Rehearsal Etiquette

A debate has started on the Yahoo Horn Group about rehearsal etiquette and in particular if ‘fun’ at rehearsals is appropriate and that having fun gives amateur ensembles a bad name. A question was also asked why just playing the music wasn’t enough. I weighed in pretty heavily on the fun side of the fence for amateur ensembles (a key distinction) and I thought I would also comment here. My comments are expanded a bit from what I wrote on the horn group website and I’ve added a few questions at the end.

My first question is amongst whom do amateur ensembles have a bad name? It’s certainly not the audiences – who we play for – in the community I live in. Our concerts for both bands I’m in are standing room only in decent sized auditoriums. We typically get standing ovations at the end of our concerts.

In the band I’m in where levity and laughter is allowed and enjoyed people come to rehearsals early allowing plenty of time to warm up. They bring their music home and practice. Hardly anyone misses rehearsals. Yes, while we are pulling out music in between pieces that we are rehearsing we have a few laughs. Sometimes even in the middle of a piece if something really funny happens. We are amateurs so there are times, as an example, when different sections start at the wrong rehearsal number and the outcome is really funny. There are even times when two different sections start on a different piece of music. Why not laugh?

In the band I’m in with the ‘serious’ conductor people are talking with their feet. This serious conductor took over the band in the middle of last year. Before that the band had a more relaxed conductor and rehearsals were packed just like the other band. Since January we’re lucky if half the band shows up and those that do show up are typically late. Remember that this is about amateur groups where members are volunteers and don’t have to attend rehearsals. It’s gotten so bad that the conductor put the winter concert off by a month and started a heavy recruitment campaign. I suspect that for our concert in March we will still have a full audience because their expectations will be from last year.  I have the feeling that the May concert won’t be so well attended.

In the ‘fun’ band the music isn’t less good because we have fun, it’s actually better because people really want to be there and they care enough to work at making it good.

I’ve only been playing again for two years so I still love going to band regardless of the level of tension at the one bands’ rehearsals. I’ll play in anything I can find. However there are people in both bands that have been going for fifteen, twenty or even thirty years. Clearly they don’t want to waste their time if they are not enjoying the experience and just the music isn’t enough for them.

I subbed in an orchestra (and got paid) in December and the atmosphere, as expected, was completely professional. We played Brahms Requiem and the music was glorious and yes, the music was more than enough to make me happy. I would play with this orchestra if I could all the time and love every minute of it, no levity necessary. I know enough to behave in an appropriate manner for the situation I’m in and I would hope that other amateurs would also behave appropriately. I don’t think that generally amateurs behave badly and professionals behave properly or that people need to be in a more serious environment in order to behave properly. There are bad apples on both sides.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong position here though I personally prefer a more relaxed atmosphere. In the end amateurs can make choices about what they want to do and those that prefer a more serious environment can opt out of whatever they don’t like and vice versa. Of course this really isn’t true for those making a living in an orchestra. Lot’s of times you are stuck whether you like it or not.

Which side of the fence do you fall on? Is there any levity in a professional orchestra? If there is does the music suffer for it? If there isn’t do the musicians suffer because of it?

Rehearsal Etiquette Update –>

JoyKeys and a lesson

My most recent lesson: There are numerous adjectives that come to mind – horrendous, horrific, terrible, embarrassing, productive. You might wonder how ‘productive’ got into this list. I take lessons from Scott Bacon (Siegfried’s Call) monthly and this one was torture. I had a really bad practice session the day before my lesson and this seems to be cyclical with me. I have a string of bad days followed by a string of good days and then back to bad days, and so forth.

I started my lesson telling Scott that I didn’t think I had improved much, if at all, from my last lesson. Good thing I said that. We started off with some warm-ups and I could tell that my chops weren’t responding well. Very stiff. My high range was non-existant, my tone was awful, my intonation was awful and I was clamming notes all over the place. We kept going anyway. Kopprasch #3. We worked on the different articulations, rhythm, dynamics, continuity and kept to the middle range. Then we moved on to Singer #7 – quarter note arpeggios. Again we skipped the high notes and concentrated on continuity from note to note and steadiness of tempo. It really didn’t matter that the quality of my tone was bad. It would have been nicer if I sounded good but I still learned a lot.

I’m working on the adagio movement of the Schumann Adagio and Allegro so that was next. We went measure by measure working on phrasing and rhythm. There wasn’t a prayer in hell that I was going to get the high C so we took it down an octave. For this piece I really wished that I sounded better but I still got a few “that was very nice” comments from Scott. After two hours and ten minutes I was spent so we stopped. When we started the lesson I didn’t think I was going to get much out of it but in the end it really was productive. As Scott was walking me to my car he said that even though I sounded bad I played much more musically. I spend so much time focusing on getting the notes that I usually don’t play very musically. I think both my teachers find getting me to play musically is like pulling teeth. This time I already knew that getting the right notes was a crap shoot so I was able to focus on musicality. From Scott’s I drove three hours straight to my 2 hour band rehearsal. Irony of ironies, I played great. No range problems, no tone problems and very few clams.

