What We Did On Our Summer “Vacation”: Operations Team Edition

David Lewellen

Tagged Under: 2018.19 Season, MSO Notable, Staff

In summertime, it’s not only the Milwaukee Symphony’s musicians who take work with other groups in other parts of the country. The orchestra’s technical staff are also broadening their perspectives.

Stage manager Amy Langenecker and technical manager Tristan Wallace recently spent two weeks immersed in another side of the music industry at Summerfest. The “world’s largest music festival” on Milwaukee’s lakefront needs skilled technical people behind the scenes, and Wallace put in 19-hour days as the production manager for the Uline Warehouse stage. “There really isn’t a typical day, but that keeps the whole thing interesting and exciting,” he said. “I’m doing scheduling, I’m laying cables, I’m doing audio and lighting tech, I’m unloading trucks.”

Wallace took two vacation days from the MSO in order to work on Summerfest, and in mid-July he said, “I haven’t had a day ‘off’ in 61 days.” He has caught up on sleep and showers now that the festival is over, but he still has meetings to plan for the MSO’s upcoming season, and he will be working German Fest and Irish Fest later in the summer.

Before deciding to stay in one place for a while, Wallace spent 15 years almost constantly on the road, touring with Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, and Cirque du Soleil, among others. The MSO gives him “the stability of being able to sleep in my own bed,” but modern technology also lets him write music for movies and TV shows based in Los Angeles – something he has more time for in summer.

Langenecker just finished her 25th Summerfest, but she has lightened her schedule recently; this year, she worked only the first five days of the festival, mostly running lights in the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. “You load in the show in the morning, get a nap in the afternoon, run the show, then load it out,” she said. “The amphitheater is a blank stage every morning. Most acts now bring 15 to 20 semi trucks full of stuff.”

She has been a union stagehand in Milwaukee for 26 years, but after four years with the symphony, “there’s not much temptation to seek extra work,” she said. Most of her summer now is spent with family, friends, and gardening – and preparing for the symphony’s upcoming season, which will be uniquely challenging because of the limited time in Uihlein Hall. The preliminary draft of next year’s trucking schedule, for instance, is much longer and more complicated than the 2018.19 season.

Pat McGinn, the MSO’s principal librarian, is taking it easy this summer, but in 2017 he spent four months preparing music at the Hollywood Bowl, the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. When one of the LA Phil’s three full-time librarians took a leave of absence, McGinn was asked to fill the vacancy.

“It was a good opportunity to explore the area,” McGinn said – particularly since musicians’ work hours don’t overlap much with rush hour on the crowded freeways. He took day trips to Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, and Malibu, and enjoyed the experience, “but I probably wouldn’t want to live there.”

The work of preparing two or three concerts a week in Hollywood – going through the music, marking bowings, marking cuts, coordinating with the conductor – was similar to Milwaukee, he said, since the MSO often does that many different events in a week’s time. McGinn also helped the Los Angeles music librarians prepare for their fall season and a festival of world premieres. Getting brand-new music onto the musicians’ stands “depends on who the composer is,” McGinn said. “They have deadlines, but some meet them and some don’t.”

After taking last summer off to go motorcycling across the country, Jeremy Tusz, the MSO’s audio producer, is currently one of 11 engineers recording concerts at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. In the thin mountain atmosphere, he has learned that “climbing up the stairs to hang mics, you have to take a break when you get to the top.” But he has time for hiking in the afternoon, seeing deer, foxes, and at least one bear. “It’s a nice change of scenery,” he said. “I would say it’s a nice change of pace, but it’s busier than Milwaukee.”

But in socializing with 10 other audio engineers, he is picking up ideas that he might bring back to the MSO. “I have a feeling that I’ll be spending next summer in Milwaukee,” he said. “With the opening of the new hall, we’ll be planning the new studio there.”