Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
🙀Ilan's list of Dos and Do Not Dos, including 🙊6 TMIs💩!
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
**Included my favorite comments from Facebook below**
After more then ten years of active playing I wanted to make a short list of things that, if avoided, could keep one out of trouble. Obviously showing up on time, in shape, with some idea of the music is helpful, but believe it or not, there's more to these gigs, so below is a short list of guidelines that I find useful, that are all based on personal experience. That's right: I've seen every single one of these first hand, and it wasn't pretty.
Have I broken all these guidelines? Absolutely not! Have I broken some? Absolutely, and I'm not proud of it. However, because some of these issues are sensitive, I won't tell you which is which, or what I experienced and where.
So, with the understanding that we're all trying to do better at being our best selves at the office, here's what I've got, in no particular order, certainly not of importance.
Big Ears. The more I play our core rep, the more I notice little quirks about the music. It might be a line I didn't previously hear, an interesting doubling, an odd inversion, voiceleading that causes a little momentary dissonance and resolution, and more! It's always special to me when I learn something new about a piece I've played many times already. Our job is to interact organically with our colleagues, even if we weren't previously aware of how our parts fit together. It's one of the things i enjoy the most about the job! But even if you aren't that interested in orchestration, you might keep in mind that we play loud instruments, and should be extra aware of the music we might be covering up (I've done it, you've done it, and don't pretend like you didn't).
On stage, in the pit, and in doorways: try to stay out of the way. Stage can seem like a wide open space until a bass section goes on break and some percussion needs to be moved. Even when there's hardly anybody on stage, try to be aware of your surroundings, including all the expensive instruments and precious stagehands. This is extra true if you play in a pit orchestra. You taking apart your instrument or talking to a friend shouldn't keep others from getting out on break or after a long show.
Don't warm up loudly on stage. The time on stage before rehearsal is a shared time in a shared space. If you're like me and want to play more comfortably before rehearsal, just hit up the lobby, or a storage room, or turn around and face the wall.
Here's one I suck at: don't play excerpts on stage. I have my little licks that I play and help me get acquainted with my horn, and little bits of excerpts are certainly in there. Ugh: my poor colleagues! This is one I need to do better at! So annoying! But, definitely, never ever ever play full excerpts. Ever.
Here's another one I suck at: read emails in full. If it's there, it's there for a reason. I say this with apologies for all the times I didn't!
Ideologies have their place, but music isn't one of them. In other words, don't be an absolutist in your approach to music making: nobody's going to be a political prisoner here, at least not for the wrong articulation. What might work for one hall, one section, one conductor, one composer, or even one rehearsal, might not work for another. I recently played in a hall that completely changed once there was audience in the room. This isn't to say you shouldn't have opinions, and taste, and ideas, but music isn't dogma: We must be willing and able to adjust.
Don't talk back to conductors. Look, we're all human, and sometimes work is frustrating. Very frustrating. It can be tempting to react. It's only human. It's an instinct to blow off some steam. But really, just don't.
Don't play wrong on purpose. Ok, look, conductors are wrong sometimes. They aren't always able to analyze what they hear on the fly (some are remarkably good though!). You aren't going to spend much time in the business before you get blamed for somebody else's mistake. Conductors, just like players, have strengths and weaknesses. Some are more particular than others. Some are more controlling than others. Some only know "louder/softer/faster/slower". Some are personable, and some aren't. In my experience, conductors don't randomly show up looking for a fight; far from it! So try to smile and nod and give them time to figure it out. Most will if given a chance. Some won't, but you both will sleep better at night if you just do your best to accommodate them.
Don't retaliate. When a colleague mentions something they notice to you, don't wait for the next opportunity to mention something to them. Chances are that by the time something was verbalized it happened several times and you're just blissfully unaware. We've all been there! So deep breath, use that pencil, and make a mental note so that the same issue doesn't happen in another song.
Don't talk back to colleagues. When a colleague makes a request in rehearsal be very careful about disagreeing, certainly during rehearsal. Even for us in the back there isn't often time to go back and forth without disrupting everybody's work. There will always be time after rehearsal to hash things out if you feel strongly.
Don't make unnecessary movements. Those might include conducting, swaying, tapping, leg shaking, leaning, etc. You don't have to sit completely still, but just keep in mind that folks can see you even if you're in the back row, and that extraneous movements can be very distracting.
If the conductor is talking, listen, even if they aren't talking to you. We don't live in a vacuum, meaning that virtually everything we play is also played elsewhere in the band. But, if you really don't think what's going on up front isn't important to you, be cool! Just hang out for a bit.
Don't grumble about sound shields. This can be tough, but as long as there's room for your slide and the plexiglass isn't directly in front of your bell, just make it work. I say this because it can be difficult to not react to what can be perceived as a negative response to your playing. And it can be infuriating to watch folks misusing sound shields, or explain to you that the same foam earplugs one uses when shooting guns aren't enough for sound protection from musical instruments. Just make it work. Folks feel very strongly about their health, and if somebody in front of me feels a piece of plastic will help them stay healthy that's reason enough for me.
TMI 1: Natural deodorant: I'm a fan! But only sometimes. Look, we're all different, but what we do is physical, and as an aside, men sweat more than women. None of us smell good when we sweat, so try to be cognizant of the fact that we don't choose where we sit or how close we are to our colleagues. Scented after-shaves and the such are a hard no-go as well. Your colleagues shouldn't ever smell you.
TMI 2: as a wind player, I avoid eating onions and tuna at lunch. I know it seems silly, but folks need to sit near me, and sometimes there's a lot of exhaling going on.
TMI 3. Don't eat in rehearsal. Ever.
TMI 4. If you have to fart, and you really can't wait for break, apologize, examine what you ate, make any changes you need to make, and try to not do it again. It isn't a joke: if folks are laughing it's to spare your feelings
TMI 5. Everybody poops. If you need to take a dump at work, try to find a far away bathroom. Lobby, basement, whatever. Dressing room bathrooms aren't an ideal solution for that problem, especially if you're a sub.
TMI 6: Don't show up intoxicated. Look, having a beer with lunch between services isn't a big deal in my book, but please be smart! How to know you overdid it? Well, I honestly don't know how to answer that, but if that's a question you're asking yourself regarding alcohol, pot, or whatever, that question should be reason enough for you to very seriously consider what you're doing.
So there you have it, an incomplete list of ways to stay out of trouble at the office. Definitely some good reminders in there for me as well; always good to really think about how I interact with the world.
What did I forget? Let me know!