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Posted on March 2, 2017
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Posted on February 22, 2017
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By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

For the staff, volunteers and crew at Strings, these past eight weeks have been like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in The Wind in the Willows—our own musical escapade to “nowhere in particular.” But as the Strings Music Festival summer season winds down, many things in the pavilion are depleted: hospitality stocks of water and trail mix, every single Sharpie marker, microphone batteries and much of this stage manager’s energy and brain capacity.

Live music venue Steamboat Springs Strings Music Pavilion

I have come to understand that there is a natural progression for any season-oriented undertaking:

  • Game On—fully stocked and raring to go
  • Oops, Oh Yeah—early season overconfidence, relearning last season’s forgotten lessons
  • The Groove—mid-season smooth sailing, stuff is getting done, people are getting along
  • We Can Do This—final stretch re-energizing, psyche up for the finish, buy more Band-Aids
  • It’s Not Over Yet?—bleary-eyed-ness and inability to form complete sentences even though there’s work yet to be done

Personally, I am smack-dab in the middle of the final stage, so the remainder of this column will be about me counting things and forgetting to put in proper punctuation (with apologies to the Pilot’s copyeditors for the extra work).

A distillation of Strings’ 29th summer season:

  • 12,815 Audience members
  • 107 Classical musicians
  • 95 Hours of classical rehearsal
  • 79 Community volunteers
  • 60 Pots of (terrible) coffee
  • 46 Guild members
  • 45 Different Tempo artists
  • 30 Performances at the pavilion
  • 8 Free shows at the Botanic Park
  • 4 Rolls of black gaff tape
  • 1 Hard-working technical crew and management team

And finally,

  • ∞ music stand and orchestra chair moves

Our crazy, eight-week musical adventure has brought us from Clint Black to Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush to Tommy Emmanuel and all the way to Vienna in 1800. And now, we exit the summer season ride a little breathless, somewhat windblown and ready to prop our slippered feet up on the fender and proclaim it a jolly good time indeed.

 

Upcoming fall/winter events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and www.stringsmusicfestival.com.

 

Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.

Posted on August 12, 2016
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By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

I often write about performing artists and their quirks in this column, giving short shrift to my black-clad stagehand colleagues who are the heavy lifters, the gaff-tapers, the fix-it-quick-ers and the small gods of all things technical.

So I set out to write a column about the history of stagehands, going back to Greek theatre (700 BC) and Roman theatre (4th century). But what I discovered was…nothing. I admit that my research is done online in three hour chunks of classical rehearsal time and is regularly interrupted by necessary rehearsal tasks. But, still…nothing?

It wasn’t until I moved into 14th century Japan and the start of the Noh theatre tradition that I started to find written details about stagehands. It’s clear that the Greeks and the Romans had them—based on stage directions written into surviving scripts, the layout of theatre ruins and the undeniable fact that performer egos are performer egos no matter what century they inhabit—but stagehand contributions from those periods are lost to time. Or at least, they’re lost to this stage manager’s quick perusal of the internet during a rehearsal break.

Stage attendants for Japanese Noh theatre are called “koken,” even to this day. The running crew for Japanese Kabuki theatre are “kuroko.” In these traditional art forms—which date back to the 14th and 17th centuries—the koken and kuroko appear onstage, wearing black, to move scenery and props during a performance, much like today’s western stagehands. Their black clothing signaled to the audience that they were not part of the action of the performance, that they were not to be noticed. During a Kabuki performance, kuroko might become scenery themselves—by stretching a piece of fabric to become a wall or the sea, or holding a mask to represent an animal or another natural element.

Western theatre lore says that theatrical rigging for backdrops and scenery pieces in Elizabethan times came from ship rigging, and that the 16th century stagehand was probably a sailor working a second job. While that idea might be apocryphal, I like the thought that when sailors were in port between sailing gigs, they might get work as theatre technicians.

2006AV1937_globe_theatre_painting_david_scott

In the 17th century, western opera took the idea of the not-to-be-seen stagehand and expanded it to fit opera’s more-is-more grandeur with the supernumerary. A supernumerary is a non-speaking, non-singing role intended to fill out the stage with people during crowd scenes. Unlike their Japanese stagehand cousins, opera supers are actors and appear in costume, not in black, because they’re intended to be part of the scene. Although their larger purpose is to create stage tableaux during the performance, supers are often called on to move furniture and props during the singing action onstage.

