A few weeks ago, I had the honor of joining the Humboldt University Symphonic Orchestra for the Info-Probe (first info-rehearsal). And I would like to share with you some things I would suggest noticing if you are ever in this situation.
First of all, arrive 30 minutes early. This is very important, especially when you are not entirely sure where the rehearsal is. Follow the people with cellos on their backs to the rehearsal room. The first people you are likely to meet will obviously be an oboe player and the concertmaster, who will be sure to bring up that they are the oboe player and the concertmaster.
You will receive a stack of music and be sent into the rehearsal space. There, the only thing to do is wait until another horn player shows up so that they can choose the first seat. The first horn player will probably be a tall, blond young man who is quick to speak English and is looking forward to his first trip to America, to Florida for spring break.
Once the rest of the horn players arrive and rehearsal begins, there is much to notice. First, I choose to give up trying to hear the conductor as he seems to be speaking at a volume audible only for the string instruments. This decision is definitely influenced by my stand partner, a young man with curly hair who smells like cigarette smoke and continues to whisper across me to the spring-breaker boy, while the conductor speaks. I personally would not recommend ignoring the conductor, at least on the first day, but none-the-less it seems like the only option.
Chuckle quietly as spring-breaker boy unwraps a burrito and sneakily eats it behind his music stand. Don’t miss the conductor calling out a flute player for being on her phone, clearly not adept at using the stand for clandestine phone use.
The conductor raises his arms to start conducting and, of course, no one knows what we are playing. Whispers ripple through the section asking, “do you have the music?” except that in German, sheet music is not called Musik, but “Noten.” Which for me is absolutely delightful, because every time someone asks if I have the notes, I’m tempted to wax philosophical about whether anyone can really have the notes, much less on the first read-through, but it does not seem like the time.
Come prepared to transpose or, even better, be good at it. I, unfortunately, am not particularly competent in transposing, so this is a bit of a challenge. But lucky for me, my stand partner is also struggling to the point that he starts writing in notes, which brings me to another delightful moment. He can’t remember what a particular note transposition is and as we conferred, I come to the conclusion that the note is a B and he comes to the conclusion that it is H. Now if you know anything about music in English, there are eight notes in a scale: A through G, then it repeats. There is no H, you get to G and you go back to A; no need to remember the rest of the alphabet. From the last months of taking private lessons in Berlin, I have learned to accept that a B flat is just called B and therefore there must be another name for a B natural. But still, the thought of the note “H” still induces a resigned shake of the head.
Laugh collectively with the section and/or the ensemble at the following things: a squeak from a clarinet, a butchered phrase from the brass, the 30 cellos (pronounced in German cellies), and the conductor explaining the benefits and necessity of practicing. As an American, I am amused that the fifteen-minute break begins at 20:17 and ends promptly at 20:32 with the conductor sticking his head out the window and ringing a bell to summon all the musicians outside smoking.
I left rehearsal at 10 pm exhausted but elated. My nerves leading up to the first rehearsal had disappeared entirely at the joy that musicians are musicians everywhere. While my experiences in American ensembles have never included a smoke break, so much, from the sense of humor to the comradery to the dynamic with the conductor, felt like home.
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<p>Apart from my first two years at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, I have lived my whole life in Bellingham, Washington, a college town surrounded by green hills and snowy mountains on one side and the Puget Sound on the other. Since I was eleven, I've made a point to ride my unicycle down my town's Memorial Day parade route before it starts, a tradition interrupted briefly in high school when I was in the marching band. My summer job is teaching swim lessons, and I have gotten quite good at talking a scared four-year-olds into jumping off the diving board.</p>