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Playing along - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
Playing along
I have a bit of a dilemma. It's a bit of a long rambly explanation, sorry.

At the beginning of this term I was asked if I'd like to play violin in Hertford College Orchestra, who would be playing Wagner's Siegfried-Idyll, Haydn's Surprise Symphony, and Britten's Simple Symphony. The rehearsal dates/times were all given in the invitation, and the organisers said clearly and firmly that a very high attendance at rehearsals was expected. They asked for replies of either "Yes, I would like to play", "no, but keep me on the mailing list", or "no, and please take me off the mailing list". All well and good: clear, informative, no-nonsense. So I emailed them and said that I was delighted to be asked, that it sounded like an excellent programme, but I knew for a fact that there were 2 dates on the rehearsal schedule that I wouldn't be able to do; so if that was acceptable, then could they please count me in, but if not, then regrets and apologies and all that, but could they please keep me on the mailing list. They emailed to say that missing those two dates wasn't a problem, and that I would be welcome to join the orchestra. So I did.

So, as I saw it, I'd been upfront about my availability, and they'd responded to that by being reasonable and flexible about it: all fine. Unfortunately it looks like they've been far too flexible all round: attendance at all the rehearsals I've been to has been fairly bad, and if they are trying to do something about it, it's not having any effect. It's exams term, which is never a good time to try to organise something that requires lots of people to make a regular time commitment, and I thoroughly sympathise with them on that front; but badly-attended rehearsals are miserable. It's less rewarding for conductor and orchestra (it's hard to play something convincingly or get a feel for the piece when half the parts are missing), and it's rarely productive: any wrinkles which are ironed out in the rehearsal are likely to have to be fixed again in the next rehearsal when loads of people turn up who weren't there last time; at worst, things go wrong in the performance for the same reason. And worst of all, anybody with any experience of any sort of musical ensemble knows this, and is demoralised by it, and/or annoyed that other people aren't pulling their weight. All in all, a fairly miserable atmosphere in which to try to make music.

So I had my two weeks away from this, as arranged, due to prior engagements, and went back yesterday to a rehearsal in the church where the concert will be. (The concert is on June 7th.) Guess how many people were at that rehearsal? Nine. That's not an orchestra, it's a slightly overcrowded string quartet. It was the most joyless rehearsal I've been to in ages; conductors were obviously annoyed and stressed, players little better. It's amusingly ironic the first time being referred to as "second violins" when there's only one of you; it's getting a bit wearing by the hundredth time. (It's also annoying being glared at every time somebody else makes a mistake just because that somebody is the leader, and therefore above suspicion, though you'd think that sort of thing would be less likely to happen if only 3 people are playing at the time.) And being asked to play difficult passages solo -- just because you're the only person in your section, I mean -- is just stressful for everybody: yes, an orchestra is only as good as its weakest player and everybody should be able to play their part competently and confidently whether solo or as part of the ensemble; but honestly, I (and I suspect many of the others) didn't join an orchestra in order to get the chance to play solo in front of a hostile audience.

Anyway. The point is I'm not enjoying it at all; I don't think anybody else is enjoying it either; and the music sounds appalling because there just isn't enough sound there -- honestly, even Haydn doesn't sound convincing with only a dozen people, and Wagner is just out of the question. Okay, maybe if you had a dozen members of the LSO you could carry it off; but, really, it's not like that.

So my instinct is to say "This is not doing me or anybody else any good" and resign now, with 2 rehearsals to go before the concert. HOWEVER: having missed two rehearsals I feel like I have no moral high-ground from which to complain about poor attendance, and it would be hypocritical to cite that as a reason for wanting to give up. (But I did warn them before even joining, and they could quite reasonably have said "no, sorry, not good enough" when I did so; but they may not have been confident enough to say that to a Grown-Up; but that's not my fault!) And if I resign, they will be even worse off than they are now, and I'd feel like I was letting them down. (But that may be a good thing in a way, as it might either make them make more effort to round up their fellow students or push them into cutting their losses and saving everybody a lot of stress and disappointment -- a rubbish concert isn't going to benefit anybody, really.) ALSO I worry that my judgement is being coloured by the fact that I am fairly busy at the moment and honestly, there are more interesting things that I could be doing with my time. But half of my irritation with the bad attendance is that lots of people have made a commitment and then not made good on that, and if I do the same, I'm Part Of The Problem (but at least I'd be telling them openly rather than just Not Turning Up). And ye-es, I could just claim that I had to stop because of work commitments and duck the issue altogether, because as a Grown-Up I have that get-out-of-jail-free card, but that really wouldn't be right.

