From the Orchestra Library

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on June 15, 2009

You know how people always say “It was one of those days”?  Well, it was one of those weeks.  With everything that was going on, I don’t even know where to start.  So, like all my German Lutheran aunts and uncles, I’ll start by talking about the weather.

First, it got really hot this past week.  Now that probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to any of you when hearing about summer in Texas, but remember, we haven’t technically hit the first day of summer yet and we’re just on the underside of 100 degrees already every day.  Even though it was actually milder than usual for longer than usual, I still can’t get used to the really high temperatures after 19 years.  Anyway, the heat contributes to weather patterns this time of year that create serious storms.  They can come up pretty fast and develop into full-scale tornadoes without warning.

This all means that the parks season for the DSO can be kind of dicey.  Our first concert outdoors every year is on Easter Sunday, and you never know if it’s going to be too cold or too hot.  Or just right.  Rain is always a possibility.  One year it was 100 degrees on that Sunday.  The hall is the alternate rain site because it’s fairly close to the venue, and we’ve often had to move there.  But sometimes it’s a perfect spring day and for those we are very grateful!

Our regular summer parks season starts around Memorial Day.  (See May 26 post.)  We hit the parks around the city for three weeks right about when the heat kicks in.  It’s brutal work for the stage crew; they put up a temporary shell at each park and never know for sure what the conditions are going to be, but they can almost always count on blazing sun and lots of bugs—just for starters.  The players have their worries in the parks, too, since the sun doesn’t go down very early here and great care has to be taken with the instruments.  For the librarians, wind is what bedevils us.  I’m here to tell you that parks concerts are hell on the music.  And guess who gets to chase down flying parts?  Yep, you got it.  We are experts with wind clips.  For a good time, watch a librarian strike the folders when a storm is imminent.  (The need for speed is one of the reasons why we ask you to close them.)

So, this concert last Wednesday was to be at a park near downtown, a nice little park, and there was a neighborhood festival scheduled to coincide with our appearance.  The day was clear and sunny, and despite some reports there might be showers outside the city, but everything looked good to go downtown.  To be sure, our Director of Operations had the radar up on her computer all day so she could keep an eye on things.  It appeared that if there was any weather at all, it would be well north of the city and not trouble us.  The guys set up the shell, unloaded the truck, and people started to show up at the park.

All of a sudden, about an hour and a half before the concert, a tornado warning was issued for one of the suburbs just north of Dallas, and the whole picture suddenly changed.  The sky got dark too early and the wind started to pick up.  This was going to be a much bigger system than anyone had realized.  Ops had to call the concert (it was too late to move to a rain site) and start notifying the orchestra and support staff we were cancelled.  The crew quickly loaded the instrument and music trunks back on the truck and took down as much of the equipment as they could.  I felt badly for our Operations Director who had worked so hard to keep ahead of this situation.  As they say in these parts, “bless her heart”!

She did the right thing though.  You can only make a decision with the information you have at the time, and the first concern is everyone’s safety.  As we all made our way back home, the storm grew very quickly with fierce wind and heavy rain.  We called it a night thinking it would be over by morning.

But no.  This is Texas after all, where we don’t usually get a nice, gentle, dreamy rain.  It poured all night, and was coming down even harder the next morning.  Nor did the lightning and thunder let up, cracking and rumbling and shaking for hours.  It was so loud I wanted to crawl under the bed with my cat Baxter.  By the time we were all going into work for a 10:00 rehearsal, there was flooding and the rain was so heavy it was truly terrifying.  Cars floated, trees came down, power was out all over the place.  Only about two-thirds of the orchestra made it in, some from quite far away, but we had to rehearse.  We would be doing a new program for a run-out concert that night in Greenville, Texas, about an hour east of Dallas. Again, trunks had to be loaded and the stage crew would arrive at the venue ahead of the rest of us to set up.  By the time the rehearsal was over, the storm was too, and clean-up had already begun around the city.  The power, tree and insurance companies would have their hands full.  And the orchestra would hit the road at 6 p.m. sharp.

As the weather cleared the sun came up, and the show went on despite the various hardships individuals had suffered with damage to cars and houses.  The next day there was another rehearsal for another program and the week culminated with our popular Latina Festival. We blitzed through four sets of folders just this week!  Now the two-week countdown begins until we leave for our Vail residency.

I’ve always thought the Dallas Symphony should do most of its parks concerts during the spring and early fall which are truly beautiful here, but I suspect the schedule doesn’t allow for extra performances outside during that part of the year.  Oh well.  If we didn’t have gale-force winds and Texas-sized storms, I wouldn’t have a story to tell.  As a percussionist friend of mine used to say:  “Ain’t summer grand?!”


2 Responses to 'It Was a Dark and Stormy Night'

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  1. Beth said,

    Thanks for sharing. There is nothing like a little weather to add ambience to an outdoor or indoor concert. I am amazed at how you juggle all the different programs and weather emergencies. I look forward to learning all about triage for these as well.

    What a great story AND a great blog. I look forward to reading often.

    • kschnack said,

      Thanks Beth! I bet you do plenty of juggling yourself with different programs. Going through so many so fast always feels like cooking for Thanksgiving dinner — one spends hours and days cooking, and the meal is over in less than 30 minutes. Same for these programs, we spend weeks and months putting things together, and then all of a sudden 4 in a row are over! C’est la vie.

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