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 Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: JJAlbrecht 
Date:   2010-06-21 18:56

OK, here's the story:

last Wednesday, our community band performed in a conert series at a local church. Apparently we had been there before, a number of years ago. The house was packed, and the audience was quite welcoming, enthusiastic and appreciative. Things went pretty well, and the band had one of its better concerts of the season. So far, so good...

Now here's the rub: My daughter (back from her first year of music school) got asked by the director to sit first chair 3rd clarinet, as there were only two others in the section that evening. We had three firsts (one doubling on eefer), four seconds, and (now) three thirds). A pretty decent mix. We also had one bass.

The program wasn't all that difficult, and my daughter breezed through the sight reading of the concert pieces. The other two third players were another story; neither could figure out a piece that relied heavily on the use of 6/4 meter, and neither of them could play more than a measure of a divided third part in an arrangement of the Navy Hymn, "Those in Peril on the Sea." The first and second parts were similarly split, and nobody had difficulties. In fact, if they had asked for help ANY TIME WITHIN THE THREE MONTHS WE HAD BEEN REHEARSING THESE PIECES, someone would probably have been able to offer assistance and interpretation.

So, in a band that is all volunteer, and heavy on retirees, how does one tactfully urge older members with very limited skills to upgrade their playing a little? I really don't want to drive them out of the band, but is it asking too much that they should be able at least to slog through the music? My daughter ended up as the solo third clarinet more often than not. Granted, it necver sounded better, but that's beside the point, isn't it?

Jeff

“Everyone discovers their own way of destroying themselves, and some people choose the clarinet.” Kalman Opperman, 1919-2010

"A drummer is a musician's best friend."


Post Edited (2010-06-21 18:56)

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: GLHopkins 
Date:   2010-06-21 19:12

I suppose it's up to the band director to light the fire under them. I'd certainly make my feelings known to him. Be proud of your daughter.

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: salzo 
Date:   2010-06-21 19:20

Leave the old timers alone.

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: tictactux 2017
Date:   2010-06-21 19:28

Are you doing section rehearsals, i.e. just the clarinets alone? I'd plan some rather early in the season, as soon as the tunes are in the ears and people roughly know how the piece is ticking.

There's little hiding room in a section rehearsal, and before long everyone should realise that there's no way past practicing. On the other hand, not everyone's a gifted sight reader, and not everyone's the "play by ear" type either, and either profits from a more intimate rehearsing session.

--
Ben

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: Bob Phillips 
Date:   2010-06-21 19:35

It seems that being unprepared is NOT part of the community ensemble ethic, and should not be accepted behavior.

When the group has been "preparing" for 3 months, the players should be expected to have their parts down pat.

Perhaps, the more dedicated (and, probably, skilled) players should suggest section rehearsals. Bring all the clarinet players to a rehearsal and woodshed it!

BTW: 3-month preparation periods (12 rehearsals) tend to turn off the more skilled and dedicated participants. There is probably some grumbling about the combination of taking too much time and the casual participants using the rehearsals for practice sessions.

Bob Phillips

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: JJAlbrecht 
Date:   2010-06-21 19:47

A little explanation about the three months:

We have had several concerts between March and last week, with varied peices on the menu for each one. Still, we try to rehearse all the pieces in rotation at least every other week, so they don't drop out of practice.

I don't want to pick on the old folks either, but the band will never get better if mermbers do not take their responsibilities seriously. I am on the younger side of the band myself..I'm just 50! The band is only as good as its weakest players, when it comes to concert times. For a few of the lower end players, i am sure the only practicising they do is during the rehearsals, as I can hear them trying to "woodshed" as quietly as possible when we are not actively playing at a rehearsal. They should be doing that at home IMO.

I will be speaking with our conductor and the section leader Wednesday to see what we can do about this. It has been a chronic issue. Our section is not the only one, but I notice it most because it's where I sit.

Thanks for the replies so far. They are helpful.

Jeff

“Everyone discovers their own way of destroying themselves, and some people choose the clarinet.” Kalman Opperman, 1919-2010

"A drummer is a musician's best friend."


Post Edited (2010-06-21 19:52)

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: Morrigan 
Date:   2010-06-21 20:08

It's a community band - if everyone's there to enjoy themselves, I feel it would be very inappropriate to say anything at all.

If you're looking for a higher standard, you need to find another group.

