The start of a new year is an obviously a time for optimism, maybe even enthusiasm. The fact it falls in the middle of some time off certainly helps amplify those feelings. In the spirit of the season I present a couple questions submitted by a high-school aged bassist. In the interest of full disclosure, the questioner is my student. In spite of that, he has many reasons for optimism and enthusiasm. [The redactions are mine.]
I thought these questions might be good for another Q and A thread for your blog. When you first joined the […], what was your greatest obstacle you had to overcome while being a section member of a major orchestra? Lastly, I would be ever so curious to know what the very first concert program was you played with the […] once you moved to […] and started attending rehearsals as a full fledge […] member? What thoughts and or emotions did you have after the concert besides feeling like you “made it”?
There is probably some way to look up the program of the first concert I played with the orchestra I play in (jeez that sounds awkward), but relying on memory alone the short answer to the second part of your question is I don’t remember. Complicating matters, I started playing in the middle of our summer season, where we do three programs a week. Rehearsals can have pieces from any of the three programs all mixed together.
I do remember the conductor that week was Andrew Litton. For some reason Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso sticks in my mind as the first thing I played. I also remember Dvorak 8, and one of the warhorse (piano?) concertos (Rachmaninoff?). How’s that for a cloudy recollection? Things didn’t really get going until the fall when we began our regular season with a European tour – conducted by Solti. Of the first piece we rehearsed, Berlioz Damnation of Faust, I think I remember every note.
I do recall the feeling of having ‘made it’ mainly because I became very lost trying to find the orchestra for the first time. Before I was supposed to start I decided to try and get hold of some parts to practice. I remember driving around Highland Park completely disoriented until I saw a small building with a sign for the Ravinia Festival out front. I parked my car and went in to ask for directions to where the (orchestra) rehearsed. The ladies working there seemed put off by a musician wandering in off the street and told me, rather brusquely, that if I wanted to talk to anyone in the (orchestra) I needed to go downtown (in the city where that orchestra plays during the winter). They professed to not knowing anything more about it and showed me the exit. It took me a number of years to realize the implications of that little incident.
When I finally reached the correct location rehearsal was already in progress. The first people I met were the librarians, all of whom are gone now. They seemed harried and had little time to answer a bunch of stupid neophyte questions. When I requested music they immediately stumped me by asking for which stand. Of course, I had no idea and so took a few extra parts and beat a hasty retreat.
From a playing perspective, probably the biggest obstacle I had to overcome, something I still struggle with, is learning to play in a relaxed manner. Until I got a really full-time playing job – the orchestras I played in before had nowhere near the workload of the one I play in now – I never fully appreciated the importance of being able to do what needed doing while staying relaxed. I practiced a fair amount when preparing auditions so I could usually claim to have been in good shape physically, but I found playing for a living much more wearing. After all, I could always stop practicing when I felt like it and take it up again later. Playing in an orchestra doesn’t provide that option, making good fundamentals and efficient use of one’s physical resources extremely important. There is a fallacious assumption that the skills needed to win a job are much greater than those needed to keep one. Defined narrowly, this may be true, but my experience proved otherwise. I had to make a lot of changes in order to be able to play well (or as well as I could) on a day-to-day basis rather than whenever I felt like it, or on the day of an audition or recital.