Mud From A Scraper
No. 4 in an Occasional Series
"I say 'silver sound', because musicians sound for silver"
The first rule that must be learnt by those who would understand the character of musicians is that few members of an orchestra are interested in music. Each plays his instrument because that is his trade - because that is the job for which he is physically and mentally suited, and that is the best way he knows of earning a living.
His aim is, like the average man or woman, to earn the maximum income with the minimum effort, though this is not so straightforward as it sounds, and even the minimum effort is very strenuous. Owing to the fact that there are a few eccentrics in the profession, who exhibit excessive interest in their work, who are insensitive to the hostility they arouse, and who have relations in the management, an unnecessarily high standard of conduct has come to be expected. It requires a great deal of skill to find the mean between doing as little work as is compatible with an artistic conscience, and doing as much as a conductor demands.
The location of this compromise is determined not only by the general pattern of behaviour of the particular orchestra, but by the position of the player in question: The further back in the section the musician is, the less he needs to keep up appearances. Those at the back may need to make a better showing than their immediate superiors in order to remain in the orchestra at all; those at the front, who are heard and watched by all, are expected to look efficient even to laymen, and must behave as though they enjoy playing the same old hackneyed works year after year.
All other points of orchestral technique are based on this principle. It governs the posture the player adopts, the energy he expends in playing, the time he arrives at rehearsal and the colour of the socks he wears for concerts.
It may be thought that the height of a musician's professional ambition would be membership of one of the top symphony orchestras. It is not so; even members of the top symphony orchestras yearn to be invited to play with the small, light combinations which broadcast so frequently under so many names. A contract job is considered stultifying, and though the financial security is useful, a free-lance player with the right connections can earn in a week as much as a symphony player receives in a month, though he may be unemployed for the two subsequent weeks.
Above all, a player must have the attitude of mind which goes with this concept of the profession. The biggest crime one can commit used to be called 'arty-crafty' or 'British West Hampstead'. This consist of understanding counterpoint, going to concerts, tracing the influence of Stravinsky in the works of Villa-Lobos, and working out unconventional fingerings. Such behaviour may make a good impression on an amateur orchestra or on the lunatic fringes of the profession. It is anathema to the experienced player.