_______________________________________________
Principal Clarinet, Central Band of the Royal Air Force, London
Masters Student, Royal College of Music, London
https://soundcloud.com/tieraci

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: BobD 
Date:   2010-06-21 20:20

Haha on leaving the Old Timers alone. Interesting that the conductor didn't do something in the 3 months. Obviously you're overqualified Jeff and maybe overly conscientious(lol). If the conductor doesn't meet your expectations just pack up.

Bob Draznik

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: EEBaum 
Date:   2010-06-21 20:56

Uphill battle on Moki Dugway... I'd probably concur with Morrigan. I've played in community groups with some members who'd been in the ensemble for 40 years, couldn't play most of the passages, passages on pieces they'd played 10 times before. There are two kinds I see most often... people who aren't spectacular at the instrument but put in a good effort, and people who just have this assumption that how they play now is as good as they're capable of playing, so they don't try to improve. The former are cool to have a nice chat; it pains me to be in the same room with the latter.

Both types COULD improve to some degree, but with both, in my experience, it's like pulling teeth. So much resistance to playing better, and I only have so many hours in the day, so I usually just plan a graceful exit after the next concert, leave on good terms, and go about finding another group. Or, lately, starting my own.

-Alex
www.mostlydifferent.com

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: JJAlbrecht 
Date:   2010-06-22 01:35

Well, I had a long chat on the phone with our Concertmaster (principal clarinet), and she gave me a little encouragement to keep on keepin' on. She put it in a way that I hadn't thought much about, namely that we are a pretty decent band in our area, even with the occasional problem player. She also pointed out to me that these folks won't be around much longer in any case, so it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense to crush them by coming down on their playing or lack thereof.

Those of us who keep the section going do a pretty decent job, and we tend to overpower the ones who aren't quite up to the task. There are a couple of issues we were in agreement on, including that missing the last two rehearsals before a concert should keep someone from performing in most cases. All in all, we have a decent clarinet section, if the parts get allocated properly, so it was not as big an issue overall as it was for this particular evening, where only two of our six thirds showed up. We knew the rest were not coming, as they had given adequate notice. One was still recovering from surgery....unfortunately, he's the best of the group. Still, life will go on. We will be instituting sectionals for the more difficult pieces next season, so that should help.

Thanks to all who replied!

Jeff

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: graham 
Date:   2010-06-22 09:37

There's a fundamental weakness in putting all strong players on first and all weaker players on third. each part should have one strong player who can then tell if people are struggling and give them help in time for the performance.

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: Bassie 
Date:   2010-06-22 09:57

I think all you can do is sectionals. These can be quite uncomfortable. I find sometimes that the back-row players start thinking their part is unimportant, and that's one reason why they stop working at it. This can, however, be fixed... by highlighting the part.

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: Lelia Loban 2017
Date:   2010-06-22 12:10

graham wrote,
>>There's a fundamental weakness in putting all strong players on first and all weaker players on third. each part should have one strong player who can then tell if people are struggling and give them help in time for the performance.
>>

Good point. I haven't played in a band in decades (my last experiences were in orchestras with a maximum of four clarinets), but I don't remember any band seat jump that awarded seats the way violin sections portion them out. The band directors I read for never gave first, second and third place to first chair, principal second and principal third; then second on first stand in first section, second on first stand in second section; second on first stand in third section and so forth. The directors always awarded band seats in the order graham describes -- the result, invariably, was a third section so weak that some of those people could hardly play their instruments at all.

The band scores exacerbated the problem, because the third clarinet parts tended to be so beginner-easy, so boring, so "oompah, ooompah," that the better players might've quit if required to snooze through playing that stuff. Meanwhile, the worst players, stuck back there in third, had little incentive to practice those deadly dull parts. I think directors could help by re-arranging their sections as graham suggests, but only if they choose music that gives all the musicians something interesting to play. That way, with the worst clarinetists distributed among the last desks in all three sections, if some of them who don't practice or have lost their skills sit there and fake it, the sound of the whole section won't suffer nearly as much.

Lelia
http://www.scoreexchange.com/profiles/Lelia_Loban
To hear the audio, click on the "Scorch Plug-In" box above the score.

