To be a great musician means not only playing your instrument well, but also learning to play well with your fellow musicians. Instead of providing a long list of the rules of conduct for orchestral musicians, we thought we would focus on the three golden rules:
1. Be on time.
2. Come prepared.
3. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Be on time
Being on time means being ready to play at the deignated rehearsal start time, and not stumbling into the room one minute to the start time and fumbling around trying to find your music while setting up your instrument and searching for a music stand. Generally rehearsal start time equates to the time the conductor's baton begins conducting the first beat. This means that the tuning of your instrument to the rest of the orchestra should be done prior to the rehearsal start time. Therefore being on time actually means coming in earlier so that you have time to set up your instrument, to warm up your instrument (especially important for woodwind and brass musicians), and to tune your instrument.
Prepare your own music at home so that you can come to rehearsal to learn what other musicians are playing. Be prepared to write down important notes about dynamics, musical treatments, and entrances of other instrumentalists. All of these little notes will eventually help you during the concert when you forget what effect the conductor wanted in a passage or when you accidentally lose count of all the rests and need to figure out where to make your entry. Unlike string players, woodwind and brass players often do not have a stand partner who is playing the exact same part as them and their music is often peppered with long rests. Marking down little cues will save you during moments when your mind wanders and you cannot remember what number comes after twenty-four!
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
This little golden rule covers a wide range of orchestral decorum including don't stare at another musician when they make a mistake or when they are struggling. Think about how you would feel when thirty other musicians stare at you after you played one wrong note. This last golden rule also relates back to rule no. 2 about coming to rehearsal prepared. Because we all expect our fellow colleagues to know their parts and their instruments, you can certainly expect that this is what other musicians also expect out of us. On a practical note, we should be aware that we may not want to come to rehearsal (or concerts) drenched in perfume or cologne. What may smell wonderful to us, may not smell wonderful to others, and we would not appreciate it if our stand partner comes drenched in smells that cause us to sneeze or cough. Remember to also turn your phone off or put the phone on silent so that no one is interrupted by any clever ring tones.
These three little golden rules are certainly applicable to all parts of our lives, but they are especially important to musicians who often have limited amount of time to rehearse with their fellow colleagues. Rehearsals are a sacred time for the conductor and musicians to come together and to create something absolutely magical with their hands and instruments. Let's all try our best to follow the three golden rules so that we can make the process of music-making a truly enjoyable one!
For those who are interested in reading some of the many posts about orchestral etiquette, please visit the following links.
39 Orchestral Etiquette Tips Every Musician Ought to Know by Michael O'Gieblyn
Musicians' Etiquette by Patricia Emerson Mitchell
Orchestra Etiquette and Rules by Fiddler Man
Orchestral Etiquette by David Weiss and Dawn Weiss
Orchestral Etiquette by Richie Hawley
Rehearsal Etiquette by the Cincinnati Metropolitan Orchestra