Although pedagogues are always eager to discuss sound production, technical exercises, and repertoire, I find that there is one area which is seldom addressed with students: how to comport oneself in an ensemble setting. The rules are largely unwritten, but if you strive for the best possible performances and mutual respect between yourself and your colleagues, this simple list of do's and don'ts should serve as a more-than-useful guide, whether you perform with an orchestra or band or participate in any other sort of musical collaboration.
DO be on time. This cannot be left unsaid, as fundamental as it may seem. There's nothing more annoying to musicians, conductors, and personnel managers than tardiness. Always get to the venue on time, leaving at least a 10-15 minute cushion for getting to your chair, saying a friendly "hello" to your colleagues, assembling your instrument, and playing a few quick warm-up notes.
DO know your part - and everyone else's! Make sure you've listened to a recording of the pieces you're playing (if available, naturally) and more importantly, take a look at the complete score for each piece. Case in point: if a piece of music involves 80 players and you're only familiar with your own part, you've actually only studied 1/80th of the piece! Rehearsals will go much more smoothly if you know how your part fits into the whole.
DO be confident. Music is no place for the faint of heart. Tentative playing is contagious, and woodwind players are particularly susceptible. Adopt a confident posture, remember to breathe, and play with self-assurance. Your colleagues will thank you!
DO listen - to the musicians close to you as well as to those sitting on the other side of the stage. Always remember that you are not alone and that you are just one part of a larger picture. This is true whether you are playing with a pianist or a 120-piece orchestra. Working in partnership and alternately following and leading your colleagues when appropriate is the essence of great music-making. Even the most subtle body language, such as leaning in a bit for a duet, for instance, can heighten the experience even further. And it's not just the music that needs your full attention; listen intently to the comments and requests of your fellow instrumentalists and your conductor, whether they are addressed to you or to someone else. Cooperative listening and learning are essential for a satisfying musical experience for performers and audiences alike. One caveat, however: if you are receiving instructions from a non-flutist, he or she may not understand the technical issues particular to your instrument. Sometimes you have to take a suggestion with a grain of salt, and don't over-explain; this wastes valuable rehearsal time. Often the correct answer is simply "Yes, Maestro:" conductors rarely want to know all the details of why you might have trouble fulfilling their requests. You can figure out how to make it work outside of rehearsal, on your own or with your teacher.
DO be a diplomat. Some issues that arise during rehearsals and concerts can be touchy, and you always have to be ready to give and accept constructive criticisms graciously. Intonation can be particularly tricky, as musicians tend to take this aspect of their playing quite personally, and there really are no absolutes: just because the needle points to "0" on a tuning device doesn't necessarily mean it will be in tune in the context of an ensemble. Intonation is a fluid, constantly changing phenomenon. This doesn't mean you should stop working with your tuner; just always be aware of your position in a chord and adjust quickly. A second player should defer to the principal if at all possible. When working with your colleagues on a particular passage, use words like "we" and "let's" rather than the more accusatory "you." Even if you know you're right, gentle prodding is much more effective than the all-too-ubiquitous pointing of the finger. Remember that when you point your finger, you still have three fingers pointing back at you!
DO be courteous and respectful. Try to give others as much personal space as possible, even in crowded situations. Turning around to make sure that musicians sitting behind you can see the conductor is always appreciated. If one of your fellow musicians loses his or her place in the music, help out as much as possible without getting lost yourself - usually a distinct gesture at the next big rehearsal letter in the score is all you need. If the player next to you is dealing with an impossible page turn, offer to turn the page yourself if you're able. Offering help with on-the-fly instrument repair or fingering advice for difficult passages is also often welcomed, but be careful here: there is a fine line between being helpful and being intrusive.
DO support your colleagues. Compliments aren't the reason we're making music, of course, but they are always nice to hear after a performance. During rehearsals, tapping your hand lightly on your leg after a colleague's solo is the insiders' silent applause, and shuffling your feet audibly is also acceptable after a well-executed solo. In a concert situation, however, be sure not to be so demonstrative that you attract too much attention from the audience. Finally, save the foot-shuffling for the solo bows after the performance. All this being said, the most important aspect of any compliment is that it be genuine, so please don't overdo. Praise after every solo your colleague plays may be met with more eye-rolling than gratitude.
