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I've been with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for over 30 years; and have been on more tours than I can count.
Every time I leave for a tour, people tell me how lucky I am to be able to travel to places like Europe, Asia, and throughout the United States, while listening to great music. They're right. I am lucky, I have a great job doing something that I am passionate about.
However, there are times when I do not feel lucky at all. Those times usually occur while we are on tour.
Let me paint a picture: We are in a beautiful concert hall in a foreign city, it is not the first city of the tour, but we have been traveling so much we haven't acclimated to local time. The orchestra plays their hearts out, applause, applause, applause. But now is when the crew must pack up any trace that we have been there; this includes: all the instrument cases, wardrobe cases, the music library cases, and all other miscellaneous cases that we use on the road. We easily fill up two semi-trucks with these cases. Every single case needs to be rolled out of the concert hall into a waiting truck. Loading the trucks are like solving a puzzle. The cases have to be handled carefully so as not to jostle the delicate instruments inside, and they must be packed with an eye towards maximizing space. Three hours after the concert has finished and the trucks are loaded, we then must drive to the nearest airport with a cargo center (this could be the local airport or this could be the airport a couple of countries away).
When we get to the cargo center, it is usually around 3 in morning, and more often than not it is extremely cold. Los Angeles does not prepare you for working in temperatures that hover around 0.
The trucks must now be unloaded. All of those carefully packed cases, must be carefully off-loaded and prepared for palletizing.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term palletizing: this is a procedure that involves taking the cases and putting several of them on what looks like a over-sized cookie sheet, wrapping them in industrial strength plastic, and then placing a netting over that. This is for the purpose of making sure the cases do not shift within flight. Each pallet must be a specific height and width to conform to the interior of the aircraft, and these dimensions can vary every time. Palletizing can take 3-4 hours.
Once we are done palletizing we often feel like the walking wounded, and it is all we can do to stumble to the closest hotel to shower and if we are lucky get some sleep before we have to go back to the airport. We either travel with the cargo, or we follow on a commercial flight to our next city. Once the instruments clear customs we then de-palletize (which is self explanatory) and now roll the cases to waiting trucks which will take us to the next concert hall. We unload the trucks and load the cases into the theater. We then set the stage for the concert that evening. And we repeat the entire scenario that evening.
Sometimes I feel like I'm stuck in "Groundhog Day"; and sometimes the tour schedule can be brutal; but the sense of accomplishment I feel when the concert goes off without a hitch makes it all seem worthwhile.