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Orchestra membership etiquette


racerex
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I currently play in a local chamber orchestra and I have found another informal group to play with. Do I need to let the conductor I'm going to be joining this group? I don't know how it would be taken, and frankly I think it might be held against me, an assumption based on past experiences. In other words, I might never progress anywhere with my original group. I value my membership in the orchestra but I want to broaden my experience. How do you all handle this type of thing?

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I assume that these are "community" groups. I would think the only reason to let one conductor (or personnel manager) know about your playing in another orchestra is if there might be some conflict of rehearsal times/concert dates. Just given my past experience of playing in a number of different cities and ensembles, there will likely be some direct hits eventually. If there are, expect some challenges, and give them (whichever group that you will need to be excused from) plenty of advance notice. And realize that the orchestra that you miss will probably assume that your allegiance therefore is with the other group (whether it is or not). You will find that some conductors do get very territorial regarding "their" players. While in school, 2 conductors almost come to blows because I couldn't be at simultaneous rehearsals.

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I'm not sure I see the problem clearly, so let me ask a few questions. Are you going to be quitting group #1 to join group #2? If so, why? If not, will there be any time conflicts for either rehearsals or performances? Does the conductor of group #1 hate the conductor of group #2 or vice versa? If the answers are no no and no, then IMHO there is no problem and certainly no reason to ask permission. If you are friends with the conductor of group #1, then it would be a nice thing to tell him/her about your new horizons. If you and the conductor are not close, then notification of your expanding horizons doesn't strike me as being necessary. If you are planning on leaving group #1 to join group #2 for whatever reason, then I personally would be courteous and give the conductor enough advance warning so that he/she might be able to find a replacement for you as needed even if it means delaying joining group #2. If you need to present a reason for leaving group #1, I would recommend thinking of something that does not amount to burning your bridges behind you on the off chance that you ever would want to rejoin.

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Here are some clarifications: group #2 is just a group of people that meet once a week to play together. This group does not perform. However, I've already let this group know that I'm playing with group 1. They do not care about me playing with the orchestra. Being that the groups are based an hour away from each other, word may get back to the orchestra, and that is where my concern is. The personality of the conductor is such that any little thing I do outside the group is perceived negatively. The last time I did anything I was suddenly ignored at all the practice sessions. That was my first introduction to orchestra politics. Anyway, so now I'm trying to mind my p's and q's but maybe it's not worth it. Right now the experience of the first group is more important to me, but I don't know that what is important to me is best. Is variety of experiences critical to improving one's playing in group situations?

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Quote:

The personality of the conductor is such that any little thing I do outside the group is perceived negatively. The last time I did anything I was suddenly ignored at all the practice sessions.


This doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Seems like more undercurrents/group dynamics going on then identified? Red Flags!?!?!?

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It's not logical, but it makes perfect sense to me--in fact, it sounds just like my previous orchestra. The conductor was insecure enough that any non-sanctioned outside work was somehow viewed as drawing attention away from the "orchestra" (read: away from him ). He was enough of a control freak that he couldn't bear losing control over the musician. So as long as you did things "under the auspices" of the orchestra or with official sanctions, things were OK.

Not fun.

J.

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I am in a community orchestra, and when members of my orchestra who are in other orchestras have concerts, our conductor will let them make announcements. A good conductor realizes that experiences in other orchestras make you a more valuable member of each orchestra you belong to. Your main issue will be conflicts, and you have to decide how you come out on that. However, I am not sure I would want to remain in an orchestra with a conductor like yours. What is it that you get out of your current orchestra experience that is crucial?

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Thanks for the clarifications. Let me change my previous answer slightly to: Run, don't walk, away from group #1. That type of behavior from the podium amounts to bullying and abuse and it is not your job to either 1) put up with it, 2) hide in the group in the hopes that it is not directed at you, or 3) feel that it is somehow your fault when it is.

I used to be principal cellist in a (paid but certainly not full-time) community orchestra which hired a new conductor who very quickly turned out to be, among other things, a bully. At the beginning of each season, he would pick a different victim who he would rag on mercilessly. Sometimes the victim would just sit there and bear it. Sometimes the victim would resign at some point in the season. Many of them would hang up his/her instrument. One victim had the brazen audacity to die mid-season from a lingering disease. The majority of the rest of us became more and more demoralized until any vestige of enjoyment was beaten out of us. Then, one season, it was my turn to be the victim. At the next evening's rehearsal, I sought out the personnel manager and handed in my resignation effective 12/31 of that year. The conductor was fuming, probably because he knew he now had no power over me and would be forced to go through the tedious chore of finding a new victime all over again. A couple of years later, the orchestra finally got brave enough to divest itself of this bully and hire somebody who I hear is a true gentleman. I wouldn't know either from personal experience under his baton or even from going to concerts and watching/listening however, because I don't feel like going back. I'm not above reproach, though, because I didn't stand up and say anything when it was my friends who were being traumatized.

So, for your own sense of well being at the very least, heed this red flag and leave now. Any experience you get from sticking it out in group #1 will ultimately not be worth it.

Been there, done that, didn't leave in time, and not playing much any more.

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I play in a community orchestra, play chamber music on the side, play for local opera companies and generally have no problems. Occasionally rehearsals conflict and then I have to decide which group's rehearsal is more important and that's the one I go to. If a performance conflicts, which happens very rarely, again I have to choose. There are not enough string players around here that any organization can be dictatorial. The performing groups are, in a sense, beggars, and so can't be choosers as far as good string players are concerned.

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Thanks for the replies everyone. What I get out of the experience with the orchestra I belong to is the introduction to orchestra playing - I don't know of any other orchestra near me that takes beginners. I would someday like to move on to another orchestra, but that will take time. From what others have said, it seems like what I'm dealing with happens elsewhere. Kind of like dealing with a difficult boss - you put up with it because you think you have to. Sometimes talking with people helps, sometimes it doesn't. Then there's the silent punishment, you don't know where it's coming from, if it's real, what's the reason behind it. For example, I was extremely busy last season and missed a show - when I came back I was moved to the second section - way in the back. Whatever the real reason behind the move, I decided I can benefit from the experience of playing in different sections. Anyway, I'm rambling now...

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Racerex, here's my little venting here. In one choir I joined (I am a singer), the director was a Controller as set out here on this thread. He yelled at me at one of the rehearsals (totally unjustified). His nerves were bad because of the upcoming performances. I stuck it out until I fulfilled what I felt was my duty to get the choir through its busy season, and then I gracefully bowed out. There is no pleasing someone like that, and they just get on your nerves. I would have to be really desperate for experience to stay in a situation like that, but what kind of experience are you really going to get when the conductor is a bully? He probably doesn't know what he's doing, and that is the reason he bullies people. It sounds to me like your second group will appreciate you and I hope you can find an orchestra with a leader who is secure enough with him/herself to treat you as the valuable person that you are.

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Sounds like this conductor is the type to take the "community" out of "community orchestra" & has seriously misguided illusions of grandeur if he thinks they are / should be the only gig in town. Unless your other activities effect your participation in this group, it's none of his business.

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