A Guide to Education Articles and Interviews

Orchestral Etiquette
By Martha Aarons
Flute Talk—April 1998

As a member of the Cleveland Orchestra for 16 years I have been fortunate to work in flute sections here and elsewhere with conscientious, considerate colleagues who became my friends. However, over the years I have heard about flute sections that were not as amicable. Since a knowledge of protocol can help prevent the resentments that drive colleagues apart, I hope the following rules will serve as a useful guide.

Here are some suggestions and guidelines of some experienced orchestral flutists. Several of the most important “rules of decorum” are addressed by Jeanne Baxtresser in her Orchestral Excerpts book. She starts with:

Baxtresser continues:

Regarding showing appreciation, Baxtresser suggests:

Here are some other guidelines for orchestral musicians:

I have some special advice for second flutists: Never overpower the principal with tone quality, dynamic, or vibrato. You should generally be an equal partner, but err on the side of discretion. When playing unisons, fit inside of the sound of the principal. Never insist on your pitch or rhythm when in your ensemble role, but do bring out your part when you have a solo, thematic material, or an interesting harmonic change. Finally, be willing to help the first flutist dovetail a long phrase or very long note, striving to match his sound.

Jeanne Baxtresser eloquently expresses the reason so many musicians dream of playing in an orchestra. “There are no words to describe the joys of playing the world’s greatest music in a great orchestra. One of the most powerful elements that makes this experience so overwhelming is that it is a shared experience. In the performing of beautiful music, you experience a relationship not only with the composer’s creation, but also with your fellow musicians with whom you share one of the closest relationships in a lifetime.”

Martha Aarons has been a member of the Cleveland Orchestra since 1981 and was formerly principal flutist of the North Carolina Symphony. A graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music, Aarons is now on its faculty. Her teachers include William Hebert, Maurice Sharp, Julius Baker, Marcel Moyse, and George Drexler. She is also principal flute in the Aspen Chamber Symphony and teaches flute at the Aspen Festival.