Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Introducing Musicians


Every orchestral player, so scenario-writers would have you believe, carries a conductor's baton in his case. This is not true: open any instrument case in any bandroom at any time, and you will find a near-black bow-tie or flimsy scarf, seven old assorted programmes, an outdated lottery ticket, a sandwich and a dirty duster.

There may also be an instrument of some sort, but there will be no more sign of a conductor's baton than of a poached egg. Probably less.

There is a great deal of romantic nonsense written about musicians. Novelists endeavour to convince the public that members of the profession wear an air of glory, and manage to infuse them with a spirit of romance and adventure, that is denied other mortals. A musician's life is, in reality, as prosaic as any; there is no more glory attached to it than to the lot of a shop assistant, and no more adventure than to the life of a travelling salesman.

The concert goer is, perhaps, more deluded than one who knows less about music. After weeks of happy anticipation he listens, entranced, whilst sixty black-clad performers play his favourite symphony. It is only natural that he should place these beings on a mental pedestal, and imagine that if they do have the same sordid necessities and vices as the rest of the species, they at least forget about them whilst they are playing for his benefit.

The concert goer also holds the idea that musicians play chamber music in all their leisure moments. The opposite view is also widely held: that musicians play poker whenever they are off duty, and are too sharp to admit that they are on an easy racket. The two opinions, in a nutshell, are that musicians are either long-haired or bald. Some of them are, of course, but never at the same time.

The first thing a player does when he comes on to a stage, having made sure that he has the best available chair and sufficient room to play, is to study the audience. Very attractive members of the audience, male or female, will occasion an appreciative titter. Critics will cause mournful glances in the direction of the conductor, blaming him in advance for the performance's shortcomings.  Any player spying a fixer - these exalted beings rarely attend concerts - will keep the sighting to him/herself and play like they've never played before. Getting on to the A-list of a well-known fixer is what every musician aspires to; fixers have such sought-after money-spinners as light music sessions, film sessions and TV jingles in their gift. Jingles pay the most for the least effort.

Musicians develop, very early in their careers, a fine technique of conversation with the public. They will size a layman up from his first sentence, and adapt their remarks to suit his taste, on the principle that every member of an audience is a potential employer, or at least a possible supper. There is no propaganda for musicians, only for music, and it is incumbent on every player to convince as many people as he can that he is a fine artist and a nice chap and that the orchestra to which he belongs is the finest in the country.

During their career, most players adopt a fatalistic attitude, and have difficulty in keeping up the attitudes that are expected of them. They would really much rather be at home painting the bathroom or sorting their stamp collection.


  1. i dunno there is something definitely romantic in seeing one so lost in the music...those magic moments...nice...

  2. Nice read..made me know something here

  3. Your observations about musicians made me nod at times and think deeper at others. I certainly pin on a badge of romance onto musicians because the only instrument I can play is the kazoo, and even then, I cannot keep with the beat!

  4. Peering musicians through your eyes puts a whole new light on things...next concert, high school or higher, I will think differently, looking for the true artist. Thanks for the interesting read.

  5. I'm now wanting to sneak into the band room and peek into everyone's instrument case!

  6. Interesting insider perspective you bring, for sure. I am right now reading a novel, "The Metropolis Case," described by one blurb-writer as "a portrait of the passion of several singers across the ages for a single opera" (Tristan and Isolde). I had a good chuckle, therefore, at your phrase, "romantic nonsense written about musicians." Suspect I fall prey to a bit of romantic nonsense myself, so very good to be offered this corrective!

  7. Never long-haired and bald at the same time! That's tellin' 'em, Friko.
    Yes, musicians are as human as the rest of us. Still, I'm never going to forget seeing Louis Armstrong in person, hero worship or not.
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  8. There does seem to me to be something else at work in the arts..something that if we and the artist are lucky, touches our soul..but I really like your point of view, so interesting!

  9. you mean they're mortals!?!

  10. I was sure you were going to say, "Musicians develop, very early in their careers..." tendinitis. In my waitress days I worked with a cellist, who constantly massaged her left elbow.
    That woman was an accomplished musician, and was . . . artistically temperamental.

  11. Interesting post, Friko -- informative and witty.

  12. Have you ever noticed that the really good musicians, the true artists, seem to live to a ripe old age. My sister and I believe that they are truly happy when they play, and the endorphins released add years to their lives. Of course, that's probably not true for the ones who wish they were at home hanging wallpaper.

  13. From conversations I've had with musicians, I know this to be true.

  14. I used to play the flute...not well...in high school and this does all seem true. Except I never heard of fixers.

  15. I shall look at an orchestra with new eyes... wondering how many stale cheese sandwiches they are harbouring in their instrument cases...

