“So, is that all it is? Just practicing and taking auditions?”
I was standing in the hallway at the National Flute Association Convention, talking to one of our outstanding Youth Flute Day participants – a high school flutist with an excellent ear, a good piccolo tone, and a fine personality and drive to match – and her mother. The daughter and I bonded when I had to fill in at the last moment for the missing piccolo player in the advanced group’s flute choir session.
Is that all it is?
And so I answered her.
“No. That’s not all it is. You also, quite simply, have to be a good human being. Someone who is easy to get along with. You have to use good manners when you’re working with other musicians, and even when you think no one is watching. Because a lot of the time, especially when you’re the new flutist in town, you will get work simply because a personnel or orchestra manager needs a flutist, and the other musicians like working with you.”
As one of my teachers said, “Anybody can get hired once. Getting hired again is the success.”
I remember when a large ensemble in which I played principal added a summer concert to the schedule, one that wasn’t covered by our regular contract. I had already accepted other work for that date, and so management had to find a sub for me for that concert. The sub they found was a pretty big name, and I worried my colleagues might not be so happy to see me back after playing with this person.
It turned out they were. When I sat down for my first rehearsal after the concert with the sub, there was this quiet applause from the woodwind section. Apparently, the sub had been quite difficult to work with – unwilling to compromise, unpleasant, and unwilling to put the demands of her own ego secondary to the needs of the ensemble. I looked around, confused, and the principal oboist, a veteran player who mentored me daily in this ensemble, put a hand on my shoulder and explained, “We’re so glad you’re back.”
We’re so glad you’re back.
Isn’t that what we all want to hear after a short leave of absence?
So strive to be that person – the person who shows up to rehearsals, prepared and on time, and in a pleasant mood. When it is time to shine, SHINE! But when it is time to back off and let your colleagues shine, get out of their way and play the best supporting role you can. Be willing to work with others. Carpool with your fellow musicians. Ask your colleagues (on breaks, not in rehearsals) about their lives and their projects. Take constructive criticism gracefully, and learn from it, especially if you are one of the younger members of the ensemble. Learn how to compromise, and accept that other people’s ideas have merit, even if you’ve never considered them before.
And say “please” and “thank you“.
The National Flute Convention is a great place to hear wonderful concerts, attend master classes, and visit vendors. But for me, this year, saying “thank you” was my theme and my mission. I thanked James Galway for making all those records, so that as a young flutist with no private instructor, I had an idea of what a flute was supposed to sound like. I thanked Jim Walker for telling me, as a young freelancer, that I should be taking auditions. I was taking auditions, but hearing that Jim Walker thought I should be gave me a confidence I hadn’t previously had in preliminary rounds. I thanked another flutist for being a role model to one of my students when she needed some positivity. I thanked the authors of several method books for writing those books, because they are so valuable to my students and me.
These people were genuinely delighted to be thanked. These are hard-working people, and I’d like to think it made a difference in their day to hear their work was appreciated. Jim Walker said it made his day, and then asked me what I’d been doing in the intervening years. He then said, “I hope you will pay that comment forward someday.” I told him I do that every day.
So, as I told the young piccoloist in the corridor: Yes, practice your flute. But also practice all those good manners I know your mother is teaching you. Because while your beautiful sound will open many doors for you, your personality and they way you conduct yourself will keep them open. And the act of expressing your gratitude to those who have helped you along your way will energize YOU to move forward and help others. And that’s what it’s all about.