Strings has a small technical crew—a lighting designer, a lead audio engineer, an assistant audio engineer and a stage manager. For classical recordings, we also have a recording engineer. For Different Tempo shows, our production director joins in the heavy lifting. In a larger venue, each of these positions would be managing multiple team members, designing systems and directing the action of a department. At Strings, each of us is a get-your-hands-dirty worker as well as the brains behind our individual specialties onstage. What that means for me is that, in addition to being the stage manager, I am also the sole classical concert stagehand, regularly seen onstage (wearing black) moving chairs and stands.

My excellent colleagues happily jump in to help me when there’s more to move than I can manage, leaving their lighting and soundboard brain work behind to become piano-moving or harpsichord-shifting muscle. Theatre technicians can be a territorial lot (some crews act like they’re still crotchety Elizabethan pirates on second jobs), making cross-departmental cooperation a thing to be celebrated. So, even though stagehands have been avoiding the limelight for centuries, I’d like to put the spotlight on the stage crew at Strings for some well-deserved kudos.

Thanks, guys. You’re the best—I couldn’t do this without you.

 

Upcoming events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and www.stringsmusicfestival.com.

 

Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.

 

Posted on August 8, 2016
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By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

I move a lot of chairs and music stands around the Strings Music Pavilion these days, usually in the service of setting up or striking an orchestra. Luckily for me, hundreds of years of music history provide a road map for my organizational and logistical efforts. A western orchestra is made up of four sections, or families—strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion—and the location of each instrument onstage is pretty standard.

Strings: instruments that make sound from strings that are plucked (guitar, harp), bowed (violin) or struck (dulcimer, piano).

Woodwinds: instruments that make sound by having air blown into them, either across an edge (flute), through a reed (clarinet, saxophone), or between two reeds (bassoon.)

Brass: instruments that make sound by vibrating air through the lips into a mouthpiece. They may or may not be made out of metal.

brass-instruments

Percussion: instruments that make sound by being hit, shaken, scratched or rubbed.

Notice that these families have nothing to do with what the instrument is made from, and everything to do with how each group produces sound. Flutes and saxophones are both made of metal, but they belong to the woodwind family, not the brass, because they don’t use the lip vibration method to make sound. It could certainly be argued that brass instruments and woodwinds are cousins, since they both produce sound with air. But the method of producing the sound and the resulting timbre of the sound are so different between the groups that they’re categorized as separate families.

It can also be argued that, instead of being a string instrument, the piano belongs to the percussion family because it produces sound by hammers hitting the strings. In fact, after (admittedly brief) research online, it seems that the question of which family can claim the piano is an ongoing argument among people who care about such things. For my purposes, which consist solely of “where do I put this onstage?”, the piano is a string instrument and sits behind the violins in orchestra setup.

(Unless the orchestra is playing a piano concerto, and then the piano sits front and center in the solo position. Let’s not even mention the logistical nightmare that happens when the piano has a starring role in one piece, but has to move to its modest rear position for another piece in the same program. I’m so grateful that Strings’ pianos have wheels…)

Orchestra configurations can differ, depending on the instrumentation and the conductor’s preferences, but in general, the families are grouped together and set up from stage right to stage left like this: first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, basses behind cellos. Woodwinds are grouped together mid-stage, right behind the violas. Brass are usually in a row behind the winds, but occasionally they get grouped over by the basses if space is tight. Percussion goes behind everybody. Because the Strings stage is relatively shallow, I tend to set up timpani at stage left rear, behind the basses, and percussion at stage right rear, behind the violins.

At their kids’ performances, C Street Brass makes a reasonable-sounding trumpet onstage using just a piece of rubber tube and a plastic funnel. And just to prove that instrument families are about sound production method and not materials, if funnel-tubing guy shows up to play an orchestra concert, I’ll give him a seat in the brass section.

 

Upcoming events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and www.stringsmusicfestival.com.

