Understanding the Medium: Coaching Lessons From a Rock 'n' Roll Roadie
I had a 40-year career as a high school teacher. During my eight final years I served as the coordinator for the Performing Arts Magnet at Van Nuys High School. During that time my co-coordinator, Chris Hale, and I undertook a renovation of the high school auditorium and instituted a program that taught students how to set up sound and lighting for rock performances - a roadie academy if you will. The funding for that program came in the form of a state grant that provided 90% of the funds if a donor from private industry would come up with the other 10%. Somehow we managed to talk the Frank Zappa family trust into providing the 10%, and we were off to the races. As it turns out they were also willing to provide the instructor, Marque Coy, who had been Frank’s top roadie for two decades.
I got to know Marque very well during the years we worked together. It turned out he had been on 27 world tours with a number of top names, including Robert Palmer and Nickleback. He had grown up in the industry and had a remarkable understanding of electricity and air, the two media he was to engineer wherever he had to set up equipment. Marque knew how to take care of expensive cables and cords so they would work perfectly every time and would last for years. He understood how sound (which is really vibrating air molecules) would be affected by the shape of a “house” (where the audience would sit). He knew how human bodies could change acoustics by the way they absorbed sound, and he knew the difference between the effects of curtains and padded seats versus wooden seats and wooden floors with no carpeting. He could figure out how to configure the speakers and wire them up so the whole rig didn’t blow up, and he knew how to set up Steve Vai’s guitar so the sound was just right. With a background as a classical pianist, Marque knew his music and how to make it sound the best to the people in the seats. Watching him work and instruct his students in our program was just fascinating.