Randall Ruback  Musician, Educator, Composer, Writer
Tips on Playing in an Orchestra
Randall Ruback
From MYSO News
...the mostly musical, must-read memorandum for members of MYSO. A publication of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra.                                                                
April, 1997
Volume 8, Number 7

Eyes up front. Ideally, we should know our parts so well that the printed music is unnecessary, so that our eyes can always be directed upon the conductor. We must at least memorize the first measure of our entrances, lifting our eyes upward as we inhale in time to the music, maintaining eye contact throughout the rise and fall of the baton. Soloists, memorize your solos, never breaking eye contact with the conductor. This will build inner confidence and inspire an artistic collaboration between you and the conductor ? and earn the conductor’s respect.

Concentrate on the pitch in your head, not what is coming out of the instrument. If you concentrate on what is coming out of the instrument, it is already too late. Every note you play should be anticipated in your mind before the note sounds. Proper pitch begins with an implicit “yes” to your musical statements (as opposed to a “doubting” statement). You should focus mentally on the finest possible musical models. With these models guiding the respiration, eyes, ears, and hands, you are sure to project increasingly better ideas and sounds. Other ideas: Study with the best teacher in the area.
Listen to recordings. Discover what your sound can be. Mentally hear each tone you are about to play in your mind within the context of its accompanying chord. Execute. Make minor adjustments later. This is all part of what I call “team thinking” because you have the group in mind when making your individual musical decisions. Above all, do not play an instrument like a typewriter, pressing keys, watching slides, blowing air through tubes. Music is more than the sum of its parts.

Rhythmically prepare yourself, both mentally and physically, for your entrances. Were a train rolling by, I doubt you would board it with a single step. Rather, you would run alongside it, equal to its momentum, and leap on. Many young players make their orchestral entrances with a single motionless step, as though stepping onto a stationary object, creating a break in the continuity and feel of the piece. Feel the motion, the rhythmic pulse, as your entrance approaches. Deeply inhale and exhale with a relaxed breath in time with the music. This will draw you into the piece. Divide the main pulse into various divisions of the beat, or even repeat the rhythm you are about to execute over and over in your body until that final breath . . . and then flow into the action, as though you have always been a part of it. Be a part of this musical flow, long before your part happens.

Don’t be bored ? make a bond with your experience. If you are bored, it means that you haven't become engaged in what you are
doing. Ask yourself the following: Are my circumstances boring, or am I not being ‘poet’ enough to draw from and learn from my experiences? How does this piece resonate and come together within me? Do I relate to the music personally? How so, or why not? What was happening in the composer’s life at the time that he or she wrote this work? How is the composer’s writing stylistically different from other works? Have I marked important cues to assist in my following the conductor or to aid in describing the upcoming pitch entrance in my mind? Other suggestions: Get a score to see what else is going on in the music. Watch the conductor for a free lesson on conducting. Go to the library to find out more about the composer. Be analytical. Ask yourself: “How can I make my next entrance better?” Be creative and aware of what is around you, rather than blocking it out through idle talk. Be positive and helpful to colleagues and be supportive of the group effort. Be a person who contributes, who raises up the world around you, starting with your immediate circle. The possibilities are endless!

© 1997 Randall Scott Ruback

Randall Scott Ruback is a master teacher, clinician, and freelance trombonist living in Milwaukee. His range of performing expertise includes conducting, composition, and recording for film, radio, television and disc.