December Chestnuts

Every year is different when you’re in an orchestra. Each season brings different repertoire, conductors, and soloists, and the exact layout of each concert series (classics, pops, specials) is different. Time off also works out differently because Easter moves around, and there might be a week or two when trumpets aren’t required, as well. All this means that you have to assess the arc of each individual season, and plan the general flow of your practicing around it. 

This time of year, December, is a touchstone within the ever-changing rhythm of the orchestra season. Generally speaking, my colleagues and I always know what to expect: Messiah, Traditional Christmas, a couple of seasonal specials, Nutcracker, and a New Year’s show. The predictability and familiarity of this stretch makes it a really useful time of year.

First, I think it’s really important to take some time off the instrument when the schedule permits. I know this is a contentious point for some folks, and it bears further discussion another day. 

Familiar repertoire with clearly-understood technical and musical requirements also lets everyone have the time and space to get ready for what’s coming up in the new year. The holidays feel like a natural half-way point for the season, but really we’re closer to a third through than a half. There’s a lot still to come, and the opportunity to regroup is most welcome.

A Vienna-style New Year’s Day concert scheduled right in the middle of holidays poses several problems, not the least of which for me is that these shows are always very tiring, especially after taking some time off. It always feels like we’re playing all the time: there’s no chance to empty your trumpet in many of the famous Strauss waltzes, and the dreaded rotary trumpet left hand cramp often shows up somewhere in the second half. My solution is to take some time off the horn as soon as we’re off work so that I can be building again by the time this concert rolls around and I can use the heavy programme to my advantage. It’s very difficult to simulate that kind of workload at home, so I’m going to try to get out of it everything I can. With Mahler 6 a few weeks later, if there’s an opportunity to build condition I’ll take it!