Before heading off to take part in an opera conservatory in the Adirondacks later this summer, 19-year-old mezzo-soprano Elaina Pullano will be at Tanglewood -- pushing wheelchairs.
The Wahconah High School graduate relishes chatting with her elderly patrons as she transports them from their cars to their seats at each concert -- everyone from lifelong music fans to former members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra who reminisce about their former conductor, James "Jimmy" Levine.
"That generation loved classical music, and as someone who also loves classical music, it's really nice to talk with them about that," said Pullano, who just finished her first year at Williams College.
To the youngest employees of the Lenox music center, what might be drudgery elsewhere is actually coveted work. Every summer, Tanglewood hires about 150 Berkshire County teenagers to work in jobs from lifeguard at Stockbridge Bowl to parking attendant on the grassy lots.
"I get inquiries every day," said Ted Collins, the logistic operations supervisor at Tanglewood and a history teacher at Monument Mountain Regional High School. "Right now, it is a tough job market for younger people. And over the years we've been able to hire a great group of kids, and it becomes a part of what they do in the summer."
The wage for teenagers starts at about $8 an hour, and the paychecks vary widely by week based on the type of concerts. For example, three nights of James Taylor can require 10-plus hours of work a day, while a less popular evening might mean only four or five hours.
Employees 18 and older tend to be scheduled to work more because they're legally permitted to work past 11 p.m.
The payout isn't huge, but it is -- as these teens attest -- a good seasonal gig: They're out in the sun, often with friends, rubbing elbows with (mostly) amiable patrons as world-class music wafts through the air.
"It's a pretty big gift that I get while working," said Ben Kaufman, 19, who sells lawn chairs. "I get to listen to amazing music, and there are great people there."
Kaufman, 19, of Lanesborough, just completed his freshman year at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and is contemplating a career in media and communications. He's returning for his second year of handling the blue lawn seats in part because the BSO is an organization he could see himself moving up in.
"It's a place that I like to keep in touch with," he said. "Tanglewood has so much to offer in the way of work; it's not just being a musician."
About 65 percent of Tanglewood's entire staff returns from year to year, according to Marion Gardner-Saxe, director of human resources for the BSO.
"The advantage of working for Tanglewood is that business isn't going to get slow in the middle, and we're not going to tell you to cut your hours back," Gardner-Saxe said. "We're pretty steady, and I think that a lot of kids come back because they like the predictability of the work."
They also come back because, for certain cliques, the Tanglewood payroll is the place to be. In the parking lots, it isn't unusual for subsets of sports teams to be on duty: On a given summer afternoon, the khaki shorts and day-glow vests of the parking attendants may disguise Lee High School girls soccer, Monument Mountain cross country, or St. Joseph's boys basketball players.
For 17-year-old Wilson Flower, returning for his third year to work in the reserve parking lots, Tanglewood has become a sort of second home. By the end of every summer, patrons who park in his lot bring him and his co-workers cookies and brownies.
"I think most of us think it's pretty cool, just because we realize how big of a venue it is, and so many people from across the country come to this place," said Flower, a baseball pitcher who is heading to Wesleyan University in Mid dletown, Conn., in the fall. "It's not like the people in the lots are musicians, or we really appreciate music, but we all en joy spending time out on the lawn, and the music in the background doesn't hurt."
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