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DON'T BE AN A**HOLE

Posted on May 28, 2012 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Musicians are humans and just like every human in the world, we like to complain. We like to dig our heels in. We like to say “NO!” when it’s just as easy to say, “let’s try it.” So, today’s post is Don’t Be an A**hole. Please.


Let’s start with saying, “let’s try it” instead of saying “no.”


We are all painfully aware that the arts are struggling right now. Struggling to get funding, struggling to get audiences, struggling to pay their artists, struggling to make a career out of what you went to college for. The only good thing about this struggle is that we are starting to get really creative with how we promote and present ourselves. And it’s not just the artists who are starting to get creative and think outside the box. It’s also the executive directors, the marketing directors and the development directors – the folks not typically associated with right brain creativity. But they’re getting creative and they want…no, need our help. If every time they come up with a decent idea, we say “no”, they’re going to eventually stop asking for our help. Perhaps they’ll start demanding the help or perhaps they’ll just give up altogether. Either way, we as the folks who produce the art that people experience need to be open to new ideas. In addition to being open to new ideas, we need to bring our creativity to the brainstorming table, not just expect the other people to come up with ideas. Don’t be an a**hole if someone comes up with an idea. Give it a chance by thinking it through or by bringing a different idea to the table. Don’t shoot it down and then get angry that they aren’t doing enough.


On the flip side of the coin for the management types, include your artists in these brainstorming sessions. They are artists, after all. They are paid to be creative, so encourage them to do just that. And don’t just include them for the sake of including them. Really listen to their ideas and be open to the fact that they may just know what they’re doing. If you hand down tasks from on high without their input and creativity, they will get frustrated and feel used and invisible. You are not the only creative ones in the organization, so make sure that there is a lot of input from the production side of things. In this day and age of budget cuts, we need to work hand in hand to achieve our goals not fisticuffs.


**Gets off soap box**


Along a similar vein of being open, don’t be afraid to look silly.


**Considers soap box, moves it over slightly, and steps back on**


A novel idea that orchestras are trying are playing with the attire and dress code. Perhaps the performance is all music from the 50s, so the musicians are asked to dress in 50s costumes. Will you look silly in a poodle skirt? Oh, yes. Will the audience appreciate it? Totally! It’s a little thing and they like it. It also humanizes the musicians, making them more approachable. Do you need to go out a rent/buy a $50 costume? No. There are ways to create homemade costumes on the cheap, but you have to give it a try first.


At a young people’s concert, perhaps the education director asks the entire orchestra to cover their ears at a certain part. Do it! Do it with enthusiasm! Kids love that stuff! Don’t be an a**hole and roll your eyes at the fact that you’ve been asked to do something silly and undignified. Especially at a young people’s concert, silly and undignified is a wonderful way for kids to learn that the orchestra isn’t just boring old people playing music by boring old dead people.


**Considers the ground and decides to stay on the soapbox**


Be gracious. When the audience applauds, smile. When they tell you how wonderful your conductor is, agree (no matter what). Make them feel appreciated. Don’t ever complain in front of an audience member. When orchestra members congratulate you on your solo, say thank you with some semblance of sincerity.


**I really love my soapbox. It’s comfy up here.**


Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Have you tried to be an education director or marketing director for an orchestra? It’s a tough job, especially if you don’t have an assistant or an intern. Think about what they’re dealing with before you decide to have a cow about something they’ve asked you to do. Maybe an opportunity materialized and they’d like to take advantage of it. Remember, they need your help. If it’s in your contract that you need 30 days notice and they’ve only given you a week, consider helping this person and the organization out. I’m not saying you should let them take advantage of your schedule, but if you don’t have any previous plans or if you have plans that can be easily moved, consider taking the gig. They will owe you one and they won’t forget it. If there comes a time that you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, set up a meeting, lay out your issue in a calm and rational way. If you truly try to not be an a**hole, they will appreciate your words and will respond accordingly. That goes for all parties, in fact, not just the artists. Always try to see things from the other side of the coin and ask yourself, “Is it fair that I’m feeling this way? Or did I misinterpret something?”


