by Marilyn Bone Kloss
Continued from The Horn Call XXIX/1 (November 1998), 65-67.
"Practice intelligently," advises Richard Pittman when asked what he would tell amateur musicians who play in ensembles. "Tell them to practice hard and intelligently. They'll get more satisfaction from the experience by playing well." Max Hobart echoes the sentiment, "Tell them to practice, to be prepared." It's striking how consistent the advice is.
Pittman has been music director of the Concord (Massachusetts) Orchestra for nearly thirty years and recently added the New England Philharmonic, also an amateur orchestra, to his schedule. He is also founder and music director of Boston Musica Viva, a professional contemporary chamber ensemble, and has been guest conductor of many professional orchestras such as the Kirov Opera Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestras, and the American Repertory Theater.
Hobart was a violinist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and had already been conducting several community orchestras when he developed physical problems that forced him to give up playing the violin. Since then, he has concentrated on conducting, including the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston, the North Shore Orchestra, and the Wellesley Symphony Orchestra.
Professionals are expected, without question, to play their parts correctly at the first rehearsal; rehearsals are for the group, not for the individual. Studio players may have to record a selection many times, but they are expected to play perfectly each time; the repeated takes are for other reasons (timing, balance, etc.) and any one of the takes may end up being used for the film or commercial. Amateurs unfortunately tend to take preparation less seriously.
In addition to making a case for better preparation through practicing and skill development, this article discusses aspects of etiquette that help make the ensemble experience more enjoyable for everyone. Topics include how to relate to conductors, colleagues, and the audience, attendance, handling music, warming up, tuning, counting, listening for balance, intonation, and style, and accepting applause.
Many amateurs arrive at the first rehearsal without having made any attempt to prepare. Since there are usually at least several weeks of rehearsal before the concert, they figure that they can learn the part in that time. However, rehearsals are more rewarding if you learn the music as thoroughly as possible before the first rehearsal. If the music is available, practice it to learn the notes. Excerpt books may help if the part is not available. If you can find a recording, listen for style, tempi, dynamics, and for how your part fits in. Have a teacher or a trusted colleague to consult for difficult passages. Your self-respect will go up when you are able to hold your own at the first reading, and you will be able to focus on making music.
"Always come to rehearsal with your music prepared," writes Nancy Cochran Block, professor of horn at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, in The Horn Call. Her article, "Ensemble Etiquette," is directed to students preparing to be professionals, but many of her comments also apply to amateurs. "Get recordings to listen to when possible," advises Hobart, "and take your part to your teacher." Note that he assumes that you have a teacher!
Sometimes it is not possible to be completely prepared for the first rehearsal. The part may not be available before the rehearsal, there may be nothing in the excerpt books, and/or there may be no recordings. "A rehearsal set up to read new music is an obvious exception," notes Cochran Block. So it may not be possible to really know such aspects as tempi, how the part fits into the picture, what is solo, what is tutti, etc. "But when these details have been acquired," says Pittman, "it is important to concentrate on practicing the difficult parts intelligently, not just automatically run through the music."
Practicing is the most important aspect of preparation. Practicing includes warming up, improving and maintaining skills, and learning your part. You owe it to yourself, and also to the group, to play the best that you can right from the start.
"You are a member of a crew and have to pull your oar," observes Pittman. "You have to train enough to stay with the level of the ensemble, meet the challenge to get ready for the performance. Few amateurs practice like a professional, whereas the professionals you would think don't need to practice any more still practice very hard indeed. Boston Symphony former concertmaster Joseph Silverstein was renowned for his practice ethic. International oboe soloist Heinz Holliger practices diligently at home, and then, when he performs two concertos at a con-cert (which is typical for him), he continues to practice during the intermission."
"The only way to prepare yourself for the coming day is to practice," writes Frank Lloyd, former member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and renowned soloist, in The Business, a book for aspiring professional players. His comments on practicing apply to anyone who plays an instrument.
