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Musician’s Etiquette


Matthew Wengerd bought this post to my attention recently. It is from oboeinsight, a great music blog. Oboeinsinght is definitely worth checking out, even if you don’t play a double reed instrument. The writing is insightful and educational and covers a wide variety of musical topics:

All-The-Time Etiquette

  • Rehearsals and performances should be scent-free zones. This doesn’t mean we allow body odor though! So use that unscented deoderant, but refrain from colognes and perfumes.
  • If you are sitting second, never play the principal’s solos while warming up! It’s just not done. Even at the rehearsals.
  • Don’t play other instruments’ solos either. Rude (again).
  • When the concertmaster tunes the orchestra, stop playing and be quiet. (Unless, of course, you’re playing first — then tune the orchestra!)
  • Be quiet. (I can’t tell you how many times I hear orchestra members yakking … sometimes even during performances!)
  • Don’t conduct. Really. You may think you know more than the conductor. You may think you can do a better job. And that could even be true. But it’s rude. Don’t do it.
  • Don’t stare at one of your colleagues when you aren’t playing. Even if he or she has a solo. That way, if a mistake is made, you won’t be accused of staring “because I made a horrible mistake” … believe me I’ve heard folks accuse others of this.
  • In the same vein … DON’T ever look over at someone after he or she has made a mistake! That is so incredibly rude it’s inexcusable. We feel bad enough when we make mistakes. We don’t need to know you know! Don’t grimace, laugh, shake your head, or anything else either. In other words: DON’T REACT!

Read the complete post here.

Musician’s etiquette consists of a great deal of minutiae not usually obvious to non-musicians. A non-musician might not even be aware that someone in the orchestra is being rude or obnoxious. Turning around and watching a colleague play a solo is considered very rude, for example.

Personal behaviors that are considered acceptable in daily life can be very distracting in the orchestra. Obvious frustration after making a mistake is not acceptable. Turning and looking at a person that has just made a mistake (even worse–laughing at them) is a bad idea.

Old disagreements and feuds boil and simmer over a period of years in an orchestra. The same may be true in an office setting, but musicians tend to be more highly-strung, sensitive, and insecure, so small slights take on a magnitude of their own.

Even though I like to think that I am a fairly tolerant person, I completely lose it when someone starts playing my solo to goof around before a concert. Even though I know the person is not being malicious or trying to show me up, some reptilian part of my brain kicks in and I have to resist the urge to slug them.

Perfume or cologne is a really bad idea for musicians. You may like how it makes you smell, but no one on stage does. If you want to annoy 25-50% of the orchestra (I can smell perfume on a musician from many rows away) then go for it, but it is probably not the wisest idea.

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September 10, 2006 - Posted by | Music, Orchestra

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