The Life of a BSO Musician

By Ellen Pendleton Troyer

You settle in to your seat before a BSO concert at The Meyerhoff or Strathmore concert halls. If you’re a regular concertgoer, you look for familiar faces onstage. You think to yourself, “There’s my favorite percussionist,” “there’s that cellist I always love to watch perform,” “is that musician pregnant with another child?” Maybe you’re taken back to your days in school of practicing clarinet, trumpet, violin, or piano, and picture yourself onstage, if only you’d practiced more. Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to live the life of a musician in professional symphony orchestra? Here are a few things you might not know.

Performing in the BSO is a full time job, with many of us on the faculty at several other institutions-Baltimore School for the Arts, Peabody, U.M., etc. Most of us also perform chamber music, do guest performances with other orchestras, or teach privately. Some of us play several instruments.

Every BSO player you see onstage has been perfecting their instrument since early childhood, and won their job through a rigorous and highly competitive audition behind a screen, often against a hundred other players.

We each spend many hours per week of personal practice in preparation for the first rehearsal of a concert program. We normally have four rehearsals for each program, but often have only one or two.

We are small-muscle athletes who must take great care of muscles that perform accurate repetitive motions many hours per day. (The BSO’s dressing rooms have much in common with those of Baltimore’s major sports teams-physical therapy tape, ice packs, players doing warm ups, stretches, pre-concert routines, etc.)

If we make mistakes during a performance, it is likely to be published in reviews in the Baltimore Sun or Washington Post the next day. (Does that happen in your job?)

We work 5 nights a week, if we are performing with a chorus, not including daytime rehearsals.

Our “days off” are often Monday and Tuesday, but we rarely take a full day off from preparing concert programs. Many weeks, we have only Monday off.

In any given week, we are preparing two or more complete concert programs-the one you’re hearing, and the ones we’re performing in the coming weeks.

In addition to our evening concerts, we give daytime education concerts during many weeks, and perform several side-by-side concerts with area music students.

We regularly work Thursday nights through Sunday afternoons-evenings. Many of us miss our kid’s athletic games, music performances, school functions, neighborhood gatherings, church social groups, evenings with friends, sports events, etc. Not to mention time spent with our families on weekends.

Many of us are coaching area school orchestras, giving master classes, and performing for young people on our “days off” from BSO rehearsals.

Our work schedule is never the same week to week, making it difficult to maintain a healthy sleep schedule. (Especially for those of us with kids!)

So why do we musicians do this odd thing for a living? Why did we spend much of our childhoods in a practice room perfecting our craft, and our current lives in such a high-pressure career?

Music. We’ve all been addicted to the” drug of music” since we were children. We are compelled, as any artist is, to do what we do at the highest possible level. Satisfying our urge to be the conduit between great composers and listeners, so that great music lives on. In essence, to become part of the music that feeds our souls. We hope the BSO’s many performances will help to feed yours.