Musicians can sometimes fall into the traps of a casual working etiquette, undoubtedly influenced by our notorious “laid back” nature and lifestyle. In the following article, Aimee Morris discusses the importance of professionalism in the context of the orchestral section player.How you act, dress, talk, handle yourself, and of course perform all contribute to your overall success and viability in an orchestral setting.Take a moment to consider Aimee’s points of professionalism, and think about a few areas where you could perhaps enhance your orchestral etiquette.
By Aimee Morris
You have conquered your instrument’s technique and mastered the audition repertoire, so what is keeping you, like so many other talented young musicians, from getting that coveted orchestral job? More often than not, young people’s success is derailed by an ignorance of the unwritten rules that govern the professional world. Learning to follow some basic rules of etiquette will help you come off as an experienced and mature player. Every ensemble has a unique culture, but there are some rules which should be universally applied to any musician embarking on their orchestral career.
When you first arrive on the scene, your job is to blend in. Standing out, either for conduct or performance, is a quick way to lose a job. Know your part, blend in musically and socially, and be friendly with colleagues.At the same time, try not to be overly talkative.
Avoid a flashy or excessive warm-up before rehearsals. This includes extremely high, loud, or technical exercises, tricky passages from the music, other excerpts or solo pieces. The time to demonstrate your impressive technique is not your warm-up; instead, let your talents emerge through solid command of your part. If your routine must be flashy, Jeffrey Bryant, principal horn of the Royal Philharmonic, suggests warming up “at home if you can, or at least be very discreet – stick a mute in, or find a back stage room.”
Badmouthing a fellow musician, especially one in your section, is the fastest way to burn bridges and block future opportunities for yourself. Gossip will alienate peers and give others a negative impression of your maturity and personality. It is especially important in a trial period that your colleagues consider you a trustworthy person with humility and respect for others.
As a section player, your job is to support the principal player no matter what he or she may choose to do. You should not try to assert your own interpretation or pitch as this is rude and unproductive. Many people are sensitive to criticism or judgment, so calling attention to intonation, style, or time could likely offend the principal player. If there are intonation discrepancies, subtly and quickly adjust without making a scene. Finally, if you are asked to change something simply say thank you and make adjustments without argument.
Arrive as early as possible to rehearsals, especially when traveling to an unfamiliar location. Twenty minutes early is the minimum to make your section feel comfortable and to establish a reputation as trustworthy. Coming in at the last minute stresses others and does not allow you time for adequate preparation. Promptness requires planning. When you arrive, make sure you have everything you need including music, a mute, and a pencil (or two) with an eraser.
Be quiet and attentive in rehearsal and do not fidget, adjust noisily, or exhibit poor body language. Don’t slouch, frown, or glare during rehearsal, especially while someone in your section is playing. During tuning, adjust quickly and do not play excess notes. Always count and prepare early for your entrances so that no one will worry about you missing an entrance. Picking up your instrument at the last second is distracting and can cause others to miss entrances. During breaks, keep conversations polite and noncontroversial.If someone offers you praise, always accept it graciously.
Looking the part is crucial to winning a job. Rehearsals may be casual but a sloppy appearance comes off as personal instability or disrespect. Keep your clothes neat and appropriate. It is especially important for women to consider their attire since looking too provocative will detract attention from your playing and make earning respect that much harder. As a rule, avoid short skirts, tight clothes, and low-cut blouses as these articles are distracting and potentially offensive to members of the orchestra. For concerts, follow the orchestra’s dress code strictly, no matter what veterans may do.
Nearly every musician has broken one if not all of these rules; however, a poorly timed faux pas can cost anyone a job. In the comfortable environments of high school and college, many players do not realize the importance of section etiquette. Like anything else, fluency in these manners requires practice. The sooner one learns to act like a professional, the easier the transition into the professional world will become.
Bryant, Jeffrey. “Your First Professional Symphonic Date.” The Business: The Essential Guide to Starting and Surviving as a Professional Hornplayer. Ed. Paul Pritchard. Open Press Books, 1992. 15.