[Dixielandjazz] A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra

Dan Augustine 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 
>music school.
>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                                **

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list