Saturday, November 05, 2016

A pencil, peripheral vision and a smile … 15 rules for surviving in an amateur orchestra

Paul Daniel and Chi-chi Nwanoku from the BBC’s Great Orchestra Challenge offer their tips for getting the most out of life in an amateur ensemble. To read the full article, please visit

1. Turn up early. Music, and your part in it, needs time – to get your brain ready, as much as your reeds or strings.

2. Be prepared. Look at your part (many can be found on the public domain music site IMSLP) and listen to the pieces (try YouTube or Spotify) beforehand.

3. Never be without a pencil to take notes during rehearsals. There’s too much going on to trust to memory.

4. Practise breathing together with others in your section to begin shared phrases. Strings included.

5. Develop peripheral awareness: you can hear and experience every note being played in the room if you put your mind to it. The orchestra then becomes one single wonderful instrument.

6. Develop peripheral vision: keep an eye not only on the conductor, but on section leaders and the leader. Avoid playing before them. There are no prizes for who gets there first.

7. Try memorising a little more of every phrase each time you repeat it in rehearsal. Music made without reading takes on a entirely new dimension: orchestral musicians need their printed parts far less than they might think. It’s great for members of the audience, too, if they can see your face.

8. When the conductor stops, stop playing. Immediately.

9. Listen to what else is going on in the orchestra – it gives more relevance and dimension to your own line. Have a full score to hand, to check and refer to. The different instructions (particularly dynamics and phrasing marks) across the other parts will be revelatory.

10. Help your partner or neighbour count rests. Even in the strings, where life is far busier, you can always help your partner by pointing out where you’re starting.

11. In the wind and brass sections, work out a routine between yourselves for tuning. Trust others to hear tuning difficulties that you may not hear while making your own (musical) noise!

12. In the strings, act like a top-drawer orchestra by learning how to transfer new bowings down the line from the front desk without speaking.

13. When in doubt, leave it out. Go through the motions, but avoid losing pace because you’ll get behind the rest of the musicians.

14. Get page corners ready to turn in advance.

15. And finally … Smile! You cannot overestimate the impact of a joyful performance on your audience.

Written by Paul Daniel and Chi-chi Nwanoku, published in The Guardian on Thursday 1 September 2016 11.55 BST.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Upcoming Concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic

The Berlin Philharmonic is coming to Toronto on November 15 and 16. These performances at Roy Thomson Hall will be one of conductor Sir Simon Rattle's final appearances with the orchestra before his tenure ends in 2018. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 8 pm
Boulez: Éclat 
Mahler: Symphony No. 7
Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 8 pm
Webern: Six Pieces for Orchestra (Sechs Stücke)
Schoenberg: Five Pieces for Orchestra
Berg: Three Pieces for Orchestra (Drei Orchesterstücke)
Brahms: Symphony No. 2

Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Musicians' Etiquette

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.

Come prepared

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

Monday, September 05, 2016

Back to Orchestra!

The Ontario Cross-Cultural Music Society Symphony Orchestra is excited to commence its 18th year with the first rehearsal of the season scheduled on Friday, September 9, 2016 from 8 PM to 10 PM at Canadian Chinese Radio (340 Ferrier Street, Suite 208).

We welcome new members to join our community orchestra! Repertoire this year includes works by Bizet, Handel, Hisaishi, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, and Vivaldi. For further information, please contact our conductor Samantha Chang at