Historical archives of the original HPSO Web Site

HPSO Archives

 

HPSO History

The history of the HP Symphony is indeed a circuitous one!

Herb Gellis, the HP Symphony's manager and founder, decided to get "serious" about composing classical music as an avocation when he was in his mid-forties. Other than the ubiquitous piano lessons as a child, he had no formal musical training, but had been improvising at the piano since then. He decided to take violin lessons, and did so from a member of the San Jose Symphony, his "home town" orchestra, so as to get first hand experience with a very important symphonic instrument and from the point of view of professional symphony musicians. This led first to his becoming interested in doing a fund-raising or consciousness-raising activity for the San Jose Symphony...

But First, A Faire

In late May of 1993, Herb put on a Performing Arts Faire at the Peppertree Quad area of Hewlett-Packard Corporation's Cupertino site. The idea of the Faire was a means to help spread the word about non-profit performing arts groups in the South Bay (San Francisco Peninsula). Although originally wanting to do something for the San Jose Symphony, the reason for a multi-group Faire was that it was not possible to single out just them as far as a corporate event was concerned.

As a first time effort, we planned to have only about twenty groups, taken from community, youth and professional theater, symphony, and related arts organizations. Aside from staffing a booth, each organization was encouraged to provide some form of entertainment, each in a 15 minute time slot, during several hours around lunch time. We had quite a range of performers, from the San Jose Taiko drummers, to the San Jose Symphony's Brass Quintet.

During the planning for the Faire in April, Herb started putting out feelers to see if he could find enough Hewlett-Packard employees to form an orchestra of sorts that could provide one of the 15 minute entertainment slots as part of the festivities. He had no idea how many people or at what talent levels he was going to find; when it seemed there was a real possibility of at least a quorum, he immediately began the arduous task of finding music to play, rehearsal space and time, and dealing with all of the other minutiae of forming and running a volunteer orchestra, all on very short notice, and with energy that can only be described as "running on adrenaline". Eventually, we gathered about 40 employees from all over the San Francisco Bay area.

The HPSO Premieres

The premiere performance of the newly formed "HP Symphony" took place on May 27, 1993 at the Faire. The weather did not cooperate! As part of an unusually rainy season (which we needed badly), we had a freak late-Spring weather front come in for about two weeks, which gave us overcast skies and misty rain off and on.

When it was our turn to play, we took cover under the eaves of one of the buildings as a light misty rain started coming down! We had a loyal audience perched under the eaves, and under the protection of nearby trees. In fact, we may have had a better acoustic to play in, as it acted as a bandshell to help focus and project our sound!

For that special first concert, we had help from members of the San Jose Symphony, Nova Vista Symphony, and the El Camino Youth Symphony. In fact our "guest" conductor that day was Sarah Salsbury, the manager of the El Camino Youth Symphony, who also continues to lend us their timpani. In the next day's San Jose Mercury News, emblazoned on the front page of the business section in full color, was a large picture of a section of the HP Symphony, huddled under the eaves, entitled "Harmony in the Workplace."

Who Are We?

You might wonder what a "bunch of engineers" would be doing playing in a symphony orchestra! Of course, not all of us are engineers, and actually several have degrees in music. The range of skill levels in the HPSO ranges from beginner to professional. Most of us have played in youth, high school or college orchestras or bands at some time, and are excited to be reviving their skills and interest in their instruments.

We also make room for relative beginners, and of course that includes Herb! We are also lucky to have several members who play at the professional level (and even have played with professional orchestras in the past, such as the Dallas Symphony). Several do double or triple duty and play in some of our area's community orchestras and bands. In addition, we allow a small number of enthusiastic non-HP employees (friends, spouses, people who play instruments we really need, etc.) to join us.

Rehearsals? Do We Have Rehearsals?!

Since we all have "real" 9 to 5 jobs (and then some), free time to rehearse is a bit dear. In this regard we try to be as flexible as possible and still have useful rehearsals. We spread them out over an eight week period, once per week on Mondays, and split them between our Cupertino and Palo Alto locations to make it more fair for our wide-ranging member locations. Five rehearsals are at noon for an hour, and the remaining three are two-hour rehearsals in the evening.

We do not require perfect attendance at rehearsals nor at concerts; far from it! In fact we can accept a member who can attend all or most of the concerts, even if they can only attend a small number of rehearsals (especially if we really need their talents - any more string players out there? French Horn?...)

Herb Gellis
December 1995

 

Note: Beginning with the Fall 2008 season, the HP Symphony is no longer associated with or supported by Hewlett-Packard.

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Historical archives of the original HPSO Web Site