You don’t play someone else’s solos on stage.  It’s one of the strictest pieces of orchestra etiquette out there, right along with Stop Playing when the Conductor Stops, and Turn off your Cell Phone, Already.  So strongly has this been ingrained in me that I was quite nervous while warming up for the set of concerts we just finished in Fort Wayne.

I was playing English horn on Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1.  This symphony features an enormous oboe solo, slow and arching and gorgeous, on some significantly awkward notes.  It’s a common audition excerpt and I’ve worked on it many times.  I would sooner die than let anyone hear me play that solo on the oboe while the orchestra’s excellent principal oboist was even in the same building, or town.  That melody, however, also happens to be one of the main themes of the entire symphony, and the English horn plays it with the violas when it first appears.  So, technically, it’s my solo too. 

When we play it, it’s in a different key, shorter, and significantly faster, but because the English horn is a transposing instrument it starts with the same awkward and unusual interval – low B to forked F.  An interval so uncomfortable and so uncommonly used that any time I play it anywhere it reminds me of that Barber solo.  And weird enough that of COURSE I need to warm up trying it out before the concert. 

I am not self-centered enough to believe that any one thought anything of it.  I imagine that my working on and playing this lick, which is after all faster, shorter, and in a different key from the big oboe solo, was a totally unremarkable thing, and that no one noticed it at all.  But that unspoken rule felt so big to me that I got a little fidgety every time I tried that interval out.  Looked over my shoulders a little, and checked out of the corner of my eye that I wasn’t being glared at, which I wasn’t.  This nervousness is COMPLETELY unlike me. 

This short post doesn’t have a real point – except as a PSA to students to not be rude and practice anyone else’s solos on stage – but it does make me wonder what unspoken rules I’m crashing through in other areas of my life.  Areas I don’t know as well as the I know the orchestra stage.  Should I not be doing the same stretches as the runner next to me before a race?  Is it very bad that all of our dinner party napkins don’t match?  What faux pas-es am I not even realizing that I’m making?

2 thoughts on “Behaving”

  1. Unbridled curiosity led me to listen to Barber’s No 1 on Utube, conducted by Slatkin, especially the Allegro Tranquillo and the Passacaglia. It had been a very long time since I had heard it and, believe me, I listened to the oboe part with almost religious attentiveness. I wonder, however, about your sensitivity to playing “other people’s solos”.I believe staunchly that all artistic expression is enhanced in beauty and appreciation when shared, in any form. Doing it, I think, in the proximity of another performer may be thought of as complimentary rather than audacious. Prompted by a sense of anxiety, one may discover new nuances in the rendition. And within the bounds of etiquette, how does one inform a colleague that a… faux pas has been committed?(And, therefore, risking sacrilege myself, the plural of faux pas is… well … faux pas. Even though I know you were being ironic).Till next time.Dimitri

  2. This is raises an issue on many levels, not only about the music business and its lack of 'schooling' on a real world level, but also other areas of life. Perhaps we need to bring back finishing school? 🙂

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