Mind your Ps and Qs
Practice and Performance Etiquette By Jeff Beights
A couple of weeks ago I turn 50 years old. The past few weeks has given me an opportunity to ask myself why I seem to be following in my grandparent’s footsteps in becoming a cranky old fart complaining about all these youngsters these days! OK, maybe I’m not a cranky old fart…yet…, but I have seen some things go on in rehearsals and performances today that I would never have seen happen some 35 years ago when I was one of those youngsters. Even more shocking is that I see some adults doing the same things so I got to thinking maybe no one has ever talked about some of the finer points of how to properly conduct themselves during a rehearsal or performance. Now we all have those exceptions to the rule and I get that. But in general these are good rules to follow.
As strange as it may sound I think I actually love rehearsal more than performances. They seem to be less stressful which means we usually play better as a result. People seem to be in better moods with a little more teasing and good-nature to their conversations and instruction. Yet there are a few things we all need to keep in mind when dealing with rehearsals and respecting each other’s time and commitment. Here are some things to keep in perspective
Personal practice and preparation outside of rehearsal
Every individual has a different level of personal commitment and, if they care about playing well, will make time to devote to the development of their art. I would recommend that we not only take time to work through rough sections of a particular piece of music, but we should be practicing the fundamentals of our specific instruments engaging in a daily maintenance and skills development routine. This is so often forgotten especially by nonprofessionals that play in community or church based groups yet, in my opinion is more important that practicing music. I see music as the artistic expression of a collection of fundamental exercises. If you have great fundamentals skills, learning a certain piece of music should be far less difficult. Nevertheless, the bottom line is put the time in at home and be ready to play your parts well.
Arriving on time to be prepared to go to work
Playing music is as much a mental exercise as it is physical. You would never see a cross country runner roll up to the starting line, jump out of their car and just start running a 26 mile marathon. So how can a musician roll into the rehearsal room three minutes before the first downbeat and then have any kind of a quality 2-3 hour rehearsal with no warm-up and no mental preparation? Well truth is, they can’t. Arrive early enough to get your equipment out and set up. Slip off to a back room by yourself and close your eyes, take a deep breath and relax. Prepare your mind for the task ahead, then take in a nice slow warm-up, grab some water, take your seat a few minutes before the start of the rehearsal. Now you have properly prepared yourself for the task ahead. The results will be noticeable. It also sends a message to your colleagues that you value the process and respect the group’s mission and others time commitment.
Having the correct equipment with you and in good working order
Pretty self-explanatory here. For brass players this means mutes, equipment stands, lighting, maybe a bottle of water and of course your horn. Broken equipment isn’t good for the player, the listener nor the ensemble. Not having the right mutes for a part is just wasting time and leads to little value from the rehearsal time.
Be ready to take notes
Rehearsal time is for just that…rehearsal. You are rehearsing for a live performance. Everyone in the ensemble should have a pencil on their music stand to annotate important notations and changes to the music so you will remember them! I know everyone thinks they can remember everything but the truth is they don’t. Oh and bring a pencil not a pen. Ink cannot be erased nearly as easily as pencil.
Know when and when not to speak
This is a big one. Somewhere on this planet someone has probably done a study on how much rehearsal time is lost on members yapping! It starts in middle school and never stops. Come on, this is an easy one. Talking and goofing off in rehearsals wastes everyone’s time and can interrupt important instructions that are being communicated. Be respectful of the group and knock off the yapping when the conductor is working with a particular section other than your own. Besides, I have picked up a great deal of knowledge about a piece we are playing or music in general just by listening to what is being said to other section players. Listen while rehearsing and talk during breaks. Everyone wins,
So the big day is finally here. Its go time! All the hard work in the practice room and the rehearsal room is over. It’s time to show the world what you have for them. So the work is over right? Well no. There are still some things to remember when performing. Let’s have a look shall we?
Performance mode mannerisms
Performing in front a people changes the social dynamic or at least it should. You, or the group you are playing in, are now the center of attention. People expect to see you as the expert or trend setter, someone they look up to and admire, someone or something different than the average daily grind. What that means is that you have to put on a different set of behaviors when you perform. You should smile more, be more gracious, sit up straight in your chair, and think about how you walk on and off the stage and so on. You should be acting more formal in everything you do much more so than you would in the practice room. Keep in mind that most of the audience does not have a clue about your ensemble inside jokes. So silly gestures or behaviors may actually have a negative or empty effect on your audience. It may actually cause people to think less of the group.
As a brass player one of the most irritating behaviors that some younger or inexperienced musician’s exhibit is emptying their spit values during a quiet passage in the music. It’s absolutely embarrassing. Another is shuffling your music while others are playing or closing your music folder before the end of the music simply because you’re are done playing. Leaning back or slouching in your chair during rests, slamming a few hardy swigs of water raising the bottle above the music stand during the music, loud or twitchy physical movements and that list can go on. These are all distractions that can affect the audience’s experience you worked so hard to create. If you are doing something that would cause an audience member to look at you individually rather than the group collectively that’s a distraction. Distractions interrupt performance experience which is the product you are delivering.
Watch your Conductor!
How many times have you been in a performance and it doesn’t quite go as planned? It happens more times than not. Someone forgets a repeat sign, a wrong tempo gets established, someone forgets a transition, etc. It happens and we if we are paying attention to the conductor many times the group can stay together and the audience isn’t the wiser.
At the end of the day, we don’t want to embarrass ourselves in front of others. We should want our performances to reflect the collective value we place on performing our instruments and as an ensemble well. Just be respectful of others and be committed to playing at the top of your game and I can tell you that will serve you well!
About the Author:
Jeff Beights began playing the trumpet in the fifth grade. By his senior year in high school, Jeff had received awards throughout Indiana and Michigan for his Lead trumpet and solo performances. To the surprise of many, he put the horn away in the spring of 1988 to study at Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning. After graduation in 1993, Jeff went on to start a successful Information Technology Consulting Services company in Indiana. In 2009, after many years away from the instrument, he started playing again. Jeff Beights is currently studying with Certified Claude Gordon instructor Bruce Haag. He is a current member of Old Crown Brass Band.