Close this search box.

Proper Etiquette in the Flute World

Regina Helcher Yost | January 2018

    A few years ago, Richie Hawley (professor of clarinet, Rice University) posted a list he titled, “Miss Manners, Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior/Orchestral Edition” on Facebook that he had once distributed at a clarinet masterclass. It was a wonderful document that I immediately gave to all of my university students. Upon questioning several of my colleagues about whether their professors had shared this knowledge with them as a student, all of them unequivocally answered no. 
    Many professors teach their students the refinements of how to perform orchestral excerpts well, but fail to mention other factors that are so important at both auditions and when performing in an orchestra. The following are my suggestions on this topic as well as etiquette rules that apply to teaching and freelance work. Most of these suggestions are also valuable while students are still in school. It is never too soon to establish a positive reputation for yourself as someone who is a pleasure to work with.

    Taking auditions can be an emotionally and daunting task, as well as an expensive one, so it is important to always put your best foot forward.  
    1.    Many auditions require you to wait in a big warm up room with lots of other candidates before receiving a private room immediately preceding your audition. Don’t be the person bragging to everyone in the room a list of your latest accomplishments. Conversely don’t express any negative thoughts about your playing that you may be experiencing. Besides affecting how others perceive you, it will increase your anxiety and can hurt your performance. Instead concentrate your energies on the task that is at hand. 
    2.    Have good hygiene and do not wear perfume. The first two rounds of an audition are screened but that does not mean they cannot smell you. Orchestras have strict rules concerning no extraneous scents on stage because different smells can cause a distraction or discomfort to the other performers. Show them you will fit in by following this rule now. 
    3.    Don’t complain about the temperature of the warm up rooms or the hall. Sometimes auditions are held in rented spaces, and the orchestra has no control over the temperature. Show that you are a team player and not a constant complainer. 
    4.    Don’t try to psyche out other auditioners by playing other excerpts that are not included on the audition list in the warm up room.  
    5.    Dress nicely for the finals. With the screen now down, this is the committee’s first impression of you. This is a special occasion. You might win a job today. Dress for success. 
    6.    Always congratulate the winner. This shows true professionalism. Do not stomp away mad or slam doors because you were not selected. Instead ask the committee if you can receive comments about your audition. Stay positive and learn from your experience. Also, remember that the music world is a small one. Your fellow auditioners and committe members may be colleagues some day. Leave them with a positive impression of you.
Orchestra Etiquette   
    Once you have won an orchestral audition, make sure you keep the job and work well with other members of the ensemble. 
    1. Be ultra-prepared for the first rehearsal (and every rehearsal and concert thereafter). Arrive 30 minutes early to set up. Time is money, and orchestras play lots of concerts with few rehearsals. This is no longer college where you have a month of rehearsals until you perform one concert. Practice the music, study scores, and listen to recordings. You should always be as prepared as if you were about to play a concert with no rehearsals. Most orchestras will also deduct a set amount of money from your paycheck if you arrive late. 
    2. Always have a pencil. You will use it at every rehearsal. 
    3. Do not turn around to watch someone who is performing a solo. Even if you mean it as a compliment, this is seen as a negative. 
    4. Do not tap your feet. This can be distracting to others and seen as unprofessional. The same goes for moving around or conducting from your seat. You are not the conductor; the person standing on the podium is. 
    5. Do not cross your legs. 
    6. Never warm up practicing someone else’s solos. Be considerate. Put yourself in their shoes. 
    7. If you are going to wear earplugs, kindly tell the rest of your section. Otherwise colleagues could possibly view this as a negative opinion you have toward their playing. 
    8. Always let the principal of the section tune first. Do not talk or play other music when the orchestra is tuning. 
    9. For difficult page turns, have extra pages copied and ready at the first rehearsal. 
    10. Warm up loud piccolo passages offstage. Be considerate and inform colleagues sitting close to you where the loud, high piccolo passages will occur during a piece of music. This will help them know when to wear their earplugs. Also, do not complain if someone requests a sound shield. It is important for musicians to safeguard their hearing. 
    11. Do not bring food or coffee onstage. Normally the only liquid allowed is water. 
    12. Always turn the sound of your phone off for rehearsals and concerts. Try to refrain from texting during a rehearsal. Some orchestras have had such a problem with this that phones are never allowed onstage. Never answer your phone during a rehearsal. 
    13. Ask others how your conductor feels about reading books, magazines or your phone during rehearsals when you are tacet from movements. Some conductors are really opposed to this  during rehearsals while others do not mind. 
    14. Do not ask the conductor a lot of questions during rehearsals. Make a note of your questions and ask during break. Otherwise you are wasting valuable rehearsal time. Your colleagues might also make fun of you for this behavior. 
    15. If a colleague makes a mistake, do not shuffle your feet as a joke. I can guarantee that your colleagues will find it annoying. 
    16. Look through the instrumentation list of the upcoming season and make sure all auxiliary instruments (piccolo, alto flute) are in perfect working condition before the season starts 
    17. Do not block a colleague’s line of vision. 
    18. Do not loudly turn pages during someone else’s solo or during soft orchestral passages. 
    19. Avoid going to the bathroom during a rehearsal. Wait until a break. 
    20. Never talk back to a conductor. If a conductor asks you to play something differently, simply say, yes and nod your head. It is your job to make the proper adjustments. Also, always watch the conductor. 
    21. Always adhere to the concert dress code rules of the orchestra and dress nicely. Black jeans are not considered appropriate concert attire. Some orchestras, after giving you a warning, will impose a monetary fine for not following dress code rules. 
Substitute Musicians in Orchestras   
    As a substitute musician, the first important rule of thumb is gratitude. Don’t complain if you are not being given the parts you want or are not always being hired. Most orchestras have long lists of substitute musicians and have thought through their pecking order of substitutes carefully. If you do not want to play the piccolo or are not a strong piccolo player, expect to be hired less. Normally a sub in a flute section will be called upon to play some piccolo. 
    If you are new in town, send your resume to the principal flutist of the orchestra. Next, set up a private lesson with them as well. Ask if there is a possibility of being added to the substitute list. Do not expect to be automatically placed on the top of their list no matter how good a player you may be. Many orchestras have loyalty toward musicians who are already high on the list.  
    As a substitute player, do not play orchestral excerpts on stage as a warm up in order to show off your skills. Warm up respectfully and only on the music you will be playing with that orchestra. 
    Every musician has a different style of playing. Your job as a substitute is to fit in as perfectly as possible. Don’t use a lot of vibrato if the rest of the section is not doing so. The same goes for volume. Don’t play louder than the rest. Also, do not move around a lot while playing in order to look expressive. You are not the leader, you are the substitute. 
Teaching Etiquette   
    Proper teaching etiquette is an important aspect of music, both for the success of the teacher and for setting a good example for students. 
    1. Talking negatively about other flute teachers in town to students or band directors in order to grow your studio is a bad idea Word travels fast, and the other flute teachers will find out. Plus, this sets a bad example to your students.  
    2. Do not eat or answer phone calls or texts during lessons. A student is paying for your undivided attention. Also, do not show up late or miss lessons without advance notice.
    3. If a student is studying with another private flute teacher and has expressed interested in studying with you instead, contact their teacher and speak with them about it. Normally the teacher will give their blessing and thank you for the call. This eliminates any chance of you being called a student stealer and builds good relationships in the flute community.

    Following these guidelines should help you on your path to a successful and joyful music career for many years to come.