Thursday, October 22, 2009


A few weeks ago the Los Angeles music scene was blessed by the opening concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of the amazing young conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Those of us who of necessity must take second best were similarly blessed by a PBS presentation of that event on TV last night.

What a treat it was!

And it reminded me of the time I applied for a job as a secretary to a local philharmonic society.

When Jerry and I returned from Istanbul I had exactly 7 years of working life left before retirement. Fifty-eight is not an optimum age for finding a job; all I knew is that I had very good secretarial skills to offer and I had many letters of recommendation from past "bosses." I knew there would be "something" for me; I just wanted to make sure that whatever it was was a perfect fit, because I needed to stay put in that spot until I turned 65.

In the same one-week period I found three jobs advertised that I felt would be a good fit. One was with The Salvation Army, one was with a local hospital and the third was with the Philharmonic society of a good-sized town. This was in the days before on-line job applications, so my letters went out to these three organizations.

The first to call was the music organization. I was so excited that they were interested. Music has always been one of my first loves, and the idea of working in and around an orchestra was exhilarating! So with great hope in my heart I went down to the interview.

The second response to my application was with The Salvation Army. I had worked for them in the past as a social worker for the "church" wing of the organization; the job I had applied for was with the "drug and alcohol rehab" wing. Because of my previous employment I felt I stood a good chance of being accepted in this job.

I did not initially hear from the hospital, but since I really had my heart set on the Philharmonic job, I didn't worry about it.

The day of the interview with the Phil arrived. What I learned first was that the staff operated out of an ancient city building, that the building was not air conditioned, that the secretary's office was on the west side of the building and that the secretary would have a fan in the summer and a floor heater in the winter. On the day of my interview the temperature outside was about 85 degrees and in the secretary's office with fan at full bore it was about 95 and rising. I knew right off that I could not do this, but unwilling to say "no" without checking the whole thing out, I sat for a first interview with the director and then with the secretary.

It all sounded so good, and the chemistry between the three of us seemed a good indicator of successful employment. But as the interview with the secretary came to a close, I asked her what she found the most difficult part of her job. She thought a minute, and then said, "Well, confidentially it is all the hand-holding I have to do with the old-lady patrons. I get calls every day from someone whose nose is out of joint because of someone else doing or saying something. It's my job to keep them happy, since they are our benefactors. But other than that, the job is wonderful. I get to attend every concert free, that being just one of the perks."

I knew right then that I would never, ever, accept that job. I did get a letter offering the job to me and I sent back a letter of regret that I could not accept it. I got another letter from the director asking me to reconsider and sweetening the pot. The two things that bothered me - the ghastly hot office and the fussing of old women - couldn't be rectified in any way, shape or form that would entice me to the job. I, regretfully, again turned it down.

I accepted The Salvation Army job on the spot at interview time, and later when a phone call came from the Hospital asking my forgiveness for the delay in contacting me but they were very interested in someone with my medical background, I was already on the job at the Adult Rehab where I did, in fact, happily stay until I retired. It was a tough job, more tough that I could ever imagine, but I never gave thought to leaving because the "work" of rehab was so important.

Periodically through the years, and especially last night as I sat and watched that young conductor take the Orchestra through Mahler's 1st symphony without a score in front of him, a fleeting thought of regret at my missed opportunity to be that close to a working orchestra passed through my mind, but I knew I'd made the right decision so many years ago.

Last night's concert on TV may have been second best for me, but it certainly reminded me again of my love of music and to be a little more diligent in hunting out opportunities to see and hear what I have available both on tape, CD and in the local community.

2 comments: said...

I had a great visit with my brother in Northbrook, IL (northern suburb of Chicago). He has just become a member of the Board of Directors for the Northbrook symphony. His one regret about their very accomplished group: their attempt to get Gustav Dudamel as their conductor was unsuccessful as LA had snapped him up. My brother strongly recommended I attend sometime as this young man's ability was something to behold. Now, what are the chances that, within a month's period of time, I, a dyed in the wool folky, should be exposed to a reference to Mr. Dudamel not once, but twice? Small world.

Anonymous said...

Astonishing, simply astonishing! Why can't we have a program like this for our youth?