And if I don't do something soon it really will be too last-minute to drop out; but I fear it's already too late to turn this into a good performance, which paradoxically may mean it's already too late to drop out and the only option now is to grit my teeth and live with the fact that we're going to have another 6 hours or so of miserable rehearsal and then look a bit stupid in public for a couple of hours (but hey, it's not my friends and classmates who'll be watching), and maybe that will make people realise why it's important to turn up to rehearsals.

ALSO (meta-angst) I feel like I'm being so bloody pompous in trying to ascribe so much moral weight to something which is so trivial in the grand scheme of things, but I do think of things in these terms, and even trivial choices are still choices. I blame the Chalet School for this attitude, incidentally.

So, er, your advice and thoughts welcomed...

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Comments
taimatsu From: taimatsu Date: May 20th, 2008 11:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
If I were in your shoes, I think I'd be at the point of looking much more at my own self-interest than anything else. If it's a big pile of stress and no fun, I haven't done anything wrong and other people's screwups are causing me enormous hassle and irritation, I think that's when I'd look at backing out. Life is not, after all, excessively long.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 21st, 2008 08:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Life is not, after all, excessively long.

But I already knew that when I agreed to play in the orchestra. A commitment that says "well I'll do this but only if it's fun and doesn't cause me any trouble" isn't really much of a commitment, is it?
nou From: nou Date: May 21st, 2008 12:22 am (UTC) (Link)
HOWEVER: having missed two rehearsals I feel like I have no moral high-ground from which to complain about poor attendance, and it would be hypocritical to cite that as a reason for wanting to give up.

But you haven't missed two rehearsals — you've done everything you agreed to do.

But that may be a good thing in a way, as it might either make them make more effort to round up their fellow students or push them into cutting their losses and saving everybody a lot of stress and disappointment -- a rubbish concert isn't going to benefit anybody, really.

Yes, this. Really, really, really, this.
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: May 21st, 2008 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)
What she said. You committed to a specific set of circumstances and you have fulfilled your commitment precisely. Excusing yourself for other commitments is not the same as not turning up because you didn't feel like it.

Choir is the same way, alas. We can scrape a decent performance together with those who do attend all or most rehearsals, but only by physically gagging those who turn up only for the performances (drama queens one and all, afflicted with a major case of front-row-itis, too).
j4 From: j4 Date: May 21st, 2008 08:07 am (UTC) (Link)
But you haven't missed two rehearsals — you've done everything you agreed to do.

But, I mean, for all I know, the other non-attendees also agreed beforehand that they would miss those specific rehearsals. My suspicion that this isn't in fact the case is based more on knowing-what-being-a-student-was-like than on anything concrete. :-}

Though in that case the organisers probably should have checked the register of "people who've agreed in advance that they can't make it" and realised that there were dates when there weren't really enough people to have a rehearsal, assuming (as you have to) that there will always be some people who don't make it on days when they said they would/could.
nja From: nja Date: May 21st, 2008 05:15 am (UTC) (Link)
What they said. If it sounds dreadful now, with two rehearsals to go, there's no point in doing the final performance. I think you ought to explain to whoever is running the orchestra that it really isn't going to work, and why it isn't going to work, and tell them that you're not prepared to be involved in a disastrous public performance.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 21st, 2008 08:11 am (UTC) (Link)
tell them that you're not prepared to be involved in a disastrous public performance

I really don't think my own playing is good enough to be able to carry off that kind of "I ARE SRS VIOLINIST" thing!! And they do know that after Monday's rehearsal. :-/

I dunno, I feel as though part of what I'm saying is "I was hoping this would be an orchestra with lots of good players in, so that my average-to-not-very-good playing could hide at the back but I could have the fun of joining in", and complaining when it turns out that I'd actually have to be really quite good to make it work is a bit rub.