These are all pretty obvious, aren’t they? However, especially in the orchestra world, there seems to be this mentality of “us versus them” from all parties. As soon as one “side” does something a**hole-y, then the other “side” does something and it becomes a gigantic downward spiral. However, if you refuse to be an a**hole, then no one can accuse of doing just that.


And that goes for everyone.


**Puts soapbox away for the week**




Stay tuned for next week’s entry, KNOWING YOUR VISUAL HABITS, where I discuss why it’s a really good idea to videotape yourself and practice in front of a mirror.

APPLAUSE HAPPENS

Posted on April 1, 2012 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (0)

We’ve all been in that concert with a multi-movement work and after the exciting first movement ends, the audience erupts into applause… for a second. Then they realize that was wrong and stop doing that.


There are 2 ways that people handle this situation. The first (and most prevalent), the performers sit there quietly, ignoring the applause until they stop. If they don’t stop quick enough, one or two of them turn to the audience, give a half smile and a quick nod and turn back to the music/instrument.


The second way, is that one person (usually the conductor) makes some sort of shooshing gesture that looks something like this:




Before I give my controversial opinion on the subject, I’m going to discuss why I don’t like either option. The second, is obvious. If you respond to the audience in that manner, it’s like telling them “SHUT UP!” and we’re taught from an early age that you shouldn’t do that. It’s simply rude. The audience has spontaneously combusted into a display of appreciation and you’ve just told them that you don’t care about that. This reaction also makes them verrrrry nervous to applaud for the rest of the performance. The audience is now more worried about when to applaud than listening and appreciating the performance.


The first reaction is okay but seems a little snobby to me. Ignoring the applause until you absolutely have to condescend to nod to them seems awkward and fake.


There is a better way!


Smile, nod. Maybe even mouth “thank you” and do a neck bow. Most importantly, do this once the audience starts clapping. It doesn’t need to be rushed (that also might be interpreted as “Shut up! I want to move on to the next movement!”) nor have any grandiose movements (after all, we don’t want them to think that this is the end of the whole darn thing!). It just needs to be a simple, genuine acknowledgement of their accolades.


BUT IT’S BETWEEN MOVEMENTS!! YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO CLAP BETWEE…


Yeah yeah yeah, whatever. Not too long ago, audiences actually applauded between movements and it was okay!! Why can’t they do it anymore? Well, there is a valid argument for that. The composers wrote the multi-movement work to form a full piece. The single movement is only a portion. I can understand that viewpoint, but then again wouldn’t you want to know, as a composer, that a particular movement was so spectacular that the audience couldn’t help themselves? This is where I expect my composer brother, Brett Abigaña, to chime in with some choice composer words.


I’ll leave that argument for another time. Or for the comments section. I’ll also leave the post instructing audiences when they should applaud for another time. Suffice to say, that if the audience applauds between movements we performers should acknowledge it and graciously accept it. Not ignore it or make a rude attempt to shut it up.



Stay tuned for next week's entry, ACCOUTREMENTS, APPAREL AND ATTIRE, where I discuss what is and is not appropriate to wear for a performance. 

TACET

Posted on March 18, 2012 at 11:45 PM Comments comments (1)

So, you’re sitting in orchestra and you see this word. What do you do? During a rehearsal, this is a wonderful time to pull out a book, read a magazine, play a game on your phone (with the sound off, since Mahler and Angry Birds don’t mix). You can pretty much do anything you want during rehearsal as long as you’re discrete, silent and don’t make any large distracting movements. After all, the rest of the orchestra is rehearsing and they simply don’t need your typing, knitting or obnoxious page turning to distract from the reason why we’re all in that room. Other than that, you can have at it.


But what about during a performance?


As a flute player, we are lucky to rarely see that word on the page. But as a piccolo player, I’ve seen it a couple times – Beethoven 5 and 9, Tchaikovsky 4 etc. It’s the big important part that’s saved until the 3rd or 4th movement. Brass players deal with this all the time (bless your hearts). Percussionists even more so (with less glory – bless your hearts). So what do you do during the performance?


You sit with good posture and wait patiently.


