Hybrid Arts Flutist



Posted on April 28, 2013 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

So sorry for the lack of posts for almost a year! I hope to get back in the swing of things and be updating regularly on Sundays again. My last post (from almost a year ago) stated that I would be writing “Knowing Your Visual Habits.” I lied. I’m going to talk about phones first.

Your phone should never audibly go off during rehearsal. Ever. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. If you leave your ringer on and it goes off during rehearsal, you should be fined. Period.

Calm down, Miss Manners! It’s not that big of a deal! What’s your problem with phones?

Aside from the fact that I think cell phone rings are across the board incredibly annoying (I turn into The Hulk when my mom’s goes off in a restaurant always at the highest volume level possible…;), it shows a lack of respect for the work being done in the rehearsal. If it goes off during an orchestra rehearsal, you clearly do not care about what we’re all doing in this room together. Also, if you know your phone has a loud vibrate noise, turn the thing off. You don’t need your phone on at all times, do you? If you’re that obsessed with your phone, you can wait the extra minute at the top of the break to turn it back on to check your email/voicemail.

Still not that big of a deal…

You know how it feels when an audience member’s phone goes off during the third movement of Shosti 5? The violins are tremoloing way up high, the oboe is playing this incredible heart-breaking theme and suddenly IPHONE MARIMBA RINGTONE. It ruins the moment. It ruins the magic that we’ve worked so hard to create. With that one terrible sound, everyone in that room is brought plummeting back to reality when we should be having our heartstrings tugged and our eyes fill with tears.

True, rehearsals aren’t performances, but we should demand the same respect of our colleagues and ourselves that we demand from our audiences. Announcements are made before the concert begins asking audiences to turn off their cell phones. Be responsible and do the same prior to rehearsal.

But… I’m waiting for a very important phone call!

First, is it all that important? Are waiting to hear about a gig? Because you’re at one and it’s pretty rude to be hunting down work at the expense of the current work. Is a family member’s health at risk? I’m a family first sort of gal, so this one is understandable, but if it’s something you can let go to voicemail, let it go to voicemail.

We all have life issues and sometimes need to be connected in case something happens (for example, your mother is in the hospital and doing very poorly). Trust me, I get it. And believe me, this can be resolved.

If you’re in a chamber music rehearsal (chamber music = 2+ people but not a “large ensemble” with a conductor), it’s your responsibility to let your fellow musicians know what’s going on. You don’t need to give them the full story of your relative’s illness, because it’s none of their business what’s wrong with them. However, it is their business why you have to leave your phone on and pick it up when someone calls. Let them know what you’re dealing with. They’ll get it.

If you’re in a large ensemble (ex: orchestra or some other group with a conductor), you need to ask the personnel manager and/or conductor for a private word (if the group has both, talk to both people), explain the situation, and then ask if it’s alright for you to take the call outside the rehearsal room should your phone ring (and even then, leave your phone on vibrate!). If they’re ok with you doing that, then you can go for it. If not, then you’ll have to wait until a break or after rehearsal. Yeah, it sucks. But that’s the way it goes.

I get why I shouldn’t take a call or leave my ringer on, but I rest for the first three movements of the symphony and we may not get to my movement before the end of rehearsal…

Personally, I think it’s fine to play silent, unobtrusive games on your phone if you rest for a movement or if the conductor decides to hold a string sectional during full orchestra rehearsal. However, I will remind you that is MY opinion. I know many folks who thoroughly disagree with me. Get a feel for your ensemble prior to doing this. Do they seem like a fairly conservative group? Or do they not care? If you’re in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to ask, especially if you’re new. If you’re a substitute, err on the conservative side and bring a book (or get really good at daydreaming - I’m a champion daydreamer). When in doubt – daydream or book.

Can I play games during the first three movements during the concert?

Hell, no! I mean, “that is not advisable”. Do not have your phone anywhere near the stage during a concert. Don’t tempt fate. You’re not going to pick up the call during Mahler 1, so why do you need to be attached to it (the phone, that is)? If you’re concerned about it getting stolen, speak with the backstage crew during the dress rehearsal and find a safe place to stash it. Otherwise, nowhere near the stage… and still leave it on vibrate. And sorry to say… you can’t read during the concert either. Daydream and come in on time.

I’m an audience member. Is it really that bad when my phone goes off during the show?

Yes. Yes it is. Audience members should know what to do with their phones during performances, right? Off. Airplane mode. Do Not Disturb Mode. Quietly Vibrate. Nothing is worse than your phone going off during a performance that these hard-working musicians put on for you. Nowadays, every hall has reminders in the program or in the voice-over before the top of the show, so there’s really no excuse why you shouldn’t silence it. No your phone won’t mess with the in-flight navigation systems, but it’s downright rude and disturbs the magic.