DON'T act as though you're doing everyone else a favor just by being there. Look alive and alert, and try to keep a friendly, open demeanor.
DON'T keep playing after the conductor has stopped. Help foster rehearsal efficiency by stopping immediately to hear what there is to be said, refraining from interrupting with any side conversations. Conductors are generally not fond of being forced to repeat themselves.
DON'T create distractions while others are playing, especially if someone in your immediate proximity is performing a solo. This is as true in rehearsal as it is in a performance. Unwelcome distractions include talking, rummaging in your bag, reading a magazine, doing a crossword puzzle, knitting, using your cell phone, or making any large, distracting movements. You don't want to upset the delicate mental and physical balance that is required for solo playing. After all, you'll want your colleagues to give you the same courtesy when it's your turn to shine. However, if you have an extended rest or a tacet movement, feel free to keep yourself busy unobtrusively with reading materials or other quiet activities. And by all means, if you must cough, swallow it. If you must sneeze, please stifle it. And if you should start coughing uncontrollably during rehearsal, it is OK to leave the stage.
DON'T turn a page during a Grand Pause if you can help it. If you must, do so quietly!
DON'T tap your foot loudly or count out loud. Remember that your colleagues' parts may have their measures of rest configured differently from yours, so your counting could easily confuse them.
DON'T get bossy. It's not your job to teach lessons to your musical partners unless you're conducting a high school band. Phrasing your musical thoughts via questions or suggestions is far preferable to giving direct orders. Ideally, very few words are necessary if everyone is listening and responding appropriately (see DO's). Also be aware that your own section is within your jurisdiction for helpful comments - particularly if you're the principal player - though avoid giving orders to other sections whenever possible. It's just rude.
DON'T be a know-it-all. You may have an encyclopedic knowledge of performance practice of the music of Gesualdo or you may even have known him personally, but you have my personal guarantee that your colleagues are in no mood to listen to your dissertation. Enough said.
DON'T ask unnecessary questions in rehearsal. So often, hands fly up in rehearsal to ask questions that could have been easily answered without wasting all that rehearsal time. (My personal pet peeve is the question, "Maestro, how long would you like this note?") Figure it out yourself by listening, checking the score, or approaching either a colleague or the conductor after rehearsal or during the break.
DON'T be a podium-sniffer! Of course, there's no harm in going up to visit the podium at the rehearsal break to address a legitimate question or to convey the occasional friendly greeting to the conductor. But if this becomes a habitual, you are veering dangerously close to what I call "podium-sniffer" territory, and you'll quickly garner a reputation among your colleagues that you are best to avoid.
DON'T highlight mistakes. Making faces if you or someone else hits a wrong note or plays out of tune just draws attention to the error. The biggest faux-pas of all? Turning around to stare at a colleague! On the other hand, if you hit an embarrassing clunker yourself (and it happens to all of us), don't over-apologize, especially in concert. By the time you get to the end of a piece of music, many people have forgotten about your gaffe altogether. You're much better off not reminding them of it!
A word about cell phones and other electronic devices: There is some controversy about whether or not the use of electronic devices in rehearsal is appropriate. Many school-affiliated ensembles prohibit the use of mobile phones entirely, and some professional orchestra managements are now keen on banning the use of all electronic devices on stage. However, in my humble opinion, inconspicuous use of these little gadgets during long rests or tacets can go a long way toward keeping musicians generally awake and engaged, and with the sound turned off, their use is certainly less obtrusive than, say, reading a newspaper or listening to a football game on a headset (yes, I have seen this happen!). In the final analysis, use your judgment and abide by the rules set for your particular ensemble.
The single most important thing to remember when working with an ensemble is that it's not about you! It is about working together toward the noble goal of making music. When approached the right way, it can be a satisfying experience for you and an awe-inspiring privilege for all. I hope that these simple tips will be useful to you as you embark on your musical journey, wherever it may take you.