The unheated chapel was Hertford Orchestra's fault, or rather the fault of the other orchestra which had stolen their usual rehearsal room; actually, I think they were trying to heat it (occasional smells of burning competing with the incense suggested a fan-heater somewhere in a corner), but the attempt at heating was almost as hopeless as the attempt at lighting (a couple of desk-lamps trying to provide enough light for about 10 string players), and the overwhelming impression was of a group of survivors of some nameless horror, huddled around their last candle, trying to play loud music to keep the wild beasts at bay before resorting to burning their instruments to keep warm (sadly there were no violas there tonight so we'd have had to start with 'cellos). The fact that the music was Mussorgsky's "Night on a Bare Mountain" probably helped to complete the picture.
In case attentive readers are wondering, yes, this is the same orchestra that annoyed me so much last term with its players' total lack of commitment or discipline. I agonised over the decision about whether to play or not, but was tempted by the music lined up for this term (not only the Mussorgsky, but also Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite', Sibelius' 'Finlandia' and 'Valse Triste', and Vaughan Williams' 'Five Variants on Dives and Lazarus'). They do seem to be better this time round — a combination of new blood and fewer exams, I suspect — but there's still a general sense that if a rehearsal starts at 8pm, it's okay to turn up any time from 8pm onwards. In my book, an 8pm rehearsal means turning up at 7:50 and being ready to play at 8pm; but even the conductor didn't arrive until just before 8 and only then did the two of us, plus a few more who turned up en route, start moving music stands across from the other side of college. Over the Bridge of Sighs on the way there, then round the outside of the college on the way back, struggling to hold doors for each other. (Smuggling instruments of music through Trinity gates.) The rehearsal started at about 8:15.
There are times when I feel I've spent half my life carrying music-stands, moving chairs around, and scrabbling around for spare pencils, clothespegs, strings, rosin, hairclips, pairs of black tights and all the other miscellaneous bits and pieces which an orchestra seems to lose faster than the average household loses odd socks. Ever since I first sang in primary-school choirs and played recorder (later violin) in a primary-school orchestra, I don't think there's been a time when I haven't been playing or singing in some kind of ensemble. These were all amateur groups — the only time I've ever been 'paid' for this kind of thing was when our school string quartet used to get asked to play for balls and garden parties and so on, and they couldn't actually give us money, but we were quite happy with free food and drink (and a ten pound WHSmith voucher each when we played for our Chemistry teacher's daughter's wedding reception! Such riches!) — but most of them seemed (or seem in retrospect — and I'm allowing for a bit of rose-tinted nostalgia) more 'professional' than the mostly-student choirs and orchestras I've played in since stopping being a student. What's wrong with them? What makes them 'unprofessional'? At the risk of sounding like an old (or young) fogey, most of it boils down to manners.
Basically, it doesn't matter how good an instrumentalist you are; assuming you were in some sense 'good enough' to get into an ensemble in the first place, you can instantly become an even more valued member of that ensemble by sticking to the following simple rules for rehearsals:
* Turn up for rehearsals unless you've got a really good reason not to. ("I was really busy" is not a good reason! Time-management, for heaven's sake!) If you can't make a rehearsal, let the conductor (or leader, or someone else) know as soon as you can.
* Turn up for rehearsals on time unless you've got a really good reason not to. That is, in enough time to start playing/singing at the advertised rehearsal time.
* If you do arrive late, join the rehearsal with as little noise and fuss as possible. You can ask questions about what you've missed later.
* If you have music, remember to bring it.
* Bring a pencil. When the conductor/leader gives you useful performance notes, write them down. (You may think you'll remember; you won't.)
* If the conductor/leader is talking, SHUT UP AND LISTEN. That means: don't talk; don't practise your own part (you should have done that before the rehearsal!); don't unwrap your sandwiches; don't phone your friends.
* If the conductor/leader is rehearsing another section of the ensemble, i.e. you're not playing/singing but other people are, SHUT UP AND LISTEN (see above).
And that's before I even get to the 'rules' for concerts, or services.
But none of that sounds so terribly difficult, does it? ... Does it?