Alright, this post was a little pissy, wasn’t it? I really hate cell phone rings if you couldn’t already tell!

Stay tuned for next week’s much lighter entry, THE LITTLE THINGS THE AUDIENCE SEES AND APPRECIATES, where I discuss the little things in life.


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.


Posted on May 23, 2012 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

We all know to play nice with the conductors, the executive directors and the personnel managers. I mean these are the people who’ve hired us to play music and could ensure that we never work for them again if we perform badly or act like jerks. But these are not the only people who deserve our respect and congeniality.

A wise man (my dad) once told me that you should always make friends with the people who work behind the scenes - custodians, secretaries, stagehands, you name it. Over the past several decades of my dad’s career as a public school music teacher, he has gone out of his way to make friends with the custodians and all the secretaries in the main office. He hasn’t always done this with the administration.


Those behind the scenes can be your greatest allies or your worst enemies depending on how you treat them. If you are kind to these folks, they will be more willing to go out of their way – maybe even break some rules – to help you out. If you run roughshod over them, they can make your life a living hell (and with good reason).

It’s a sad fact that our society ignores, takes advantage and is blatantly rude to the people behind the scenes. These folks deal with stupid, rude, inconsiderate people all day. For a custodian, they deal with people leaving trash everywhere and leaving their room a mess. For a secretary, it’s rude parents and teenagers. Stagehands get yelled at for mixing up chairs or putting a stand in the wrong place.

Simply put, just because they aren’t making the music for the audience or teaching your children, they are still an integral part of what we all do. Show them the utmost respect. And frankly, isn’t this a good idea for life?

Let me give you an example. There is a wonderful stagehand that works with one of the orchestras I play in. Let’s call him Frank. All of the percussionists in this orchestra are really friendly with Frank and treat him as an equal. In response, he does his very best to make sure they have all the gear they need in the right place. Granted, Frank isn’t a percussionist so this isn’t the easiest for him. But he always tries. Also, since I’m not a local musician, eating out at restaurants all weekend gets expensive so I bring a cooler full of food with me. Frank lets me store my vittles in his fridge backstage. I can’t tell you how big a help this has been for me and it’s all because I take time out each concert cycle to say hello to Frank, ask how he is and commiserate with him if it’s a huge stage set-up.

When was the last time you thanked your stagehands for being so quick with striking the piano from the stage and putting the 1st violins’ chairs back? Does it really matter if it wasn’t perfect?

When did you last thank your custodian for emptying your office’s trash?

Yes, I know it’s their job to do these things. But it’s your job to play music and doesn’t the audience thank you for it with their applause? Don’t they approach you after the concert and congratulate you?

The audience doesn’t get to know our backstage friends. So in lieu of a standing ovation, let your local stagehand, custodian and secretary know how much you appreciate what they do. We all want to feel appreciated and those behind the scenes deserve to feel that way, too.

Stay tuned for next week’s entry, DON’T BE AN A**HOLE, where I ask musicians to not be, well… you get the point.


Posted on April 29, 2012 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I’ve spent the last three weeks rambling on and on about what is and what is not appropriate attire. Now, I’m going to show you what I mean.

When it comes to small ensemble playing, I greatly admire the Afiara String Quartet not just as musicians (they are AMAZING), but also in how they present themselves. This is a picture from one of their performances:

Polished, well-fitting, comfortable, everything. If you were in the audience when this quartet walked onstage (and you’ve never heard them before), your first impression (which is visual!) would be that you knew you were in for a good concert.

This is the Xenia Ensemble from a performance in Italy.

I’m sure they’re a wonderful ensemble, but visually speaking, the only thing interesting is the 2nd violinist’s hair and the pipa player’s top. Oh. And the chairs. As I mentioned in Part 2, wearing all-black on a black stage, makes the ensemble disappear.

Here is a picture of the Imani Winds performing a young audiences show.

Notice that they aren’t wearing anything that makes them look imposing (such as all-black or tuxedos). The women are also wearing shirts that are appropriate for this type of performance (i.e. no cleavage) and yet all of them are still dressed up and look nice.

You may remember also from Part 2, my advice on making a choice. Just as Lady Gaga has made a strong to choice with her wardrobe, there are classical musicians doing the same. For example, take the spectacular violinist, Hahn Bin.

His attire is pretty out there (though he backs it up with amazing playing) and while I may not personally agree with his choice, I appreciate that he fully commitments to it.

