Making a bad impression as a musician in an orchestra is not easy. It takes preparation, skills, and as with anything else in life, years and years of experience.
I have to confess, with my usual modesty, that I have indeed developed quite a bit of experience in this field. This is why in today’s post I’ll give you a few pointers to avoid the risk, or better to have the certainty, of not being called back to play again with the same orchestra.
Here are 15 great tips to make a bad impression in an orchestra. You can download them also as a free pdf and spread them to the world.
1. DO NOT STUDY YOUR PART
You don’t need to. Some other percussionist surely did anyway. And then, let’s face it, percussion instruments are easy to play and you are an expert musician. At the most, explain that hitting the right notes on the xylophone or the glockenspiel, coincidentally the only two hard instruments to play, is extremely difficult.
2. CONTINUE PLAYING DURING THE BREAK
Yes, please! Of course, during the well deserved 15 minutes break in between sessions, everyone is absolutely eager to hear you rehearsing your part from “Romeo and Juliet” on your cymbals over and over again. After all, musicians’ ears never need any peace and quiet, and their heads don’t either. Besides, percussion instruments are beautiful; we both know that. Since we rarely receive the attention we deserve, we want to let the rest of the orchestra know that we do exist at least during the break!
3. ARRIVE LATE
And once you are finally inside the rehearsal room, make as much noise as possible. Apologize to everyone for being late, interrupting the conductor who, if from another country, will not understand a word you are saying and will probably think you are a complete idiot. As soon as you sit down, make sure you pull out your smartphone and start checking your email and Facebook account. For more information on smartphone use, read the next tip.
4. BE ON YOUR SMARTPHONE AT ALL TIMES
Any time there is a rest, get distracted by looking at Facebook or checking your email on your smartphone. Then, as soon as the orchestra begins to play a pianissimo, start playing a video at top volume and when it’s finally your turn to play, keep looking at the screen and then explain you were waiting for an important call.
5. CONSTANTLY ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR PART
Interrupt the whole orchestra and walk straight up to the conductor with your part in your hand. Do not wait for the break. Ask which drumsticks you should use, which cymbals, which snare drum, with snares or no snares, copper or brass, would he prefer thicker or thinner drumsticks, and so on. Drive him crazy and while you’re at it, ask him, in case you are a timpanist, if he’s really sure that the notes written by the composer are the right ones. In any case, whether they are wrong or not, make sure to tell him that you would change them anyway.
6. USE THE EXPRESSION “THIS IS NOT IN MY CONTRACT”
Any time you are asked for even one extra hit on the triangle, arrogantly say, “Oh no! I’m sorry, but this is not in my contract!”. Come on, you don’t want to be taken advantage of! Heck, if they really want to, they can call another percussionist!
7. DON’T SHOWER
When you change before or after a concert, share your lovely scent with your fellow musicians. This great habit of yours will be greatly appreciated especially when you are on tour and traveling by bus. P.S. If the tour calls for more than 3-4 concerts, make sure to never change your shirt and socks!
8. GIGGLE ANY TIME FELLOW MUSICIANS MAKE A MISTAKE IN THEIR SOLOS
They will surely understand that your laugh was meant as constructive criticism and so next time, not to disappoint your great sense of responsibility, they will definitely do their best to study their part. At the end of rehearsal or after a concert, make sure to give them a pat on the back and say in a serious tone, “Good job anyway”.
9. JOKINGLY REARRANGE SHARP AND FLAT KEYS ON THE XYLOPHONE
Train the sensory and motor skills of your fellow xylophonists. What’s the problem anyway? The notes have remained unchanged, you just slightly moved them. And anyhow, who says you have to comply with the piano keyboard model? Show them that percussionists are more eccentric and creative than that.
10. INSERT FOAM INSIDE THE CHIMES
When a “tuc” will be heard instead of the usual “sbleeeeeeng”, you will bring lots of laughs to the whole audience, the conductor, the rest of the orchestra, but mostly to the fellow musician playing the chimes. Great fun, guaranteed.
11. AS A TIMPANIST, USE ONLY AN ELECTRONIC TUNER
Especially at the beginning of a rehearsal session or a concert, make sure to ignore the oboist playing an A. Ignore it and start tuning each timpani with your favorite phone app, of course at a high volume. You can even do it in between movements like in a symphony. If you have the chance, actually stop everybody and say, “Wait, wait! I need to change notes!”.
12. ARRIVE AT THE FIRST REHEARSAL WITHOUT YOUR DRUMSTICKS AND MALLETS
Don’t worry, you can always tell the conductor, “I promise, I’ll bring them tomorrow!”. He’ll understand and appreciate your effort.
13. PLAY EVERY FORTISSIMO EXTRA LOUD
After all, it is called fortissimo! What are you supposed to do, change it? Nope! Be decisive, wicked, and merciless. It is not your fault if percussion instruments are loud. The other musicians will simply have to play louder.
14. BE CHATTY AND DO YOUR BEST TO DISRUPT
We all know that as a percussionist, you have many rests or even entire movements when you don’t play. What are you supposed to do, sit quietly and listen to the entire rehearsal? I’d say not! Converse with your fellow musicians, disrupt, and eventually ask the trumpet players if they could please play a little softer because with all that noise it is hard to talk. If asked the question, “Would you like cake with that?”, answer affirmatively.
15. MISS THE ONLY BEAT FOR WHICH YOU HAVE BEEN HIRED AS AN EXTRA PERCUSSIONIST
After 125 rests, your moment is finally here. You get to hit the triangle. Ten measures ahead of time, you get up and look at your part with a knowledgeable expression on your face. At -9 you look at the triangle. At -8 you look at the beater. At -7 you pick up the beater. At -6 you pick up the triangle. At -5 you look at your part. At -4 you look at the conductor. At -3 you look at your part again. At -2 you count. At -1 you keep your nerves under control and….YOUR MOMENT IS HERE!!…But then, you quickly realize, by looking at the angry face of the conductor, that your moment has passed and that you have started counting one measure too late. You sit down again and reflect on your sad state as a human being and you start thinking about all the jokes that you heard on triangle players.
Well. The few steps I described are pure theory until you decide to put them into practice the next time you play in an orchestra. As Americans would say, now TAKE ACTION!
Remember that as with any words of advice, these tips also have variables you need to take into consideration and, if taken literally, might cause fights, use of profanities, and cursing. It all depends on the outcome you are hoping for. They are, however, more than enough if you are going for immediate termination.
Finally one more thing. Although I don’t necessarily recommend it, if you were ever curious, I did write a free ebook a few months ago, called 9 Essential Tips for Percussionists, a short collection of tips on how to help your career as percussionist. I warn you though that the ebook is useful only if you plan on making a good career and a great impression, therefore carefully consider whether you should read it or not.
In the meantime, I hope my tips were of use to you. Good luck and Ciao!
Question: Do you have any other good advice for those musicians who want to leave a terrible impression with their orchestra? Leave a comment.