I’m Tom Dziekonski, a violinist in the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra. For Nutcracker, I’m the person that decorates the pit with the wacky lights and who writes the orchestral gags for the “nutty” show on Christmas Eve. (The Pink Panther outfit you may have seen during the midnight chime I got from London.)

When I was a kid back in the 1960’s, I was of that adolescent mindset that the best gift to give anybody was stuff you wanted yourself. So I bought my dad an LP of the Nutcracker Suite, and I subsequently wore the record out. I couldn’t have enough of it. Yet in all my subsequent years of playing violin in the Youth Symphony and in college and whatnot, that piece never appeared in the repertoire.

So a friend suggested that I just call the Symphony personnel manager. Playing with the Symphony itself didn’t particularly interest me, but playing the ballet seemed really ultra cool, probably because I knew nothing about ballet. He knew who I was, and that I was a very good player. “I’d love to do the Nutcracker.” I was hired as an extra, as was my wife on cello. Incredible.

That was over 20 years ago, which means we’ve done at least 400 Nutcracker performances. And the Nutcracker is still ultra cool. The people are great. But there are new dimensions to it that I never would have imagined back then. Our daughter got to participate in the Act I fight scene for three seasons. The children of the dancers I’d enjoyed seeing on stage are starting to show up in recent casts. The ballet just got a fabulous new music director. It’s the best.

And my wife is glad that I no longer give gifts I would just want for myself.

Coming to the show this weekend? Be sure to head down to the orchestra pit at intermission to check out Tom’s lights, and meet some of the PNB musicians!

Featured photo: PNB dancers in Kent Stowell’s Nutcracker, photo © Angela Sterling.