went today, and speculating about the weather.  After lunch we drop my car off in the parking lot and drive her car to the loading dock at Schermerhorn, where we unload instruments from an Instrument Petting Zoo she hosted yesterday afternoon at an After School Program where our department currently has a residency.  We run into audio engineer Gary Call backstage and he helps us ferry the instruments down to the basement, where we stow them away safely in storage allocated to the Education Department, and make our way back upstairs

3:23 pm: on my way back to my office, I learn that MNPS has canceled school tomorrow (as have many other school districts), so the first thing I do is send an email out to all staff and musicians that we are canceling tomorrow’s YPCs, and Kelley sets to work notifying all those (teachers and homeschool families) who enrolled to attend.  For the next hour I make a few phone calls and yes, read, write, and delete more emails

4:25 pm: head down to stage to check on the musicians and stage setup for tonight’s Onstage performance.  The stage has been struck from this morning’s concerts and chairs for the audience have been set up on the stage facing the house.  The 9′ Hamburg Steinway is on the stage extension with the open lid of the piano facing the choir loft

One of the Nashville Symphony’s Community Engagement programs, Onstage is a unique series of free chamber music events presented by symphony musicians for the public.  The series is administrated and facilitated by yours truly, repertoire and personnel are chosen by the musicians themselves, and the audience joins the performers actually on the stage of Laura Turner Concert Hall.  Usually presented on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, doors open at 5:30 pm and complimentary beverages are served to those attending, with the performance itself beginning at 6 pm.  In this intimate setting the symphony musicians not only perform, but also engage in dialogue about the music with those attending.

Tonight’s performance features Jun Iwasaki and Louise Morrison performing Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 56 (unaccompanied), after which they will be joined by pianist Bob Marler for Moszkowski’s Suite for Two Violins & Piano, Op. 71.

Jun, Louise, and Bob are rehearsing, food & beverage staff are wheeling in the drinks, and everything seems set to go. After checking in with security staff at the stage door (where the audience will enter) I head back upstairs and jot down some more notes – times and keywords, mostly – for this post, which I will flesh out over the next week

5:10 pm: change back into my suit, head back downstairs in time to make sure the musicians are off stage and ready for the doors to open

5:30 pm: back at the stage door, we open the doors and escort the patrons to the stage.  Folks stand around with their wineglasses or find a seat, talking quietly.  Bob Marler comes up to me and asks me if I’ll turn pages for him during the Moszkowski.  I stand around and talk to patrons, a few musicians and other staff members who are present, and shortly before 6 I head backstage to make sure Jun and Louise and ready

turning pages for Bob Marler, Moszkowski

turning pages for Bob Marler, Moszkowski: Suite for Two Violins & Piano, with Jun Iwasaki & Louise Morrison, March 4, 2015

6:00 pm: I walk to the front of the performing area, thank the audience for coming on a night when the weather is so inhospitable, introduce Jun and Louise, and take my seat.  The first piece is for two unaccompanied violins in four movements, and there is some discussion before and after the performance.  When Bob takes his seat at the piano I walk around the audience and join him.  Luckily I have done this before (turned pages) and although I have never encountered this piece before, it goes off without a hitch despite the lickety-split last movement, everyone applauds enthusiastically, there is a bit more discussion, we bid farewells, and the crowd begins to break up.  I remain on the stage until all the patrons have left, duck backstage to thank the performers, stage crew, and food and beverage staff, drop by the stage door to thank security, and head back up to my office

7:24 pm: in my office I pack up my things, bundle up, head back downstairs, and walk out to the parking lot in freezing rain; drive home in silence

8:04 pm: arrive home

Postscript: A Day at the Hall


  1. Jay bitner says:

    It took me half a day to read your summary. Probably good for all that the next day was cancelled.

    • walterbitner says:

      It was good – we got several inches of snow the next day and even if the musicians and staff had made it to the hall, very few students would have showed up!

  2. Graham Mote says:

    I enjoyed this post, very interesting to see what you do all day!

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Keep up the good work Walter. This is a great review for students to get a glimpse into this career path within in the music profession. Have you considered having a shadow day – like the one described herein- where a high school/university MUSIC student assists you and Kelley? What insight this would offer the student, family AND the student’s music teacher. As a matter of fact, there are music teachers who need to see and learn about the ‘inner workings’ of the symphony ‘s depth of attention to community engagement. I’ll leave these thoughts in your capable hands.
    Go forth and lead!

    • walterbitner says:

      Thank you Margaret! And thanks for the suggestions. Our department hosts college interns throughout year-round, and we are in the process of designing a new program called Prelude which will provide the opportunity for high school seniors to volunteer at the symphony to earn community service hours for their Senior Capstone Project.

  4. patbrans says:

    Thanks for the window into your work life.

  5. rmichaelw says:

    Cool to see th inner workings of your job. For those of us that just show up and play, it is revelatory how much effort it takes to make it all seem so smooth. ..
    Thanks for making our jobs that much easier!

  6. rmichaelw says:

    So much behind th scenes stuff to make everyone’s experience delightful AND easy. ..
    Many thanks for sharing and a job well done!

  7. […] This is a postscript to A Day at the Hall […]

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