Let’s play tedium: Musicians find other things to do in recording session

Let’s play tedium: Musicians find other things to do in recording session


norman lebrecht

January 19, 2014

In the session below, newly posted on Youtube, one musician is transfixed by his iPad, another is sending an urgent text, a third is reading a magazine and a fourth is wondering if he needs a haircut. All the while, the conductor, strings and some of the woodwind are working their socks off.

No need to name the band, but we can vouch that you don’t see this sort of attitude any more with the London orchestras at Abbey Road.

daumier yawning musician


  • Bill says:

    The orchestra is not anonymous as stated. It is named in the titles as the RTE conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud.

    I can’t really see what the fuss is about. A rather average performance, rather averagely recorded with the woodwind on your lap and what sounds like three scratchy violins even if it looks more in the video. I found myself checking emails as I watched it too. The bigger question is why did anyone bother with the recording in the first place? There are plenty of other good versions in the catalogue. If musicians play Solitaire or read the newspaper in a public concert, that would be a different matter. In this situation I don’t blame them at all if they are sitting there with nothing to do.

    • I disagree with your appraisal of this performance but, in any case, there are NO good versions of the Symphony, which is the meat of the CD. It’s well-worth a listen. And for your information, it’s excellently recorded!

  • Brian says:

    I’ll be the first to criticize and ensemble simply going through the motions, but were we watching the same video? What I saw was a run-through of much of the piece. I saw one guy (bass clarinet) glancing at a tablet when he wasn’t playing. I also thought that this was a pretty good and engaging reading of the piece. Maybe I’d love to see the London orchestras recording at Abbey Road. In the meantime, please descend just a little from your high horse, sir (meant with all sincerity).

  • If the conductor allows it…

  • Anon says:

    “but we can vouch that you don’t see this sort of attitude any more with the London orchestras at Abbey Road.”

    I’m afraid that’s definitely not the case; the attitude still prevails in orchestras, both in rehearsal and on session (often all the more so in film sessions at Abbey Road, Air and Angel, because of the frequent long gaps between being required to play for some instruments. The tidying of multiple sections of weekend papers is a common post-session experience.)

  • Steve Alcott says:

    It’s not such unusual behavior-they know the piece cold, they know exactly when they need so start getting ready to play, and it’s good to clear your mind a bit during long rests rather than sitting and obsessing about the hard lick coming up. I like to watch the musicians in the Met Opera pit-the brass and percussion always disappear during long idle periods and get back in time to play their parts to perfection.

  • NYMike says:

    Attire and behavior in the recording studio is very different from that in a concert on stage. If one has 190 measures rest and knows where his/her next entrance is, should he/she just stare at the ceiling or, ugh, the conductor? It’s very difficult to look engaged while having nothing to play for more than half a long take. Try it sometime, Norman.

  • kevin mallon says:

    I too don’t understand what the fuss is about. Seems like a normal orchestral session– everyone is engaged and playing at their best when they need to be on. As long as someone comes in when they have to, after a lot of bars rest, who cares whether they are reading or on their ipad. I’m sure this happens the world over in recording sessions. It is wrong to imply that there is some lack of discipline here– or that the mighty London orchestras would act any differently at Abbey Road. RTE Ireland orchestra sounds pretty good in this clip.

  • orchestral_minion says:

    Ummmm…yes you do see this attitude. Yes, in London orchestras. Yes, at Abbey Road. This video is of a recording session, not a concert (not even a complete performance of the piece) so who gives a stuff what the players are up to? If you have a ‘control’ video of a run-through of a chunk of the music where phones, magazines, tablets and….errr…hair? (really? you really have a problem with that?) were banned then I’d be fascinated (by which, of course, I mean ‘not remotely interested’) by the comparison. I rather doubt there’d be an audible difference.

    For what it’s worth, during a session that took place a week or so before Christmas (at Abbey Road, as it happens) I spotted a colleague playing online poker on his tablet in his rests. Precisely 0% of people the people who noticed this were bothered. He played impeccably.

    The fact that this is a non-story is irrelevant. The fact that the last sentence of NL’s non-story is completely fictitious is less excusable.

  • Paul Sullivan says:

    I have to say that I fully agree with all the above comments and can’t see what the fuss is about. These folks are pros and surely know this wonderful old chestnut well! Better to be reading on a kindle or tablet the rustling about a newspaper. One thing I did find fun to catch was the trombone player in the blue Nike T-shirt playing a little tattoo on his tummy at 4:03. Looks like he was enjoying himself!

  • James Hill says:

    Well then I guess we are lucky they are not air traffic controllers or surgeons.

  • Micaela says:

    Don’t jump to conclusions about the guy with the tablet or the person with the book either for that matter. A tablet is probably the easiest way to follow a score during rehearsal. I have a section member who does it all the time.The guy with the book could be following a printed score.

    These could be super-conscientious musicians. It’s a lot more interesting to have a score on hand during rehearsal & tablets are being seen more & more as the way to do this. You see what’s going on, you don’t have to stop and ask the conductor about typos in the part and so on.

  • Helen Tuckey says:

    Crosswords, Sudokos, magazines, shopping lists, scratch lotto tickets, and now smart phones and iPads, seen them all. These often do keep players more mentally and physically alert when there’s absolutely nothing to do, rather than staring into space “looking professional”. And in the really tedious sessions, (where half the time, the conductor disappears into the booth to listen to the takes, leaving the orchestra unattended), the players run a book on when it will finish!

  • Debbie says:

    Having spent hours and hours in recording sessions I know how important it is to sit very quietly, not die of boredom and then be totally focused when it’s time to play. Reading is best as I’m usually asked to turn my phone off because the signals (even on silent) sometimes interfere with the recording equipment. I use my kindle as the page turns are inaudible :). .

  • Brian says:

    Not too unusual. I’ve been through hundreds of hours of recording sessions, and there are often “down times” when a section is being done without your involvement (esp in certain winds or brass). It is too noisy and disturbing to leave the sound room or stage, and more courteous to your colleagues to simply sit quietly, and be available, so the job gets done faster. This may be during some recording-take with a lot of rests for you – or also when there are technical issues between the producer, sound guys, and conductor, and nothing is being recorded for a chunk of time. I’ve always brought something to read. Sessions can go on for 6 hours in one day.

    It is mentally relieving – and beneficial to your concentration when it is really required – to read a book, or in this day and age, look at a touch-screen. (Less noisy in fact, than turning a page.) I wouldn’t blame anyone for burning up a bit of idle time this way. The alternative is to get bored, or impatient, and nobody wants that frustration finding its way into one’s performance.

  • Anonymous says:

    I was more annoyed with the editing of this video, especially from around 3:10-3:40. The quick cutting and back and forth between sections was incredibly hard to watch.

  • Alan Page says:

    Shades of Berlioz’s “Evenings in the Orchestra.” Obviously a grand historical tradition.