Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Tuning Slide 3.15- Etiquette for Real Musicians

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

You should play with real musicians;
the best music comes from real people
interacting with each other.
-John Fogerty

I thought about calling this month’s topic How to Be a Real Trumpet Player. We all know that trumpet players have certain reputations that we tend to dislike but perpetuate because, well, we are trumpet players. I have a hunch, though, that we don’t have a lock on those reputations. They are human traits. So, if we learn a better way to do it, we may also end up being better people. Just a thought.

In time honored tradition then, I will call this month’s topic:
Being the Compleat Musician.

You will never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
-Will Rogers

I am going to start somewhere other than where we might expect. Let me call this week's post: Etiquette. In other words, it's about how we behave when we interact with other musicians in rehearsal, on stage, or just about anywhere. As I looked at the list of items in the summary from this year’s workshop, I found these six could apply to this topic:

◆ First impressions mean a lot
◆ Never put out someone else’s light to make your light shine brighter
◆ Just have fun! It will happen faster
◆ Hear it, study it, make it become natural
◆ Be efficient
◆ Be on time

So I Googled “musician etiquette” and came up with two interesting websites. The first was from an oboe player and was titled Oboe Insight ( The second was on the website of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Orchestra and their page on rehearsal etiquette ( All of the thoughts and insights in italics come from these two websites. My thoughts are added in normal type.

Let me begin with one of the sayings from Trumpet Workshop that will get us started on etiquette:
• If you are on time- you’re late.

◆ Be on time

That gets us off on the right foot according to those in the know:
• Arrive early—at least 15 minutes early, or with enough time to both get your instrument out and warm up….If you are late (it happens), try to avoid taking your seat while the musicians are playing; if you can, wait for an appropriate break in the action to slip in.

Okay, we all can be late at one time or another. We get stuck in traffic, at work, or just plain lost track of time. But there are those who think when the schedule says the rehearsal starts at 1:00, that's the time you should get there. Again, it doesn’t always work out, but we need to do our best. For those of us who are not paid musicians- we do have jobs that can get in the way. We need to figure out how to work through these things so the other musicians are not being put out.

• Come prepared. This means two things:
⁃ Come having thoroughly practiced your music. Nothing is more frustrating to conductors than to waste time rehearsing passages that the orchestra members didn’t practice ahead of time.
⁃ Before you head to rehearsal, double check that you have your music, instrument, and any necessary accessories. Be sure to note whether or not you need to bring your own stand to rehearsal. You might consider keeping a wire stand in your car (like a spare tire) just in case!

• Bring a pencil. This one gets its own paragraph. Attending rehearsal without a pencil is like sitting through a university lecture without a taking notes. Even if you think you’ll be able to remember every direction the conductor gives, every dynamic change, every cut, and every ritardando, really, you probably won’t. Keep a couple pencils in your instrument case so they’re always on hand.

Practice, have everything you need, bring a pencil. Pretty much sums up what you do before you leave home for the rehearsal. I would also add have your music handy and ready to play. Again, circumstances happen, but not on a every-rehearsal-basis. The therapist in me wants to call that "passive-aggressive" behavior. It doesn't feel good to those around us when we do it.

• TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. Enough said.
That includes looking at text messages or the latest football scores on your phone in a concert. I have seen it happen! IN A CONCERT, when a musician pulled out their phone when it buzzed with a text. I want to make an exception for rehearsals when the conductor is working with another section, but that may be because I regularly do that myself. Hmmmm. Have to think more about that one.

Several issues on being polite came up, although they weren’t listed that way. They were called “rude.”

• If you are sitting second, never play the principal’s solos while warming up! It’s just not done. Even at the rehearsals. Don’t play other instruments’ solos either. Rude.
• Leave your arrogance at home. Members of the orchestra are all equal; everyone is contributing. Don’t gloat if you have a solo, and don’t bust out personal solo concertos and performances pieces just to show off. Everyone will be more annoyed than impressed.

