Should self appointed groups have guidelines?

September 3, 2015 at 02:06 PM · I'm using the term self appointed for groups that do not audition and it is left to the individual to decide if they fit in. should these groups have clear goals on things like attendance, rehearsals and performance? If appropriate should the goals be given to new prospects?

Replies (24)

September 3, 2015 at 02:46 PM · If you mean organizations like community orchestras, then, yes. If you volunteer, you are responsible to be fully part of the group. The conductor (or players' committee, or whatever body is established) can/should set standards for attendance, preparation, etc., and, within reason, enforce them.

Having said that, I know that some of the groups where I'm a last-minute "ringer" brought in to fill out a section where the members have fallen in their commitment, survive in spite of shaky levels of responsibility.

Really, though, it's not a matter of auditioning; it's always a matter of each individual player's integrity -- and that's always a matter of choice. All the group can do is determine what's the lowest common denominator, the minimum level acceptable.

September 3, 2015 at 03:07 PM · Thanks Marjory. Do you know of any examples of typical goals? Say attendance, any suggestions or examples of targets?


September 3, 2015 at 04:36 PM · If a group operates with a goal in mind then decisions need to be made as to how to achieve that goal. Participating members of the group need to adhere to those decisions as best as they can and new prospects should definitely be made aware of policy.

In the case of most orchestras, the typical goal is to put on concerts. It’s fair to say that the group needs to be able to rely on its members to a certain extent in order to be able to achieve that goal. The decisions are often presented as rules & policies but when push comes to shove they are often really just guidelines. They’re not necessarily enforced but at least they’re spelled out if they’re ever challenged.

In my orchestra, for example, we’ve come up extremely short on personnel for certain programmes, to the point where the orchestra lost money on renting parts for a piece for which the conductor decided we didn’t have enough people. For this reason our orchestra policy now states that members are expected to commit to the entire season (Sept. to June). Of course there will be cases where people will still have to miss concerts in the season, but there were also people who were picking & choosing which concerts they do and the council hoped to address that with this particular policy.

Most of the groups I participate in are ones that *technically* require an audition. I wouldn’t know how things are done in something like a Late Starters Orchestra but still, if they put on concerts, the members need to at least show up for the concert…. I guess anything beyond that depends on the standards of the group. I’ve never done a reading orchestra… things maybe different for those. When I’m brought in as a ringer I certainly don’t receive anything about orchestra policy or code of conduct, but a ringer who rocks the boat will find themselves out of work pretty quickly.

My orchestra technically has an absence policy of 3 per concert and everyone has to sell a certain number of tickets for our own concerts (we do a lot of collaborating so the rule doesn’t apply for those). I don't know of anyone being kicked out for falling short of either of those, but just having the policy in place has definitely upped the effort to sell tickets and probably helped with attendance too.

September 3, 2015 at 04:57 PM · Hi Christina. What do you mean by a reading orchestra and absence policy of 3 per concert? Sorry, non orchestra amateur but I play in a group.


September 3, 2015 at 05:30 PM · I'm a member of an adult string ensemble. Other than the monthly dues we pay to cover the rent on the hall and pay for parts, there doesn't seem to be that many rules. The conductor divvies up the parts randomly, so we don't sit in sections other than the general area where our instrument sits. Sometimes you might play violin I from the back row, with violin IIs playing on either side of you, then switch to violin II on the next piece while the person to the left plays violin I. Each person plays the part the conductor feels best suits their ability and will add to the overall sound. Somehow it works.

If you can't make a rehearsal (or a string of rehearsals), no big deal. If you can't make the concert, that's OK too. We have never had too few parts to make up a whole. Our concerts are free and we do the best we can. Other performers and groups come play in our concerts too. It's all just fun.

For some folks, the loose structure is uncomfortable, and they eventually move on. For others, if it gets too rigid, they lose interest. For the rest of us, we're just happy to have the opportunity to play anything at all in a group.

It comes down to respect. If it's already present, there's no need to mandate it. We appreciate the opportunity and don't want to jeopardize it by giving it less attention and effort that it deserves.

September 3, 2015 at 06:19 PM · In answer to your questions-

we're only allowed to miss 3 rehearsals or less for a given concert.

reading orchestras- groups that get together just to crash through pieces for fun, not to perform in concert. I know of some in the Boston area.

