This article appeared in the November 1997 issue.
The following video was taken at the concert described in this article.
SYMPHONY STRIKES POSITIVE CHORD
Pat thought twice before bringing her grandson Isaiah to a noon performance of the HP Symphony Orchestra.
Pat, a busy manager for HP Press in Palo Alto, wasn't sure if the fidgety 2-year-old would cause a commotion during the concert--irritating the audience, or worse, the musicians. But when HP Labs chemist and principal conductor George Yefchak prompted 50 of his fellow employees to begin playing their instruments, the child froze in his tiny tracks. As Pat discovered later, little Isaiah wasn't frightened.
He was spellbound.
"After that concert, all he could talk about was the violin," says Pat "He was obsessed."
That was in 1994. Today, at the ripe old age of five, Isaiah is a budding violinist who takes lessons and practices every day.
"It's so gratifying to hear that we touched this little child's life," says Herb Gellis, Cupertino software engineer who acts as orchestra manager and who helped found the group nearly five years ago. "It speaks to the power of the employee orchestra at HP."
HP supports its employee orchestra by paying for some instruments, sheet music and making meeting rooms available for rehearsal. "It's great that we have the level of support that HP has been providing for this orchestra," says Russell Iimura, ICED software development engineer, and the orchestra timpanist. "We get direct monetary support, plus help in transporting the drums, and storage."
Outside of HP, the 100-member Toshiba Philharmonic Orchestra has built a solid reputation in Tokyo, and has even toured the U.S. and performed at Carnegie Hall. The Mayo Clinic and 3M Symphony Orchestra receive annual grants from company activity funds. 3M's includes funding for an annual Christmas concert.
Under Yefchak, the HP orchestra will perform a variety of concerts through November 14, including music from Star Trek, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2." Performances are held during the lunch hour, with one special evening performance for family and friends at the end of each season. (See Upcoming Events, page 7, for performance dates and sites.)
Far from being stuffy, these are the sort of musicians who like to have fun during concerts: On Halloween, WTEC software support technician and assistant conductor Dan Dickerman wore a bunny tail on the back of his tuxedo, and used a carrot stick to conduct.
"I was going to use big cartoon bunny hands, too," he says, "But it's hard to turn the pages."
As can be expected, the biggest challenge for most employee musicians is making rehearsals, which are held during lunch hour and include some evening practice sessions.
"Even when the rehearsal is downstairs, it still can be tough to get away from day-to day work," says Iimura.
Nonetheless, these musicians say participating in the symphony provides respite from their stress-filled careers.
"It's such a good stress reliever," says Claudia Zornow Operation Services Division software engineer and a musician who plays 11 instruments--including the tuba, clarinet and saxophone. "It provides such camaraderie among musicians that I'd have to think twice before leaving the company."
It's sentiments like these that will help employee orchestras flourish in the work place for years to come. Which means that someday somewhere, little Isaiah may he playing their tune.