Tips for playing in an amateur orchestra

The Guardian published a few tips for playing in an amateur orchestra on 1 September 2016. Here they are:

1 Turn up early. Music, and your part in it, needs time – to get your brain ready, as much as your reeds or strings.

2 Be prepared. Look at your part (many can be found on the public domain music site IMSLP) and listen to the pieces (try YouTube or Spotify) beforehand.

3 Never be without a pencil to take notes during rehearsals. There’s too much going on to trust to memory.

4 Practise breathing together with others in your section to begin shared phrases. Strings included.

5 Develop peripheral awareness: you can hear and experience every note being played in the room if you put your mind to it. The orchestra then becomes one single wonderful instrument.

6 Develop peripheral vision: keep an eye not only on the conductor, but on section leaders and the leader. Avoid playing before them. There are no prizes for who gets there first.

7 Try memorising a little more of every phrase each time you repeat it in rehearsal. Music made without reading takes on a entirely new dimension: orchestral musicians need their printed parts far less than they might think. It’s great for members of the audience, too, if they can see your face.

8 When the conductor stops, stop playing. Immediately.

9 Listen to what else is going on in the orchestra – it gives more relevance and dimension to your own line. Have a full score to hand, to check and refer to. The different instructions (particularly dynamics and phrasing marks) across the other parts will be revelatory.

10 Help your partner or neighbour count rests. Even in the strings, where life is far busier, you can always help your partner by pointing out where you’re starting.

11 In the wind and brass sections, work out a routine between yourselves for tuning. Trust others to hear tuning difficulties that you may not hear while making your own (musical) noise!

12 In the strings, act like a top-drawer orchestra by learning how to transfer new bowings down the line from the front desk without speaking.

13 When in doubt, leave it out. Go through the motions, but avoid losing pace because you’ll get behind the rest of the musicians.

14 Get page corners ready to turn in advance.

15 And finally … Smile! You cannot overestimate the impact of a joyful performance on your audience.