Golden Gate Opus

Rob Kapilow

Rob Kapilow
Photo © Peter Schaaf

In 2011 the Marin Symphony commissioned Rob Kapilow to compose a musical composition honoring the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge in May of 2012.

Sometimes called America’s “pied piper of classical music”,  Rob (he prefers to be called Rob rather than Robert) started with a simple premise, “Everybody knows what the Golden Gate Bridge looks like, but what does it sound like?” He posed that question to local residents, commuters, school children and bridgeworkers. A Facebook page was started to build interest and expand the level of participation.

A year ago I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Kapilow when he came to the Electric Shop to ask his question. I must confess, I did not want to be there. My wish was to be far, far away, perhaps 700 feet up on a cable with the wind in my face and a view that goes on forever. Back to reality, I had agreed to talk to this Classical musician about what I thought the bridge sounded like and here is where Full Disclosure is necessary: Rob Kapilow is a very engaging guy. His enthusiasm is infectious and his vision is inspiring.

My first reaction to the question—What does the bridge sound like?—was, “It sounds LOUD”. You must understand that the bridge and its environs are an assault to the senses. Until that moment I had not really thought about the sounds of the bridge. In the past I have been irritated by the sound of the tires of the vehicles as they passed overhead when I worked on the scaffolds below roadway level. I have been consumed with the sound of passing automobiles mere feet away when I am working on the roadway. I have had the wonderful feeling of working on the top of the towers, the sounds melting away in the distance, and best of all having the fog slide in under my feet and mute the noise altogether.

After talking to Rob about this I started to see the bridge in a new way, one that had a heartbeat to go along with the vibrant motion that is experienced out on the span. The bridge is constantly moving, something that took me awhile to get used to.

We showed Rob around the Powerhouse and he listened to the sounds that we had taken for granted:  air compressors, alarm bells, phones, workbench tools, pipe threading machines, Cushman scooters, an air horn and an emergency generator. We fired up the 400KW offline diesel generator for Rob after first giving him ear plugs and sound deadening headphones. The look on his face was priceless when the generator came to life.Marin Symphony poster

Wide-eyed, with a smile to match, Rob stood frozen in place. When he looked over at me I patted my chest and mouthed the words, “Can you feel that?” Several nods of his head answered my question.

Rob left the Electric Shop soon after that and visited with bridgeworkers in other shops. I had a great time that day and am looking forward to hearing his opus to the bridge.

“Vladimir Nabokov said a good teacher is somebody who writes in the margins, folds down pages, underlines — who has a conversation with the book, rather than being a passive spectator. And in a way, that’s what I’m trying to do: to have the audience not be passive spectators for a piece of music, but to engage in a conversation rather than just sitting back and having it happen to them.” — Rob Kapilow in The New York Times (12/03)

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