Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Best Seat in the House Isn't Always a Chair

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Best Seat in the House Isn't Always a Chair

Article excerpt

When I became a volunteer usher at Symphony Hall in Salt Lake City, I followed the veterans' advice and worked the main floor. Other ushers had warned me that the tiers had a confusing seat-numbering system, and they much preferred ground-level assignments. I thought the main floor was bad enough, with odd-numbered seats on one side and even-numbered on the other, counting out from the middle. No wonder they needed so many ushers.

I was on the Friday shift. Two or three Fridays a month we would show up an hour and a half before the concert in our white shirts and black skirts or pants. The first stop was a small storage room where the dark green blazers hung on a rack. There were never enough jackets in the smaller sizes, and many of us would be tucking our sleeves under as we made our way to the back of the auditorium.

We would meet for instructions and assignments. The supervisor would tell us how long the first piece ran and when to let in latecomers. I sometimes worked the Saturday afternoon children's concert, where the instructions were to "just keep them from falling off the balconies." Finally we received our station assignments, picked up the boxes of programs, and headed for our stations. After directing everyone to the proper seats and letting in latecomers, we were free to find an empty seat and enjoy the concert. At one benefit concert, actor David Ogden Stiers (of "M*A*S*H" fame) served as guest conductor. He came to our ushers' meeting to thank us all for our support of the local symphony. I hadn't realized I was being generous; I thought I had just found a way to hear a lot of great music for free. But the evening finally arrived when I was asked to work First Tier Right. Hesitantly, I made my way up the stairs. First Tier consisted of a few rows of seats stretching around three sides of the hall above the main floor. I walked along the seats to familiarize myself with the numbering system and soon discovered that once you associated the right numbers with the right doors, it was easy. I took my place at the "A" door, the most expensive seats in the house. The guests here were big donors, important visitors, or well-to-do regulars. Many of them knew their way around better than I did. I offered to help only when someone looked lost or confused. I soon realized that because there were fewer seats in the tiers, the crowd was smaller and the work not as hectic. Once everyone was seated and the concert began, I discovered another advantage of First Tier: I could look down on the stage and see every member of the orchestra. Although the sound is great from any seat in the house, my view from the main floor had consisted mostly of the backs of hairdos and rows of violin bows rising and falling between them. …

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