September 3, 2015 at 06:27 PM · I think it depends on what the overall purpose of your group is. Are you just getting together to play for enjoyment, or are you expecting to perform? If you are preparing for a performance, you will want to have some mutual understanding about how seriously you are all taking it, i.e. can the members commit to a certain number of rehearsals? A group with no guidelines, unless it is an extremely informal arrangement, can be open to considerable friction, misunderstandings, and bruised feelings over this issue, so it is good you are thinking about it. How strict or loose your guidelines need to be depends again on the overall goals of your group. The community orchestra I play in has very strict guidelines (one rehearsal missed and you could be asked to drop out of the concert) but these are applied at the discretion of the conductor, so in real life it is not as bad as it looks on paper.

September 3, 2015 at 07:43 PM · Christina -

I had never heard of a reading orchestra before. Thanks for bringing that up. What a neat idea!I'd love to be involved in something like that sometime.

September 3, 2015 at 08:53 PM · Well, one conductor allows 3 absences (but not the dress rehearsal)--in theory. A lot depends on how easily the person/part can be replaced:there aren't just scads of quality oboists, for instance, but a plethora of good double-bass players, so he in, practice, is tougher with the bass than the oboes.

However, this summer he started a summer orchestra, and, because it wasn't announced till late spring, he had to forego any attendance policy at all; in fact, he said, whoever shows up will play the concert. It worked in the strings, largely because one violinist from the professional symphony 'showed up' and added a certain something to the rest of our endeavors.

Point is, each group's policy needs to be fair, consistent, and enforced. I was interested that the poster whose group pays dues to play has less attendance problem--not surprising, is it?

September 3, 2015 at 09:16 PM · Thanks Krista - If it isn't broken...I agree that there are negative aspects to both having and not having guidelines and goals. For an existing self appointed group there could be lots of challenges finding a common ground.

I guess, Christina, that there are 4 or more rehearsals for your concerts. Perhaps in my terms a reading orchestra would be like a jam session. Interesting about ticket sales. Any written goals?

Hi Alice. Is admittance to your orchestra by audition? Does your group have formal goals? I appreciate your slant on having a mutual understanding.

For anyone in a self appointed group, how do you handle individual level of preparedness and development? Do you expect a certain level of preparation for first rehearsal or do you modify your program based on rehearsal results?


September 3, 2015 at 09:35 PM · Not surprising at all Marjory. Dues are an entrance requirement and demonstration of some level of commitment. Cache is a great participation generator. But, like a Strad, no guarantee of results.


September 3, 2015 at 11:27 PM · David, you asked about whether our orchestra has auditions. The process is a little obscure to me because I have been in the orchestra a long time and things have changed. On our website it says that membership is open to experienced musicians "upon a successful audition/interview with the Music Director and section leader." Our particular orchestra is very conductor-driven. He is very open to suggestions but he ultimately chooses all the music and yes, sets the goals. He has focused on early-to-mid 20th century repertoire, not everyone's cup of tea to be sure but it gives the orchestra a certain personality that differentiates it from the many others in our city. And once in a while he throws us a Dvorak Symphony to keep us from complaining. There are other orchestras in NY that run much more by committee, there are pros and cons to each approach.

September 3, 2015 at 11:53 PM · Hi Alice. Seems you have strong leadership and well communicated goals.


September 4, 2015 at 02:26 PM · Great care seems a must for developing and administering guidelines in a self appointed group.

There will always be the oboe/bass situation where certain musicians are critical for the performance. Full attendance would solve this so would a starting point be a periodic report on overall attendance, say percentage?


September 4, 2015 at 02:54 PM · For my group much of the policy development has been trial and error, something less-than-ideal happens that needs to be addressed, a policy clause is added or re-worded. It has to be pretty major & this does not happen often, but that’s how our attendance policy came about. My group does have membership fees,by the way, so that’s no guarantee of avoiding absences, and yes, attendance is supposed to be tracked.

To address the question about level of play/members pulling their weight, our most recent policy addition is that the members of the wind–section (the one player-per part section) can be asked to re-audition. My group did indeed have a change-up recently.

