an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

‘Chicago is an orchestra that arrives early to rehearsal’

Dr Gerald Stein, a Chicago psychologist, reflects frequently on the character of orchestras – their embedded DNA, if you like.

In today’s essay, he raises the A-question: Attitude. Not something you’d want to discuss in New York.

Why do Chicago sound the way they do? Read here.


photo (c) Todd Rosenberg

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Theodore McGuiver says:

    I found the same thing at Lyric Opera; it made music making a joy.

  2. It’s a little odd to me that this essay (and your post) emphasizes coming early. I was taught from the very beginning of my music training that early is on time, on time is late, and late is fired (preferably in a humiliating way). I would never think to arrive for a rehearsal any less than 20 minutes early, if not quite longer. I get anxious if I am going to arrive any later than that. And in my experience, all musicians who take their music seriously do the same, even to penny-ante gigs where the music is stuff they know by heart.

  3. All professional orchestras in America whose rehearsals I’ve observed have been ready to go at the appointed minute (allowing for the occasional latecomer due to transportation or similar issues). What I want to hear about instead are orchestras that stay well beyond the stopwatch-monitored second when the Union-negotiated rehearsal time is over in order to work out remaining musical issues. Even to someone used to seeing such behavior, it is often shocking to see and hear an ensemble stop playing en-masse in mid-phrase when that second hand goes vertical. Young amateur muscians in particular are surprised to see this happen.


    • Ira Spaulding says:

      I’ll never forget singing a rehearsal of the Berlioz Requiem with Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra (the choir was the Westminster Symphonic Choir… how amazed we were when the manager signaled end of rehearsal time, the orchestra stopped playing as one even though we were only 9 measures from the end and Ozawa, knowing this would happen, simply kept conducting only the choir. Indeed, we students were shocked such a thing could happen!

  4. John Cheek says:

    As a singer who is almost never compensated for rehearsals that run late, I have to attest to the wisdom of the strict time rule. It demands that conductors sharpen their skills to use their time in the best and most useful way possible. It discourages the wasting of time for busy musicians. O that there was such a rule for us! And the union negotiation is about pay per service, the amount of rehearsal time is determined by the conductor and management. Overtime can be used if necessary. It’s not up to the musicians to compensate for poor planning.

    • How right you are! No maxim is more true than ‘Work expands to fill the time allowed for it’. As for me, with a no nonsense work ethic and a hardass attitude, the thing that works best is to be the last one in and the first one out. I don’t need the touchy-feely crap that is demeaning our profession.

  5. I do not know of any professional orchestra in the US where this isn’t true. Sounds like more of the CSO’s usual self-congratulating blah-blah.

  6. Stephen says:

    This is a welcomed piece because it addresses the “culture” created within an ensemble. That happens anyway through “modeling” as I see it. For many years, I’ve been very sensitive to the “culture” of a given place whether it’s a musical group, a restaurant, a gas station, hotel, school, or municipality with elected officials.
    Those places that are focused on what they do and recognize the dignity, skills, and desire to serve stand out. Those that lose sight of that focus or worse, treat it inconsequentially, also stand out and not in a good way.

    I think also of a choir that might be 100 or more years old- and the distinctive sound that ensemble makes. Where does that come from? My experience tells me that when you are a member of that ensemble, you are constantly measuring yourself against the unspoken ideal that group has created. Here, no one wants to be a “weak link”.

    When it works positively, individuals want to be a part of that culture. When it doesn’t work, everyone involved from management to consumer suffers under the onslaught of dysfunction.

    As to orientation and training, the worst thing (good or bad) a leader can do is to leave the training up to those doing the work. Inbreeding of bad habits is almost impossible to break.

    Would that more of our sectors, public and private, would take a page from our musical organizations in what it means to be a part of a functioning ensemble.

  7. Alexander Hall says:

    Attitude does matter enormously. Just before the Italian conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli died he was asked about his relationship with the Dresden Staatskapelle, whose principal conductor he was. “It’s the only orchestra I’ve come across,” he said, “where thirty minutes before I’m due on the podium they are already all seated and tuning up.” The sad fact with so many of the London orchestras at present is that musicians flit from one ensemble to the other, there are far too many “extras” standing in for regular players who choose to do more lucrative things when the fancy takes them, and a culture of “freelancing” has arisen to the detriment of any real corporate identity. If you sit alongside the same player on the same desk for decades, not just a few weeks, there is an instinctual relationship which means that you breathe and move as one. That is why there are top-notch orchestras in places like Chicago and not always elsewhere. I have tried preaching the virtue of absolute stability of personnel to the boss of one of the London orchestras but I didn’t feel he was very receptive to the point.

    • Your last few sentences are the money quote. With the necessity of freelancing to make a living, many musicians cannot “afford” this sort of discipline. You get what you pay for.

      • Sarah – I’d posit that freelancers in the true sense of the word (by which I exclude “members” in London) are exactly the people who most often exemplify the turn-up-early attitude, which is to be welcomed. For them, if they are late, they may not get asked next time. In other words, perhaps the necessity of freelancing actively encourages this attitude, the opposite of not affording it.

        • You could very well be right, Anon. I am not very well-acquainted with the musician world. Certainly there are many fine and disciplined musicians who are freelancers and I apologize for making a blanket assumption out of basic ignorance. But I still object to the “fungibility” being exhibited by so many managements these days!

    • Well, expect that the players in the London orchestras actively want it to be this way. They felt they had had their fill of ‘management’, and wanted to have player-governed orchestras. They are as much the creators of the “problem” (if indeed it is a problem) you cite. (For those outside the situation – the players of the Philharmonia, LPO, LSO, and RPO are all, technically, freelancers, though each orchestra has an orchestra’s-worth of players (+/-) it considers to be “members” i.e. the people who get called first, as they try to retain a semblance of same-players-in-the-same-place).

      And let us not forget, that sitting next to the wrong person on the same desk for many years can be a very negative experience for the players involved and for the orchestra too, if they do not get on, just as much as it can be a positive thing as you describe.

      In London, I find more of an attitude problem amongst the two opera house orchestras – funnily enough the two orchestras who are the best paid, least worked, and who have steady, contracted jobs, and are not freelancers.
      Maybe this non-freelancing “real corporate identify” lark isn’t quite as great as you imply?

      • Alexander Hall says:

        It is an open secret that the wind players in the Philharmonia’s heyday (1950s and early 1960s) including the likes of Gareth Morris, Sidney Sutcliffe, Bernard Walton and Cecil James did not get on. You would say that is an example of the wrong players sitting next to each other. I would say that even though they hated each other’s guts they were true professionals and put aside personal animosities to achieve artistic excellence. The point I was making is that they were there for nearly every concert, with none of the endless “guest principals” we are treated to these days. The continuity matters, not the bad temper!

an ArtsJournal blog