San Francisco Opera’s Assistant Principal Violinist Beni Shinohara shares her experience working in San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestras.
As soon as the final note of the opera fades away and the audience explodes into applause, we orchestra members have a tradition of letting out a collective howl to let go of our tension and express our joy at finishing the performance. When it is the final performance of the fall season, many of the orchestra players pack up their instruments and clear out their lockers. Often people exchange early holiday gifts and greetings because the opera orchestra will not meet again for the next five months.
[Annie Asuka Yano and Beni Shinohara, 1986]
For me, however, the end of the Opera season is just the beginning of another one. This is because I am, like many of my colleagues, actually a member of two orchestras: the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. The Ballet starts running the Nutcracker almost immediately after the Opera season ends and runs to the end of December, which means I go back to work in the orchestra pit several days after the final Opera performance. Even though I have been doing this for more than twenty years, seeing the scenery change in and around the opera house is always exciting. As soon as the Opera’s rehearsal department empties out, the Ballet’s office moves in and starts posting cast lists for the Nutcracker. Before you know it, the dancers have filled the Opera House with new energy, and I start noticing children in the audience looking into the orchestra pit with expressions of wonder: ”wow,” they say!
As much as I crave a break after the intense opera season, the excitement and utter joy of the Nutcracker season never fails to renew my energy!
[Beni Shinohara and Annie Asuka Yano, 2012]
On a bit of an unrelated note, working at the same place for over twenty years can make for some pretty unbelievable experiences. I have had the great pleasure to reunite with my former violin student, Annie Asuka Yano, when she became the newest member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra last year. In 1986, I had just moved to Houston, Texas, from Tokyo when Annie’s parents approached me to be the violin teacher for their five-year old daughter. I was more than happy to take up the job. Who could have thought that I would be working with her as a fellow colleague, twenty-six years later?