Joining a new Community Band


Striving to play the changes in a melodic way.
Staff member
Suzy, a friend, and I are joining a new community band for the summer while our regular concert band is on hiatus. They really want clarinetists, but also need a second alto sax. So there you have if, we'll provide two clarinet and one sax player. So I was thinking about what makes a good new member in a band.

We used to have people just show up to play but in the concert band we don't have any openings. For example, my sax section has two more players than we actually need with 3 altos, 2 tenors, and one bari. I also have too many subs who can be called upon at a moments notice to come in and play better than any of us!

When we walk in, I will have to force myself to be laid back, quiet and performance oriented. I hope to improve the section sound without any drama. Drama comes by insisting you play the solos because you are better than the regular player. That has happened in a number of band I have sat in with, and I don't want to *ever* be that guy.

I have been in communication with the band about when we start (last day of the other band, first day for us with the new band who has already been meeting). So far they have accepted our offer but don't know how to get us the music (or just won't answer that question). So I guess we'll show up and see what happens. With us oldsters reading three to a stand just doesn't work as we all have different prescriptions.

Oh, and they have custom shirts we'll have to buy. But that's not a problem for us. So here's my query, "What do I do if the saxes are *horribly* out of tune? They are in their recordings and I could help with that. But would that be too presumptuous? I really like helping in that regard, but others have suggested that as the *new* guy I shouldn't get involved in that. You know, the ol' "not my show, not my monkeys" thang.
I would sit back and observe the dynamic for a couple of rehearsals before opening my mouth, other than to be friendly and congenial. If you get the chance, compliment someone or something that goes well. Like you say, don't "be that guy". It's also about the director and their mentality. Are they hearing and correcting mistakes, terrible intonation, etc., or just letting it go. After you have surveyed the terrain, you can decide whether to approach the director and / or section leader with gentle suggestions, and then gauge their reactions.

One of the bands I used to play with was always horribly out of tune. We never did more than a cursory tune up at rehearsal, and it was painful. Then when we had a concert, the director would spend 20 minutes before the show tuning each person individually with a meter, but not as a section. The whole band would then play a tuning note for 5 seconds, and he would say, "OK, let's go". He would do this in front of the entire audience. There was no debate - it was his way or the highway. Painful is a mild way to put it.

Conversely, in another band, the director would spend 15 minutes at the start of each rehearsal tuning, but he had a system that engaged everyone immediately and throughout. Scales in different keys, staggered scales, interval exercises, all kinds of stuff, and a bit different every week. All the while encouraging everyone to listen. He would always say listen to the low brass first, and work your way up through the sections. Often, he would tune that way, starting with the tubas, then adding the baritones and trombones, then the low woodwinds, followed by saxes and horns, and lastly the high woodwinds. If at any point, he didn't like what he was hearing, he would stop, tell everyone to listen and then start over. At first I thought, this is crazy - we sure are spending a lot of time on this when we could be rehearsing this show coming up in four weeks. Then I started hearing how good the band sounded, even when we were sight reading a piece. I realized that he wasn't just tuning up our instruments - he was tuning up our brains to think musically. He was always open to suggestions as well, especially from the section leaders.

Phew! That was long winded. I guess my point was how the director's attitude can really shape how the whole band interacts.
I've had directors who had the band do scales and tuning exercises. Usually starts out very strong and eventually they all do less and less. Turnover in the community bands can be high too, so it must be discouraging to have to start all over. In the bands I run, the section leaders *own* helping their section play in tune with internal pulse and listening across the section and band. I delight in a director noticing the work we've done as a section, it doesn't happen enough ... but every once in a while you get some notice from the director or someone else in the band.
You buy the guy one of these and tell him how much it improves his tone.

I joke. I joke. Well, sorta.

I was a director for a brief while and I leaned more toward the hands-off approach. Sections could do what they wanted. If I heard something really bad in rehearsal, I'd focus on that, but the problems I generally had weren't intonation, but rhythm. I still distinctly remember my bass, drums, and piano players all coasting along at different speeds during a performance, while I was wearing a look of abject panic and waving my hands wildly trying to get at least some folks to agree. I've blanked out what happened after ...

In a few of the groups I've been in, if someone was consistently out of tune, we'd put a better player/singer next to him. Provided that the out-of-tune person wasn't playing/singing molto blastissimo, that worked out well. It's easy to do, too: "Hey, Jim. I forgot my music today. Mind if I sit/stand next to you and play off your part?" Hmm. I'm also realizing that this happened to me on a few occasions ...
I was saying to Jim the other day, a band that I sometimes play some bass clarinet for has some real pitchiness in their sax section. This particular director is not one who you would like to cross. Since she is a clarinet & sax player herself, I figure it's her job to straighten it out. When in the past I have mentioned to a player during a break how to possibly improve their intonation--something simple like relaxing their embouchure, or doing a particular long tone exercise with a tuner-- they look at me blankly--as if I don't know what I'm talking about. Hey, what does she know? She's just a bass clarinet player. Or maybe I'm just talking to sometime who has played out of tune all of their lives, and doesn't have a concept of what "in tune" really is. I don't know. Either way: Not my monkey; not my zoo.

I will be back-filling a bari sax spot for a different community band for an upcoming band festival in a couple of weeks. And when that spot is done, I'll be filling their bass clarinet spot until their season is over in July. Ask me mid July how it went. :emoji_grinning:

Overall the way I see things is it's not my job to fix a section's intonation. If I was regularly playing in a section, I would try to help the best I could. But if I'm guest, and not even playing in their section, I don't even have any street cred. ;)
This post is a few months old but what the heck -
Per OP Jims original thoughts - yes as the newcomer, I would show up and stay low key, you're expertise will be apparent after a few practices, and your input will be sought, at least if it's the type of band I like to play in. If you think you'll be staying, buy the shirt!

The tuning issue can be discussed at the proper time.

I noticed in my last band that the members didn't waste a lot of everyone's time giving their opinions during practice. The band I currently belong to is very new and has 10 members on a good day. The members are also really good at only speaking when they have something "worth contributing" We did have a member who prattled constantly and has moved on. We have another member, who is probably not coming back, that is/ was also kind of painful. Interestingly, these 2 were really sub par musicians, go figure.
Well the first practice with this group went well. I introduced my wife and myself to the director. The sax section only had an alto sax player, but she was stellar. So I asked her how many more we needed and then got them for her. At the first jazz practice and subsequent gig I played the church mouse thang. And after that I donated three charts based on the strength of the group which the director immediately put into rotation. I covered tenor sax the first night and the french horn players noted how lovely the sax section sounded, especially in the duet part.

I also joined the quartet as they needed an alto two. They play three songs between the concert band and jazz band setup. Turns out they like the three arrangements I brought in (they were playing songs that might have been too hard) so much that we will be playing them for the concert next week. So, all in all it should be a nice summer of music before Suzy and I return to our regular concert band gig. I recommend this kind of summer project to those looking for more play time.
It's great to hear about the playing prospects that you have available to you. I am jealous, but, I do like to take a break during the summer. In New England we get at most 8 weeks of summer.
This year in Kansas City winter lasted well into April and summer began in early May. I would have welcomed an eight week spring. We may well have five months of summer. Nature's playground! As someone said, "The calendar may say April 15, but it's really January 106."
Having lived in various parts of New York, you just have to have lowered expectations for summer.

It's currently 100 degrees and 7% humidity in beautiful East Mesa.
That me in the avatar, playing Alto on a people mover in Pittsfield NH in mid July 2015 :)
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