[Dixielandjazz] A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra
ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu
Wed Dec 15 08:32:16 PST 2004
DJML and others--
Got this from Danny Hamilton, who coordinates the Air Force
Musicians Association email-list (anyone who formerly or currently
served in a U.S.A.F. band can join).
This article makes some good points that apply also to jazz players.
>From: "Danny Hamilton" <dannyhamilton1 at cox.net>
>Subject: Interesting Band News & Article
>Date: Wed, 15 Dec 2004 09:33:36 -0500
>Ken Lopez sent me the following URL:
>Go AF bands, GO! Thanks for the story, Ken.
>Eli Dimeff sent me the following article written by Garrison
>Keillor. Thanks, Eli. Some very good points as well as a few
>chuckles in there:
>"Subject: God's Floating Orchestra
> A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra
>(From his comfortable position as a well-known author, Garrison
>Keillor feels every sympathy for his underpaid, overworked violinist
>My wife is a violinist, a freelancer, a foot soldier in God's
>floating orchestra, who waits for the phone to ring, and then goes
>off and plays the Faure Requiem at a Presbyterian church at 7 PM on
>the 21st, rehearsal at 5 PM, or six rehearsals and eight
>performances of The Montagues and the Capulets, or a concert of
>African-American composers for Black History Month, and comes back
>to tell me stories about the soprano with the big diva attitude and
>major pitch problems, and the timid clarinetist, and the blatty
>trombone player, and the French horn player who dropped his mute
>during the quiet passage.
>For her work, which is highly skilled and requires years of exacting
>preparation, and is stressful, being so unforgiving of errors, she
>is paid a fraction of what a rookie waiter of modest charm could
>earn on any Friday night in an upscale restaurant. But she is glad
>for the work, and her complaints about the pay are always good
>natured. Of course it helps that she married well. When she was 14,
>she left the little town that we both grew up in, and went off to
>music school, and to violinist boot-camp, and landed in New York
>City, where she worked for 20 years, bopping around from opera tour,
>to regional symphony, to pop shows, to Broadway pit orchestras, to
>church gigs, and off to Japan with a pick-up orchestra, to do
>Vivaldi and Bach. And then tour the South with Madama Butterfly.
>My wife has played for Leonard Bernstein, and she has also played
>for the Lippezaner Stallions. She is a pro. I love to sit up and
>wait for her to come home after a performance, and hear how it went.
>Usually, it went just fine. Sometimes she is ecstatic about what
>they played, or about some singer who was especially fine. Sometimes
>she grits her teeth. The trumpets were bad, or the baritone dropped
>a wine glass on the stage, and it rolled into the pit and almost
>creamed the harpist. Often she has something pithy to say about the
>conductor or the soloist. If she says, "I thought he was very
>unprofessional," it's a real slap.
>A famous soloist who is haughty towards the commoners backstage;
>that's unprofessional - it's just not done! A conductor who glares
>at someone who just played a bad note; unprofessional! Worse than
>the bad note. Orchestra professionalism is a world apart from mine.
>Mine prizes attitude and a rakish hat, and star quality, and
>interesting underwear. And this concept of professionalism prizes
>ensemble playing, and precision, and a sort of selflessness - and
>this concept of professionalism can be expressed in certain
>principles. You won't find this list posted backstage, but, my wife
>tells me, that's because everybody knows this stuff right out of
>1. You are, of course, on time. Always! Don't come an hour early
>(amateurish), but never come late. Never! This is an Orchestra, and
>you are Violinist, you're not some paper-pusher at Amalgamated
>Bucket. (Orchestra musicians are experts at finessing public
>transportation, and if they do drive, at finding parking spaces no
>matter what, legal, or illegal. Everybody has a strategy for
>"Getting to the Gig," and a back-up strategy in case the area is
>cordoned off for a Presidential motorcade, and an emergency
>strategy, in case of earthquake or civil disorder, or an invasion of
>the body snatchers.)
>2. Don't show off warming up backstage. Don't do the Brahms
>Concerto. Don't whip through the Paganini you did for your last
>audition. Warm up and be cool about it.
>3. Backstage you hang out with other string players, not brass or
>percussion. You don't get into a big conversation with the tuba
>player, lest you be lulled into relaxation. He is not playing the
>Brandenburg No. 3 that opens the show - you are. Stick with your own
>kind, so you can start to get nervous when you should.
>4. You never chum around with the conductor, too much. Likewise the
>contractor who hired you; you can be nice but not fawning,
>subservient. If one of them is perched in the musicians' common
>backstage, don't gravitate there. Don't orbit.
>5. You never look askance at someone who has made a mistake. Never!
>If the clarinet player squeaks, if the oboe honks, if the second
>stand cello lumbers in two bars early, like lost livestock, you keep
>your eyes where your eyes should be. You are a musician, not a
>critic. String players never disparage their stand partners to
>others. Stand partnership is an intimate relationship, and there is
>a zone of safety here. Actually, you shouldn't disparage any
>musician in the orchestra to anybody, unless to your husband (or
>spouse), or very good friends. But you never say anything bad about
>your stand partner.
>6. If the conductor is a jerk, don't react to him whatsoever. Ignore
>the shows of temper. If he makes a sarcastic joke at the expense of
>a musician, do not laugh, not even a slight wheeze or twitter.
>7. Try to do the conductor's bidding, no matter how ridiculous. If
>he says, "Play this very dry, but with plenty of vibrato," go ahead
>and do it, though it's impossible. If he says, "This should be very
>quick but sustained," then go ahead and sustain the quick, or
>levitate, or walk across the ceiling, or whatever he wants. He's the
>8. Don't bend and sway as you play. Stay in your space. You're not a
>soloist, don't move like one. No big sweeps of the bow. And
>absolutely never, never, never tap your foot to the music.
>9. Go through channels. If you, a fifth stand violin, are unsure if
>that note in bar 143 should be C natural as shown or B flat, don't
>raise your hand and ask the maestro, ask your section head, and let
>him/her ask Mr. Big.
>10. You do not accept violations of work rules passively. When it's
>time to go, it's time to go. If it's Bruno Walter and the Mahler
>Fourth, and you're in Seventh Heaven, then of course, you ignore the
>clock. But, if it's some ordinary jerk flapping around on the
>podium, you put your instrument in the case when the rehearsal is
>supposed to end. It was his arrogant pedantry that chewed up the
>first hour of the rehearsal, and now time is up, and he's only half
>way through The Planets, and is in a panic.
>If he wants to pay overtime, fine. Otherwise, let him hang, it's his
>rope. At the performance, you can show him what terrific
>sight-readers you all are. It's all about manners and maintaining a
>sense of integrity in a selfless situation, and surviving in a body
>of neurotic perfectionists. And it's about holding up your head,
>even as orchestras in America languish and die out, victims of their
>own rigidity and stuffiness and of a sea change in American culture.
>Perhaps in a hundred years orchestra musicians will seem like some
>weird priestly order akin to the Rosicrucians or the worshipers of
>Athens. But in the rehearsal for the Last Performance, the players
>will arrive on time, and take their places, and play dryly but with
>vibrato, and not tap their feet. And one violinist will come home
>and have a glass of wine, and say to her husband, "Why can't they
>find a decent trombonist?"
** Dan Augustine Austin, Texas ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu **
** Jazz musician Bobby Hackett was once addressed by a customs **
** official, whose sceptical eye had espied his trumpet case: **
** "Is that a musical instrument?" he asked. **
** "Sometimes," replied Hackett **
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