Ensemble Etiquette

This spring marks the first time I’m really playing in an ensemble, a double-reed ensemble comprised of three oboes, english horn, and bassoon.  We are all artists of varying degree, with my being the least experienced.  So, I was curious about “operating procedures” or etiquette for ensembles, and poked around the interwebs for some commentary.  Below are excepts of some articles I found relevant:

  • Come having thoroughly practiced your music. Nothing is more frustrating to conductors than to waste time rehearsing passages that the orchestra members didn’t practice ahead of time.
  • Before you head to rehearsal, double check that you have your music, instrument, bow, rosin, reeds, and any necessary accessories. Be sure to note whether or not you need to bring your own stand to rehearsal or you’ll be scrambling without one.
  • Bring a pencil. This one gets its own paragraph. Attending rehearsal without a pencil is like sitting through a university lecture without a taking notes. Even if you think you’ll be able to remember every direction the conductor gives, every dynamic change, every cut, and every ritardando, really, you probably won’t. Keep a couple pencils in your instrument case so they’re always on hand.
  • Don’t under- or over-mark the music. Certainly write down bowings and musical directions as instructed. But don’t ruin the sheet music by circling every last key change, accidental, and dynamic marking until your music is black with pencil. And if you’re sharing a stand, especially avoid slathering the music with your personal notes and fingerings; it’s unprofessional.
  • If you’re sharing a stand, the inside player (or player further from the edge of the stage) turns the pages.
  • Be courteous to your colleagues. Position yourself so both you and your stand partner have enough arm and leg room and can see the music comfortably.
  • Don’t tune loudly. Tune as softly as possible so the players around you can hear themselves as well as the tuning A.
  • Leave your arrogance at home. Members of the orchestra are all equal; everyone is contributing. Don’t gloat if you have a solo, and don’t bust out personal solo concertos and performances pieces just to show off. Everyone will be more annoyed than impressed. Also, don’t practice another orchestra member’s solo to demonstrate that you can play it better.
  • Lastly, enjoy the music! Don’t take rehearsal so seriously that you lose your connection with the piece or with your instrument. Playing music in an ensemble is a real treat; don’t forget that you’re taking part in a meaningful cultural tradition that will edify your audience.      ~Cincinnati Metropolitan Orchestra Rehearsal Etiquette
  • Learn to accept criticism. Don’t take things personally – just because someone is telling you to do something different it doesn’t mean your way is invalid or that you are less of a human being. Learn to detach your ego – although we all need a strong ego and lots of self-confidence to be musicians, too much can be detrimental to group music-making.  Some people are just plain rude. Like any large group of people, ensembles have their share of bullies. Don’t let these people get to you and don’t feed their need for attention by attacking them back and provoking them. Focus even harder on playing better than your best – in the end that will cancel the effects of the negative energy generated by these “nay-sayers” that unfortunately pervade all walks of life.
  • playing in a professional musical group is almost as much interpersonal dynamics as it is musical ability.
  • Learn to give criticism. remember that Golden Rule: “critique others the way you would want to be criticized.” Be respectful and courteous, and especially know whom you are talking to. We can usually be a bit more frank with people that we’ve worked with over a long period of time than with strangers. Less is more. Try to use interrogatives and not imperatives when talking to people: “would you do this?” instead of “do this!”
  • Don’t show off. Some people show off verbally – constantly talking about how they did this and that, whom they played with before, etc. Others do it when they play, especially when warming up.
  • There are times when it’s best to turn the other cheek with colleagues, but sadly in large groups there are occasionally times when abusive situations call for action. Things like sexual harassment or repeated abuse can occur, and most groups have grievance procedures or policies to deal with them.
  • Above all, be a “team player”. This is not some gobbledygook badly borrowed from sports or business jargon. Be part of a team. You are there to serve the music, not your own ego. Balance, blend, intonation – listen all the time. Don’t think to yourself “this is how it’s done” and then paste it all over everybody. ~Ensemble Etiquette, Group Dynamics and Music, Dennis Yao
  • No scents. Ever.  rehearsals and performances should be scent-free zones. This doesn’t mean we allow body odor though! So use that unscented deoderant, but refrain from colognes and perfumes.
  • Regarding intonation: It is more important to be in tune with your colleagues than to be in tune with your tuner. If 60 people are playing A-442 and you are playing your perfect A-440, YOU are wrong. If you are the principal oboe player and you are frustrated about intonation, talk to the concertmaster and work something out.
  • Having a good attitude can get you through a lot of rough times.
  • Remember that while we strive to be “perfect” our true goal should be to make great music. No one is going to shoot you if you make a mistake!  ~OboeInsight Musician’s Etiquette by Patricia Mitchell
  • Avoid distractions to other players.  Internalize the beat rather than bouncing the flute to the beat or tapping the foot audibly, to minimize distractions to others.  Tapping the big toe silently inside the shoe helps keep the beat and cannot be heard or seen by other players.  In addition, strongly scented colognes and aftershaves should not be worn while playing in ensembles.
  • Be conscientious and learn your music.  During practice at home, make note of all key signature changes by marking reminder accidentals as needed to minimize playing wrong notes.  Carefully work out notes and rhythms, and mark difficult sections in the music needing extra practice time.  Allow extra individual practice time to master the difficult sections.
  • Be positive and encouraging to other members of your section and work as a team. ~Musical Etiquette, Phyllis Louke

