To set the stage for these expanded thoughts on professionalism
let me first reprint some comments first expressed by me in an
AccompaList message. It refers to an account sent in by one of
the list subscribers, telling of a particular organist of long
tenure who rudely disregarded a request by the music director
during a worship service:
"If ever an accompanist quits caring
about being professional in what he or she does, it is a sad
and foreboding thing. As a professional instrumentalist, that
organist--despite his tenure or standing--was to follow the directions
of the conductor (the music minister). Disagreements can (and
must) be worked out off-service, not as-you-go.
I believe that we accompanists must
care about maintaining some form of professional behavior, if
for no other reason than a fear of not acting in a professional
manner. We have to care even if no one else might. Professionalism
is as much or more an attitude as it is a skill level.
Ya'know those days when you sort of
drag around in hope-no-one-sees-me
clothes---before a shower, unshaven (beard *OR* legs!!), etc.....
get around to doing those things, of course you feel better about
That's a key point about professionalism:
you do it for yourself, not for
anyone else. You honestly should fear the day that you start
that regard. You should fight to maintain that standard about
when it slips the greatest casualty of it may be you."
Expanding on those thoughts, I would say that among several
characteristics that could be named, three key ingredients to
professionalism seem foremost to me, two of which that don't
require professional playing skills. In other words, two-thirds
of what it means to be professional are within the scope of anyone!
The three ingredients are: skills, attitude and values.
Not much needs to be said here. Professional skills are normal
performing skills taken to a higher level. From accuracy to sight
reading to difficulty levels to musicality, it is a certain degree
of refinement and reliability. Most of the professional musicians
have had extensive training, even though there are of course
those rock guitarists who made it on their own!
If you don't think you are a professional player, at least
you can strive to reach higher than where you are now. And that's
all that really matters.
The second ingredient, attitude, has two applications: our
attitude toward others and, perhaps just as importantly, our
attitude toward ourselves. Re-read what I had to say about that
at the beginning of this article. An attitude of respect for
the conductor/music minister, as well as fellow musicians, is
a hallmark of a professional.
When I am asked what my occupation is, I am proud to answer
that I am a professional musician. Professional music is a noble
thing (no more noble than other professions, of course, but that's
not the point). I feel almost duty-bound to represent my profession
honorably, lest I sully it in the eyes of those who use me. A
bad attitude puts a black eye on the profession, and goodness
knows that has happened too many times.
How I think about myself also plays a role in my performance
skills as well as my confidence. I believe this: If you think
better of yourself as a musician, you will put more artistry
into your playing because you will be that much closer to thinking
of yourself as an artist!
A right attitude helps me respect the printed score that much
more. It helps me ask for the kinds of conditions that will make
it possible for me to do my best job. It gives me better judgment
about those musical tasks I decide to tackle and the ones I don't.
It helps set an example for other musicians, particularly rising
musicians. It sets a positive tone for rehearsal. Don't ask me
how it does these things, it just does.
(Let's put this article in Pause for a moment: If at this
point you are saying to yourself, "But I am not actually
a professional musician..." remember that part earlier about
two-thirds of the characteristics of professional having nothing
to do with skill! Unpause!)
Attitude toward others needs little expansion here. Think
of those pro musicians you have known or encountered who seemed
not to have a good one and strive to be the opposite! Kindness
and respect always have their place.
But there's another dimension to attitude: being a Christian
musician. All of the requirements of the Bible are added to
the existing characteristics of a professional.
For most of you this comes naturally, springing up out of
the overflow of your heart for the things of the Lord. But as
I often told a vocal ensemble I used to lead, "I want and
hope that you'll always sing from and show a face from the overflow
of your heart. But if you argued with your spouse on the way
to church, or don't feel well, or have some other face-deflating
or spirit-deflating situation going on, then I expect you to
be an ACTOR!"
And that's the truth. To maintain the witness sometimes we
may have to be an actor, then work it out with God later (or
whoEVER needs our working it out with them).
These are just some of the ways that professionalism is an
I believe that there is a set of values that are held by the
professional-acting musician. They are a little similar to attitude
but perhaps having a more immediate practical impact. They would
include such things as:
+ arrive early and prepare/organize your music for rehearsal
or performance (notice that this is nearly always what you see
professional musicians do that are hired for your seasonal presentations)
+ practice in advance any particularly tricky sections, if
you have been given the music with enough time to do so; mark
your score to help prevent making the same mistake twice (ok,
maybe twice but not three times!)
TIP: the less time you have to prepare in advance (thus invoking
your sight reading skills, whatever they are or are not), then
the less notes you try to play at those tricky moments, in favor
of keeping the beat going. This is the key attribute of a good
sight reader. Remember, if you have not been given the music
with adequate time, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT and never should
you take upon yourself this burden of self-proclaimed, self-flogging
sense of inadequacy!!
By the way, I believe I know where that sense of inadequacy
comes from. It comes from your heart's desire to do a good job.
It comes from your heart's desire to be helpful. It comes from
your heart's desire to hold up your end of the bargain. And yes,
it comes from your heart's desire not to embarrass yourself,
a purely natural and honorable thought! So, when you are confronted
with a situation where you know you won't be at your best, somehow
it meanders its way through your psyche until it becomes something
you feel responsible for. But you're not! You only are responsible
for developing your skills as best you can, on a continuing basis,
thus to be found as ready as possible for REASONABLE expectations
and once in awhile the unreasonable ones!
+ pay attention in rehearsal; don't be distracting during
+ acknowledge the conductor (music minister) as the authority
in charge and work out any touchy differences with him or her
in private; never embarrass the conductor--ask questions without
using a tone that suggests any untoward feelings;
+ if you have suggestions that you feel would help the cause
of producing the best music possible, use good judgment as to
if it's important to bring them up at a rehearsal point or if
it might should wait until later;
+ don't lord your greater skill over lesser-skilled players,
in attitude, "looks" (with the eyes), or comments [I
know none of you would do this but it has to be on any list of
professional values]; don't be patronizing
+ take advantage of the opportunity to impress younger players
toward going further with their musical interests and abilities;
+ do your profession and the cause of Christ a favor--have
a kind demeanor and a helpful and sincere spirit.
One last time let me say that professionalism is an attitude
that ANYONE can have, if it is properly aligned with the tenets
above, regardless of their actual playing skills. In fact, just
like that feeling you get that somehow your car seems to run
better after it's been washed (smile), you feel better overall
about your abilities and your contribution when you have adopted
and maintained professional standards, even if your playing seems
no different than before (but I bet it will be!).