Photo: Osmo Vänskä perform Beethoven's Fifth at US Bank Stadium, © Travis Anderson 2016.
The day was Thursday, September 15: three days before the Minnesota Vikings home opener game against the Green Bay Packers at the new U.S. Bank Stadium. Late in the day I checked my email—and up popped a message from Kärsten Jensen, the Minnesota Orchestra’s events, personnel and volunteer manager, calling for more volunteers to help with the Orchestra’s performance at the halftime show for Sunday’s game. Volunteers were to report at the stadium for practice the next day, Friday, at 8 a.m. It would also require a good share of Saturday and, of course, game day.
I couldn’t resist. I didn’t know what was in store for me, but I thought, “Hey, why not, you’re 73! You go for it, girl!”
I reported at 8 a.m. on Friday and joined many others who were taking the day off work to participate in this experience. We were each assigned a duty. Mine was to be a stand person—to run a musician’s stand on and off the stage for the eight-minute halftime performance.
We all functioned by commands through headsets from a producer up in the patron boxes. When the call came, “Okay, stand carriers—GO!” I would pick up the music stand for “French Horn Player #2” and quickly traverse the field, step onto a tarp set up quickly by other volunteers, look for the correct marks for French Horn Player #2, set my stand down, then disappear to the 30-yard line, sit down and wait for the next command.
We practiced this from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., over and over and over, to get everything set on the field in less than two minutes. It was fabulous to watch all the volunteers pull together, realize the importance of being quick and accurate, and be part of a team getting the job done!
Saturday came. Everyone had to report back to the stadium in the afternoon. We were joined by the Orchestra musicians this time as they, too, had to learn how to rapidly get on and off the field. They also wore headsets and were cued by the producer.
Tarps were laid out on the field, music stands came out, and percussion instruments were in huge carts that had to traverse the sidelines and lock into position. The Orchestra players and Osmo Vänskä had to come out, get set, and prepare to play in less than two minutes, too! We worked and worked on this until 10:30 p.m. when finally the producer announced, “GREAT job, everyone—we are under by 16 seconds. You can all go home!”
Sunday: Game Day. The performance team volunteers reported by opening kickoff, found ourselves under the stadium seating areas, and waited for the call to prep for the halftime show. Finally it was time. I reported to the U.S. Bank Tunnel, as did the musicians. We all turned on our headsets and waited for the signal. Would it work? We had certainly practiced enough!
Then it came: “All people ready. 1…2…3…4…5…GO!”
Out I went with my music stand for French Horn Player #2. By the time I got to the sidelines, the tarp volunteers had done their job. I set my stand down on the purple tapes marked “French Horn Player #2” and quickly moved to the 30-yard line. The Orchestra players were right behind, went to their marks, waited for the special car to bring Osmo out, and as soon as he stepped on to the podium, the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth was filling the stadium!
It was fabulous. The sound was overwhelming and the audience response was unbelievable! The Orchestra also accompanied The Steeles, who sang a tribute to Prince. The crowd went wild. Simply put, it was awesome! Finally the producer’s voice came across the headsets, “STRIKE!” and we all—musicians, volunteers, Osmo and The Steeles—removed everything from the field in less than two minutes. I went back to the U.S. Bank Tunnel, all smiles about what we just experienced.
The musicians were with us in the tunnel. I noticed French Horn Player #2 lingering there. “Hmm,” I thought, “I’m going to find out his name.” It was Brian Jensen. I introduced myself by saying I was the one who brought out his music stand. We had a good high five and asked another volunteer to take our picture.
What a day! But it wasn’t over yet. After it was apparent that the Vikings were going to win, I decided to leave early and get a jump on the exiting crowd. I caught the Light Rail and headed for the Mall of America along with a train car full of Packers fans. We engaged in conversation about the game, and as we talked, the fans said, “What a halftime show!” I agreed.
They continued: “The Minnesota Orchestra was fabulous. I’m not a classical music fan, but they were great, and I think I’d come back to Minneapolis and go to Orchestra Hall to hear them again!”
I heard the same comments from several others.
So, everyone at the Orchestra, I think you really had a touchdown of your own here! By getting into this very special venue, our Orchestra really made an amazing and surprising impression. I think you won lots of new friends. And all of us—volunteers, musicians, Osmo—had an adventure we will never forget.
Eleanor Zwiers, Minnesota Orchestra Volunteer