Post Edited (2010-06-22 12:17)

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: Hank Lehrer 2017
Date:   2010-06-22 13:17

Jeff,

I have often been the "ringer" that comes in and plays a concert with a community band. Either some key players are on vacation or even just as a section member to strengthen a very weak part of the clarinet section (one director calls me the anchor- I take it as a complement). It's nice to see the youngsters (your daughter) get the same opportunity; please welcome her to the club. Actually, the 3rd clarinet part can be kinda cool with some of the more contemporary band compositions.

But back to the question. Why can't some people, after multiple rehearsals, play their part? Or, more importantly what should the be done by the director and/or section leader?

My initial though is "do these people that are not cutting it" know they are not? If they do, fine as long as they stay out of the way. If these players are blindly stumbling along making obvious mistakes instead, it's time for the director to be heavily engaged in the solution, whatever that will be. Don't saddle the section leader with that task unless that person's authority and responsibility is clearly understood.

Solutions will probably become apparent very quickly.

HRL

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: JJAlbrecht 
Date:   2010-06-22 15:08

Hank, I think most are aware of their inability to play hte part, and just fade out when things get too tough for them. There is one who doesn't seem to realize the issue and keeps on playing, but he is out for the rest of the season with a health issue.

There are a couple of decent players in the section, and the third parts are not all that challenging, but they aren't boring either. I have played third in the group. When my daughter and I began playing with te band five years ago, I told the director I would be happy to sit wherever he felt I would do the most good. I immediately became the principal third. My duaghter has now played first/eefer, second and third in the band, and she has no complaints. She actually enjoyed playing a different part, as it gave her a new perspective overall on the pieces we were playing.

As to the question of seating, for the most part, we are free to gravitate to whatever section we feel comfortable in, with a few eceptions. The fdirector does make sure there is at least one strong player in each part, so that the parts will carry properly. The top two thirds are decent, but were nt available to perform at the last concert.

As others have mentioned, we don't realy want to crowd out the folks who are there playing for enjoyment, as it is a community group. Most of us do want to perform at our best, and that's the issue where it becomes difficult. More sectionals might be the best solution.

Hank made an interesting point about btringing in a "ringer." We are considering that in a smaller subgroup that plays paid gigs, as we need to get a decent drummer. We don't earn money ourselves from the performances; all the income goes to scholarships for promising kids in the local schools to attend summer music camps. This all makes for an interesting life, if nothing else.

Jeff

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: Hank Lehrer 2017
Date:   2010-06-22 15:20

Hi Jeff,

Yeah, I enjoy the role of "ringer" or as my wife says "hired gun." I sometimes get one rehearsal so it's nice to meet the others and schmooze a little. They know what's up but I act like I've been there forever; it's fun and I meet some nice people.

One in a while I might be principal clarinet or alto sax. But that's usually when there are some solo spots that need covering. However, 2nd clarinet is a tough book for a weak player (the break, in octave with the 1st clarinets so the intonation is critical, and often a completely different melodic line).

I've done lots of pro bono gigs like the one where you need a drummer. While it is best that you find a permanent player since you can't "go to the well too often" I would rather play for a good cause than not play at all. It's all in the balance.

HRL

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: Merlin_Williams 
Date:   2010-06-22 15:57

The community band I've been playing with has tried to spread around the parts to even out the abilities of the section.

Problem is that the strongest players are nominally the firsts. So, when parts get moved around, all of a sudden the three strongest players are now playing second or third, and the balance still suffers.

I played in a community group through my HS years that had the four strongest players rotate on first, second, third and bass. These parts were always covered well, and that gave the section players a good model to follow.

Fortunately, the band owned a nice bass that was shared around the players to enable that.

I could see making that type of thing work even with just taking the three strongest players and rotating them on 1, 2 & 3.

The other issue with the band I'm currently in is that the section seating doesn't change when the parts rotate, so the first clarinet can be sitting quite some distance from the oboe and first flute. Not good.

Jupiter Canada Artist/Clinician
Stratford Shakespeare Festival musician
Woodwind Doubling Channel Creator on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/c/WoodwindDoubling

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 Re: Dealing with unprepared sectionmates
Author: tictactux 2017
Date:   2010-06-22 19:29

JJAlbrecht wrote:

> We don't earn money ourselves from the performances; all the income
> goes to scholarships for promising kids in the local schools to attend
> summer music camps. This all makes for an interesting life, if nothing else.

Yes. And congratulations for persisting with the band, and putting a common cause over individual satisfaction. (I don't mean to say these two must be mutually exclusive).

--
Ben

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