"There can be many reasons for not practicing: fatigue, lack of incentive or enthusiasm, lack of work -- nothing to practice for -- too many other things to do, need a lie-in, do it later in the day, etc. etc. etc. I have heard them all, including 'I couldn't face the noise' or just plain 'I've got duff chops'. I wonder if the reason for the duff chops ever occurred to the player?"
Amateurs may find different reasons, such as working all day, family obligations, etc., but the result is often the same. Lloyd stresses that "even the smallest amount of practice is important. Even ten minutes first thing in the morning will make things that much easier for you when you come to play later in the day." This is a point that could be very helpful to busy amateurs. I have found that warming up during lunch break makes a big difference in evening practice or rehearsal. Most amateurs are tired at the end of a working day, so getting in some practice earlier in the day is especially effective.
"Amateurs tend to play whatever is in front of them," says Jean Rife, a Boston soloist and orchestra player who teaches many amateurs, "and sometimes they don't play much in between. This often results in small injuries to the muscles, which over time add up to serious enough in-juries that the sound is never as beautiful as it had been." Because horn players are dealing with a small mouthpiece on a long pipe (and therefore playing high on the overtone series and using small muscles around the mouth), it is especially important to keep the muscles in condition.
"We all play because we love it," continues Rife, "and we tend to play through the passages so we can enjoy the music, but blind repetition is not the answer to effective practicing. To practice efficiently, we have to plan, to pay attention to the process, and we have to determine what makes a passage difficult." Rife uses Post-it notes to mark passages that need working out, and she takes the music to colleagues for help. "I'm still learning how to practice," she confesses. She also finds a tape recorder useful: "with it, often you can be your own coach."
Efficiency is the word from many sources, and it means a good warm-up and daily skills maintenance, which can be expanded on days without rehearsals or concerts to improve skills, preferably under the guidance of a teacher. "A good teacher is invaluable," adds Rife, "and can keep you flexible, in touch with reality, help keep your enthusiasm high."
How much should you practice? "Until you can play the music" is the advice often given in reference to conquering difficult passages, and practicing every day as a necessity for being in shape to tackle whatever is put in front of you. Frøydis Ree Wekre, in her book Thoughts on Playing the Horn Well, writes, "Unfortunately, the lips do not know the difference between Sundays and weekdays. A full day without any playing is sometimes necessary, but four 'Sundays' in a month is too much, in my experience. The self-confidence may suffer, if, after a 'Sunday' or two, your sound is scratchy, your accuracy is shaky, your dynamics are out of control and your en-durance leaves early." It may be difficult to find practice time, but most amateurs don't try hard enough to schedule (and stick to) regular practice times.
Each type of instrument requires a certain set of skills. String players, for example, have a repertoire of bowing styles, and every string player is expected to be able to produce any type of bowing on demand. For horn players, expected skills include transposing, reading bass clef, muted and stopped horn, double tonguing, flutter tonguing, etc.
It's amazing how many horn players unabashedly admit to inability to transpose. Horn players should be prepared to transpose! A time-honored method of learning transpositions is to practice the Kopprasch exercises in many keys. Consider that many parts requiring transposition use only a handful of different notes, so it is not a terribly difficult chore. (Late Romantics like Strauss and Wagner are a different story.) Even if the ensemble you play in currently doesn't re-quire transposing, keep the skill up so that if you are called on to substitute at the last minute in an orchestra playing a Haydn symphony or Beethoven mass, for example, you can jump right in and transpose the part immediately.
Also be prepared to read in bass clef, either old notation (thinking up an octave, sounding a fourth higher than written) or new notation (thinking written pitch, sounding a fifth lower than written), and transpositions in bass clef.