JoyKeys: While I was up at Scott’s for my lesson I had him install two JoyKeys to replace my water keys. The JoyKey is designed by Andrew Joy, a hornist working primarily in Europe. It’s a replacement for the traditional water key. Instead of using a water key there’s a metal mesh plug in the JoyKey that releases the water continuously but maintains an air seal.

I decided to get them when I was up at my previous lesson with Scott and he didn’t have to dump water once during my entire 2 hour lesson. I had them installed, replacing my water keys, before I started this lesson and I didn’t have to dump any water during my lesson or during my band rehearsal even though the horn sat in the back of my car for three hours on a very cold day. Occasionally I have to blow into the horn to get rid of some residual water. So what’s the downside? Ahem. My pants get wet. Actually more damp that wet but still visible on jeans if you know where to look. I wouldn’t wear khaki pants. That could get embarrassing. I’m planning on getting a nice chamois to put on my lap but until I get one a towel does the job. So far I’m happy that I had them installed.

Rehearsal Etiquette –>


I’ve been playing quite decently for the past several days. I had a good lesson on Friday and have practiced for two hours each day since with nice results. I was thinking today of what may have changed and one of the things I realized is that if I really concentrate I can actually play without missing too many notes.

There are two different types of problems that I usually encounter. One is just not being able to play the notes until I spend time working on them. Usually 16th notes are the culprit and I just have to practice them until I get my fingers to work and coordinate successfully with my brain. Sometimes this can take many weeks but it doesn’t frustrate me too much because I know eventually I’ll get it. What does frustrate me are those passages that I can play just fine but end up clamming or missing notes or forgetting fingerings. When I repeat the passage I play it okay. And I don’t miss the notes in the same places. So I think this problem is due to a lack of concentration.

I’ve also noticed this concentration issue at lessons but in the reverse. Many times when I try to demonstrate something that I’m doing wrong I play it correctly and I can’t duplicate the problem. I also play decently in band and, interestingly, I play better in the harder band than in the easier one. Sometimes I even play decently when playing duets. I think I’m much more focused when I’m not playing by myself.  I have also noticed that when I play by memory I have to concentrate more and I rarely clam any notes. What I have to figure out is how to get to that level of concentration when I’m practicing. Maybe I should turn off the TV. (Just kidding.)

JoyKeys and a lesson –>

Having to…

The other day I was really busy day and I found myself at 4PM finally heading home from the grocery store. On the way home I said to myself, “I have to practice” and that got me thinking. Why do I ‘have’ to practice? When did it change from I want to practice to I have to practice? (This also reminded me of how much I hate the phrase – “You have to understand.” People say it constantly, especially when they are making excuses about something. I really don’t ‘have’ to understand anything.) Anyway, back to practicing. I play the horn for fun. Yes, I want to get better, lots better, but in the end it’s enjoyment that drives me.

Of course my feelings about having to practice seem to be directly related to how well I am playing. Last weekend through Monday  I really wasn’t playing very well. It’s frustrating though I’m so used to it that it doesn’t phase me nearly as much as it used to. Tuesday I didn’t play at all and didn’t go to band because I had a horrible headache. Wednesday I didn’t practice just because I really didn’t want to which is is a first for me. Hence the ‘I have to practice’ conversation I had in my head followed by the decision not to bother. I’ve missed practice days but not because I just didn’t feel like playing. Then Thursday was absolutely stellar, both for the morning hour and again for the afternoon hour. Ditto for yesterday. It’s such a joy when I play a lot better than I expect to.

I wish I could unlock the secret to what makes some days so good. It could be because of the two days of rest but I’ve done that followed by an absolutely awful day. I did do a more abbreviated warm-up and I switched to one that my teacher gave me that she used back in high school. So maybe on Thursday I was fresher by the time I got to working on ‘real’ music. Not that warm-ups aren’t music but I’ve gotten into the bad habit of doing them by rote and not really thinking about making music out of the warm-up. Maybe the good days are days when I just concentrate better. Thursday I practiced standing up the whole time but Friday I sat after I finished my warm-ups. It would be nice to figure it out.

This morning my enthusiasm was back. I woke up at 5AM – fortunately not typical – and looked at my horn sitting out on a chair and wished that I could start practicing. Unfortunately people were sleeping. Gee, why do they do that? Don’t they know that they should get up so I can practice? I can’t wait until 8Am. Well, maybe 9 if I want to be nice.

Concentration –>