09. April 2015 · 4 comments · Categories: Ramble

It’s happening again. The “look back folks” are once again twisting their heads. And it drives me nuts!

Listen … be aware … definitely know what’s going on … but if someone makes a mistake do not look back! It’s rude. It’s inconsiderate. It’s entirely unnecessary. (Believe me, we all know when we make mistakes! Or at least most of us do.) I am astounded that more musicians don’t know that this is something we just do NOT do.

Trust me when I say I know what it’s like to see that come my direction. It can be rather crushing. It can certainly be annoying. I also know I did it once, got read the riot act by the trumpet player, and NEVER did it again. Ever. (Yes, I was very young when I did that … I promise!) He was much harsher than he probably should have been (calling the orchestra I was in — he was no longer with us — “your LITTLE orchestra” and going on about how awful we were), but he was justifiably angry. I should not have looked back. That automatic response when someone is the flawless player he usually was should have been stifled.

And conductors? Well, they can be a bit of a frustration too. We expect correction. Honestly, we do! (Although I must admit that some of my colleagues even react to simple comments like, “You’re sharp!” or “Too loud!” which I find humorous.) But those nasty looks? Those head shakes? Sigh. They can eat up our souls. Or something.

I remember, MANY years ago, sitting next to a fantastic oboist. At a rehearsal she made a little mistake. A look of total disgust and the “conductor head shake” took place. So unnecessary! She let the conductor know, somewhat privately, during the break (but I obviously heard the exchange since I can write about it now). “You think you’re upset that I made a mistake? I feel even worse! I don’t need to see that look from you!” she said, or something very close to that.

I would never talk to a conductor like that. She was a brave soul. But I do think conductors’ head shakes and looks of disgust are rather unnecessary and frequently damaging.

And finally … the “performer head shake”.

Made a mistake?


You can’t change it. It passed quickly even if it felt like a lifteime. If you are at a rehearsal consider yourself fortunate: you can mark your part and make sure it never happens again! If it’s at a performance NEVER react. The audience came to enjoy, not see musicians being annoyed with themselves (or others).

Let. It. Go.

After all, we don’t have any “take backs” in music. No “three strikes” either. It’s right. It’s wrong. No do overs. Move on.

And yes, I’m writing that last paragraph to myself as well as to others. (I know a few of you would laugh while reading this if I didn’t make it clear I’m in the “can’t let it go” and self-flagellation frame of mind much of the time.) I don’t do head shakes, but it can take me well over a year to get over some mistakes and I’m working very hard at stopping that behavior.

Or behaviour. You choose.


  1. Those looks should be reserved for shushing noisy audience members.

  2. I had one of those traumatic conductor experiences in the Civic Orchestra I was in. I was 15 and principal oboist and had been playing oboe for only a year at that point. The other principals were in college. The conductor was excellent, but we all have our moments… We were playing Alexander Nevsky, and I just could not get that one solo (tricky Ab major scale, Battle of the Ice, I think). During one rehearsal, the conductor stopped everything and had us start over just because of me. When I still didn’t get it, he looked at me with such frustration and said, “Don’t you even practice?” I was devastated. I had practiced it a lot, different rhythms, everything, but my nerves would just get the better of me. It didn’t help that the solo was very exposed. The next year in the fall just after we returned from the summer, when we played Tchaik 4, he stopped everything after the oboe solo in the 2nd mvt, but this time said, “I can tell you have been working hard. You have improved years in just three months.” So, he did make up for it, but it was super traumatic at the time! It did teach me to have nerves of steel, however.

  3. I’m so glad you had a better experience later, Carmen! Some never do and it destroys their love of music. It can be so sad! Conductors don’t always remember how much they can damage …

  4. Oh THOSE looks can drive me bonkers too, though, Laurie. One has to be careful with them and use them sparingly. (We are losing too many audience members and I want to hang on to them! 🙂 )