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?