Bass Blog

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

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Blessed Relief

Every Dog Has His Day

It is never too early in a season to start thinking about time off, although as I mentioned here once before it is often best to hold vacation weeks in abeyance until the dog days of the season. Since I seem to have hit my own personal dog days a little early this year it is probably for the best that I find myself faced with the next three weeks off.

Possibly to someone in a different profession three weeks off sounds exactly like what it is, but in my world time off comes in various ‘flavors’. So what I am enjoying now is a sort of three-scoop ice cream cone of work relief, with each scoop more delicious than the last.

I’m certain an explanation is in order.

This week (November, 5 – 11) I am rotated off the program. Technically, I am on call. Should a colleague fall ill or be otherwise discomfited I could be called into action at any moment. Of course, the likelihood of this happening decreases as the week and the rehearsals for the concert go on. Lest anyone think I am waiting to jump into action, a freshly rosined bow leaning by the front door, the car engine idling, I confess the strategy for a week like this is to studiously avoid answering the telephone for the first few days, make an offering for the continued health of my colleagues, and continue on about my business.

Next week is a split orchestra week. There are actually two kinds of split orchestra weeks, but I will defer explanation of the differences. To continue the ice cream flavor analogy, one is like coffee, the other, cappuccino. Split orchestra weeks happen when we play repertoire requiring a small orchestra. There are two weeks a year of the type happening next week and players are required to play one of them and receive the other as guaranteed time off. But that isn’t the end of the story. Often, the programs on a split week require less than half of the orchestra. When this is the case, players assigned to the split week may be rotated off. So it is possible for two players to be off the same week, one on call, the other not. I think I am not on call next week, but I have to check.

The following week, the week of Thanksgiving, is one of my released weeks. Released weeks are the chimera of time off in the orchestra. Even the term is elusive; is it released week, or release week? I’ve heard both. The confusion reminds me of the term in football describing that odd little pass quarterbacks throw, sometimes out of desperation, sometimes mischievously; the shuffle pass, or is it the shovel pass? Everybody knows what it is, but what is it? Scour the contract for a section dealing with ‘Released Weeks’ or ‘Release Weeks’ and you may come up empty. And yet, every new player comes into the CSO knowing they get two ‘release weeks’ off every year. It’s one of the first things you learn about after being shown your locker, the stage, and the restrooms.

The short definition of a released week is seven days off, not on call. String players choose weeks by lottery before the start of every season while winds and percussion are constrained by repertoire and other considerations. These weeks are valuable because they are flexible (to a point) and guaranteed; a player might take an out of town engagement, plan family activities, or whatever, with the secure knowledge they will not be called back.

So, what does a player do with their time off? Answers to that are the subject for another post.

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