Not that I'm the only one doing that, I suspect, but.... it's a "free rider" thing, isn't it, actually?
nja From: nja Date: May 21st, 2008 09:04 am (UTC) (Link)
It's still going to be irritating/embarrassing, surely? Depends on your threshold for that becoming intolerable, I suppose, and whether you think the orchestra might be worth staying involved with in the long term. Judging by its website the orchestra takes itself seriously and cares about its reputation, and I would have thought that someone ought to pull the plug if it is going to be a fiasco rather than just a bit wobbly. I don't mean flouncing off saying "I am a Great Artist!", I mean having a word with whoever is in charge and saying that it's going to be a waste of everyone's time if the final performance is no good, and it's better to cancel unless you know the music is going to be of acceptable quality. It's not as if you have to refund tickets, is it?
j4 From: j4 Date: May 21st, 2008 09:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't think the orchestra will be the same orchestra in a year's time! Student societies depend so much on the people. Certainly Pembroke choir was a very different beast during each of the four years I was in it.

And I don't really want to stay long-term in a student society & become the Weird Old Woman at the back who isn't really part of the university but is sort of but etc etc etc. Even though meeting those kinds of weird old people is an important part of student experience, probably.

I dunno, I've been in worse performances (there was one string quartet at school which was so embarrassingly awful I still feel a bit bad thinking about it now, about 14 years on; two of us started at half-speed and it got worse from there) and I'm certainly less embarrassed by it now than I would've been as a teenager. And, like I said, they're not my friends/peers, nobody's going to rag me about it in the JCR afterwards.

But it's also another 6 hours or so of my life in rehearsals/concert, and because it's rehearsals from 7-9pm I basically end up staying in town between work and rehearsal and grabbing something unsatisfactory to eat, so it wastes the whole of the evening. But I wouldn't've been whinging about that if it had actually looked like it was going to go somewhere. Oh, ROUND IN CIRCLES, sorry.

Tickets, hahahahahaha. No. Not AFAIK. If they are planning to make people pay to hear this then, um, hahahahaha.
sion_a From: sion_a Date: May 21st, 2008 09:44 am (UTC) (Link)
"I was hoping this would be an orchestra with lots of good players in &hellip"

… but it's not even an orchestra with lots of players in.

Sorry, I've no advice to offer. Personally, I think I'd stick with it, and see if they want you back next term when the lack of exams may make for better attendance. But I understand why cutting your losses and getting out now might appeal.
juggzy From: juggzy Date: May 21st, 2008 06:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Actually, I'm on the side of sticking with it and seeing it through. A rubbish concert really isn't going to hurt anyone, and I think all the points you make about commitment and stuff and doing what we expect from others is really fair.
From: ewtikins Date: May 21st, 2008 06:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Me too. I can understand the arguments for dropping out but at this point it's rather late to do so, and you personally don't need to be embarrassed about the shambles that it sounds like the concert will be. Really, it's up to the conductors to say, "Okay, this really isn't actually going to be good enough to perform, sorry folks but we have to pull the concert." They may or may not do that, but it's no good half the orchestra giving up before then.

I would, perhaps, write a strongly-worded letter about what went wrong and how people responded to that and what could have been done differently. Send it after the concert.
atreic From: atreic Date: May 21st, 2008 08:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah... it sucks, but I'd do that. Grit your teeth, get through it, do the bloody concert, and then write them a calm email saying that you've found it very difficult and demoralising, and while you'd love to make more music you're not sure they're the people to do it with unless they can give you guarentees that it's not going to be as terrible as this again.
emperor From: emperor Date: May 21st, 2008 09:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I think I agree with juggzy, but I'd also say to person-in-charge "Look, we kindof sucked, because we never had enough people at rehearsals. Has this been a bad run, or do you always have this problem?" If the latter, you might just want to give it up as a bad job. In any case, if numbers are a problem, it might be worth suggesting they go for more chamber music and less Wagner!

I sympathise with the conductors, though. The Troubadours were generally pretty good at turning up to rehearsals, but I still used to fret about it.

