Bill Harrison posted this tidbit over at Jason Heath’s Double Bass Blog about frustration playing with shitty musicians, and I could not agree more with this. It really sucks to be stuck in an orchestra gig with the one guy that insists on playing too loud and too fast. It’s a testosterone thing I assume – he’s too macho to play with the rest of these fools, so he’s determined to show everyone exactly how it is done by himself.

These assholes are part of the reason I left the music business. (That, and of course the massive injuries I sustained back in Boston in an accident, coupled with the lack of good benefits and decent pay – long story, another time…) I like music too much, and as a freelancer and prospective auditioning bassist I encountered just a few too many of these to really feel like this was going to be a good career idea.

This discussion reminds me of a particular incident which I love to talk about because it was just so amazing when it happened. There are certain conductors you don’t want to piss off, lest they shove the baton straight down your gizzard. In one rehearsal with Simon Rattle whilst working on the effing difficult but amazing to hear last movement of Shostakovitch 4, he let the last stand of my bass section have it. The instigator was doing his usual finishing the sections about 2 or 3 measures earlier than the rest of the orchestra, and getting the other player (who is otherwise an incredible bassist) all stirred up with a weird air of machismo and tandem crotch-grabbing more fitting for a football huddle than for an orchestra performance with the illustrious maestro:

Rattle (To me as principal):
Sir, would you please yell at them?
Me (Scared shitless):
Uh-huh….. Guys, could you please?
Me (After a second try – same problems – to the last stand – politely, maybe even timidly):
Guys – could you keep it together?
Rattle (To last stand):
If you can’t follow me, follow the concertmistress. If you can’t follow her, follow him (pointing to me). If you can’t follow him, at least listen! Because if you can’t do any of those things, you’ll never get a job! You’ll starve!
Rattle (After the third attempt with no improvement on the part of the problematic stand):

Obviously I was being too nice, but lesson learned. As for the performance, they still finished early – jock-cupping and all at the end of said passage. Mind-boggling.

So to this day, Shostakovitch 4 is my favorite symphony, even though our performance didn’t even come close to doing it justice. It sucks that we have to put up with these situations in our professional lives, but it is how we handle it and pick ourselves up in case we fall that defines our level of professionalism.

2 thoughts on “Frustration”

  1. Good lord! Suffering through a train wreck ending is one thing, but being forced to share the stage with a ball-cupping must have been insufferably embarrassing, not to mention a wholly bizarre experience.

    I feel fortunate to have stumbled into two bands with relatively equal talent pools. Some players are stronger than others of course, but those who can’t keep up, know how to back off during performances and save the learning process for rehearsals, where it belongs.

  2. To be honest, it was more just ‘manly gesticulation’ rather than a lot of package-checking… But still embarrassing nonetheless, and just plain frustrating since I love this piece of music.

    An orchestra is like a corporation. You can’t really pick your co-workers all that well, unless you’re the final arbiter of every audition and hiring process. So you inevitably wind up having to deal with this from time to time.

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