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My days off were spent mostly preparing for the end of the year.
You might be surprised at how much you have to get ready for a long break from the road. I guess it's pretty similar to preparing for a month-long vacation.

I pruned my houseplants, and carefully considered whether I'd need someone to "babysit" them for the month of December. I wrote a few letters and emails in preparation for setting up a Primary Care Physician (on the road you visit so many different doctors that getting a referral can be a real chore unless you get a PCP). I got groceries and cooked for the week, being careful not to buy too much since for the next two weeks I'll be staying in Jameson's parent's place in Chicago. I began packing for that stay too, cramming a week's worth of clothing and supplies into my little suitcase. I took a general inventory of the stuff in my room and made little piles: things to send home ahead of me, things to take to a thrift store, things to relocate in the room.

In between the "chores" I just watched the internet, relaxed, went for walks, etc. Last week Rebecca (wardrobe) put turkeys on all of our doors. I colored mine and listed a few things that I'm thankful for. When all of the turkeys are done (HAW!) I'll post a picture :)

While some of us had a full two days off, others had to work. Train crew is also prepping for the end of the year, taking inventory of room items and passing out a basic Welcome/Guidelines sheet for the new folks coming in. The clowns had PR work, and also visited a local children's hospital. And floor and animal crews had elephant rehearsals, to help incorporate the new elephants into the show.

On Wednesday we only had one show and no rehearsal, so Brett (my boss) arranged for Bill (trumpet) and I to visit the Schilke factory only a few miles from the train! We were greeted by two smiling ladies at the front counter, and ushered into a room containing several Schilke trumpets and trombones, which we were invited to play with. Like kids in a candy store.

There were only three trombones on display, but that's not surprising since Schilke is much more well known for their trumpets. Anyway, I enjoyed trying them all out! I was happy to see that one of the large bore trombones had a Hagmann valve. The small bore tenor sounded very nice, especially with the 47B mouthpiece. Brett and Bill seemed to enjoy their trumpets as well :)

After much fiddling around Kevin, a fairly new Schilke employee, came in to take us on a factory tour! Along the way he described much of what we were seeing and the process of making Schilke trumpets and trombones. Though I've spent a lot of time in instrument repair shops, I have never been to a musical instrument factory before. It was pretty awesome.

We were shown some of the work benches and tables where craftsmen hand-make, polish, and refine brass parts and instruments. Most parts were organized neatly along one wall, file cabinet style. In one room we got to see the engraving machine, a really cool piece of modern technology. It looks a lot like a sideways 3D printer. Here is one of the bells used to test the engraver. Employees cover it in dye so that they can clearly see the etching each time.

Here is a machine for shaping the valves on a trumpet. It's an older piece of equipment but has stood the test of time. Oldies are goodies :)

This more modern machine was making the top section of trumpet valves. It was amazing to watch the giant inner gear head, which must be quite heavy, moving with great precision and delicacy to make the small trumpet parts. Bottom photo is a better look at the "head" with all the screw fittings.

This is a Hitachi Seiki turret lathe, another metalworking machine for making interchangeable parts. It looked super impressive and was absolutely buried in metal shavings. Coooooool.

Along the way we met several specialists hard at work in the shop. Here is the trombone specialist, Dana (sp?). He's been with Schilke for 30-some years! and plays in local big bands and other ensembles.

Some other interesting things from our tour:
A pot of hot pitch used in shaping bells.

A lathe for shaping trombone bells, and partially-formed trombone bell.

A stack of raw brass "logs". I wonder how much it weighs...

We also got to see the huge chemical "vapor bath" that cleans and purifies instruments before they're sent to the lacquering room. Kevin told us that the chemicals it uses are similar to those found in dry cleaning. There were also normal soap baths for the instruments, and large tubs of sulfuric acid for shaping and cleaning. We couldn't go into the lacquer room, because a huge amount of ventilation is required and one's hair or skin flakes could fall off, float around, and get stuck on an instrument. Yikes!

