Updated: Oct 28, 2019
By Roger Mason
After symphony concerts audience members are often interested in what symphony musicians do and how they prepare for concerts. Here are ten, frequently asked questions about symphony musicians.
Do You Practice?
I practice a minimum of an hour a day, six days a week. The orchestra is not my
full-time job. Musicians in orchestras like the LA Philharmonic practice many hours a day. Practicing comes in two forms. The first is maintaining essential skills. Musicians are just like athletes who must exercise their muscles every day. Playing an instrument involves developing and maintaining muscle memories. This never stops. When I go on vacation, I take my trumpet, a practice mute, and I practice in my hotel room. The second type of practicing is specific to the pieces in your next concert. Each piece has unique demands. The musician must practice ensuring they can correctly play the part and interpret it as directed by the conductor.
Do You Get Nervous?
The only time I get nervous is if I have not prepared my part. When you are seated in the orchestra, the stage lights are too bright to permit seeing the audience. Also, you are mentally focused on your playing, so you do not have time to feel nervous.
How Does the Orchestra Prepare for Concert?
Preparations come in two forms: individual practicing and playing as a group. Everyone must know their part, but that is just the start. We practice as a group to blend each part into the piece of music we will perform.
What Happens During the Rehearsal?
The conductor leads the orchestra through difficult parts. These parts are repeated over and over so they will flow smoothly during the concert. The conductor shares how the musicians should interpret the music. This means how they play the notes to achieve a musical effect.
During the Concert How Do You Keep Track of Where You Are at?
This depends on the instrument. The strings play most of the time, so they usually know where they are at. The winds, brass, and percussion often must wait for the place in the music where they play. These musicians count the strings of resting measures while they are waiting. Another approach is repeatedly listening to recordings, so you are familiar where you are supposed to come in. Most musicians do both.
What Is the Most Important Instrument in the Orchestra?
The most important instrument is the one with the leading voice at any moment in the piece. A good example is a famous melody in a symphony. The violins may have the melody and the woodwinds may be playing an accompaniment. In that case, the most important instrument is the one playing the melody. You must learn when you should play out to lead the sound and when you must hold back to support what is happening.
Do You Watch the Conductor or Your Music?
You must do both. An experienced musician can watch their music, play their instrument, and keep track of the conductor’s director’s beats and cues.
What is the Hardest Music to Play?
There are several challenges when playing symphony orchestra music. The first challenge is a part that is technically difficult for your instrument. Some classical music can be very demanding. The second challenge is playing with other instruments outside your section. It is often difficult to coordinate and blend your sound with the other musicians.
Is it Easier to Play Louder or Softer?
I think for most musicians softer is always harder because it takes more finesse.
What is Your Favorite Music?
I do not have a favorite type of classical music. I enjoy pieces that use different instruments in interesting combinations and provides the opportunity to demonstrate what my instrument can do.
I hope these questions help to explain how a group like the Moorpark Symphony Orchestra prepares and performs great music.