Edited at 2008-05-21 09:39 am (UTC)
glittertigger From: glittertigger Date: May 21st, 2008 09:54 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with this too. And from my own experiences of playing in public (I've sight-read stuff in front of fairly large audiences as an emergency stand-in) audiences can be surprisingly appreciative even if things are far from perfect. And often performances are better than rehearsals due to the extra adrenaline and focus.
cleanskies From: cleanskies Date: May 21st, 2008 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Me too. Two rehearsals to go and it sounds like shit? That's on schedule! Grit it and go for it, if you still feel like it quite kindly after the show.
cleanskies From: cleanskies Date: May 21st, 2008 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)
er, I meant quit, not quite
lnr From: lnr Date: May 21st, 2008 11:42 am (UTC) (Link)
I fall on this side too. At least it'll be over in a few weeks. I'd feel like I was letting people down horribly if I dropped out at this stage, even if other people are worse. Perhaps things will be much better at the next rehearsal?
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 21st, 2008 08:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Violins!

I used to play in Hertford college orchestra as an undergrad (at Jesus) simply because I was desperate to play in an ensemble and the university ones were far too serious with multiple rehearsals a week and expecting you to practise a lot on your own etc... It was kind of rubbish then and I eventually stopped going (although at the beginning of a term rather than partway through).

College orchestras are highly dependent upon the conductor - if you have a good conductor (as the subsequent Jesus orchestra did, for a while) then it is fun to play in and people turn up so it is more fun to play and the concert isn't rubbish but if the conductor isn't very nice or is only interested in a bit of orchestral accompaniment to their beloved choir then it is rubbish and the orchestra disintegrates somewhat... as with all Oxford things like this I suspect college orchestras go in phases... sounds like you found a downward patch. I've given up on them now but would still dearly love to find a non-serious-but-serious-enough orchestra to play in!

One thing I would say though is that the concert was never as bad as I expected since everyone used to turn up to the last rehearsal on the day and usually the god-like players for whom this was beneath them would get drafted in at the last minute - also not a nice thing about that sort of ensemble but in the end you are just grateful for a decent sized string section and for some brass to magically appear!

Anyway, it's up to you, I'd be tempted to play in the concert and then flounce out to make your point but I wouldn't be optimistic.

--
Angharadxxx
j4 From: j4 Date: May 21st, 2008 09:08 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Violins!

I so know what you mean about the seriousness of university orchestras... far too worthy and dull! Even if I'd been good enough to get in, which I might well not have been. :-}

The conductors (there are two, for different pieces) aren't bad but it's obvious they're stressed too.

I've given up on them now but would still dearly love to find a non-serious-but-serious-enough orchestra to play in!

Univ college orchestra/chorus was always quite good fun when I was a student, can't see anything about that on the website though. :-/ What I really want to find is a concert orchestra, ie concert band + strings, ie light music, light classics, stuff from musicals, that kind of thing. But to the best of my knowledge there's none like that round here, and I don't think I have the time/organisational grip to start an orchestra! Some sort of small ensemble, possibly. (Quartet? Interested? :)

I'd be tempted to play in the concert and then flounce out to make your point

Ach, I don't want to do any flouncing. I just want to say "look, this is why it's not working", but I'm probably just overrating my opinions here & actually there is probably nothing I can usefully tell them that they don't already know. I mean it must be bad enough struggling to put a concert together in exams term without Old People coming and trying to tell you what you're doing wrong. :-}
tkb From: tkb Date: May 21st, 2008 10:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Violins!

I didn't find much about Univ Music Society on the web either (which is a mild shame, since there was a decent web site back when I was there). But they are circulating adverts for the position of conductor of both Univ Chorus and Univ Orchestra, giving information on their current activities (and showing that they are still around!):

Oxford's largest and longest running non-auditioning choir the Univ Chorus seeks a new conductor. The Chorus currently performs two large concerts each year in Michaelmas and Hilary with occasional smaller activities in Trinity...

University College Music Society is seeking a new conductor for the Univ Orchestra. The Univ Orchestra is a small, non-audition string orchestra that currently performs two concerts a year (often accompanying the Univ Chorus).

From: (Anonymous) Date: May 21st, 2008 11:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Violins!

