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Orchestral Etiquette - Do's and Don'ts

Richie Hawley

Essential Tools

Orchestral Etiquette - Do's and Don'ts

While walking down a street in Rochester this past week, I had to dodge a dozen or so "parked" minivans with flashers flashing, bright blue rolling bins filled with lamps, bags, chairs and more, people with megaphones shouting instructions, and about 50+ new students and their parents. Ah, the joys of college move-in day! 

Eastman's first day of school is this Wednesday, August 31st and with that comes the bustling of freshmen and transfer students nervously trying to take in and absorb the atmosphere (while scouring a campus map!) Although there will be many useful orientation meetings, tours, and information sessions, none of these will tackle what is probably one of the most nerve-wracking things of all - first ensemble rehearsal on our massive Kodak stage.

Most of these students are quite familiar with orchestra and/or band rehearsal expectations, but something about that first rehearsal in a new ensemble, with new a conductor, in a new location, can be rather daunting and make people feel off kilter. 

So, to help make that first rehearsal run as smoothly as possible and make the best first impression, I thought a list of do's and don'ts could be useful (and, let's be honest, this list is helpful to any musician.)  Here is a rather inclusive listing by a clarinetist Richie Hawley, of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Do's & Don'ts

"I made this list of orchestral etiquette for one of my masterclasses at CCM several years ago. It was compiled over the course of several weeks during rehearsal breaks with the CSO. I asked a dozen or so of my colleagues, "what orchestral habits drive you crazy?" Here are the results of this informal survey:

  1. Do not turn around and look at the people behind you while they are playing.

  2. Keep perfume and cologne to a minimum - many will appreciate none at all.

  3. Do not tap your foot or conduct along.

  4. Always help your colleagues count rests. (This is more complicated if you don't speak English)

  5. Do not tap/applaud/shuffle for every solo that section colleague plays. Save it for when it really means something or better yet... stay still and just give them your positive words afterward.

  6. Do not tell someone he/she sounds good if he/she does not deserve the praise.

  7. Never complain about your reeds. (they might sound better than they feel) 

  8. Do not cross your legs on stage in a concert.

  9. Swab out discreetly and not if the person next to you is playing a solo.

  10. Practice only your own parts… never play passages from another’s page or excerpts from different music.

  11. Be aware and sensitive to others’ lines of sight to the conductor.

  12. Leave your seat immediately when switching pieces or seats… swab out and pack up later. The next players want to play a few notes before tuning!

  13. Do no yawn or "buzz" your lips audibly if you are tired.

  14. When a conductor speaks to you, always acknowledge by making direct eye contact and possibly a nod "yes." (this one became problematic as several students in my studio at CCM really enjoyed vigorous nodding with very loud "YES-MAESTRO" proclamations)

  15. Never ask questions about notes/rhythm during rehearsal - this wastes valuable rehearsal time. Check score during breaks or after rehearsal.

  16. Your pencil is your best friend…. Do not make the same mistake twice because you "forgot."

  17. Write in cues before the first rehearsal… and after the second rehearsal...and after the third rehearsal

  18. Remember that every time you are in public, an impression is made, good or bad… This applies both to the music you play and the statements you make to your colleagues.

  19. Avoid nervous repetitive actions: Looking at reeds, adjusting seat/stand, instrument adjustments.

  20. Do not turn a page during silence.

  21. At the end of a piece, do not finish playing and fling {your instrument] before the conductor has concluded.

  22. Your non-musical accessories (phone, keys, etc.) belong in your case/purse/briefcase, not on the shelf of your stand waiting to tip over and clatter to the floor.

  23. Show up early to rehearsal to get your instruments together, reeds chosen and instrument warmed up to pitch at least 10 minutes before the "A" is given.

  24. Be direct and friendly about fixing pitches or rhythm. Do not be manipulative about your words.

  25. The only conversations should be about issues regarding the music and only at the appropriate times.

  26. Have good hygiene, keep your shoes on, wear appropriate clothing, etc.

  27. Do not pack up before the end of rehearsal…. you still might have more to play.

  28. Always double check rehearsal/performance times and locations.

  29. Never sight read in rehearsal. Prepare your part in advance.

And, for my fellow bassoonists:

1.  Keep reed working in rehearsal time to a minimum; don't start fixing a new blank while counting rests.

2.  Put your reed water on the floor or in a special stand attachment.  Placing it on the music stand is just asking for your new music to get soaked!

3.  Know the location of both your and your neighbor's reed water!  Knocking it over is messy, slippery, embarrassing and rather inconvenient! 

4.  Keep an eye on your bell.  Depending on the stage and the set-up, your instrument might be closer to someone's head than you think. We are accustomed to it, but many others are not.

Although these are likely quite familiar (and many common sense), it's always nice to get a quick refresher.  Best of luck to you at your next "first" rehearsal - wherever and whenever that may be. 


Orchestra Etiquette

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