If you don't have a teacher, there are a number of books, such as Wekre's, to lead you through warming up, devising a practice schedule, and learning necessary skills. Wekre points out some daily exercises that develop a skill and at the same time train the body; lip trills and stopped horn, for example. "In my experience practising lip trills is a very efficient way to train the lips," she writes. "Besides the advantage of having good trills when you need them, the every-day-practice of them makes your facial muscles stronger and able to react quicker." On stopped horn, "Firstly, the quality of your stopped horn playing will improve, regarding intonation, steadiness and sound. Secondly, it is efficient training for exhaling.... Loud stopped horn playing is physically somewhat different from normal playing. It demands more effort. Thus practising it can give more strength in a shorter amount of time." Efficient ways like these should be of interest to amateurs with limited practice time.
Getting along with conductors and colleagues is a matter of consideration and of being responsible. Arriving on time, stopping when the conductor does, listening (and not talking), and ways of fitting into the section are some of the standards discussed.
Like it or not, conductors generally have absolute power over ensembles. More than once I have heard a conductor state, "This is not a democracy!" Professional players used to depend on conductors' good graces for their livelihood, but now many organizations have player committees to handle disputes. The conductor's power is probably more nearly absolute in amateur organizations where such committees are not the rule. In studios, where there is time pressure to get the music recorded quickly, players who cannot get along with the conductor or their colleagues are not asked back for the simple reason that disruptions cost money. It used to be that contractors had the power to hire studio players, but now it's more often the composer (and more often than not, also the conductor) who provides a list of desired players to the contractor.
"Always speak to the conductor in a respectful way, whether or not you think that respect is deserved," writes Cochran Block. "Alienating the conductor is never in a player's best interest." Specifically, she recommends that "when a conductor makes a suggestion to you or your section, acknowledge that you understand by a nod of the head or some facial response (preferably not a grimace). If a conductor usually cues your entrances, look up to acknowledge that cue." Stop playing immediately when the conductor stops. "Continuing is rude and wastes time," comments Cochran Block. Colleagues as well as conductors appreciate this courtesy.
It seems as though all conductors, after saying, "Practice" say, "Don't talk." Another request is to listen so that corrections have to be made only once. "Listen even when the conductor is talking to another section," says conductor Max Hobart. "You might learn something about the music that applies to what you play, or at least increases your understanding of the work." Conductor Richard Pittman says, "Amateurs can be as professional in this regard as the professionals. For example, the New England Conservatory Children's Chorus is actually more professional in its rehearsal attitude than many professional organizations, including some of the major orchestras."
Place your stand so that you can see the music and the conductor at the same time. "Know the music well enough so that your eyes don't have to be glued to the music," says Pittman. "Be able to look up when necessary, especially at the beginning and end of a movement. The conductor prepares each musical event ahead of time, and you have to be aware of the preparation." Abby Mayer, a professional player and teacher of many amateurs, writes in A Pamphlet for Self Improvement on the Horn, "Try to develop the habit of memorizing the first notes of your entrances and looking at the conductor before you enter. Your glance lets him [or her] know that you are prepared, even if he does not give a cue. Your visual attention will signal that he can depend on you, and it will also give him confidence in your performance."
Asking questions of the conductor can be disruptive of the rehearsal and lead to confusion for other players. It's best to check within the section first; often the question can be resolved without involving the conductor. Rather than impede a rehearsal about a particular note, wait for the break or the end of the rehearsal to ask the conductor or check the score. However, sometimes it is appropriate to ask a quick question. In some situations (studio sessions, for example, or with certain conductors), it is customary for only the section principal to speak directly to the conductor. In most amateur orchestras, however, if the question applies only to one member of the section, that member can ask the question directly.
"If a conductor is any good," says Pittman, "the way he or she conducts is the way they want the music to be played; for example, how loud, soft, legato, articulated -- the character in general. The better the conductor, the more music shows up in the conducting style and the easier it will be to follow. And the better the orchestra, the more sensitive it will be to the conductor; an amateur orchestra struggling to play the notes is likely to be less sensitive to the conductor than a first rate professional orchestra. Assume that everything the conductor does has a meaning. Also, realize that conductors are human beings, trying to do their best; be cooperative, show good discipline, and help make rehearsals more efficient."