Seriously? That’s it? Why can’t I read a book, sit comfortably or entertain myself?


Remember, any time you’re on stage, you are performing. Just because you’re not playing or aren’t a part of the main object of attention, doesn’t mean someone isn’t watching you. If you’re reading a magazine, someone is going to notice you turning a page and that communicates a sense of indifference to your audience. If you don’t care that you’re there, why should they? If you don’t care about this performance, why should they support your organization? If you sit hunched over your lap with your elbow on your knee and your chin in your hand, the audience will see your boredom and pick up on your attitude.


In a time where the arts are the first to get budget cuts, we can’t afford to inflict our audience with apathy. Instead, we need to supercharge them with enthusiasm for what we do and why we’re there! Excitement is contagious and the more excited we can be about our art, the more our audience will get excited and will want to help us fight for what we do.


Seriously though… we don’t play until the finale. That’s 30 minutes of sitting there.


Yes. And you’re getting paid the same as everyone else (ok, not the concertmaster or conductor, but that’s the system and I’m not here to talk about that) and they’ve been playing for 30 minutes. Listen to your colleagues! Enjoy the music they’re creating! If you must, space out for a bit. You’re getting paid to sit there and then play an amazing part of the piece, so deal with it. Now, if you’re only tacet for a short 5 minute piece, then you really don’t have an excuse to look so bored. I’ve played in ensembles where orchestra members will be doing their homework on stage during a performance, will yawn openly and will even fall asleep.


It’s not okay, folks. The appropriate thing to do is to simply wait patiently, then play well. Check the apathy at the door and play great music.


Stay tuned for next week's entry, BOWING AND APPLAUSE, where I discuss... *gasp* how to bow without looking like a total dork.

WHEN DOES THE PERFORMANCE START? - PART 1

Posted on March 4, 2012 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)

When does the performance start? I’m not talking about the time of day when the performance starts. In fact, the performance truly starts prior to that 7:00/7:30/8:00 downbeat. It starts the moment you step on stage or the moment you are in “costume” in public.


“Wha…? But that’s not when the concert starts. And all-black/tuxes aren’t costumes…”


Let’s start with the costumes thing. To us musicians, our concert attire isn’t a costume. It’s a uniform. It’s work clothes. It’s what we wear to blend in with the rest of the folks on stage. But before we arrive at the hall, people see us and we stand out. Seriously, who wears a tux to Starbucks? People notice and some will ask! “Where are you going all dressed up in that tux?” I know so many people who have said something like, “Oh, I’ve just got this gig.”


Congratulations! You’ve successfully communicated to that stranger that you 1) don’t care about this gig and 2) they shouldn’t come see it because it’s not a big deal. Good job, Champ.


Instead of shutting them down, try something like “I’m playing with [name of ensemble] tonight! We’re playing [repertoire] and it’s going to be a lot of fun!” With this simple change, you have just opened the door wide for this stranger to reply with questions on where the performance is, how much tickets are, what excites you about this performance, what instrument you play, how long you’ve been playing, etc. You may have just gotten a complete stranger to attend your performance. And isn’t that what we want as artists - an audience?


We live in a culture that tends toward the negative and apathetic. I know I am guilty of falling prey to both. However, if we feed that negativity, we will shut out potential audience members, future musicians, and yes… donors. By taking the positive route, we open the door for those folks.


“What if I’m not excited about this concert?”


There must be something you find interesting on the program! Is the soloist exciting? Do you get to play loud stuff? Is your section playing an incredible melody? Is the group playing a piece that’s ridiculously fun? Isn’t playing music for a living supremely awesome?? Even if it’s one thing, tell that person you met about it! Get excited and infuse that stranger with your passion!


“No, seriously. There’s nothing exciting about this whatsoever.”


We all have our negative moments, but keep the vast majority of them to yourself, only share a little with your colleagues, and never ever let your audience know that you are less than excited about performing for them. As soon as you step into public in your classical musician costume, the performance has begun. Use this visual aid to your advantage by starting conversations with strangers and getting them excited about your performance!



Stay tuned for Part 2 where I discuss the performance beginning with a step on stage.