Orchestra Best Practices

Orchestra Best Practices and Etiquette from the Performance Faculty at the University of Oregon

*To be fair to those who contributed, I have edited the comments so we don’t have repeated material.  Therefore, you should not conclude that the faculty only value what is listed here.  There was so much information, I cherry-picked interesting comments from every faculty member who contributed.

Jacobs (conductor)

  • Watch the conductor:)  Have your stand high enough that you have a good sight line.
  • When the conductor is talking, give him/her eye contact and nod.  This makes them feel that you are engaged.  For pick-up groups, I have hired people on this factor alone.
  • Read around the notes (don’t forget important details such as accents, tenuto, sfz, cresc., dim.)
  • Learn how to be insanely expressive without playing out of time.
  • Listen critically and be proactive in the rehearsal (especially all principals)
    • Know whom you are playing with at all times and know your role (thematic material, harmonic support, counterline, rhythmic motor, etc).  Listen to the group you have the same material with for uniformity.  Listen to groups that have different material to determine your dynamic and tempo for ensemble and balance respectively.
    • Note lengths and intonation are often left for theprincipals to address.
      • Decide on a note length, communicate it with other principals and play uniformly.  Then adjust to conductor’s interpretation (if necessary).
      • Fix intonation issues during break, or after rehearsal.  Never leave a rehearsal if there is a glaring intonation issue.  Find out whom you play with, then ask, “I have that line with you, can we try it together?”
  • As a rule, linger about 10-15 minutes to fix issues you hear that were not addressed by the conductor.  The conductor simply cannot address everything he/she heard.  There is a pecking order that must be considered.  However, things within your sphere of influence can and should be addressed before you leave rehearsal.  This will do wonders for the ensemble.
  • Plan sectionals outside of rehearsal.  This can be just your section, or with families of instruments.  Ask a faculty member or conductor to help if you wish.  Laura Littlejohn can help you find a larger room if needed.
  • Work within the hierarchy of the orchestra
    • Play your individual part with integrity related to rhythm, pitch, style
    • Match your principal
    • Principals match with other principals within your family (i.e. brass, woodwind, percussion, strings)
    • Pay attention to the concertmaster.
    • Watch and react to conductor’s words and gestures

Chung (percussion)

  • Orchestral playing is like jumping on and off a moving train.  You gotta stay alert and be able to jump on at the exact moment of time and space, otherwise…. SPLAT!

Henniger (trombone)

  • Always listen to multiple recordings before the first rehearsal!
  • Learn your part at home!
  • Be proactive with intonation!
  • Communicate with your section professionally!
  • Listen. Blend. Be flexible to new interpretations!
  • Stop thinking about YOU and make the colleague next to you sound great!

Barth (flute)

  • For 2nd players in the wind/brass section, it is very important to work to fit the sound of the principal player in terms of dynamics, intonation, quality of attack/tone/decay, vibrato (speed/amplitude).
  • 2nd players need to be extremely receptive to the comments made towards them by principal players.
  • Principal players need to have the concertmaster in peripheral vision at all times.
  • ALL players need to know who has the main line at all times, as well as who has a rhythmic line to lock into.

Grose (tuba)

  • Always be early to each service. To be “on time” is to be late. Always be early.
  • Always come to each service with your part prepared.
  • Be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
  • (For the brass) Always anticipate the beat slightly in order to be synced with the front of the orchestra.
  • Tune from the bottom. Bottom, you need to be solidly wide in tone, and in tune…and to project.
  • Help each other count rests. Be a team.
  • Be musicians first and instrumentalists second.
  • Be helpful rather than hurtful to your colleagues. Be a team.
  • Realize that each of us has a sacred duty to do our best to honor the composer’s schematic.
  • Be a supportive colleague. If someone sounds good tell him or her. Be a team.

Van Dreel (horn)

  • The orchestra is a community, probably smaller than your high school graduating class, but just as dramatic.  Avoid gossip and conflict, and try to stay positive.
  • Be smell free (clean with no perfume)
  • Be professional
  • Follow the instructions of the conductor, even if you disagree with their interpretation
  • Do not play very technical and demanding horn rep while waiting on stage
  • Do not play any part of another musician’s solo
  • Avoid looking around the room and generally appearing bored during rests
  • Arrive early enough to be settled and warmed up at the start of rehearsal

Lucktenberg (violin)

  • Spend time familiarizing yourself with the music through recordings, score study, and historical study (Grove’s).  Listening through once with score, part, metronome and pencil in hand may be enough.  You’ll want to mark in general tempi, and any salient issues that help you understand the work such as who has the solo line and who has parallel motion with your line.  This step will save time in the practice room!
  • For Principals
    • Have a viable set of fingerings/bowings in your part.
    • Devise some system of quietly keeping tabs during rehearsal on what will need sectional work.  You could keep a small notebook on or near your stand and keep a list, or it may be as simple as a check mark in the margins of the music.  Trouble spots may not just be the hard passages.

Peña (oboe)

  • Always strive to be a good colleague contributing to an environment of support and respect for those with whom you are working.  Everyone plays their best when they are most comfortable.  Contributing to a positive atmosphere best serves the music.
  • When tuning, allow for the ‘A’ to fully resonate and settle into the space for a couple of seconds BEFORE you start playing.  When you start to tune, be tasteful.
  • Know where you are in a held chord and know the tendencies of that position within the given chord.
  • For Seconds: Make your section sound good!!  Blend and match everything you hear from the principal – pitch, articulation, volume, pace of phrasing, all….
  • For Principals
    • Always be in visual communication with the concertmaster.
    • BEFORE addressing issues (pitch, note-length, volume, phrasing, breathing, etc.) with the 2nd player or other principals, allow for the problem to fix itself first.  Chances are good that your colleagues also want to fix the same thing that you heard, so give yourselves a second chance to do that.  Not doing so can foster an environment of mis-trust and condescension.
    • When you do address your colleagues, ALWAYS be respectful and never use an accusatory tone.

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