Getting along with colleagues contributes to the pleasure of ensemble playing. Here are some generally accepted standards of behavior regarding warming up, watching others, counting, and making comments on colleagues' playing.
Warm up with exercises that get you ready to play. Avoid showing off with excerpts that are irrelevant to the works on the current schedule. A big taboo is practicing someone else's solo. "No first horn will want to have you around if you play flawlessly the solo that is giving him [or her] problems," comments Cochran Block.
Don't watch others while they are playing. In fact, writes Cochran Block, "when someone in the section or sitting near you has a solo, don't make any sudden movements which might startle or distract the player. Even emptying your horn can be done slowly if it is absolutely necessary to do it at the time." Some assistants have been known to finger a solo along with the principal; this is guaranteed to drive the principal crazy and should certainly not be done.
"'Lighthouse' is jargon for anyone who is always looking around," explains Jeffrey Bryant, principal horn of the Royal Philharmonic, in The Business. "Try not to turn around and look at anyone, keep your head forward -- especially if there are any mistakes being made by other players. This is an important part of orchestral etiquette." Don't let on if you make a mistake, either, since doing so only embarrasses your colleagues.
Some players pick up their instruments long before an entrance; others wait until just a few beats before. Follow the practice of the section leader as much as possible to minimize distraction. Mayer writes, "In some horn sections I have played in, all the players bring up their horns one full measure before the entrance. That confirms the count and insures time for preparation." Whether it is one measure or more or less obviously depends on the time signature and tempo.
The following anecdote illustrates how timing of picking up the horn can be distracting. The principal in my amateur orchestra picks her horn up only a few beats before an entrance. It took me (the second horn) a while to get used to this and follow along, but now it's automatic. Recently I played second in another orchestra. The principal took much longer to get set, and when I didn't pick up my horn as soon as he did, I had a definite feeling that he worried whether I was ready for the entrance. Some first horns may not notice or care about this, but be prepared to adjust.
Count carefully. Use fingers, but discreetly. Cochran Block recommends giving a hand or finger motion at rehearsal letters. "This allows all the players in the section to double check that they have the correct count." However, don't count aloud under any circumstances as others may have a different number of measures to count. The assistant must always know the count, ready to cue the principal at any moment if necessary.
If another player turns to you, panic-stricken, and asks, "Where are we?" Bryant advises that you stay calm, keep counting, nod, and give the count as soon as possible. Don't say anything except the relevant bar number, otherwise you both will be lost.
Don't tap your foot. "If you must tap," writes Mayer, "do it inside your shoe so it is not seen."
Don't make comments to other players about their playing, except for section leaders making points about section playing. Pittman describes an exceptional situation with the members of the Boston Musica Viva, a small ensemble specializing in contemporary music. "They feel free to say anything to the conductor and to each other. It is a strength of the group and works only because they are all excellent players and musicians, they are all nice, and it is done in a constructive way. It is perhaps even necessary in putting together new works for which there is no history of performance. This approach doesn't work in a larger group, especially where some members are weaker musicians but feel as though they know it all. The proscription is necessary then, and any instructions should be left to the section leader or conductor."
Section leaders of professional orchestras may actually say more than leaders in amateur orchestras, contends Pittman, "because there is a higher standard of performance and more emphasis on section unity of style. They are more meticulous, and everyone is intent on 'getting it right'."
Balancing dynamics and sound is difficult at best, partly because the bell of the horn points backwards, often into sound-absorbing curtains. However, even under these adverse conditions, everyone should try to balance both within the section and with the rest of the orchestra.
Retired Boston Symphony Orchestra player and IHS Honorary member Harold Meek was long a proponent of the lower horn parts coming up in dynamic level to support and balance the first horn. In his book Horn & Conductor, Meek discusses a section in the second movement of Debussy's La Mer in terms of balance.
