Listen on –
This weeks podcast episode is dedicated to discussing a few tips for being successful in the orchestral field. I purposefully didn’t include things like showing up on time (which means showing up early) or making sure you know your part because I’m under the assumption pretty much everyone understands the importance of taking care of that kind of business.
In my time playing in orchestras, I noticed that the difficult parts of the job were parts that I never really thought about or discussed with others prior to starting my career. Maybe that is by design — you need to be discussing the nuts and bolts of preparation in your education so you can win the job in the first place.
Because of this, I felt it was important to be open about some of the challenges people can face once they get a job. In order to make the topic as engaging as possible, I worked some alliteration into the discussion! The 3 areas of discussion I go over in this episode are:
Flexibility is a wide ranging word so I made sure to try and cover the various ways we could define it. Ultimately, the ability to be individually prepared is important because it serves as a gateway to open your ability to listen to others and be a sensitive, flexible ensemble musician. This skill is incredibly important, as there are far more section jobs in an orchestra than principal jobs.
Focus is a topic that I never really hear many people talk about, and yet it seems to be (for me) the most difficult part of the job. To play an instrument at the highest level first takes the ability to focus at the highest level. Doing that for a 2 hour concert can be exhausting (I tell a story from my time with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra to help demonstrate this point in the episode). I believe focus is something that can be and should be developed at the same rate as other, more commonly developed skills (flexibility, tone production, articulation, etc).
This point is a bit of a personal observation about what the general atmosphere can sometimes be in an orchestra. Playing so many concerts day in and day out can become tedious, and I believe losing sight of why we began playing instruments in the first place becomes easy to do. In fact, I think it’s the norm. Our work that we believe is so deeply important to the cultural fabric of our society shifts from a love to a job, and our attitudes reflect it as such. Again, this is merely an observation. I just want to spread the doctrine that we all need to be responsible for ensuring that we stay true to who we are and why we do what we do. To borrow from one of Roger Voison’s rules I heard many years ago, we must serve the music, not let the music serve us.
I cannot express how much gratitude I have that Brinton Smith, principal cellist of the Houston Symphony and Professor of Cello at Rice University, allowed me to use a beautiful post he made on social media, as well as a recording of him playing the cello in this episode. I believe it sums up my feelings (and the feelings of others it seems) very nicely.
Until next time,