Strings Music Festival: Lessons learned |

Strings Music Festival: Lessons learned

Ali Mignone
See superhero Wendy Chen perform Saturday, July 29 in Rhapsody in Blue: "Live and on the Air."

We are six weeks into Strings Music Festival’s nine-week summer season. We’ve got our groove on in the pavilion — things that weren’t working have been fixed, and things that are going to break haven’t yet. We have two rolls of black gaff tape left, which is plenty for three weeks, unless a visiting crew member pockets one for the bus. And, I have finally accepted the universal truth that measuring coffee grounds into the filter is much more accurate than early-morning-eyeballing-it, so the backstage coffee offerings are a lot more palatable this year.

Personally, I’m at the point in the season at which the days sort of run together, and I feel slightly confused more often than I like to admit. In the absence of useful creative brain power, this week seemed like a good time to look back and examine some of the lessons I’ve learned this season from the stage manager’s chair.

Things that make the stage manager’s head hurt

• When musicians use the onstage piano as a table. I say “onstage piano,” because I want to be clear that the piano was in active use as an instrument, not in backstage storage with the cover on, where, in all honestly, it does look a lot like a giant black table. From the lid of the onstage piano, I have removed, or requested to be removed the following: water bottles, coffee cups, keys, backpacks, violin cases and $1 million violas. Only the viola player thought it necessary to inform me of the relative expensiveness of the offending item. Other miscreants were more suitably chagrined.

• When the sewer clean-out team shows up unexpectedly — accompanied by two gigantic diesel trucks with special (very loud) winch motors to run miles of hose — outside the pavilion while the classical dress rehearsal is being recorded.

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• When artists decide not to use their onstage rehearsal slot, but don’t tell anyone in time to allow the schedule to be offered to other artists in the program who wanted more practice time.

Lessons taken from the above-mentioned things

• I can’t seem to get musicians to stop using the piano as a table. But, rather than viewing this as abject failure on my part, I’m taking it as a challenge. I’m coming for you, Scratchy McScratcherson.

• Giant, sewer-cleaning diesel motors make for squeaky-clean sewers — which we appreciate — but very rumbly recordings. I will try to remember that perspective for the recording engineer the next time he gets cranky about the sound of vibrating cellphones on his live concert recordings.

• Concert pianist Wendy Chen may be Wonder Woman in disguise. In the past four seasons, she has saved Strings’ programming bacon not once, but three times: When another musician was … ahem … suddenly released from his playing responsibilities, Wendy stepped in — on the day of the performance — and flawlessly substituted two solo piano pieces to fill the gap in the program. When another pianist on her program canceled, Wendy learned his piece to play, in addition to her own. When that same pianist had an injury that caused him to cancel this year, Wendy stepped in to save the day yet again and played his pieces brilliantly, alongside several of her own.

Wendy says she’s from Los Angeles, but secretly, I think she’s from Themyscira.

Strings tickets are available by calling 970-879-5056 or visiting

Ali Mignone is the stage manager for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at

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