"Problems of balance beset many conductors during this passage. Too often it is a first horn solo accompanied by some kind of indistinct rumbling from the other two players. If Debussy's dynamics are followed and the lower voices are brought out, a satisfactory balance can be obtained, and it is up to the conductor to do this. Players do not always know how their sound is projecting. Yet, some conductors tell the musicians that it is their problem, not his! The result is blame heaped on players -- not where it belongs."
Listen to the other horn players and try to achieve correct balance within the section; also seek and graciously accept help from the conductor.
Meek continues, "It is sad to report that many conductors think of the horn section as consisting of a first horn and 'the others.' Nothing is further from the truth. Each part is a specialty unto itself." He quotes from an article in the first issue of The Horn Call, at which time he was the editor. The author was Patrick Strevens, of the London Philharmonic and Royal Opera House.
'I make no apology for ensuring that our new journal puts the spotlight on that unsung hero, the fourth horn. It has even been said that one of our former British orchestra makers coined the phrase, 'Find me a good fourth and I'll build you a good horn quartet.' The purpose of the fourth horn is to provide a firm foundation for the rest of the quartet. However good the upper three players, they cannot possibly play in tune if there is the slightest wavering of the bass line.'
Meek also quotes Virgil Thomson about Americans showing off the wind soloists. "We allow our first ... horn to dominate colleagues simply because he is usually a more accomplished player and able to produce by legitimate means a larger tone. All this adds to the decibel count, though not necessarily to richness of effect."
Playing all the right notes is not enough; they must also be in tune. Playing in tune starts with tuning up. Most large ensembles tune by section. If yours does, refrain from playing while other sections are tuning. In any case, wait for the tuning note to be sounded before playing and refrain from noodling around during tuning.
"Many individuals, especially amateurs, don't even play in tune with themselves," says Pittman, "and playing in tune is one of the most difficult things to do well because there is not an absolute pitch. Players have to always adjust to others. Section players should adjust to their section leader. There is always compromise, especially in the woodwinds, who are constantly adjusting. Sometimes there is a leader to whom the others in the organization look to for the pitch during ensemble passages. The Lydian String Quartet, for example, tunes to the cellist, who reputedly has the best intonation. When Harold Wright was playing clarinet in the Boston Symphony, he was the standard. In many orchestras, it is the first oboe. In the Concord Orchestra, it is the first flute."
"Unisons and octaves have their own obvious difficulties," he continues, "but in chords, which horn sections often have together, the section members should listen to each other and tune to the section leader. If the line has been played by someone else before, it is the responsibility of the following player to match the intonation of the previous player, and of course to match style as well."
"Listening plays an important part in maintaining the balance of sound in section playing," comments British freelance and studio player John Pigneguy in The Business. "The first horn is the leader, whatever you may think of his or her ability, and the dynamics of the section will be governed by how the first horn plays them. The same applies to both phrasing and note lengths. I have heard horn sections where it was quite obvious that one player was taking no notice of what was going on in the rest of the section, with the result that the balance of chords and harmony parts was complete nonsense."
Pittman goes further. "Listen to the rest of the orchestra, not only to your own section," he says. "Listen to what goes before and carry on, being sensitive to how your part fits into the other parts. Match the character, react, be sensitive to what is going on around you." Professionals usually understand this to be part of their job, but amateurs often struggle just to play the notes. Good preparation can help free you to rise to the next level of musical sophistication.
No one is going to miss a concert if they can help it, and most players are diligent about attending rehearsals. However, Cochran Block makes a special point about not missing rehearsals "except for very extreme emergencies. A player who is ill frequently will be avoided because he [or she] will be considered undependable." She also makes a point about fulfilling commitments: "Once you have accepted an obligation to play a concert, it is not wise to cancel that commitment, even if the opportunity to do something more important or more rewarding is offered to you. Would you be anxious to play in a group where people honored their commitment only if nothing better came along?"
