Orchestral Etiquette in the Professional Environment

Mike Lawson • String Section • November 11, 2016

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Sheet Music – Preparing, Marking, and Performing: Responsibilities and Roles

This month I would like to focus on etiquette regarding sheet music and the respective roles assigned to string players based on where one is sitting. While touching upon how to execute well these responsibilities both before and during rehearsals/performance, I hope to clarify some of the shorthand we use to indicate what the conductor is going to do; those notations best used to remind us of the many important details he/she requests for the desired execution and interpretation of the pages and phrases before us.

I discuss rehearsal and performing etiquettes determined by seating such as preparing performance parts, where and how to manage fingerings, identifying and writing rehearsal notes in the music. There are some specific symbols used during rehearsal of which every string player should be familiar. Finally, I would like to suggest some tools of the trade best suited for the purpose of marking one’s music in general.

Inside/Outside Chair Responsibilities: To be clear: the inside chairs are those which face in towards the ensemble (effectively meaning the “even” number for each desk). Outside chairs are those closest to the audience (the “odd” numbers for each desk).

It is imperative that everyone be aware of their respective responsibilities; they are expected roles and will embarrass any string player not in the know.

Outside chairs: It is your job to prepare the part that will be used. Inside players use their music for practice purposes only; they will copy their fingerings into your part. In orchestras where chair placements are slightly different for each concert, it is helpful to contact your stand partner to work out a process allowing the inside player to include their fingerings. If that is not an option, it is courteous behaviour to arrive to the first rehearsal early in order to give the inside player some time to do this. How much time is something that you judge based on experience within your specific ensemble and its musicians. I suggest fifteen minutes to be sufficient, as long as other tasks are not simultaneously being done with the parts.

Seating: The outside player marks their fingerings above the staff; the inside player puts their markings below the staff. This presents spacing and legibility challenges. There are many situations where there is very little room given for much marking of fingerings both above and below the line. Be selective; only include what is necessary and useful as it can be distracting to your colleague if you put too much into the part. As one gains more experience, less will be necessary. That said, there is no shame in needing the fingerings you do. Just be neat and precise with their inclusion. For a great example of this, you can buy a downloadable PDF for $1.50, entitled, “How to quickly and effectively mark your orchestra part without making your stand partner hate you” At violinexcerpts.com/how-to- mark-your- part-in-orchestra/

Inside chairs: It is the job of inside players to turn the pages. This can be a big responsibility. Page turns should be planned when preparing the music. Look at the end of each page for measures of rests or convenient repetitive phrases to use to turn pages; attempt to have passages more important, difficult, and exposed…set to avoid the need to turn the page in the middle of them. It is sometimes prudent to do some cutting and pasting of the top and/or bottom lines to include them on the page most convenient. Obviously this is not possible when playing from original parts. With copies: it is a smart move and will be appreciated.

During rehearsals it is generally expected that the inside players stop and mark any bow changes which arise during rehearsal while the outside player continues to play. When the orchestra is stopped and making significant changes, you and your stand partner work together as a team to get the information and write it on the part. Be careful during this process because, should your stand partner play incorrectly the next time that change is rehearsed, it is a little like getting written up at work.

It is fairly standard that when we are presented with difficult transitions between: Arco/pizzicato, arco/col legno (playing with the stick of the bow percussively), harmonics and/or huge leaps of pitch… the outside player will drop the end of the passage in order to have a clean entrance to the next section while the inside player will finish the phrase and join in as soon as possible. It should be obvious, but I will mention it anyway: turn those pages as quietly as one can and without drama! If you have to lick your finger in order to avoid turning more than one page accidentally, then do so…

Attending rehearsal without a pencil is likely one of the worst faux pas a musician can make in terms of being prepared and responsible. This is possibly the fastest way a musician can draw negative attention to themselves (in nearly all orchestral settings; it gets tolerated less as one advances through their education and matures). The “friendly” string player who ends up sharing their pencil will not be in a good mood after passing their pencil between stands every time it is required. Which should be often. Among other things, it compromises their ability to do their best.

Your Toolbox Should Include:

Pencils: Wooden pencils: soft leads; preferably between 2B and 5B. Definitely avoid anything harder than HB (which will make indentations in the paper when erased; are usually too light and/ or reflect on-stage lighting, which results in glare).

Recommended product: The Staedtler Mars Luminograph drafting or sketching sets are by far the best wooden pencils for orchestral music marking. The 12 set will be only partially used, so if you can find the smaller tins of 4 or 6 pencils (2B, 4B, 6B), those are the cost-efficient buy.

Woodless graphite pencils: These are my personal favorite lead for marking. Not to be confused with graphite sticks. These are actual pencils. They are usually marked “soft”, though the Prismacolor and Generals brands both use the 2B, 4B, and 6B specifications. Those are both good brands, along with the Monolith line. Be careful to check that you are not accidentally purchasing charcoal, water-soluble graphite, or conte pencils, which look very similar in some packaging. If the graphite is getting on your hands, a rubber pencil grip works well. *be diligent with the shavings when sharpening these, they need to go directly into a trash can or will make a mess that you don’t want to discover in your case, music, carpet, or church pew!

Erasers: As the best writing tools do not come equipped with erasers on the end, you must have your own set up of erasers. I prefer to use a Pentel click barrel (cheap, but amazing for clean erasing of graphite, leaving no smears and lasting a long time. They also handle well. Another option would be the pencil-top colored type that comes in packages; also nicely affordable.

Stand appendage: For those who find themselves scrabbling about the stand shelf for pencils (so often hiding behind pages, or in folder pockets, or they just refuse to be easily snatched up when needed quickly…or fly off the stand to bounce and roll across the stage/floor….); there is a cheap and perfect solution. Metal pencil holders that clip to the bottom edge of the stand. These will hold both your stand partner’s preferred pencil, your pencil, as well as any erasers thin enough to squeeze in. They fit best on the Manhasset metal stands. The other stands tend to have a pencil shelf alternative.

Tape: for taping the individual pages together, use the equivalent of “magic tape” (Scotch brand); you want the matte finish and not the shiny type. For binding the edge, a cloth medical roll of tape is standard, though a strong masking tape can work as well. Avoid staples altogether. *less is more when taping page to page, especially when not using double-sided printing. Alternate between two strips at the top/bottom and using the various gaps in between with partial strips to reinforce corners where necessary. Leave a few cm between each page so when it is folded up into a booklet, they fall easily and stack well.

Paper: If you choose to enlarge your part, or make your own copy, there are some paper fabrics that do NOT work well. Try to avoid using any type of recycled paper or soft weave.

Orchestras and originals: In a changing environment where social media is taking increased part in our lives, orchestras are struggling to keep pace and use these relatively new tools to cut costs and assist their musicians. I will go into more depth with this in a future article. While it is most directly relevant to the topic here, a whole article could be written about the way professionals are now dependant upon email and using only websites, dropbox, IMSLP etc.

Jennifer Steinfeldt Warren began studying violin at age three with her father in Alberta, Canada. After receiving a B.M. in Violin Performance and a M.A. from Middle Tennessee State University, she returned to university to study the viola. Currently, Warren performs with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, the Murfreesboro Symphony, the Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra, the Parthenon Chamber Orchestra, Wire Cabal, and with her quartet, the Tulsianni Ensemble.

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