Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian plays bass in an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Step 4

OK, the blogging fell by the wayside lately, due in part to my crappy laptop acting up. Actually, like an old cat, it is slowly winding down, sleeping more and more often, harder to wake up, forgetting things …

Also, I’ve had a few more weeks off recently. Some by design, some not. So this post is about a subject truly dear to my heart: time off.

There is a story often told by CSO players about something the late James C. Petrillo once said. After the players had fought for and finally won 52 weeks employment, the labor boss – not necessarily the best friend of the CSO players – reportedly said “Now I suppose the next thing you guys will be wanting is time off,” or something of the sort.

Fair enough.

Here is a way of looking at my own evolution from beginner to sophisticated professional.

1) wanting to hear myself play
2) wanting others to hear me play
3) wanting to be paid to play
and the ultimate step
4) wanting to be paid not to play

There are a number of different ‘flavors’ of time off. Here are some of the most common ways a player could get time off with pay.

The orchestra has vacation weeks, when no concerts or rehearsals are scheduled. These are usually in August, around New Year’s, and between the end of the downtown season and the summer weeks at Ravinia. The season schedule and vacation weeks are spelled out a year or two in advance.

There are two ‘split vacation weeks’ per year. Each player gets one of those weeks off. Usually small orchestra pieces are scheduled so only half the orchestra plays each one. There is some flexibility as to which week a player wants to play or have off.

Each player is entitled to two ‘released weeks’ per season. The string sections choose these by lottery before the beginning of each season. The winds have to take the repertoire more into account, but there is a fair amount of flexibility in choosing these weeks. Most players treat released weeks as vacation weeks, but actually they can be revoked or changed by the management with notice. It rarely happens, but isn’t impossible. If you have a released week, you can usually buy a nonrefundable airline ticket to go somewhere without worry. Knock on wood.

Rotated time off is the real wild card, especially in the strings. Each section has, or is supposed to have, extra players. For example, we have 9 bass players but the ‘normal’ complement is 8. If no player is on release, ill, or off for some other reason, then one or more players may be ‘rotated off’. Players rotated off are on call, so it isn’t a great idea to leave town, although some players do it. My own strategy is to stay far away from the phone when I am rotated off. Additional players may be rotated off a concert if the repertoire or conductor so dictates. Sometimes this happens at the last moment, resulting in an unexpected week off for some. That is how I ended up having all of the Florida tour ‘off’ save one concert. Some players don’t like having those surprise weeks off, some do, so there is a certain amount of haggling and trading that goes on with rotated weeks. Each player is guaranteed one ‘program’ rotated off per season.

There are other ways to have time off – sick leave, maternity leave, sabbaticals, etc. but the ones listed above are the most common.

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