Grace Notes: Orchestral Code of Conduct

I grew up in orchestras where discipline was strict. There was no talking, getting up or messing around during rehearsals. When mobile phones became widely available (that makes me feel so old), using a mobile to text, play games or go on Facebook was also not permitted. This has meant that during rehearsals now, I pay attention for the duration of the rehearsal, don’t go on my phone and don’t walk around during the rehearsals. It surprised me then, when I started playing in orchestras in London how many people hadn’t had the same sort of discipline growing up and what they thought was acceptable to get up to during rehearsals. Here are a few things that I think can and cannot be done during rehearsals (including some advice given by the head of strings Nic Pendelbury in one of my first ever string classes at Trinity Laban). Note, this is all from the perspective of a string player so obviously if you have a 3 movement tacet you’d get very bored sitting there, so possibly a book or a phone might be needed, so long as it was silent and you came in for your entry. But, most of the points I’m making are basic common politeness it applies to most sections as well as most walks of life, not just orchestras.

  • Be on time! There are so many ways (apps/internet/timetables) to check times of public transport and see if there are any delays, so you can make your rehearsal by about 15 minutes before the starting time. Obviously if the delays are sudden and unexpected then you’ll be ok. No one can expect you to teleport there!
  • Keep your phone on off (or at least on silent) face down on the floor in front of you. Then you can see it and won’t be tempted to look (as it’ll look very obvious if you lean down to check it all the time). And if for some reason the phone didn’t turn all the way onto silent, it’s close by to quickly stop it! And let’s face it, it’s not that hard to last 1.5 hours with your phone is it?
  • Don’t chat if you’re not involved in that particular portion on the rehearsal. The conductor might be working with the wind for a while, but that’s no excuse for a player from a different section to have a natter about the latest Poldark episode.
  • If you leave your phone in your bag/coat pocket/case/other storage place it’s really not ok to walk across the rehearsal room to check it, even if you aren’t the section being rehearsed at that particular moment. Common sense really, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen it happen.
  • Eating (especially loud food). I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of this a couple of times if I’ve had long days of rehearsals, but I always choose soft foods (such as haribo, or non-wrapped soft foods). Crunchy and/or wrapped foods (think of the rustling…)are really not ok. Messy/smelly foods are also not great! If you can however, I’d try and avoid it as it doesn’t look very professional and won’t make a good impression.

To be honest, most of the above rules are fairly obvious. Same as any other lesson, meeting, or social gathering. Hopefully if you’re new to an orchestra these might help you to get more quickly accustomed to how to behave in such an intense situation.

I was inspired to write this after seeing ‘Wittertainment’s Code of Conduct’ by Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo.


(I do not own this image)

I thought it was hilarious, and so true!! Here is a video illustrating the above points.

Apologies for this post being late, and I promise the next post (about travelling with instruments) will be up by next Tuesday!


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