William E. Seibert, 77, stage manager for Baltimore Symphony

July 21, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William E. Seibert, a longtime Baltimore Symphony Orchestra stage manager who was as adept at supervising musicians and moving sets as he was at organizing memorable cast parties, died of cancer Monday at Joseph Richey Hospice. The longtime Mount Vernon resident was 77.

Mr. Seibert was born and raised in East Baltimore and was a graduate of city schools. His love affair with the theater began in his youth when he worked as an usher and later as a motion picture projectionist at the Hippodrome Theatre.

He worked as a stagehand from the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre's opening in 1967 until taking a similar job at the Lyric Theatre, then the home of the BSO, in 1972. He followed the BSO when it moved to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in 1982, and was promoted to stage manager, a position he held until retiring in 1997.

In the chaotic and stressful backstage world where he worked, Mr. Seibert was an island of calm, reassuring nervous musicians and performers with a quick joke, wisecrack or story, all the while keeping everything else moving along without a hitch.

"Bill was in my time indispensable to the BSO and made all things operational. He worked like a demon to make all the great things we did there possible," David Zinman, a former BSO music director, said in a telephone interview from Aspen, Colo.

"In a business full of characters, he was one of the great ones," said Susan Anderson, former director of operations for the BSO.

Mr. Seibert's day began early at the Meyerhoff, where his first task was getting the coffee ready for musicians arriving for rehearsal.

"Bill was always so full of humor and so much a part of us. His work required a lot of physical labor. The stage has to be set for rehearsals as it would be for performances. He was quick and flexible and wonderful that way," said Paula Skolnick Childress, a cellist.

"Everything about him was very gracious and charming. Bill was extremely nice to everyone and was a gentle person who cared deeply about his work, and what he did made a difference in the quality of the our performances. He understood the workings of a cultural institution, and he did it very well," said violinist Charles Underwood.

As performance time approached and tensions began rising, Mr. Seibert was relaxing elsewhere.

"He'd be in a backstage dressing room reading The Star while holding a handful of lottery tickets waiting for the numbers to come over the TV," said Mary Plaine, symphony librarian.

Ray Kreuger, a former symphony musician who is now an associate BSO librarian, recalled the time he had an off-stage solo that required a chair and music stand.

"When I got there to do the solo, he and several others were using the stand to play cards and he had this `Is there a problem?' look on his face," Mr. Kreuger said.

Through the years, he had become friends with many celebrities, some of which included Leonard Bernstein, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Victor Borge, Lauren Bacall, Tony Bennett and Carol Channing, and he delighted in taking them to the Harvey House restaurant on North Charles Street, his favorite place for post-show drinks and dinner.

"He'd also take Sergiu Comissiona, conductor Eric Knight and Richard Hayman of the Boston Pops to the Harvey House or the Prime Rib," said John Locke, a symphony percussionist.

"And when he threw the cast party, the food just suddenly appeared. [The parties] were always extravagant -- a soup-to-nuts blowout -- because he wanted people to relax. And he'd always pick up the bill. He was so generous," he said.

"Bill loved music. For him it just wasn't a job, it was his life," Mr. Locke said.

Graveside services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Glen Haven Memorial Park, 7215 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie.

Mr. Seibert is survived by his wife of 10 years, the former Evelien Pattynama; a son, Ennis Seibert of Stevensville; a daughter, Shirley Pettili of Severna Park; two sisters, Shirley Williams of Baltimore and Grace Vaith of Rehoboth Beach, Del.; a stepson, Roland Schalker of Baltimore; five stepdaughters, Nausica Siebe of Germany, Mercedes Cowan and Saada Schalker, both of Baltimore, Betsy Harkema of Kent Island and Simone Schalker of Pensacola, Fla.; and two grandchildren. His first marriage ended in divorce.

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