Studio players juggle requests for services all the time, and they have to be careful how they handle commitments. Joseph Meyer, a busy LA studio player who is also a regular with the Long Beach and Hollywood Bowl symphonies, says that accepting jobs is mostly a matter of "first come, first served." There are special circumstances; for example, if you have a session playing in a section and are offered another job as principal, you can reasonably ask to be released from the first contract. "Timing is important," says Meyer. "There are some circumstances where you can send a substitute -- naturally someone you trust to do a good job -- and other times you contact the contractor to see if they want to find the substitute. It's all about being responsible."
It is perhaps not obvious that unpaid amateurs will be avoided if they are undependable, but such is in fact the case. The group suffers when players miss rehearsals. In addition to the players themselves losing the opportunity to become more familiar with the music and improve their performance, it's not fair to the other players for voices to be missing, making it harder to learn the music. Horn sections often have an assistant and/or utility player who can fill in for a missing player; if not, and there is not a regular substitute list, the absent player should take responsibility for providing a substitute. Not only does sending a substitute help in the short term, but it is also an opportunity to assess a player for possible future emergencies.
Being on time is part of responsible attendance, and it means being in your seat, warmed up, and ready to play when the rehearsal begins. "If you're not warmed up and ready to play at the downbeat, then you're late," asserts Pittman. "Always arrive early enough so that you are warmed up and ready to play at the starting time of the rehearsal," echoes Cochran Block. "And bring a pencil," says Hobart. Colleagues who are on time tend to resent those who are always late.
Equipment should be in good condition, the horn oiled before leaving home, mutes and other accessories available. One way to be sure a pencil is always handy is to use the little plastic pencil clips that are available at most brass shops. These attach to a section of tubing on the horn, and then a pencil (wooden or mechanical) fits into the clip. There are now also devices that attach to a chair and hold mutes for easy access.
As an orchestra librarian, I have particular interest in music being handled properly. This means keeping it in your case, or in a music folder, to protect it from the elements and from being crumpled.
Everyone knows not to write in ink on music, but what should you write with the ever-present pencil? Don't be afraid to make helpful notations, such as corrections (especially required in some editions), reminders of accidentals, eye-glasses and other cautionary marks, circling a dynamic to emphasize that the conductor has commented on it, changing a dynamic or articulation if necessary in accordance with the conductor or section leader's directions. All these marks should made as lightly as possible, while still being readable, and except for such things as accidentals, marks should not be made on the staff itself. For example, don't make big X's through first endings, or run cut marks across the staves. When these are later erased, some of the printing is erased as well. Be considerate of the next person reading the music.
Fingerings worked out for a stopped passage or alternate fingerings for a difficult spot are appropriate, but normal fingerings should not be necessary. Sometimes you see incorrect fingerings in a part and wonder what that concert sounded like! A big no-no is writing notes on the staff for transpositions. Even writing the names of transposed notes should be done in only extreme circumstances. Many players have commented to the Internet horn discussion group how difficult it is to read the music if transposed notes are written on the staff; some have described their painstaking erasures, and their frustration at the loss of printed notes.
Professionals advise writing in anything needed to avoid making mistakes; they particularly don't want to repeat any error that has caught the conductor's attention. Amateurs don't play under the same pressure; on the other hand, they may need reminders which professionals don't find necessary.
The audience is the reason for the performance and should be appreciated by the ensemble members. Dress appropriately, arrive on time, and acknowledge applause graciously.
Invest in the proper clothes for concerts. For men, this is usually a tuxedo with black bow tie and black shoes; sometimes a dark suit with long dark tie is required. For women, a long black outfit is the usual attire; sometime white blouses are required. The outfit can be a dress, skirt and blouse, or pantsuit, but should be appropriate; i.e., dressy but not flashy. Long sleeves are best. Jewelry should be unobtrusive.
As with rehearsals, players should arrive at performances in good time to warm up, get settled, and be ready (physically and mentally) to perform at the scheduled time. Warm-ups should be focused on getting the embouchure, tongue, etc. ready for the music to come.
