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Cheapest Ticket in Town : At least three mornings a week, orchestra rehearsals are free to visitors at the Hollywood Bowl. Even the parking is free.

July 23, 1993|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Don Heckman is a regular contributor to The Times

It's a Friday morning at the Hollywood Bowl. The familiar white orchestral shell that covers the performing area is draped with a large yellow awning. On stage, casually dressed players of the Hollywood Bowl Or chestra converse, tune their instruments and run through all the fascinating little rituals--oiling trombone slides, rubbing resin on a violin bow, running scales or holding long notes--that musicians do to prepare themselves for action.

The friendly cacophony ceases as conductor John Mauceri, looking as informal and relaxed as his players, steps to the podium, makes an encouraging comment or two and raises his baton for an authoritative downbeat. The MGM fanfare, a salute well-known to every moviegoer, bursts forth in full glory.

Sprinkled around the box seats, an audience of 100 or so people, some having coffee and morning snacks, listens intently.

But wait a minute. An audience at the Hollywood Bowl for a rehearsal? What kind of audience? Visiting VIPs? Friends and neighbors of the musicians?

The answer, happily, is only a very few of the above. Most of the audience consists of visiting tourists and local residents, all of whom have become aware of one of the Bowl's lesser-known opportunities--the chance to hear open, and free, rehearsals. At least three mornings a week--Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (and occasionally on Wednesday)--rehearsals by the L.A. Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra are open to the public at no charge. To make the event even more inviting, parking at the Bowl is also free.

Ralph and Anne Bryce, on their first holiday in America, are delighted to have discovered the program. "We really just came by to see the Hollywood Bowl," says Ralph. "It was on our list of things to see. But when we found out there was a rehearsal today--and it was free--that seemed like a very fine idea, indeed. And, of course, the price is certainly right for a thrifty Scotsman."

Another visitor, Tamara Ackerman from Michigan, found out about the rehearsals when she visited the Bowl with a bus tour. Ackerman, a musician herself, called the Philharmonic office to see if there were any daytime concerts.

"I didn't like the idea of an outdoor concert at night, because I tend to get too cold," she explains. "They told me there weren't any afternoon concerts, but there were morning rehearsals. I thought that was wonderful. It reminds me of the rehearsals I used to attend at the Interlochen Music School in Michigan when I was a student."

Surprisingly, rehearsals at the Bowl have been open to the public for years. "We don't exactly publicize it," says Vanessa Butler, associate director of publicity and promotion for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl, "but the public has been welcome for as long as we've done concerts here. I'm not even sure how people find out about it, although some call the Philharmonic office. But there are a lot of people who have been coming here for a long time--especially people in their 60s and 70s who like the idea of hearing the music during the day."

Schools and summer camps are encouraged to bring children to experience the music in groups.

"We're always interested in organizing tours for kids," Butler says. "We'll take them to the Hollywood Bowl Museum and show them around the grounds. Often the conductor or the soloist of the day will talk to them after the rehearsal--and that's neat for young kids. They really seem to like that. The point, of course, is that although we enjoy having the tourists come through here, we also want to provide a service for the local community."

Among the many local people at the Friday morning rehearsal, Ted and Abby Silverman from North Hollywood have been regulars for years. "We really started coming almost every week after I retired a few years ago," says Ted. "I actually like the rehearsals even better than the real concerts because they're so much more relaxed. I even like the occasional starting and stopping, because it makes me feel much more in touch with the musicians."

Some parents visit the rehearsals after dropping off their children at the Bowl's Open House programs for children. The six-week event, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, features music, drama, puppetry, storytelling and workshops for children. Held on an outdoor stage at the Bowl's Box Office Circle Area (near the gift shop), the performances and workshops take place Mondays through Fridays. Next week's theme is Carnival in Rio, featuring children's entertainer Dan Crow and a Brazilian music and dance group, Lula and Afro Brazil.

Further enhancing the summer festival atmosphere of the Bowl's morning events, the gift shop is open, and spilling outside with tables filled with colorful merchandise relating to the Open House program of the week. Nearby, a Hollywood art gallery, Every Picture Tells A Story, sets up a stand overflowing with children's story and art books also reflecting the Open House programs.

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