12. August 2007 · Comments Off on Maintaining Quality · Categories: Ramble

Quite a while ago someone on the IDRS sent in a question about how musicians continue to play at a high level when playing in a group that isn’t quite at the top. It’s a good question; there have been times when I’ve felt that a poor group was dragging me down. There have been times when the intonation was so sketchy that I started to doubt my pitch center and I began to feel like I was the one to blame. (And I am the one to blame if everyone else is out of tune in the exact same way. Say, for instance, they are all playing an A-446. If I’m on A-440 I’m still wrong if I’m the odd one out! Of course if everyone is really that sharp and I’m playing principal I’d be smart to have a little chat with the concermaster to see if we can change things.) There have been times when I’ve played in a group that simply isn’t at a strong level and I have to fight giving up. These problems can occur to those of us who attend churches and participate in their musical events. This can also happen when a professional is hired as a ringer in a youth group or community group. (NOT that all youth groups or community groups are weak; some can be quite good.)

So how does one do it?

For me it’s simply playing my best. I don’t attempt to play the group’s best. Believe it or not, that’s an easy thing for us to do sometimes. (Now if the group is better than I am, I definitely work at playing their best!) Playing less than one’s best really drags a person down, and can lead to some very bad habits. So I attempt to play my best.

Playing one’s best also benefits the musicians around you. And they appreciate it. Really! I try to demonstrate good playing habits and technique without saying a word. I show up, for instance, earlier than downbeat. (When I played for Jameson’s high school musical, I noticed that the majority of students showed up right at downbeat time.) I warm up. I practice parts I struggle with. (I think it’s good for students and non-professionals to see that we professionals do have things we have to work on … very frequently!) I come prepared. I don’t forget things. (I do my “idiot check” because I’m not about to embarrass myself!) It’s all fairly simple stuff. There’s no magic involved.

The important thing for a serious musician to remember is that lowering one’s standards when playing in a less-than-stellar group is only a reflection on that musician, not on the group. It’s also a bad habit that can seep into one’s playing when in a better group. So I try to play my best. Every time I play. That’s all.

Easy, eh?

Well, sometimes. Sometimes not. But I still try to do it!

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