Most of these commentaries are indeed common-sense, or at least they should be.  The most things I’ve seen mentioned deal with interpersonal skills and interactions, from not wearing cologne that others might be allergic to, to simply being nice.  These are all interesting reading, and pause for consideration. One last excerpt comes from Richie Hawley, former Principal Clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony, which can also apply to ensembles:


  1. Do not turn around and look at the people behind you while they are playing.
  2. Keep perfume and cologne to a minimum – many will appreciate none at all.
  3. Do not tap your foot or conduct along.
  4. Always help your colleagues count rests. (This is more complicated if you dont speak english)
  5. Do not tap/applaud/shuffle for every solo that section colleague plays. Save it for when it really means something or better yet… stay still and just give them your positive words afterwards.
  6. Do not tell someone he/she sounds good if he/she does not deserve the praise.
  7. Never complain about your reeds. (they might sound better than they feel)
  8. Do not cross you legs on stage in a concert.
  9. Swab out discreetly and not if the person next to you is playing a solo.
  10. Practice only your own parts… never play passages from another’s page or excerpts from different music.
  11. Be aware and sensitive to others’ lines of sight to the conductor.
  12. Leave your seat immediately when switching pieces or seats… swab out and pack up later. The next players want to play a few notes before tuning!
  13. Do not yawn or “buzz” your lips audibly if you are tired.
  14. When a conductor speaks to you, always acknowledge by making direct eye contact and possibly a nod “yes.” (this one became problematic as several students in my studio at CCM really enjoyed vigorous nodding with very loud “YES-MAESTRO” proclamations)
  15. Never ask questions about notes/rhythm during rehearsal – this wastes valuable rehearsal time. Check score during breaks or after rehearsal.
  16. Your pencil is your best friend…. Do not make the same mistake twice because you “forgot.”
  17. Write in cues before the first rehearsal… and after the second rehearsal…and after the third rehearsal
  18. Remember that every time you are in public, an impression is made, good or bad… This applies both to the music you play and the statements you make to your colleagues.
  19. Avoid nervous repetitive actions: Looking at reed, adjusting seat/stand, instrument adjustments.
  20. Do not turn a page during silence.
  21. At the end of a piece, do not finish playing and fling the clarinet out of your mouth before the conductor has concluded.
  22. Your non-musical accessories (phone, keys, etc.) belong in your case/purse/briefcase, not on the shelf of your stand waiting to tip over and clatter to the floor.
  23. Show up early to rehearsal to get your instruments together, reeds chosen and instrument warmed up to pitch at least 10 minutes before the “A” is given.
  24. Be direct and friendly about fixing pitches or rhythm. Do not be manipulative about your words.
  25. The only conversations should be about issues regarding the music and only at the appropriate times.
  26. Have good hygiene, keep your shoes on, wear appropriate clothing, etc.
  27. Do not pack up before the end of rehearsal…. you still might have more to play.
  28. Always double check rehearsal/performance times and locations.
  29. Never sight read in rehearsal. Prepare your part in advance

My Reed-making Space

I live in a small studio, so I can’t have a typical practice area-reeds area space.  To partially solve this, what I did was to go to the local Walmart and purchase a small folding table and chair.  It is

more than sufficient to be home for all of my essential reed-making tools while out of the tackle box, has room enough for my magnifying lamp, and also provides me a view of the outdoors!  You can see my Reeds’nStuff double-hollow knife, Howarth reed case, and my Ando knife and burnishing rod sheathed.

Currently, my reed-making level is to purchase shaped cane from dealers and go from Photo Apr 14, 2 02 31 PMthere; tie my own reeds and shape, shape, shape!  I’m working with Mack-Pfeiffer shaped  cane at the moment, as I’m experimenting with no.3 staples.  The Mack-Pfeiffer is a wider shape versus the Rigotti that I was using previously, and ties better to the tube. Our local CCM teacher Dr. Mark Ostoich, developed a special no.3 staple – the Ostoich staple –  in conjunction with Chiarugi and Double or Nothing Reeds.

All of which is a heck of alot more than I could do a few months ago ~ I’ve managed to be able to get the reed to peep, and then I work on them with my teacher.  Eventually, I plan on getting a shaper tip and handle and go to the next logical level of making them.  I am uncertain if I will ever get to making reeds from purely raw cane… but who knows.  On the opposite side of thinking, Legere could come out with an amazing American scrape synthetic reed, and I’ll never have to make another reed!  Below are my two main knives, the Reeds’nStuff DHG Herder knife and the Ando chisel knife:

Photo Apr 16, 5 42 32 PM

I use the Ando knife for most of the reed “body” and heavy-duty work, and the Herder knife for finessing the tip of the reed.  Biggest problem for me right now?  SHARP KNIVES!