 

Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.

 

Posted on August 1, 2016
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By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

Last week, the pavilion was a celebration of brass instruments. C Street Brass played here twice, as well as at other venues around town. And we had a tribute to composer John Williams on Saturday, featuring 18 brass players and four percussionists. My week felt like a whirlwind of all things brass, so let me share with you a few things that brass players like:

Hydration. This is actually the first thing C Street Brass players said when I asked them for ideas for this column. But I don’t think they were talking about water.

C Street Brassweb

 

Oxygen. A brass player forces lots of air into the mouthpiece through almost closed lips to make a smooth sound, with the highest and the lowest notes requiring the most air. At an elevation of 6,900 feet, the Strings pavilion is a tough place to play a brass instrument. The backstage oxygen tank was in regular use.

Constant temperature for their instruments. Large temperature swings make the metal expand and contract. If it’s too cold, the instrument will be flat. If it’s too hot, everything will be sharp. Humidity makes a difference, too, but temperature swings are what really cause instrument angst.

Embouchure. In order to play a brass instrument, the musician purses his or her lips and buzzes air through the mouthpiece at different intensities, varying the tension of the lips or stopping the air with the tongue for different note effects. It takes a lot of practice to build up the face, lip and tongue muscles enough to play for more than a few minutes. Brass players call those muscles, collectively, the embouchure—which is hard to pronounce, but sounds much nicer and makes for cooler cocktail party conversation than “buzzy-lip-spit-muscles.”

When the stage manager knows the difference between a tuba and a sousaphone, a cornet and a trumpet or a piccolo trumpet and a flugelhorn. Visiting musicians are not always happy to discover my instrument-identifying deficiencies, but that’s how I get someone never to ask me to fetch their instrument again. Here’s a pro tip from my personal embarrassment files: French horn and horn are the same instrument.

(In related news, and to my own which-instrument-did-you-want? relief, the International Horn Society has decreed that the French horn will be called, for-now-and-forever-amen, just “the horn.” France is appealing the decision.)

Condensation. Brass players blow a constant raspberry into a tube of metal. Eventually, what goes in must come out, usually in drippy bits on the stage floor. The musicians like to get euphemistic and call it condensation, but I’m pretty sure it’s just spit.

There are three weeks left in Strings’ summer season—grab a seat and enjoy some great music!

Upcoming events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and www.stringsmusicfestival.com.

 

Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.

Posted on July 25, 2016
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By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

If an army marches on its stomach, then a music festival marches on its coffee mug.

It has fallen to me to make the backstage coffee at Strings. But it has fallen to others to drink it. At this point, four weeks into the season, I’ve made around 30 pots of brown go-go juice. That might not seem like much if you work at Creekside or Winona’s, but I’m a tea drinker (coffee caffeine makes me too feisty for company), so that amount seems enormous to me. And I make truly awful coffee, so that amount probably seems enormous to my co-workers and the musicians, too.

There’s the pot of coffee for the Strings crew and office staff, first to arrive in the morning. Then there’s one for the musicians to sip at as they prep for rehearsal. On Different Tempo days, there’s also a pot for the traveling crew as they emerge, bleary-eyed, from the tour bus that made an overnight haul to Steamboat from their last gig. Sometimes there’s a second pot needed at rehearsal break for the classical musicians, or one at dinner to keep the Different Tempo bus and truck drivers awake overnight to the next gig.

The nice people at Steamboat Coffee and Tea Company must have heard about my…creations…so they took pity on the artists and kindly donated the use of a fancy machine and a bunch of lovely coffee for classical rehearsals. They also insisted on coming to Strings to train me on how to use the machine properly. This took an hour, because I am both dense and stubbornly resistant to change. But I take good notes and follow directions eventually, so the classical musicians get the good stuff.

12_coffee-classics

My co-workers and the Different Tempo artists, on the other hand, get the regular old coffee pot and whatever ratio of coffee grounds to water that happens to appeal to me on that day. It is not always a fortunate combination.

Why, in heaven’s name, would they ask a tea drinker to make gallons of coffee for already high-strung artistic types? Someone at Strings has a sick sense of humor.

