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September 23, 2005

El Capitan 2.jpg

Some years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Tokyo, Japan to give a 2-day workshop on software development management. It was a blast. I had a bank of interpreters that translated my talk into Japanese, which made it all the more unusual.

On the way, I had the good fortune of having United Airlines seat me in the middle of another group traveling from NYC. It was the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra at Lincoln Center. Shecky Ballantine (one of their cellists) and I struck up a great rapport. I got to go backstage at the Bunkamura Music Hall during the concert, and afterward, we all went out for sushi.

Apparently, being a world-class musician isn’t just about sushi and late-night fun in Tokyo. I was surprised to hear that it can be quite grueling, with all the rehearsals and travel. In fact, it’s so demanding and there is so much tension between the musicians and management, that the musicians formed a labor union. Imagine that! Seems like the general public only hears the music. Backstage it’s a different story.

By far, Shecky had the most interesting method to reduce his stress and cope with the rigors of his job: In his spare time, he’d rock climb the face of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. Shecky said he tried to do this every year. It was how he kept his sanity. (For the record, El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in America, and rises over 3,593 feet from the valley floor – 3 times the height of the former World Trade Center.)

Anyone interested in trying this out?

(By the way, I spoke to another climber who regularly rappelled El Capitan. He claimed that he believed many of his fellow rock climbers were actually drug-addicted to their own adrenaline and endorphins. When he wasn’t hanging by a thread at 3,000 feet, he felt depressed. Interesting…)