by The Entire DSO Flute Section!
We recently asked the Detroit Symphony Orchestra flute section for their tips on orchestral etiquette. Their responses were informative and very amusing! Enjoy!
David Buck, Principal Flute
- There’s nothing more distracting than seeing someone turn around and stare when you’re playing a big solo in band or orchestra. No matter how great your colleague may sound, never turn your head back to watch or see who’s playing–not in a rehearsal, and never in a concert. By the same token, never turn to look at someone if you believe they have made a mistake. We’re all on stage to play music together, not to judge one another.
- Warm up at pitch. All orchestra and bands have a certain pitch that they tune to – A440 and A441 are both common. It’s very easy to be influenced by the pitch of those sitting around you. If you hear someone warming up sharp, it’s natural to adjust and to start playing a little sharp yourself. You might not even realize that you’re doing it! Make sure you tune your instrument carefully from the moment you begin warming up to help encourage accurate intonation for the whole group. Don’t wait for the oboe to give the A to start playing in tune.
- Know the count. As wind players, we frequently have to count long rests – sometimes 50 measures or more. If you’re great at playing by ear, that’s wonderful! Count every rest anyway. You’ll ensure that you make your own entrances correctly, and you’ll be an asset to your section if someone else looses count.
Sharon Sparrow, Assistant Principal Flute
Over the last five years, we have hired many different players to sub on 2nd flute at the DSO.
Therefeore, I have had the privilege to work with many different players, and can pass on this useful information to you if you are ever subbing in a new orchestra on 2nd flute! I have titled this:
“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” !
Be prepared! Know not only your own part, but how it fits with the whole group. Play through with a recording or youtube video before setting foot on the stage.
Be early! Nothing is more frustrating than waiting for your 2nd player to arrive and wondering if they’ll be there before the tuning note.
Be respectful! A little shuffle of the foot goes a long way if your Principal player plays a solo nicely. But don’t overdo it…it can also be annoying if too much!
Be flexible! Your job as 2nd is to be a chameleon. Blend in with what is being played around you and do not stick out. Be the perfect partner to your Principal, as if you were a perfect pair of ice dancers. Move with him/her, blend, follow!
Be grateful. Saying thank you is a very nice gesture. Hopefully you will also always be thanked for your service, too!
Don’t be a leader! If you are playing 2nd, don’t come in BEFORE the Principal. Don’t stand up BEFORE the Principal for bows. Don’t play louder than the Principal.
Don’t ask a lot of questions. It is appropriate at the end of rehearsal to ask if your Principal might want anything different, but other than that, do not ask questions. And absolutely do NOT raise your hand to ask any questions of the conductor!
Don’t move around too much. Stay stable, quiet and solid. Do not talk during the rehearsal, pull out your phone for any reason, or put reading materials on your stand. Oh, and check that your phone is turned OFF, as one substitute player’s phone rang onstage DURING a concert! (not a flute player AND we never saw that person again!).
Play IN TUNE! Matching pitch is one of the most important tasks at hand when subbing. Prepare carefully so that you can immediately adjust to the pitch that you hear on your left, right, or the row behind you!
Dress appropriately. Ask the Personnel manager for a copy of the dress code for concerts and follow it to the letter! Nude hose onstage when black hose is required is NOT acceptable and it is really uncomfortable for the Principal to pull you aside to explain! (ladies :-)!) For rehearsals, remember that some of your colleagues onstage may be “old school”, where dressing up was required for being onstage. Things like cutoff shorts, belly shirts, club wear, etc, MAY offend or color your first impression with some colleagues!
I know that many of these tips seem like a no-brainer…however this list was derived from ACTUAL occurrences onstage over the last few years! You truly only get one opportunity for a great FIRST impression, so I’m hoping this, along with the other fabulous tips from my colleagues will be beneficial!
Hope to see you all onstage one day at Orchestra Hall!
Jung-Wan Kang, Substitute Second Flute
1. Be prepared
- Practice your part thoroughly.
- Listen to recordings, at least three different ones if you’re unfamiliar with the work. This will give you some good ideas of the different interpretations that the conductor can take.
- Study the score – it’s important to know how your part fits in to the rest of the ensemble.
2. Be flexible
- Being flexible is essential, both towards the conductor and your fellow orchestra members. You will often be asked to play your part differently than how you practiced it at home, whether it be in terms of tempi, dynamics, articulation, or pitch. Always keep in mind that you are just one part of a larger ensemble.
- You won’t always agree with the different ways that you’re asked to play your part; however that’s inevitable when you’re playing in an orchestra. Try to be open-minded and embrace the different ways that others are interpreting the music. It can be a great learning experience to try different interpretations that you never thought of.
3. Be conscientious
- As a general rule, don’t move unnecessarily, and don’t play louder or use more vibrato than everyone else. Of course there are exceptions such as if you are playing a solo or an especially prominent line, or if the conductor specifically asks for it that way. However, in general keep your ears open and fit your playing into the ensemble. If you’re moving too much, playing too loudly or with too much vibrato, the orchestra won’t sound harmonious, not to mention you will be very distracting to those around you.
- Be mindful of your behavior when you’re not playing, whether it be during rehearsals or even during rests. Don’t move unnecessarily, don’t make unnecessary sounds/noises, and don’t talk unless it’s about the music, and even then wait until a break if possible. Also, don’t wear perfume and be careful that your jewelry doesn’t make noise.
4. Be kind
- Be supportive of your colleagues. Playing in an orchestra can be very stressful, and it’s important to keep a positive energy for yourself and for those around you.
- Often times you will need to go over sections of the music with your colleagues during breaks or before concerts, whether it be to settle issues of pitch, articulation, or balance. When these situations arise, it is important that everyone involved stays positive and flexible. Remember that the goal is to sound good together.
Jeff Zook, Flute and Piccolo
Playing in any ensemble can be difficult but there is nothing that can make it more so than having to work with people who make your life miserable.
Be considerate to those who may not be as experienced as you and be respectful to those with more. You can always learn from ANYONE if you have an open mind.
So when you enter the stage, check your ego at the door.
When others have solos or difficult passages, don’t turn the pages of your music or adjust your stand. I once had a colleague who would jingle his key ring during my important piccolo solos! Not helpful!
In the flute section the principal sets the STYLE of playing for each piece – this includes pitch, note lengths, articulations and dynamics. The second flute matches the first, and the third flute or piccolo matches the second – and so on. Unless you have a solo line, you need to be aware and take these cues from whoever is on your left.