I’ve been accused of making terrible coffee on purpose, in the hope that someone (anyone) will ask me not to make it anymore. While the idea of a secret exit plan appeals to me, I actually consider myself in the Coffee Philosophy Camp of my brother Dave, a combat veteran with three (soon to be four) small children, who believes that coffee is simply a tool for consciousness. “Are you awake?” he says. “Then it’s working. Who cares what it tastes like?”

Just how bad can my coffee be if so many people are drinking so much of it during the season? Well, let me give you one example: Production Director Steve Chambers used caffeinated water to make coffee while he was a rigger on a U2 tour and reported that it tasted horrible, but he still drank enough to make his eyes vibrate. This is a man who will drink just about anything. But last Sunday, even though sound engineers Noah and Tyler managed to choke down a cup each, Steve rebelled at my backstage bean water and offered to make a new pot himself.

Maybe that exit plan idea has some merit. If only I had thought of it four weeks ago…

 

Upcoming events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and www.stringsmusicfestival.com.

 

Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.

 

Posted on July 18, 2016
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We’re back again to family concert summer reading. At Strings, I love the arts and I love reading. Therefore, it made perfect sense to partner with the librarians at the Bud Werner Memorial Library to enrich the summer experiences for everyone in town! C Street Brass headlines our next concert. This concert is extra-special because it is our first-ever sensory-friendly concert at Strings. That means this show has been specifically designed for people with sensory processing disorders, like autism. Small but significant accommodations are made to make this concert experience an enjoyable and relaxed experience for everyone. 

 

C Street Brass is an amazing brass quintet, and they hail from Pittsburgh. This is their fourth summer in Steamboat! For those of you unfamiliar with brass instruments, or if your children are unsure of the strange sliding pipes, check out these books below. 

Tubby the Tuba by Paul Tripp

Grades Pre-K-3

Ben's TrumpetBen’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora

Grades Pre-K-3 (a Caldecott Honor book!)

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Grades Pre-K-3

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure by Wynton Marsalis

Grades Pre-K-3

Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes

Grades Pre-K-3

Can You Hear It? by William Lach

Grades Pre-K – 5

Passing the Music Down by Sarah Sullivan

Grades K-3

Carnival of the AnimalsThe Carnival of the Animals by Jack Prelutsky

Grades K-3

M is for Melody: A Music Alphabet by Kathy-Jo Wargin

Grades 1-4

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown

Grades 1-5

Moonlight on the Magic Flute by Mary Pope Osborne

Grades 2-5

Children’s Book of Music by DK Publishing

Grades 3-7

Trumpet_of_the_Swan_CoverThe Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

Grades 3-7

 

 

 

Stay tuned for our next reading list, all set for PigPen Theatre Co. (but it’s actually a concert) on July 31st!

 

Posted on July 15, 2016
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By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

Concert days at Strings are an ever-shifting grab-bag of variables, and any time you combine territorial technicians, quirky electronic equipment, delicate musical instruments, egos, nerves and jet lag, there’s a really good chance that something will go wrong.

Some of you will remember that we started the Chris Botti show 30 minutes late last year because his traveling sound board died 15 minutes before the show, and we had to replace it with ours and re-patch the entire show’s sound cabling before we could start. It was a pretty major train wreck with nothing to be done about it except move as fast as possible once the disaster struck.

soundboard

But sometimes we get lucky and disaster passes us by with a wink and a nod, and the audience is never aware that there was a problem at all. If you’ve been to Strings this summer, I hope you were blissfully ignorant of the close calls so far.

Clint Black’s longtime drummer was having surgery, so they brought a substitute drummer. Not only was this the band’s first drummer sub in 30 years, the day of our show was also the sub’s first rehearsal and first performance with the group. He was so terribly nervous backstage that I considered giving him a bucket in case nerves turned into nausea. Then he went onstage and killed it. No bucket required.

One of the two screens on Clint Black’s traveling lighting board went blank during rehearsal/sound check. The crew pulled the computerized guts out of the thing and spent hours poking at it with screwdrivers while talking to tech support on the phone. Despite my skepticism, they got it back together and working again before we opened the house for the audience.