Oboe Method Books

I thought I might share the method books that I am using for my learning process.  Most are I am assuming pretty well-known:

Rubank Elementary Oboe Method by Hovey – the first book I started with, teaches the basics…

Rubank Intermediate Oboe Method by Skornicka and Koebner – currently using…

Foundations for Superior Performance: Warm-ups and Technique for Band by Williams and King…

Studies and Melodious Etudes for Oboe, Level I by Edlefsen – a really great book full of
some really fun and challenging stuff to play.  One of my favorites…

Pares Scales for Oboe by Pares…  broken down by scale, a good practice method book…

40 Rhythmical Studies for Oboe by Yaus – just starting to use….

One thing that I’ve begun to do is to create a compendium of methodology – I purchased a music-sized loose-leaf binder and sleeve pages, and have put together sections of music to work on, firstly by scales.  As I find something of interest I wish to keep long-term, I will add it to my Method repertoire.

A couple of other books I have but have not used much or at all yet include:

48 Studies for Oboe by Ferling…

Practical and Progressive Oboe Method by Andraud… includes reed-making

Barret Oboe Method by Boosey & Hawkes… the definitive guide

Oboe Camp 2017

After mulling over study opportunities this summer, including being accepted as a volunteer for IDRS 2017 and considering going back to YSU for the Oboe Week, I’ve decided to attend the 2017 Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon Camp.  Organized by Double or Nothing Reeds, it will be held for a week in July at Wright State University.  Dr. Melissa Feilhauer, part of Double or Nothing, was my first Oboe teacher, so that will make it more fun!  I’m also particularly interested in the prospect of attending Wight State’s School of Music, and their Oboe teacher will be participating in the Camp.  I’m going to be a day camper, so no boarding of my kiddies and extra expenses, which actually was prohibitive for me to attend IDRS.  It should be lots of fun!  I’ll be sure to post a review of the Camp as the days unfold.

Last year, I attended a week-long in-resident camp at Youngstown State University called the Midwest Oboe Camp.  It was an amazing experience, playing all day long, most days until 10pm, working with others for the first time in a chamber group, and getting personal instruction from Dr. Mark Ostoich of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music.  I think it’s good practice to see others perform and work with other teachers, so I’m happy with my change in camps this year.

Legere Synthetic Oboe Reed – American

Coming soon!  I checked in with Legere Reeds Ltd. of Canada the other day to discover what the latest is on their synthetic oboe reed with the American scrape – they released a logoEuropean scrape last year – and they advised that it will be coming soon, like this year!  Last year, they were challenged in developing a double reed and this one in particular,  as it is a longer scrape than the Euro:

These reeds are manufactured in an entirely different way compared to the singles so while we were able to make them in the past, we could never do so in a way that was actually profitable. These developments were almost entirely ironed out by the time we released the oboe reed in June but there has still been a lot of work in making sure reeds are completely reproducible….(but) the foundation has been built for easy American Scrape development.

Today, Legere updated me about the American scrape reed through Messenger:

lot’s of progress! We are in testing and fine tuning right now. We could reasonably release the reed today with no other changes, but there are still improvements we’d like to make. It will almost certainly be announced in the summer, but there should be some prototype images published soon!

Legere also committed to send me a prototype for testing and review right here on Sacred Oboe!  It will be quite exciting to get this new reed and try it out.

The Next Big Move

What do I really want for myself right now?  More than anything, I would love to finish my college degree that I started over thirty years ago.  And, also more than anything, I would love to receive a Bachelor’s in Instrumental Performance.  Not because I have any wild expectation of joining a symphony – well, I’d like to play in a Community one – but simply because it means a lot to me.  It’s what I want to do for myself at this point in my life.

But there are many hurdles, the primary one being financial.  In order to be successful, I’d like to be able to start back full-time, to be able to take advantage of all the chamber groups and other performances that would be available and also required.  To be able to practice in a distraction-free environment daily, to be able to make reeds successfully and more expeditiously.  To be back on a campus and really enjoying college life and getting everything out of it that I can.  This is what I most desire.  But how to make it happen.  That is where I am presently stuck.

Along with being stuck in trying to problem-solve this issue, is the negative effect it has in trying to remain positive about all of it.  And that seriously impacts my practicing and reed-making, and other things associated with playing and learning.  It’s something that I really cannot seem to figure out right now, which makes me a bit anxious as well.  I would love to just be able to enroll at either NKU or YSU in their Music Program, attend full-time, and devote all of myself to my music.  And I think – know – I would do great if given the opportunity.  Yes, I’m  54, but so what… I can do this… just need the ability to.  Comments, suggestions?  Scholarships or grants?

Dayton New Horizons Band

Me warming up this past Thursday before practice with the Dayton New Horizons Band.  Sadly, my first season will be ending on April 29th, our Concert Day.

This past week, five of us began a new journey of playing as a Double-Reed Chamber group; three Oboes, English Horn, and Bassoon.  This is my first real experience in playing with a small group; while I did at YSU’s Oboe Week last year, it’s a bit of a different environment in our Band, getting together after practice.  Hopefully, we’ll continue playing together beyond the end of the Band season.