Lastly, conductors should like nice, too. This is Larry Rachleff.

Not only is he an amazing conductor, but he is always dressed impeccably. His jacket fits, he can still easily move without his shirt cuffs sticking out a foot past his coat sleeves, the style is unique and it’s appropriate for the performance.

Hopefully, these pictures give you some idea of what to wear for your next performance. For now, I will get off my attire soapbox and go practice.

Stay tuned for next week’s entry, SPEAKING FROM THE STAGE, where I will discuss how to do that without sounding like the world’s worst music history teacher.


Posted on April 16, 2012 at 11:00 PM Comments comments (0)

If you haven’t had the chance to peruse www.awkwardclassicalmusicphotos.com, this would be a good time. That site has a plethora of bad fashion and poor choices for album covers and headshots. Just take a second and read some of the comments to understand why you shouldn’t ever pose in the nude. For that matter, you probably shouldn’t perform in the nude either. Unless of course, there is a specific reason for it, but that conversation is for another time.

When deciding what your small ensemble will wear, factor in the concept of your performance. Are you performing an all-baroque program? If so, perhaps mini-skirts and muscle-Ts aren’t the best choice. What image do you want to project with this performance? If you want your audience to leave the hall thinking, “WOW! SHE’S PRETTY!” then by all means, wear tight pants and a low-cut shirt. If that’s your goal, then go for it, but know that what you wear could overshadow the music.

Also think about what the performance space looks like. If you’re performing on a black stage with black curtains, then wearing an all-black outfit will make you blend in and de-emphasize your group. Instead, try a bold colored shirt or dress. Give your audience something to look at that won’t distract from the music at the same time. (My opinions on “new music black” in a future post.)

Consider the type of performance. When performing for little kids, all-black can be intimidating and tall heels will make you, well, taller and therefore farther away from them. When performing in a retirement community, jeans may not be appropriate. These folks are from a generation where jeans were more appropriate for fields and not for performances. I rarely saw my grandfathers in jeans much less at a nice occasion.

Be specific when discussing attire options with the group. “Look nice” means different things to different people. I know an absolutely incredible flutist (who is also a hybrid artist) who once told me that when she performed on a gala concert at the flute convention, she picked out her very best pair of shorts, her best vest and her best t-shirt for the occasion. She recalled thinking she looked really sharp. That is until people approached her and congratulated her on her outfit because she went up there and just didn’t care what she looked like. Oops! So, take the time to be specific about what “look nice” means.

Along the same lines as being specific, choose whether you will or will not coordinate. It’s awkward when 3 out of 5 people show up in shirt/tie and the other two are in all-black. If you decide to coordinate, think about the colors – are they clashing? Don’t ask the colorblind member of your group to answer that question. Some groups have everyone wearing the same shirt. Does it look super dorky? Yes… that IS a consideration!

A note to the guys: when the girls want to get specific about what to wear, don’t bug them about it. What you wear and how you look is important to the performance. It can add or detract from the audience’s experience. Wouldn’t you rather it added? If you don’t care what you wear, let the girls decide. They probably have a better idea anyway. If you’re in a group where no one cares about what to wear, make a choice. Be the one to make the choice. Which brings me to…

In theatre, directors are always instructing their actors to make a choice about a character or a line. In your imagination, what does the character look like? How do they walk? How do they talk? Etc. Not making a decision about how you will perform a character leads to uncommitted acting. The same goes with performing music. Make a strong choice with your attire. Consider the image you want to project, what will look good in the performance space, the type of performance and the specifics of the attire.

On a different subject, I apologize for posting a day late this week. I was having a wonderful time competing with the Indianapolis Ceili Band (pronounced “KAY-lee”) at the Midwest Fleadh (pronounced “FLAH”) in Chicago (hopefully you know how to say that one). In addition to being a hybrid artist and classical flutist, I’m also a folk music junkie and play Irish flute with the ceili band and in an Irish session in Indy. Ta-Da!

Stay tuned for next week’s entry, ACCOUTREMENTS, APPAREL AND ATTIRE - Part 3: Solo, where I discuss what to wear when you’re all by yourself… or in front of a whole bunch of people.


Posted on April 8, 2012 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

So, I planned on getting all my attire opinions into one post, but I soon realized that it just wasn’t going to happen that way without being entirely too long. And I also need to do my taxes today.

I’m pretty opinionated about attire.

