I’ve received letters from children at youth concerts telling how much they enjoyed the music, but wondering why the orchestra looked angry, or sad. (Read here and sent to musicians of SSV because we are, I guess, misbehaving and upsetting people.)

No, I’m not sad. But sometimes I’ve just bared my soul to an audience. I’ve worked my (too large) butt off. And I’m wasted. Entirely wasted. I smile at kiddie concerts for the most part, though. Even when they are playing their “I’m gonna be the last one to clap” game.

And, okay, some musicians probably are angry; not everyone in an orchestra is always a happy camper. Go figure. Some are always angry. Some are crazy. Some are frightening. Sort of like the rest of the world.

But really. Sometimes I want to say to the audience … I just worked so hard I can barely move. Sometimes I am sad. When I’ve finished playing something that makes my heart ache I know I can’t cry—that’s what the audience should be doing—but still my heart hurts. And I’m quite weary.

But okay. I’ll try to pin a smile on my face. I can do that, although I’m really not big on smiles. (When the soprano comes out to take a bow after Madama Butterfly, by the way, she doesn’t always smile either. It ain’t just us musICKYans that react in a way that apparently doesn’t entertain the audience enough.)

As for movement … it’s true that some orchestras from other countries move more. I find it distracting. I’ve been told (but I’ve only been told; I don’t know it for a fact) that if you don’t move enough for your audition (in one European country, anyway) you won’t be hired. Of course the same country doesn’t hire people over 30 and the female population must be quite low because orchestras are mostly male. But what some other country does … does that make it better? Worse? You tell me. It’s also understood that the section players shouldn’t move quite as much as the principals; it steals attention and looks ridiculous. So we take our cues from our section leaders.

Packing up on stage? Only when we are done. I agree. (But my reed gets put away immediately and anyone who doesn’t understand why will just have to deal. Sorry. That’s not negotiable.) I knew someone who packed up during a work for all the audience to see because he didn’t play the very end. Sorry, but on stage that’s tacky. In the pit I pack an instrument if I’m done with it; it’s safer put away than sitting in our far too chilly location. The instrument is important and it’s going to be packed.

Talking? Meh. If it’s against the rules I’ll not talk while we are taking our bows, although frequently someone else is talking to me and I’m trying to answer out of the side of my mouth. That probably appears like a grimace to our audience, so I guess that’s gonna get me in trouble too. Here’s the thing, though—when we are talking we are usually smiling and we are jazzed about the concert. It’s difficult to contain that glee with silence. So I guess we need to remember we can smile but we can’t talk?

Anyway … ramble ramble … I initially bristle at being told what to do. And being told how awful I am. Most people do, don’t they? Probably writers of blogs bristle as well.

Oh. Wait. I’m a blog writer. And I have been scolded and yes, it caused me to bristle. (And it hurt. And then I worried. And couldn’t sleep. And I finally got over it.) As an aside, I never smile as I type. 😉 (But I put in these lying little emoticons for your pleasure.)

So yes, musicians at live concerts need to think about how we look. Of course. And I really do. But smiling? It’s not always natural. Moving? Depends upon the work, my position, and other cues I receive. (Conductors often can give off cues, and of course if the rest of the orchestra is still I’m not about to, as second oboist, start dancing in my chair!)

I dunno. Is any of this making sense? Does any of it matter? Probably not. But there you go. I think I need to eat. My brain is in a muddle.

PS I love what I do. Very much so. I work hard at it too. I actually probably smile more than my plumber, the store clerk, my dentist or my doctors ever do. Really. I’ve never thought that my dentist didn’t like his job because, when he’s busy torturing me, he isn’t smiling.


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  2. Jeannette Clemons

    OK. NOW in my humble experience, professional musicians really must put somewhat disengaged, bland expressions on their faces because many of the OTHER musicians seem to think smiling is either laffing at them (Paranoid) or frowning is critical of them (Paranoid) etc etc. I will not bore everyone with the details of how PAINFULLY I learned this lesson, back in the Day when I really DID ENJOY playing for a living and would (“unprofessionally”) show it!

  3. I smile, Jeannette. but I never look at another player in any sort of way that can be misinterpreted. I know how paranoid we can be (since I’m paranoid!). I know how easy it is to misread someone (since I do that too).

    Musicians’ etiquette is quite the beast, which is why I have a full page about that here.

    But the smiling at the audience thing … I suppose I’ll attempt to do that, even while I’m simply not much of a smiler.