All in all this was an awesome experience. I was amazed by the mixture of old and new, handmade and machine-wrought. The attention and care that goes into each instrument is mind-boggling. Thank you to my boss Brett for arranging this visit, and to Schilke for accommodating us!

After the tour we were each given some Schilke swag, a t-shirt and mug :) And we had a little more time to play with the instruments again. Since the circus is in town for almost a month, I asked if I might borrow the small tenor to try in the show. They said yes!

I kept it through Friday, so was able to play it for two shows (4 hours). My first impression was that it had a really nice "direct" sound, and was fairly easy to play. It responded quickly, meaning that there was little delay between when I tongued the note and the vibration made it through the horn. It also played smoothly through all registers. On the downside, rose brass is not an ideal choice for circus playing (I knew that already, but personally love the darker sound that comes of more copper) so I struggled to get a bright sound that cut through the ensemble. The grip on this instrument was also uncomfortable for me, with the hang grip resting directly on my lowest thumb knuckle so that I couldn't curl my thumb around it at all. The good news is, both of those things are personal preferences that can be altered to match custom preferences.

This trombone was a "tester", one that sits around in the showroom all day and is poked and prodded by various people who visit Schilke. It is also their "standard" model. Taking that into account, I'd say it was a pretty darned good horn. It made me excited to think about what a custom horn from Schilke would sound like!

Anyway, after that show about half the band decided to hit Hala Kahiki, a popular local drink bar.
The decor is awesome.

Along with some delicious veggie chips with mango salsa, we each got a tasty drink. Bill and Brian both got drinks that looked great but I'm not sure what they were called! Brett got some sort of red awesomeness that tasted like Hawaiian Punch, Jameson got a Blue Hawaiian and a coconut hot chocolate, and I had a hot caramel apple cider (which they supposedly "mixed wrong" so I ended up with two??). It was a nice hang. Slick apparently used to love this place and I can't blame him. Cheers, Slick!

Thursday was extremely windy and miserable, so I spent it indoors. The evening show went well. The Slackwire act is sort-of back in (it's been out since Angel busted his knee), so that was a nice change.

Friday, another one show day. I returned the trombone to Schilke and picked up one of their "skeletonized" mouthpieces that I'd enjoyed testing during the visit. After that went back to the train and made another round of Oreo truffles in honor of Jameson's birthday and because why not. Unfortunately the dipping chocolate burned this time so I ended up with far fewer truffles :/

Saturday was Jameson's birthday! Although we had three shows and everyone was busy, it was awesome to hear people randomly calling, "Happy Birthday!" whenever Jameson was around. Circus family is the shiz.

By the end of the day he hadn't been pied yet, and I was convinced that it wasn't going to happen. Silly me. They got him right after the last show as he came backstage. Rebecca (head of wardrobe) gave special permission for him to be pied in costume. With multiple pies.

(photo courtesy Michael?)

Happy Birthday Jameson :)
Back at the train I gave Jameson his birthday gifts, and finished packing.

Sunday, two shows. We've had great crowds all weekend. Thank you Rosemont!
Next is Chicago, yay! There will be a lot of shows, but we'll also get to celebrate Thanksgiving and enjoy ChiTown!

Other stuff:

This week we say "see you down the road" to Chris Sullivan. Chris is an amazing clown and we'll miss him terribly. It's been great working with you. Take care and best wishes!!

(photo courtesy Chris S.)

On Thursday evening Jameson had a rehearsal with one of our clowns to prepare for the upcoming annual No Talent Talent Show. While they were at it, I climbed partway up the portal and watched other circus performers running through their moves. It amazes me that after a show, these people still have the energy to work on improving their acts or learning new tricks. I'm truly priveleged to be surrounded by such amazing people.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 18th, 2015 06:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah! I had a lot of fun. I was surprised at how much human labor goes into the instruments. I know that's not the case for all manufacturers (case in point, Yamaha).

A tea factory...or a candy factory...would be the death of me :D

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