The 4 Pillars of Professionalism
November 21, 2011 at 3:10 PM
“A musician’s reputation is shaped as much by consistent professionalism
(or the lack thereof) as it is by artistry.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 115
Although we musicians spend vast amounts of time practicing alone, professional music making is largely a collaborative art form: for the most part, we rehearse, perform, record, and tour collectively.
Not surprisingly, then, cultural norms have arisen among professional musicians.
Performers who abide by those norms thrive; ones who don't wind up unemployed. So it's vital that aspiring artists understand and live by professional standards of conduct.
I distill professionalism into four elements: Punctuality, Preparation, Courtesy, and Integrity.
Here are some ways in which collaborating musicians can reinforce those elements during and outside of rehearsals.
- Arrive early. If a rehearsal is schedule for 7:00 p.m., that's when the first downbeat occurs. Before that time, all of the musicians should be set up and warmed up.
- Work efficiently. Rehearse at a pace that enables you to achieve all of your musical objectives in each session. To that end, plan in advance, shirk irrelevant conversation, and stay on task.
- Finish on time. Wrapping up on-schedule strongly supports your professional culture. But before you disperse, set goals for subsequent rehearsals and confirm when and where you'll meet next.
- Master your part. Pace your individual practice such that you're ready to play your part with ease.
- Grasp the whole. Prior to an initial rehearsal, listen to recordings, study scores, and get to know an inclusive composition and how your part fits within it.
- Report underpreparation. If an illness, accident, or other unforeseen circumstance undermines your rehearsal preparation, report it to your colleagues well ahead of your meeting so that your plans can be amended.
- Keep yourself and your gear in shape. Avoid preventable problems by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, carrying spare strings and a bow, and performing regular maintenance on your instrument.
- Employ businesslike manners. Although some of your musical colleagues might also be your friends, adopt professional speech and work habits as you rehearse, and save personal exchanges for breaks.
- Be open and positive. Try out each other's interpretive ideas and otherwise create a work environment that supports creativity.
- Reply promptly to messages. Collective decision-making depends on timely communication, so never put off responding to ensemble-related inquiries. And consult all members before you make decisions that affect a group.
For more about professionalism as well as ways to rehearse artistically in groups, see Chapter 6 of The Musician’s Way, “Musical Collaboration" (p. 114-129). A version of this article first appeared on The Musician's Way Blog.
- Be true to your word. Unfailingly carry out your responsibilities.
- Manage money honestly. If you oversee finances, keep open records and distribute payments promptly.
- Help each other succeed. Build trust and camaraderie through supporting each other inside the rehearsal studio, on stage, and beyond.
© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
One refinement. Acknowledge the hierarchy of the rehearsal/performance. If someone is chosen to be the leader there is no time to argue fine points. If they reject your suggestions or ask that there be no suggestions then suck it up and respond to what is requested. You can choose next time to not accept the gig. Not every project is a democracy.
Thanks for contributing, Corwin!
Excellent point: there are important distinctions between how we conduct ourselves in egalitarian versus leader-run ensembles.
I should have said in the intro that, in this article, I'd generally discuss professionalism in the context of egalitarian groups.
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