Let’s start with what to wear while performing an orchestra concert. Without a doubt, you’ve received a memo from the personnel manager stating the rehearsal and concert times/places as well as the dress code. If you didn't get the memo (Office Space? Anyone? Bueller?), it's your responsibility to contact the personnel manager and get the necessary information including the dress code.  Here is the dress code from one of the orchestras I play in taken directly from our most recent memo:

Men: White tie, white shirt, tails and tuxedo trousers. Black dress shoes (no boots) and black socks.

Women: Ankle length, solid black dress preferred (conservative neckline, no side slits, back slits six(6) inches or less), with at least 3/4 length sleeves. Solid black pants (no stirrup pants or leggings). Loose-fitting, opaque blouses or tops are acceptable. Leotard-style tops, bare backs, transparent lace, or flowered blouses/tops are not acceptable. Pants shall be with full (not snug fitting) pant legs. Black dress shoes (no boots, open-toed or clogs) and black hose. Conservative jewelry. Hair ornaments in black only.

For those of you who have played in an orchestra before, you’ve probably seen something like this. White tie and tails for the guys and all-black for the ladies (special orchestra dress codes will be discussed at a later date). Why so uniform? Why so boring?

An orchestra shouldn’t be seen as individuals, but more like a large school of fish working towards the same goal. That and if it were up to the individual’s taste, someone is going to show up in cargo pants, a stars and bars t-shirt, and combat boots. It probably happened at one time and that’s why orchestras had to crack down and make it uniform. I’m just kidding. It probably wasn’t a stars and bars t-shirt.  (It had long sleeves.)

So that’s why we should be uniform. But why is the dress code so specific?

Well, for guys there really isn’t much variation involved in white tie and tails, so they don’t need high amounts of specificity (and typically the gents aren’t as fashion oriented as the ladies). The only thing I have to say about the guys’ dress code is when the memo says “tails,” wear a freaking tailcoat. It’s obvious when you wear a tux coat instead. Don’t show up without a white tie, either. There are only so many the personnel manager has available for borrowing and you look like a moron to them if you don’t have a white tie! And do I need to say anything about white versus black socks? Always have a ton of black socks on hand and wear them in the concert. White socks and a tux looks supremely awful. I guess what was three things. Oops.

Ladies. Where do I start? I feel like I should have a post dedicated to what girls should and should not wear in an orchestra concert. We girls like to look good and we think any public event is an opportunity to go all out with the fashion. But as a school of fish is all uniform, we need to restrain ourselves a little bit from the more extreme versions of “all-black”. Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

I want to die my hair a spectacular color someday, but until I’m not playing in an ensemble where uniform dress code is necessary, I’m going to have to hold off. Why? Because bright blue hair will distract from the concertmaster’s solo or the quiet minutes in a Mahler symphony. The music is the important part and any visuals should always aid, not distract. Hair color can be distracting if it’s bright and un-natural.

Cleavage is a no-no. It’s not appropriate for the girls to be peeking out of your shirt, so wear a camisole and keep ‘em covered. It's not difficult so don't put the personnel manager in the awkward position of having to tell you that what you're wearing is inappropriate.

When the memo says loose-fitting, opaque, long-sleeved tops, that means that’s what you should wear. Don’t wear short sleeves and certainly not sleeveless. The audience will get distracted by your bare arms flying around which is why orchestras require ¾ to full length sleeves. While doing my undergraduate degree, one of the concertmistresses always wore a dress without sleeves and with a low, open back. People would be talking about her attire for hours afterward instead of the performance itself. That shouldn't have been the point of the concert.

Pants and skirts. This is not the time to show off your hind-end. Well-fitting is good, but don’t wear skinny pants especially when it says not to do that in the memo!

If the memo says close-toed shoes, that’s what you should wear. Same with black hose/socks. In one of the orchestras I play in, another orchestra member wears black socks with a colored print on them. I have no idea why she thinks this is okay. It’s not cute. It’s unprofessional. Are you catching the pattern here?

Now don’t get me wrong, I think well-fitting clothing is important. One does not need to look frumpy to comply with professional. But this isn’t a fashion show, so stay to the conservative side of your outfit. Save the skinny jeans and low-cut tops for the after party if you so desire.

The biggest part of this rant is respect. It may seem silly that the orchestra is being so specific with the type of jewelry you’re allowed to wear or the type of shoe, but that’s their rule. This orchestra hired you, so show them the respect they deserve by honoring their dress code. It’s very simple and it’s what’s appropriate.

Stay tuned for next week’s entry: ACCOUTREMENTS, APPAREL AND ATTIRE - Part 2: small ensembles, where I discuss coordinating (and not) within your small ensemble.


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.


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. 


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.


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?


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.


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.

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