Working conditions within orchestras have changed considerable since the 1990s. Concepts like quality management or controlling have been adopted, also raising questions over performance, or even ‘high performance’. Orchestra musicians experience a particular tension between artistic demands and service provision, self-realisation and teamwork, constant training and often weakly structured working hours.
Visual appearance can be part of this trend: how should orchestra musicians dress and present themselves? Collective labour agreements give some general guidelines, though details are usually left to individual arrangements and subject to specific working conditions. Personal opinions on the topic can vary considerably. For some musicians, prescribed working dress – often tails for men – feels inhibiting and defacing. For others, formal clothing reflects the festive nature of the event and is therefore seen positively.
How orchestras make their stage entrance or seating arrangements are another aspect of presentation. Yet these procedures are regulated only in a very general fashion. Most orchestras follow their own individual customs, guided by common sense and the conditions of the particular concert hall. Discussions between musicians very highlight the tension between ‘service provider’ and artist, as well as the role of image building. Both positions, however, stress that those roles are compatible and in fact inform each other. Whether opera musicians stay in the pit throughout or leave during breaks between their cues can also be seen as an aspect of presentation and performance. Some claim that leaving helps to refocus attention, others point out the potential for disruption to other musicians (and sometimes audiences). Some orchestras have introduced specific rules, though generally this appears to be a question of common sense.
Summary: The way how musicians enter the stage is a prelude to the performance of the whole orchestra. This should be organized as perfectly as the performance itself. It’s another task for musicians and management.