Originally published to AllianceBrass.com
Before we start, I’d like to thank Professor Gail Wilson of Arizona State University for your brass convocation class on stage etiquette which is still one of the most memorable presentations I have ever seen on any subject. It’s still fresh in mind over 10 years later. If you haven’t given much thought about how you enter the stage for a concert, you may not realize that you are overlooking one of the most important aspects of a live performance. There’s a protocol for every venue, every style of music, and for every ensemble, and failing to consider these variables can trip up an otherwise flawless performance. I’ve both witnessed and participated in countless embarrassing stage entrances, so with an emphasis on chamber music ensembles, what is it we particularly need to pay attention to?
Set the Stage:
Always have your excess gear set out on stage before you make your entrance. Mutes and auxiliary instruments are the main culprits for brass players, but the number one faux pas for musicians is carrying your sheet music on stage. Sheet music needs to be set out in advance (even if only moments ahead of time) and placed in concert order with the first piece ready to play without the need for opening folders or shuffling papers.
Walk the Walk:
Everyone walks at the same speed, right? Uh, not when we’re carrying instruments. When entering the stage everyone needs to move at the same pace to avoid clumping and gaps. There’s nothing quite like seeing four members of a quintet standing in place on stage while the fifth member is still squeezing through the stage door. Only walk as fast as your slowest member. In our case, Alliance Brass has some high heel-wearing members and asking someone in high heels to pick up the pace is a nonstarter.
Audiences key into attitudes and emotions more acutely than musicians know. So go ahead and play as artfully as you can, but you might want to consider adding a smile. Look engaged when your colleagues address the audience. Laugh when Chris…I mean someone…tells a dumb joke you’ve heard before.
Grab your Stopwatch:
At our shows, we fire up the music within about 10 seconds of the band appearing on stage. Your needs may vary, but don’t keep the audience waiting if you can help it. The audience isn’t paying to watch you shuffle chairs, stands, and music, which is why you took care of that boring stuff earlier.
Bowing is Music’s traditional form of audience acknowledgement, which means that you will be doing a lot of it. And yet somehow most musicians (even famous ones) manage to screw it up with regularity. In two easy steps, here’s how to take a bow:
1) Put your feet together.
2) Bend over and look at your feet just long enough to say “Hello feet!” To hammer this home, let me rephrase those rules in the negative:
3) Do NOT bow with your feet apart.
4) Do NOT look at the audience when you bow.
Finally, remember that all the rules of entering the stage apply to exiting as well. Do not carry your music or extra gear with you when you leave; you can go back for it later. I promise that if you try to carry your music you will eventually drop it or knock it all over the floor. As long as the stage lights are up or the audience is applauding, the show is on, and you ignore that at your own peril. In the end, all you really need to do is to look sharp and be engaged, but you might want to take five minutes of rehearsal to make sure you and your ensemble are on the same page about what that means.