The Caffeinated Flutist, Vol. 3: How to Be a Good Colleague. By Mary Hales
Hey there, flute-trepreneurs!
So this column is going to be the start of a big topic that happens to fall under a broad name – we’re talking about how to be a good colleague. This can encompass everything from rules of decorum in an ensemble to writing professional emails based on your audience. So let’s dive in with ensemble etiquette!
In music, working with other people is unavoidable if you want to make progress in the professional world. No one has ever made it entirely on their own – everyone has to know someone first. One of the most vital things about networking and building a professional circle is knowing the unwritten rules of decorum. Many of these I’ve learned from being told them, others, regretfully, from experience.
Here are my vital highlights of ensemble decorum:
- NEVER practice someone else’s solo, EVER. This is one thing I can never stress enough. Put aside whether or not you’ll get caught playing someone else’s solo; that’s not the point. It’s incredibly rude to your colleague who won the spot they worked hard for. I can speak from personal experience when I say it won’t be received well, whether your colleague says anything to you or not. Leave their music alone, play your own, and all will be well. In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to stick to only playing the music on your stand, including in individual warmups; it serves as a nice reminder to everyone around you to focus on the music you’ll be rehearsing that day.
- Sit still in rehearsal! This might seem a little obvious, but it’s something I’m still working on as much as everybody else. I know it’s sometimes fun to look around and watch your colleagues doing what they do, especially the ones that sit behind you and that you never see. However, it’s incredibly distracting to them when there are constantly heads bobbing around and looking at them, especially if one of them is trying to play a difficult passage. Nothing makes that harder than the unwanted attention of your colleagues. Stay focused, keep your eyes in your own zone. In that same vein, don’t make faces or noises during the music. I know that sometimes the tuning can get strange, or someone can miss a vital note in the chord. Still, it’s our job to be professionals. Making faces, shifting your body as an indicator for other sections to tune (i.e. trying to sit taller for someone to raise the pitch) is rude and distracting to everyone around you. It’s hard, but during rehearsal, you have to put on your poker face and don’t let it get to you.
- Just don’t talk. I’ll also be the first one to admit, this is harder than just saying it out loud. It’s tempting to lean over to your friend and discuss something coming up in the music, or even what you’re going to do this weekend. But even if the conductor is addressing another section, and you’re trying to keep your voice down, you might miss a valuable piece of information that could inform how you play your part. So just sit still and listen!
- If you have questions during rehearsal, keep them precise and efficient. Only stop the rehearsal with a question if you think it will have ramifications for the rest of the ensemble. If you have a specific question about something in your part, wait until after rehearsal and ask the conductor if you can compare their score with your part. Don’t take up everyone else’s time with something small.
- Be sure to tell your colleagues when you appreciate their work! It’s incredibly fulfilling for me as a musician to know that my fellow ensemble members recognize and appreciate the hard work I’m putting into my music. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of compliments on playing, and both of them can make you feel really good! It’s also important to promote an espirit de corps among the members of your ensemble. At the end of the day, you’re all there for the same reason – to make music. It’s always good to tell your colleagues when you appreciate the music they’re making.
That’s all for this column! Stay tuned for Part Two of being a good colleague in the next issue. See you next time!
Flutist Mary Hales is a native of Conway, Arkansas, currently studying under Alice K. Dade at the University of Missouri School of Music for her Masters in Flute Performance. Follow more of her writing at maryhalesflute.wordpress.com; find her on social media with the handle @maryhalesflute.