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HOW TO BOW WITHOUT LOOKING LIKE A TOTAL DORK

Posted on March 25, 2012 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (3)

We bow to thank the audience for their applause and our audiences applaud because they appreciate what we do. Both are important to a performance and both should be genuine and happen with grace.


As a musician, I hate applause if I didn’t deserve it. I just want to stop the audience and say, “Look, I’m sorry, but that was a particularly (insert naughty word for “bad”) performance.” However, our society has developed so that it is inappropriate not to applaud at the end. So, they’re gonna do it and you’re gonna like it. Now the trick is to convince the audience that they just experienced a stupendous performance (no matter how it actually went).


Step 1: Smile.


Musicians don’t do nearly enough of this in my opinion. I mean, seriously. We’re not grumpy emo teenagers anymore, are we? (Well, maybe some of us are, but you have to pretend like you’re not). When the piece ends, smile. In fact, make it a HUGE smile that could be seen from the back row of Carnegie. Show the pearly whites! Don’t fake smile (known in the theatre world as “mugging”), because the front row will see that. Just smile.


Step 2: Bow. This can be tricky. If you’ve got an instrument, you have to negotiate the mechanics of holding the thing, any non-attached accoutrements (i.e. a bow), music stands, chairs, etc.


First of all, if you’re sitting, stand up. You look lazy if you bow sitting down.


If you have a stand in front of you, take a small step to the side so you can bow into open air. It doesn’t need to be a gigantic step. Just a step to give you some room.


For percussionists, don’t hide behind your set-up. Just like with music stands, step out from your hidey-hole, give us a smile and bow. Here’s a video of an awkward percussion bow and a good percussion bow.




For string players, you have to negotiate your bow. Many folks put both instrument and bow in the same hand while some folks have their instrument in one hand and the bow in the other. Whatever you decide to do, make sure your bow doesn’t go flailing behind you. A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) does the bow flail and it looks aaaaawkward


For folks who play big things (ex: tuba, cello, bass, bassoon, etc), I encourage you to find a way to bow with your instrument so you can bow through your back – not just your neck. I’ve seen many big instrument players bow from their neck because their instrument is in front of them. This doesn’t convey as much of an air of appreciation as a full back bow. Here’s a video of a neck bow and a genuine bow from behind a bass.




Most importantly, get comfortable in your own skin. If you feel awkward, you’re going to look awkward. Perhaps like this:




However, by practicing your bow in front of a video camera and becoming comfortable with the action and how you look, the effect will be significantly different. This is how I bow:




A big thank you to Greg Jukes and Greg Olson for allowing me to video their bows!



Stay tuned for next week's entry, APPLAUSE HAPPENS, where I discuss.... well... applause.

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 2

Posted on March 11, 2012 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

If you have not read my thoughts on the musician’s costume and how it pertains to performance, please read Part 1 first.


Let’s say your audience hasn’t seen you out and about in your tux or fancy black. When does the performance start, then?


For you, the performance begins the moment you step on stage after the house doors have opened. Once your audience arrives in the hall and you are also present in the space, they are now seeing you as a performer. They are here to see YOU. So yes, my friend… you are now performing. Perhaps your instrument is not to your face or on your shoulder, but you are on stage and they are watching you.


So, why does this matter?


Simply put, there are many things that we “just do” while preparing for the performance that we don’t think about. We don’t consider the fact that it might look unprofessional from the audience’s perspective.


Ok, like what?


FOR EXAMPLE:

1. Being out of “costume” – Like I said, once you are onstage, you are performing so if you’re wandering around the stage, getting your instrument out while wearing jeans and a t-shirt, it looks unprofessional. It’s easy enough to get dressed at home, in the hall’s bathroom or in the dressing room. If you have to move equipment and would rather not get your tux messed up (ex: setting up percussion), arrive prior to the hall being opened and set up then.


2. Taking care of business – I’ve seen several personnel managers (bless their hearts) passing out checks while there are people sitting in the audience. As efficient as this may be, it’s not appropriate to pass out checks in front of the audience. That’s the equivalent of showing your date the check prior to you paying for it – the audience feels guilty and awkward because they’ve just been made profoundly aware that we are doing this for money (I will address this in a future post).


3. Language and Conversations – for the love of God… don’t swear while on stage. Sometimes there are microphones hanging from the ceiling and they will pick up your language. And onstage prior to the performance is not the appropriate time to talk about how little you want to be there. As I said in Part 1, save the whining for later and not in front of the audience.


These simple rules seem obvious when spelled out, don’t they? The basic rule is: be aware of what you are doing and how you are acting while performing. Always behave as if you are in the spotlight, because most likely… there is someone watching you.


Stayed tuned for next week’s entry, TACET, where I discuss the art of not playing.


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