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What does your job include?

 

The audience generally only sees an orchestra attendant when he places the conductor’s score on the stand or checks to see that all musicians have arrived before the orchestra tunes up. That, however, is only a small part of the job. Basically, my job is to ensure that the orchestra has the optimum working conditions.

 

Orkesterijärjestäjä Ande Niemi
It is the job of an orchestra attendant to ensure that the orchestra required for various opera and ballet productions will fit into the FNO orchestra pit.

It includes a lot of physical shifting of stuff but also computer work. Today, we do a lot more advance planning than we used to, in order to ensure that imported productions will fit into our orchestra pit.

We draw up a seating plan for the pit for every production. In large productions and particularly in modern music it is often a very tight squeeze, with loads of percussion that has to be fit into the pit. Sometimes there is only one seating plan that works at all, and we mark that out on the pit floor.

In addition to seating plans for the pit and the rehearsal hall, we organise the ensembles that play backstage and manage guest performances and concerts.

We ensure that the piano gets tuned and put the orchestra’s parts on the music stands according to the seating plan.

Our work is shift work, following the Orchestra’s roster and the productions currently in performance. There are three of us, and we organise our work fairly independently.

How did you end up at the FNO?

I used to study stage technology, but I gave that up when I got a job as orchestra attendant with the Tapiola Sinfonietta on recommendation from a friend. There is no training for this work; I learned on the job there.

I joined the FNO as a permanent employee in 2009. In the summer, I work as an orchestra attendant at the Suvisoitto festival of the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra and as concert coordinator at the Time of Music festival in Viitasaari. Contemporary music is a good contrast to opera, but after two weeks of that you find yourself missing a good old tune!

I also work with other symphony orchestras on occasion. Breaking routine is a good way to prevent stagnation. Two years ago, I received the bronze merit badge of the Association of Finnish Symphony Orchestras.

We draw up a seating plan for the pit for every production. In large productions and particularly in modern music it is often a very tight squeeze.

What is the most challenging thing and the best thing about your job?

The most challenging situation I have come across was the zigzag-shaped orchestra pit at the Rovaniemi Municipal Theatre in a guest performance of Albert Herring. We had to replace the grand piano with an upright piano, and I had to remove a lamp cover from the wall to allow the bass player enough space for the bow.

Töissä taidetehtaassa: Antti Niemi

At the Opera House, problems are rare, since we plan everything carefully in advance. The most challenging thing is fitting a really big orchestra into the pit.

I joined the FNO because I enjoy working with top professionals. My daughter Mimosa is a member of the FNO children’s choir, and my son Olavi used to be a member too and even appeared in solo roles. I feel privileged to be able to share my job and the Opera House with my children! I myself sang in Carmen at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in 1988.

 

What do you do in your free time?

I have played drums and guitar with a band named Jolly Roger for six years. We have had more than 100 gigs and are releasing a new album at the New Year. Mikko Franck is our guest Hammond organist.

I used to do stage managing in jazz and rock, and I am pleased that I have had such a varied career.

I have recently started to do voice acting for animated films. All these things balance out, and my job at the opera governs the timetable for everything else.

 

 

Text: Auli Särkiö
Photos: Staffan Sundström
Published in Ooppera & Baletti 1/2015.