◆ First impressions mean a lot

I found this on Pinterest- not so comic relief?
Be part of the group, not above it. All members of the group are equal (We are all "friggin' gods!) is one of those simple profound statements that we easily forget. Trumpet players have the reputation of being the arrogant ones and sadly it is deserved sometimes. From my observations we do tend to talk, joke, interact, and react more than many other band members. (Guilty as charged!) Rude? Yep. I keep working on it and I am getting better. It continues in the next two items as well.
• When the concertmaster tunes the orchestra, stop playing and be quiet. (Unless, of course, you’re playing first — then tune the orchestra!)
Being quiet is mentioned twice- and it says it all…
• Be quiet. (I can’t tell you how many times I hear orchestra members yakking … sometimes even during performances!)

The next three are things that many of us do in one way or another. These usually happen in rehearsals more so than performances. They are ways that we sometimes use to learn how our parts fit in the bigger picture. Yet, these etiquette concerns do make sense:
• Don’t conduct from your seat. That’s not your job!

Many times I do that in order to keep my own spot in the music, note where in the count we are, etc. In concert or performance I try to keep it to a minimum and subtle. But even then I realize that it can be distracting.

• Don’t count out loud … and I would even suggest don’t mouth the numbers
• Don’t tap your feet. The conductor is there to keep you in rhythm, and the tapping creates unnecessary noise. Please tap toes. I’ve attended concerts where a number of feet are tapping away — and they aren’t even in unison! Go figure!

We forget- or never paid attention to how we are viewed from the audience. If by the time we get to the performance we still have to be counting aloud, we have probably missed a rehearsal or two. I watched a performance on You Tube once and noticed the same thing about how the musicians were not tapping their feet in unison. As I watched I couldn’t figure out what timing some of them were tapping to- it wasn’t the time signature or a specific rhythm of the music. This is when I realized how distracting it would be for the audience to watch this. I remember my college band director forbidding!! us to tap our feet or toes so it could be seen. Tapping toes inside the shoe is the best alternative. I still fail regularly.

Another rudeness that is difficult to keep from doing in one way or another:
• DON’T ever look over at someone after he or she has made a mistake! That is so incredibly rude it’s inexcusable. We feel bad enough when we make mistakes. We don’t need to know you know! Don’t grimace, laugh, shake your head, or anything else either. In other words: DON’T REACT!

This “Don’t React!” advice is not just when someone else makes a mistake. It includes when you make a mistake. After a church performance one morning years ago one of the congregation came up to me and mentioned the mistake I made- not because they heard it, they didn't, but they saw my face when I made it. In other words, no matter who makes the mistake in performance (or rehearsal when it isn’t you): Don’t react!

Which flows into the next one that needs no explanation.
• If you don’t say anything negative about a colleague you will never be caught saying anything negative about a colleague. Think about it. Musicians are notorious gossipers .

◆ Never put out someone else’s light to make your light shine brighter

A lot of what I have talked about here on the Tuning Slide fits into the last three etiquette concerns.

• Having a good attitude can get you through a lot of rough times.
• Remember that while we strive to be “perfect” our true goal should be to make great music. No one is going to shoot you if you make a mistake! (Aside from maybe being shot with “anger daggers” from the conductor!)

Remember why you play music in the first place. That is the attitude piece.

Remember why you practice music- so you can get closer and closer to the goal of making great music. Take that into the rehearsal and on stage for the performance. One of my joys is to be sitting in the group when a great passage is coming from another section and I’m not playing. The chills up the spine, the joy of music becomes real. That’s why I practice and play and why I am still striving at age 69 to improve.

◆ Hear it, study it, make it become natural
◆ Be efficient

• Lastly, enjoy the music! Don’t take rehearsal so seriously that you lose your connection with the piece or with your instrument. Playing music in an ensemble is a real treat; don’t forget that you’re taking part in a meaningful cultural tradition that will edify your audience.
◆ Just have fun! It will happen faster

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