"What I really want to find is a concert orchestra, ie concert band + strings, ie light music, light classics, stuff from musicals, that kind of thing. But to the best of my knowledge there's none like that round here, and I don't think I have the time/organisational grip to start an orchestra! Some sort of small ensemble, possibly. (Quartet? Interested? :)"

Yeah, that's what I've pretty much given up on finding but periodically think about again. Mahler etc may be great to pull off but actually just playing some classic fm music is great, again lack of organisational something is a problem - you need someone able to conduct and someone to organise it, not just a bunch of 2nd violins :-) I never really enjoyed playing by myself but I do love playing in a group.

Quartet might be fun, although it's been a few years since I even picked up my violin now! I really must sort out a piano tuner too

--
Angharadxxx
cartesiandaemon From: cartesiandaemon Date: May 21st, 2008 11:41 am (UTC) (Link)
:( Oh dear, I can imagine. I don't know what I'd do. After reading the comments, I've a couple of thoughts:

* if you want to drop out, you could phrase it as "Hey, I'm plainly not good enough to carry this by myself, and there doesn't seem to be anyone else", which neither dodges the issue by just dropping out to other commitments (which would be sort of true, but you wouldn't do it just for that) nor portrays yourself as the knowledgeable violinist

* Several people think the final performance might be cobbled together enough to sort of work. What do you think? If you think that might actually be worth doing, it's probably worth sticking with it.

* Are the organisers people who really should know better? I assumed they were volunteers who tried their best but weren't quite as good at organising this as they needed to be. But being snippy to them or telling them how to do it (especially when the advice is probably nebulous) seems pointless, they can probably tell, so I wouldn't bother sending them a letter or flouncing out or anything! (Specific advice could be relevant. If they should know better then laying things out for them could make sense, though is unlikely to make any difference.)

* Also, there's almost certainly nothing they can do at this point (unless you can suggest something) to make a difference. So leaving is unlikely to make the rehearsals better, except that if it's truly doomed then good that they realise it.

* Someone's point was right. It's not just your intuition, if everyone arranged in advance to skip 2/6 rehearsals, that's actually quite problematic. But if only nine people came, it's obviously more than that and not known in advance. So you don't have to take that much share of the blame.

* Now I think about it, possibly the only positive way forward for the organiser is to say "Hey, who is definitely not away next week", and cancel it if it's half-full. And then say everyone has to come to the last rehearsal and the show, or the show is cancelled. But that's not pretty, and I don't know if there's any way you can suggest it.

* Probably not, but just in case anything springs to your mind when I suggest it. Is there any sensible way of making the rehearsals less of a chore? Is it at all possible to cut down the repertoire to smaller/simpler bits somehow? Or to jolly people into enjoying trying their best without being embarrassed? I know almost certainly not, but I just thought I'd ask.

OK, sorry, after all that, I still don't know what I recommend. I think: (a) it might be ok but (b) if it'll be ok then it'll probably be ok anyway if you quit, so go with what you feel after all this. So you should quit unless you think the show will be worth it for you.
imc From: imc Date: May 21st, 2008 12:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
If it were me I suspect I'd soldier on, if only because I'd feel very guilty if I made the problem worse by leaving with only two rehearsals to go.

What there probably needs to be is a strongly worded message from the conductor (or other authority figure) to all members saying "look, if you don't turn up to the final two rehearsals then I'll cancel the concert."

It may possibly also be worth canning the worst piece and concentrating more effort on the other two on the grounds that a short concert is better than no concert or a long concert where no one knows the music.
timscience From: timscience Date: May 21st, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
As a gigging musician of sorts I'd say stick with it and if it's crap write it off to experience. You can certainly raise your concerns but pulling the show is the organiser's call.

Alternatively, pull a sickie.

vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: May 22nd, 2008 10:49 am (UTC) (Link)
My feeling is that sticking with it is the right thing to do in order to show the kiddies what sticking with sth actually looks like. It's no skin off your nose in the grand scheme of things, if it's a rub concert then it's not your fault, and if it pulls together at the last moment then you'll have had the fun of participating in that.

When you were an undergraduate I would have possibly said "Go to the organisers and tell them you'd like to leave and why, and then decide" because that's part of a process people need to do at that age, but the past is a far country and they do things differently there.
1ngi From: 1ngi Date: May 22nd, 2008 11:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Another vote for grit teeth etc. Which I think you would have done even if you had a 100 comments saying 'pack it in'. You are clearly someone who hates going back on your word.

Here's to you finding somewhere more rewarding afterwards.
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