“Double bassist Nina DeCesare is making history as the Oregon Symphony’s first female bass player. After beginning her path to a professional musician at age 8 on a quarter-size bass, DeCesare went on to study with Paul Ellison at Rice University and with François Rabbath in Paris. She represented Rice’s Shepherd School of Music with a solo at the Kennedy Center in 2014 and won her seat with the Oregon Symphony later that same year. Her hands are exactly the right size to play the bass, and no, she does not need help carrying such a big instrument.”
There has been a lively discussion on the issue of stage deportment of musicians in orchestras that has been simmering at the email list of ICSOM (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians).
One of the best replies came from James Orleans, a double bassist with the Boston Symphony and a faculty member at the New England Conservatory.
Let me know what you think, both as a performing musician and as a concert goer in the comments section below.
Here is the complete response of James:
Karen – Thank you for mentioning the elephant in the room.
“I would like to respectfully suggest that we re-evaluate how we present ourselves onstage for what I’ve heard colleagues describe as “shit concerts”. If a couple thousand kids are bussed in and see bored musicians in rumpled “casual” dress they will not be compelled to follow in our footsteps or follow us to another concert.”
Indeed, how do we expect youngsters to develop an interest in, or be thrilled by something, that does not look like it is at all interesting or thrilling to the participants?
“We need to look and act like professional musicians whenever we’re on stage.”
I, too, have seen much unprofessional stage behavior from symphony musicians; magazine reading and iphones being used by back row players, players turned to each other in conversation while the conductor is speaking to the kids or while another section is playing an example.
American orchestra musicians should re-evaluate how we present ourselves onstage to all our audiences, not just young audiences.
We often act as though there is no one watching us; fail to realize that we are on stage. The odds are quite good that out of 1000 or more people there is a set of eyes directly on each one of us throughout the concert.
The comparison with the stage actor has often occurred to me. Imagine if an actor in a play displayed his boredom with the lines he had to speak every night, and chose to deliver them, on the nights he just wasn’t “feeling inspired”, dragging himself from blocking to blocking, or with obvious weariness, or dis-involvement showing on his face. He would be booed off the stage. Further work for him would be jeopardized. Theater actors do 8 shows a week! They suck up their weariness, their disdain for the lines (or for the director), their physical pains, etc. and put themselves into character. We could embrace a bit of that in our own stage deportment philosophy. It is one thing we can do to help retain audiences that would not cost us a single thing artistically.
Yes, acknowledging applause. We have received letters from audience members who ask why they are applauding a group of performers who look like they couldn’t care less about what just happened. How do we expect to entice first time attendees back for more if that is what they come away with?
In this time when audiences are not growing, indeed dwindling, we need to find more ways to compel them to keep coming, and give new listeners a reason to come back. Revitalizing our stage presence–exhibiting more engagement– is, I think, critical if we want to see a healthy future for this amazing art form.
I’ve always wondered why conductors do (or don’t do) certain things that seem either idiotic or genius-y in the heat of the moment. Then I read this paragraph in Michael Hovnanian’s blog – I think he’s hit the nail on the head:
The problem with making conductorial convulsions the source of all musical inspiration is that they are often vague. The other night, my stand partner asked what I thought about the Maestro ‘glaring’ at us during a certain passage. I thought he had been smiling at that point, and so had aimed my toothiest grin back in the direction of the podium. Needles [sic] to say, after the performance I departed the concert hall more quickly than usual, just in case. Paradoxically, much of a conductor’s strength comes from that vagueness, in that it binds the musicians more closely to him – the source of confusion simultaneously its only solution.