5 Steps to Hearing the A
Joseph Young, Conductor of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Years ago, I played in the orchestra. Music was always a major part of my life-- so much so to where at one point in my life I was actually in four musical groups at once. There was a time I played flute, violin, viola, and bassoon *insert straight face emoji.* As a member of the symphonic orchestra, I remember before we would start any rehearsal, recital, or performance, the entire group of us—about 75 musicians—on any day, would be warming up, tuning, talking, practicing, zoned out, whatever. But when the lone oboist started playing a simple, sustained A, that was our cue to reel it in and follow suit, no matter what was happening. Whatever instrument you played and whatever it took for you to play it, at that moment it was time to give an A. Recalling this experience with Glo, a few thoughts came to mind about life. I call these the 5 Steps to the A.
Get in tune. Even if you’re playing a bright, crisp F, you’re still out of it. Sometimes things in life sound good, but are just wrong. Listen and adjust.
Pay attention. So often, many of us would be talking, giggling, trying to finish homework for another class or just completely zoned out *raises hand* that we’d completely miss it the cue. A’s playing all around and you’re missing it. Pay attention, because in the end, it’ll be you trying to catch up.
Reposition yourself. Oftentimes so many of us would be at the water fountain or in the supply closet or away from our instruments talking or doing whatever. Yet some of us were actually seated, but our instruments would be on our laps or under our chairs. Still either way, if you’re not ready, you’re not ready. Being across the room from your instrument or it being under your chair, out of position is out of position. In the supply closet or with your instrument perched on your knees, either way, you’re not ready. Be ready so you don’t have to get ready. If you’re out of position, you’re not ready.
Stop getting ready. At some point, you have to stop turning the tuning pegs, stop emptying the spit valve, stop buffing off fingerprints, stop shuffling sheet music, and just start playing. Sometimes we are doing so much to get ready, that we never actually start. The very thing you’re getting ready for, you’re about to miss. Trust me, that sheet music will be just fine. Time to start.
Listen. Depending on where you sat, you might not be able to hear the oboist as readily. The flutes, who sat right next to the oboist, naturally would be able to hear quicker than, say, a percussionist, who sat rows back and was surrounded by bells, chimes, and drums. Either way, we should be listening. We might have to do a little more work to settle the noise around us. You might have to lean in a bit or shush your neighbor, but listen, you’ll hear the A.
For some of us the A has been playing for a while. What do we need to do to hear it?