Space Shuttle Endeavour Arrival gig

Last week I was hired by Tedesco Enterprises to be part of a 23-piece brass group to play for the Friday afternoon touchdown and arrival of NASA's Space Shuttle Endeavour at Los Angeles International Airport.  It was a thrilling once-per-lifetime experience I'll be sure to recite to my children and grandchildren for years to come.

The entire operation and arrival was planned and executed perfectly.  After watching Endeavour (on the back of its 747 transport) on big-screens, taking off from Edwards Air Force Base near Los Angeles to perform 500- to 1,000-foot tribute flyovers in Sacramento, San Francisco (Golden Gate Bridge), back south to Orange County (Disneyland), and back to Los Angeles (flying over NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena where its engines were designed and built, as well as over the "HOLLYWOOD" sign for photo ops) in the matter of only a couple of hours, we had only to standby outside the LAX United hangar a few more minutes more to play our first note.  The plan was to begin Aaron Copland's "Fanfare For The Common Man" precisely on Endeavour's wheels-down at LAX, and have the piece end, with its beautiful, dramatic crescendoing D-Major chord, just as the shuttle stopped a few feet behind where we were standing on the stage, in perfect view of the 1,000 or so attendees in the grandstands and the 100+ cameras from national and local news outlets.  It couldn't have gone any more according to plan.

As the shuttle touched down, we got our cue to begin, and a smaller group of us started playing the Fanfare from behind the grandstands (together with 3 percussionists who were already on stage).  When we finished our phrase, the rest of the group made a Da Capo maneuver (went back to the beginning) as we walked onstage to join them.  When we joined the group, which effectively doubled the sound output, the crowd was already in a frenzy as the shuttle came into view -- but aside from our fine conductor Aram Gharabekyan, none of us could see the shuttle approaching.  As we continued our musical buildup to the end, however, we knew from the simultaneous roar of the crowd and the 747 twin turbines that our timing was perfect.  When we finished, all of us turned around immediately and began snapping photos and videos, in awe of the spaceship (all science and no fiction) which rested only a few feet from us.  We then accompanied renowned tenor Steve Amerson with "America The Beautiful," beautifully arranged by our trombonist Jim McMillan.

The brass players in the group are some of the best L.A. gigging and studio musicians in the world.  Many have played on huge blockbuster films, video games, prime time TV, worked with movie stars, and toured with A-list performing artists all of us know.  Throughout a career as a musician, one can become quite jaded.  But on Friday, there wasn't one person in the group that wasn't completely in awe of the spectacle of having the Endeavour -- and all it represents -- come to a stop just feet from where we were standing.  As we were leaving the stage, it was like pulling a child out of a candy store or away from the lion exhibit at the zoo; no one could stop taking pictures.  No one wanted to leave.  Rarely, if ever, have I seen this happen amongst musicians.  It was very refreshing.  Thanks goes to Chris Tedesco for putting together such a wonderful group of musicians.

Half-funereal as it may have been, it was overall a beautifully inspiring Friday morning at the LAX United hangar.  A morning I won't allow myself to soon forget.

- Knox

Video of Endeavour's Arrival
final view from inside the United hangar