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Arts and Entertainment

How the Cleveland Orchestra's instruments travel overseas: Very carefully
Stage Manager Joe Short's job is part builder, part weather forecaster, and all caution
This story is part of a special series.

Vivian Goodman
The crew gets right to work immediately following the Linz concert. No time to waste with three concerts coming up on Wednesday through Friday at the famed Musikverein in Vienna, Austria.
Courtesy of Vivian Goodman
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In The Region:

The Cleveland Orchestra’s tour of Europe is an enormous undertaking. In all, including the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus which is along for four of the concerts, about 260 musicians and their support staff will have traveled to eight cities in about 2 1/2 weeks.

Every hall has different acoustical challenges, not to mention the delicate work of transporting the instruments safely to each of their destinations.

That’s been the responsibility of Stage Manager Joe Short for the past 13 seasons. WKSU’s Vivian Goodman is following the orchestra on tour and had a chance in Cologne to talk with Short:



LISTEN: Joe Short's very big job

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Imagine moving 100 trunks full of delicate musical instruments to eight cities in 18 days. That's the responsibility of the Cleveland Orchestra stage hands, and they're always note-perfect, just like the musicians.

Joe Short says he’s always been a backstage guy. He began his career in stage lighting, then transitioned to corporate work, rock shows and even Broadway. His first tour with the Cleveland Orchestra was in 1998 to Japan, Hong Kong and China, and today he’s in his 13th season as the orchestra’s stage manager.

He says the most stressful part of his job is shipping the very valuable cargo – the musicians’ instruments.

“They certainly are very valuable and it’s interesting – not just valuable in the dollars sense category, but also very valuable in the sense that some musicians, they’ll spend half their career, five years perhaps at the minimum, searching for that perfect violin.

“So we have a very, very, very successful record of no damage; certainly not serious damage to any instruments. However, what adds to the stress is the personal relationship that each musician has with their instrument and how important that particular instrument is to their career.”

Keeping the temperature just so
Shipping them requires building pallets, loading and unloading cargo hulls in planes, and traveling with two 53-foot trucks.

“There’s about 130 trunks depending on how much percussion we’re bringing. One thing that we pay very close attention to … is the temperature. Especially this time of year when it starts getting cold, we really have to guard against any of the instruments being exposed to the cold weather and then – even more so -- they’re immediately brought into a warm building. So we’re very paranoid about that.”

The trucks are temperature controlled, maintaining a temperature of 68-72 degrees. “I actually have sensors that I had in a violin case, in a base case, that I can check and make sure that that’s being maintained.

“And then they’re put on part of the aircraft that is very much watched and temperature controlled -- usually the part of the aircraft that ships things such as live lobster. “

The instruments are kept under wrap and seal to keep out moisture on the tarmac. And some of the instruments carry their own, smaller, instruments.

But “it can often be tough on musicians in the double bass or cello section, trombone section, just because of the nature of our travel . … It can be several days until they see their instrument.”

(Click image for larger view.)

Listener Comments:

Dear Vivian,
Excellent job on the interview. What a special treat it must be to see them play in the Musikverein. I have been there but would love to see my beloved Cleveland Orchestra play there. Thanks.
-Bernie P.

Posted by: Bernie (Pepper Pike) on November 20, 2013 5:11AM
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