  16. my saxophone teacher lives from booking to booking in a one bedroom flat, works weddings where he mostly gets ignored and certainly can't be said to have a romantic lifestyle - but there are days when i'd swap that for my life behind a glowing screen.

    Great post

  17. My daughter is an opera singer. I think there is more than a bit of romance wrapped around her career.

  18. Interesting post, Friko. It is true that we attach a sense of romance to our musicians and artists, we probably need that for ourselves.

  19. As we have gathered over the months,
    your beloved IS a musician, and you
    know of what you write/speak. From
    the depth of your insights, however,
    it is suspected that YOU too are one
    of those "musicians" you so wonderfully
    paint the portrait of. Hope that friend,
    Lane Savant, reads this posting; an ex-
    car mechanic and amateur musician,
    he, since he retired, is studying composition,
    and doing some fine work. Music is
    the language of the spheres, the bridge
    between cultures, the common language
    for all mankind, and since the only instrument
    I can play is either my nose, or the flatulence
    flute, I both applaud and am appalled by
    your insights and humor.

  20. I guess it depends on the musician. Not all musicians play classical music. My father used to own a dance hall and I knew the musicians there – they played the tango, waltz, rumba, etc., a “musette” type of music and these guys were just like any other – smoking, drinking and joking – quite ordinary really. When we lived in San Francisco my husband knew some musicians friends who played in a rock band - they were anything but ordinary. As for me I think that someone who understands music well enough to play it is something special.

  21. We have a couple of musicians in our family. Mostly, what they report is how uncomfortable some locations can be, especially if you perform outdoors on a winter day.

  22. Just a job? Dang, all these years I have romanticized the souls who play such wonderful music.

  23. I really liked this piece, Friko. I found it amusing and realistic. (But, hey, those travelling salesmen have the occasional adventure, you know!)

  24. The odd character from Husband's assorted selection of fellow jazz musicians , over the years , come to mind .
    The chap with the gold-plated vibraphone , the drummer who had an allotment , the pianist who lived with his mother and knitted wonderful socks ......

  25. nur im Konzertsaal, wenn die Musik erklingt, ist mir, als gäbe es dort etwas Heiliges...


  26. I once was lost in a concert hall and found myself in the musicians dressing room. It was fun, funny and interesting to see them in their socks and t-shirts. I discovered they are regular people... not necessarily born with wings (smile).

    I enjoyed reading this piece... very interesting.

  27. I go to concert many times.
    love them.

    beautiful tale.
    Happy Thursday.

  28. Your writing style is wonderful - enjoyed this a great deal!

  29. "Critics will cause mournful glances in the direction of the conductor, blaming him in advance for the performance's shortcomings."

    There's a portrait of candid human nature!

  30. You are such a terrific writer. This piece sheds light on something I've never thought once about. I know you are writing about what you know, from Beloved. It is authentic. I kept thinking, yes, musicians are just like anyone: various. I have thought similar thoughts about artists. If someone can create magnificent art (or even if I love their handwriting), I raise them up as more intelligent and probably attribute some romantic notions to them.

    Thanks for this window. Great Magpie.

  31. An acquaintance of long-ago complained about the pay scale of orchestral musicians, and the inequities between his workload (second violin) and that of the flutists. Paid the same, but at least ten times as much work involved.
    And I can never listen to a soloist without thinking that they've practiced the piece at least 500 times...

    Good piece, Friko. I never know what I'll find when I come here - I do enjoy your variety.

  32. FINALLY I read something that tells me that even musicians are human after all! :)
    This was a good one, Friko!!! Thank you for sharing this with us, and making us (the musically inclined, yet not really musicians) feel .. well.. normal :)

    Much love to you, my friend..

  33. Wow, Friko! Either you have played in an orchestra, or you have close friends who play in orchestras, or you have a powerful and deductive imagination. And do I detect a delicate touch of the sardonic here? It's one of the best reads this week.
    Orchestra jokes as payment
    Q. What do viola players do?
    A They hang out near the violinists in orchestras. (Unfair! Unfair!)

    A viola player was invited to conduct while the resident conductor was on vacation. She did so, and very competently. When the resident conductor returned, she once more took her place in the strings. The player next to her said "Hey! Where have you been this last fortnight?"

  34. You know, I, for some reason, never developed that romanticized vision of musicians. Maybe because that's all I ever dated - musicians. All I ever hung around with - musicians. And both my children started band in fifth grade, played throughout college, in orchestras, and my son became a band director. So I know that musicians are just people.

    But each is different - I know some musicians who live and breathe to make music. If they're not playing, they're writing or listening. And I know some who pick up their instruments only for last minute practice and performances.

    And my son, the high school band director? Yeah, he has a baton - but he usually has to search for it behind the drum cases and extra music stands.


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