Full attendance is not a very realistic goal for the typical amateur orchestra that I’m familiar with because there’s usually several weeks of rehearsal leading up to a concert. My group’s first concert involves 12 rehearsals. Life happens & will often take priority over going to a rehearsal.

September 4, 2015 at 03:39 PM · Dave, you asked: For anyone in a self appointed group, how do you handle individual level of preparedness and development? Do you expect a certain level of preparation for first rehearsal or do you modify your program based on rehearsal results?

We get our music at the first rehearsal, so the first reading is a cold one. However, at subsequent rehearsals, one is expected to be prepared. Our situation is a little different from many groups though, because our members include a significant portion of Adult Starters, along with a smattering of seasoned professionals. Because of that, we do stop and work on spots where not everyone might be familiar with the terminology used, or the skill being asked for. Our director does a great job choosing music that stretches the beginners (me!) and still offers something of interest to our more skilled players. As a group, we frequently discuss alternate shifting or adjust the music to fit the overall skill level. The conductor has never pulled a piece before a performance, but has been known to add one on short notice. Generally we have 12 or more rehearsals before a performance and our programs are not that difficult, or very long. I would say it's a very collaborative atmosphere, but the conductor does have final say on everything.

September 4, 2015 at 03:41 PM · Hi Christina. I guess my group is on the other side of the pendulum swing. We have a 2 hr. rehearsal for our 3 to 4 concerts per month. Only a 1 hour program that is mainly fiddles. We play a different program each month drawn from about 6 hrs of repertoire so repeats happen. We add a little new material each year. In the past we have tweaked our program sometimes and rarely have had to cancel because of absentees.


September 4, 2015 at 04:00 PM · Our group does not require auditions, but either a thorough knowledge of the repertoire or good sight reading skills would be necessary for a new prospect to feel comfortable. Our teaching component is limited to a few new tunes per year. New to the group material and programs are distributed months in advance for personal development.

Krista, once rehearsed, how many times do you perform the concert. Over how many weeks are your rehearsals?


September 4, 2015 at 05:12 PM · David asked: Krista, once rehearsed, how many times do you perform the concert. Over how many weeks are your rehearsals?

We get roughly 12 one hour rehearsals over about five months for a single performance. I'd say we have a much more relaxed schedule than most groups. For the majority of us, this is pretty much our only musical outlet.

September 4, 2015 at 05:55 PM · Krista that sounds like a wonderful way to achieve an in depth understanding and development of the music without the constant performance pressure. Lots to be gained by playing with a few pros. I've had that experience a few times. Everything seems to fall into place like sitting in a rocking chair. Thanks for sharing.


September 4, 2015 at 09:35 PM · I belong to an informal non-performing string ensemble that meets on a weekday morning. So if you assume it must be for those who have retired or are otherwise not working, you'd be right. Almost all have had considerable orchestral experience, and some feel they no longer wish to play in established orchestras, although there are 4 or 5 of us who play regularly in orchestras.

It is an ideal ensemble for sight-reading and surprises because the conductor, a local composer, every week provides us with his own arrangements for strings of anything from the 14th century to Stravinsky (including his own compositions), one recent tour de force being his arrangement of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. All good fun, and I'm sure it has improved my playing without the pressures of impending performances.

As I said, we don't perform as an ensemble, but one or two members sometimes get involved in public performances of our good conductor's compositions elsewhere.

September 4, 2015 at 10:39 PM · Trevor, would something like that be suitable for someone who, like me, needs to work on sight reading? Or would that be a royal pain for everyone else?


September 5, 2015 at 12:39 AM · To my mind there are two things that, in conjunction, will improve sight reading - doing it at every opportunity, including inventing opportunities, like sight-reading a few new tunes every day from one of those mammoth books of folk music (if you're into that), and getting technique to the stage where you don't think about where the fingers go, or shifting (so, plenty of scales and arpeggios!)

September 5, 2015 at 12:10 PM · Trevor, I guess "reading between the lines" I would have to bring lots of food and drink to fit in.

Thanks to all who responded. A self appointed group can have many versions and I've gained lots of insight into what I prefer and some suggestions on how to better contribute to the groups I'm in.

Stay pawsitive,


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