Most ensembles rise as the conductor approaches the podium. Watch the concertmaster for cues to rise and be seated again. When the conductor gestures for the ensemble to take a bow at the end of a piece, stand immediately and smile as though you enjoyed the performance -- whether you actually did or not. The audience deserves your best performance, and it also deserves appreciation of its applause.
Verne Reynolds, performer, composer, and retired professor at Eastman School of Music, writes in The Horn Handbook, "Stage deportment consists mainly of good manners." Reynolds is speaking specifically about recitals, but the sentiment applies to any performance.
"The bow should communicate our thanks to each audience member for taking the time, making the effort, spending the money, leaving the comfort and safety of home, and postponing work or other pleasures just to see us and hear us. We routinely thank others for simple courtesies extended. How rude it would be, then, to respond to the applause accompanying our entrance with a curt nod of the head. How civilized it is to signify with our bow that we genuinely value their efforts made on our behalf."
In the same sense, it is rude for orchestra musicians to look disappointed, talk with their colleagues, or shuffle their music rather than graciously acknowledge the audience.
"A concert is to some extent a ritual in which both musicians and audience participate," writes Paul Pritchard, an active British freelancer, in The Business.
The sight of an orchestra in full evening dress is an integral part of the experience. At the end of the piece, to see them stand and bow together to acknowledge the applause is a much more impressive sight than having them lumbering hesitantly to their feet a few at a time, grinning sheepishly at the audience, or even worse, fixing them with a stony stare that seems oblivious to their presence. The general rule is to watch the leader of the orchestra and stand up when he does; at the same time, be aware of the other members of the orchestra and stand up with the majority.
If you have played a solo and the conductor gestures you to stand up on your own, do so quickly and give a small bow to the audience and smile if you can. Sometimes you can get a bow even when you think that you have not played particularly well. It is times like these when you must behave as though you had turned in your best performance. This is because if there were any small slips, the audience will have noticed them a lot less than you, and your composure might just persuade them that they did not hear any mistakes at all."
Conductors and soloists routinely receive audience members after a concert. You can help your amateur organization by encouraging family and friends to attend your concerts; then seek them out at the concert and make them feel welcome. This has the added benefit of making you feel as though you have fans in the audience for whom you are performing specially.
Pittman has conducted both amateur and professional ensembles. "Amateur orchestras are a little more difficult to conduct," he admits, "because they require more teaching and the players take longer to learn the music. But on the positive side, you rarely find anyone in an amateur orchestra who hates music; they are there because -- as the name implies -- they love music. Some professionals are very unhappy. In the radio orchestras of Europe, the musicians are civil servants who cannot be dismissed, and it seems that there is always one, sometimes several, who are extremely bitter, uncooperative, and unhappy." Hobart agrees that working with amateurs is rewarding for the spirit the players bring to the music making.
"On the other hand, some amateurs excuse their lack of practice on their not being professional musicians, that they work full-time at some other profession," adds Pittman. "These players have a responsibility to keep up with the level of the ensemble." So it comes back to practicing!
Practicing intelligently, working out difficult passages with a teacher or colleague, and keeping up skills and level of playing are ways that amateurs can contribute the most to their organizations and also get the most out of their playing. In the ensemble, listen to colleagues and watch the conductor for balance, intonation, and style. Punctuality, cooperation, and respect for the conductor, colleagues, and audience are all part of making an ensemble work smoothly.
"Being an amateur musician is not all that different from being a professional musician," concludes Pittman. "We are all striving toward good performances, toward making the best music we can."
Marilyn Bone Kloss earned BME and MM degrees in horn at Indiana University, taught public school music, and freelanced. Later she earned a degree in engineering from Northeastern University in Boston while working at Raytheon Company. She now works as a technical writer, plays in a community orchestra, edits a newsletter for hornists in the New England area, is an IHS Area Representative, and has served on the IHS Advisory Council.