Camille Saint-Saens: “Danse Bacchanale” from Samson and Delilah

Today, I continue writing about my factory experience, and this time it has a direct relation to the featured piece of music. In the summer of 1973, my father told me that his factory was hiring summer help and that I should apply. They paid an unprecedented $3.56 an hour and if you worked on an assembly line you could get what they called incentive. That is, you got an extra few cents for every piece you produced over a certain base number. This factory was called Dodge and made pulleys, gears, and gear boxes for industrial applications like conveyor belts and huge machinery. They did everything. In a huge, dirty, hellishly hot foundry, they poured aluminum and steel. Another building housed a heat treatment plant where they hardened the gears. In the milling plant, long rows of huge chucking machines turned out gears, pulleys, levers and spindles.

How my father came to work in this factory was a story in itself. He had worked for Studebaker’s for 29 years, one of the most successful and innovative car manufacturers in the States until General Motors, Chrysler and Ford forced them out of business. In 1963 the company moved to Canada to avoid going out of business. They laid off all the employees and did not pay any pension benefits to them. So at the age of 48, my father had to find another job and began working to create a pension for his retirement. Dodges hired him straightway, but put him to work as a machine operator-even though at Studebaker’s he had risen to a managerial position.

By the time I graduated from high school, my dad was now working in shipping, which, being even more hyperactive than I, he loved. They first hired me into packing, where I was given what many of the workers thought of as a good job-putting pulleys in boxes. It was a good job because you could get incentive for it. In the morning a guy would wheel around a bin containing hundreds of parts. I had to get a pile of small collapsed cardboard boxes, fold them into shape put a pulley into each one, insert a set of instructions, close the box and stick a label on each box. You can not imagine how mind numbingly boring this job was! It was so tedious and repetitive that I would fall into bed in the evenings and much to my horror, I would dream about putting parts in boxes. To relieve the tedium, I tried bringing a book in, propping it up at eye-level and read while I worked. The foreman called me into his office one day; he was very angry. I just wasn’t productive enough. Every job had been timed and you were expected to meet a certain quota a day. I had missed mine by a mile. That was not OK, because that brought the average down for everyone working there and that made the foreman look bad.

There was another problem as well. I refused to pay my union dues. I figured that since I was only a summer hire and did not get any of the benefits of the union–like collective bargaining–I shouldn’t have to pay. But the other union guys said they would not work if I didn’t join. I was a scab. Had they explained to me that the high wages I got and the various grievance procedures and other protection I enjoyed was the result of their efforts, I wouldn’t have protested in the first place.

The foreman decided I wasn’t working out, so he got me transferred to a stock mover’s job. I was one of the guys who hoicked the various bins of parts around. I was detailed to a crew of consisting of a college guy a couple of years older than me and a middle aged guy who’d been in the Navy during the Korean war. The college kid smoked Kools and bragged about his drinking and sexual exploits continuously. The Navy guy was pretty laid-back and actually talked poetically some time about having piloted ships and what a thrill it was to dock or rendez-vous at sea with another vessel. It wasn’t a bad crew to be on.

There was one other guy in the division who used to come over and hang out with us during the break. He was a nice guy named Jim Boehlein and was a friend of my father’s. Jim worked on the packing line that I got expelled from. He’d found the way to be both productive and keep from going brain dead, and he actually liked to talk about philosophy, art, politics and even classical music. One day I told him about the local classical station and he came in the following Monday and said he had caught the request show. They had played a piece that he really liked. It “had an oboe or something and sounded kind of like, you know, the music you see hear in movies when they show an Arab market.” I knew the piece he meant but not the name. I had listened to the show, too, but missed hearing the announcer give its name.

That was nearly forty years ago, and over the years the same thing happened a number of times. I would turn to a classical music station and hear a part of this piece and miss the title. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I finally learned its name. One evening when I went to pick my daughter up from her orchestral rehearsal, I arrived a bit early and was astonished to hear them playing it! When it was over I hurried to ask her its name and she showed me the music: it was an excerpt from Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saens, who lived from 1835 until 1921.

Best known for this Carnival of the Animals, Saint-Saens wrote prolifically, producing over 160 works in his life time. The web sites I visited while researching this piece bemoan the fact that Saint-Saens is only known for the Carnival and a few other works. He wrote several piano concertos and an organ symphony as well as many songs. He had a fairly cushy life, which earned him the nick-name of “The French Mendelssohn”, though he lived considerably longer. He was recognized for his talent at an early age and became a well respected conductor, composer, and author of books on music during his 86 years on Earth.

It was a nice surprise the way in which I finally discoverd the name of this piece. Nice, too, was remembering one of the bright spots at the factory, a kindly avuncular type, who made my time there bearable.

Download MP3 or buy CD of Danse Bacchanale on Amazon



About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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