At 6:55pm on Opening Orchestra night, one of the bass players realized that the weird brass fitting and two screws that had mysteriously appeared onstage at dress rehearsal behind his stool were, in fact, from his instrument. With help from our audio/recording intern, Tyler Peyman, the bass was quickly—if a little frantically—repaired and tuned, and we started at 7:02pm with a visibly relieved bass player.

I made a set change before the last piece on Orchestra Opening night and accidentally left two empty music stands behind, right in the middle of the entrance walkway. Conductor Michael Sachs saved my bacon by pointing it out, but I still had to scurry around like a frightened rabbit to try and clear them up before he tripped on my mistake.

Eric, the Fab Four musician who plays Ringo Starr, wears a really good prosthetic nose as part of his makeup. But Eric sweats a lot, and that nose really wanted to be somewhere else by the time the show was done. Another encore would have been a disaster.

nose

Brent Rowan’s concert day is always as pleasant and easy-going as Brent himself. So easy-going, in fact, that it made me nervously wonder at 7:45pm, “What are we forgetting?” In an unusual move for Murphy’s Law, it turns out that we forgot nothing, and no little mishaps occurred moments before show time.

Does it count as a close call if I anxiously await a disaster that never comes?

Upcoming events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and www.stringsmusicfestival.com.

 

Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.

Posted on July 11, 2016
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By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

The business side of music isn’t nearly as interesting as the performance side, but it’s a necessary evil. Contracts cover the financial and legal aspects of a performance, while the rider outlines the technical requirements along with the band’s everyday backstage needs like towels, soap, green tea and which salsa brand is preferred.

Contracts and riders are usually based on templates created by a lawyer. As you can imagine, this makes for some desperately dry reading. But once in a while, someone actually on the tour gets hold of the template and slips something in just to make sure we’re paying attention. Here are a couple of examples from this year’s Different Tempo riders at Strings:

  • There are a lot of great systems out there and we’re not that picky, but we do still have standards.
  • We are currently touring without our own engineer, so TAG! You’re it!
  • Make sure you have enough short booms for the drums; tall booms make the drums look ugly.

No one ever asks me about contracts, because contracts are boring. But people do like to ask me about riders, because they showcase cringe-worthy artistic temperaments like nothing else. Any concert crew can tell you stories about an artist who wants M&Ms, but NO GREEN ONES OR ELSE. Or one who pitches a fit and refuses to play if the wrong brand of water is backstage. Or one who doesn’t want anyone but his own band to make eye contact with him because it makes him too nervous before a show.

green-mms

But I haven’t seen this kind of behavior at Strings (if you see me at City Market, maybe I’ll tell you stories from another venue…) The riders for Different Tempo shows are, for the most part, reasonable requests by reasonable people. If there are some oddities, I’m happy to provide agreed-upon comfort treats to people who spend the majority of their lives on the road, away from family and friends and their own refrigerators. (Especially if it makes them sweet and docile for an entire 15-hour day.)

My favorite part of reading riders is trying to figure out what crummy thing happened that made it necessary to include a specific detail. For example, I wonder how many times you have to show up backstage to find a whole cantaloupe waiting for your breakfast with no way to get into it, before you start adding this detail to your rider:

  • 1 cantaloupe (with knife and metal spoon to cut and clean it out with)

And I can only imagine the frustrating days that brought on these two gems:

  • Four (4) qualified, able-bodied, continually sober stagehands
  • Two (2) followspots with GOOD operators

Or this one:

  • Especially in Germany, the opening band sometimes drinks all of the headliner’s beer…If this is going to be a problem, then add 36 more beers to the number quoted above.

Alcohol is a common theme, and there is much rider space devoted to the discussion of the amount of it, who is purchasing it, how much ice needs to accompany it, who is allowed to drink it, where it needs to be located and when it needs to be available for consumption by the band.

  • Unless [the crew] is straight-edged, we might want to add a little more alcohol.

I think that tour manager meant “straight-laced,” but I get the picture: some days are nicer with a little more beer.

 

Upcoming events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056 and www.stringsmusicfestival.com.

 

Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.

 

Posted on July 5, 2016
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