Appearing as a Guest Soloist
Here Robert provides a few helpful pointers to those starting out on the solo circuit.

There are many levels of being a ‘Guest Soloist’, from appearing at the Royal Albert Hall to giving a short performance or demonstration at your local community centre. I have enjoyed all the varied solo work I have done throughout my career and would like to discuss some points of consideration which may help those of you starting out as young soloists.

What should I play?

The venue should play a big part in helping you decide. Some performances will be enhanced by generous acoustics while others will be destroyed. Playing outdoor concerts can prove particularly difficult for soloists; page turns, balance, hearing and intonation are all affected by the elements. Buildings frequently used for concerts are: cathedrals, churches, schools, universities, gymnasiums, arts centres, theatres, tents and concert halls.

The occasion should also influence your choice of solo. Gala concerts, thematic concerts, school concerts, formal concerts, recitals, funerals and weddings all require careful consideration when planning a programme.

The ensemble and rehearsal time should also be a consideration. Don’t be too ambitious with your choice of solo if the ensemble is young and inexperienced, no matter how much rehearsal you are allocated. Equally don’t waste an opportunity to play something of substance with a professional ensemble.

Your ability is also a factor in making programme choices. Sometimes a combination of the venue, occasion, ensemble and your ability, needs to be addressed. The Royal Albert Hall - Gala Concert - Black Dyke Band would throw up a vastly different choice than; College – workshop - Black Dyke Band, as would Barbican - Youth Festival - High School Band. Generally, never programme material you don’t know. Just because a brass band version of a work is known to be good, don’t assume that the wind band arrangement by ‘Joe Bloggs’ is also good, and vice versa.

How much should I charge?

Most promoters book names not players! Just because you are a good player, don’t expect to get paid a fortune. Ask yourself a poignant question; “How many people will come to this concert because I am the soloist?” Once you have agreed a figure, don’t “Add on”. Be prepared to do some prestigious work for expenses only. Big concerts with high exposure generate more work.

Different types of concerts pay different rates. Arts Festivals, Charity Concerts, Brass Band, Wind Band, Orchestra, Choir, Solo Recital with piano –they all have different budgets and demand different fees.

Ask subtle questions: What soloists have you had in the past? What’s the venue like, big or small? Do you usually fill the hall? Is the concert sponsored? The answers help you build up a picture of the type of concert you are being invited to play solos at and also help you pitch your fee appropriately. Where extensive travel is involved get accurate estimates, include: Petrol, parking, ticket prices and accommodation costs.
If you are asked to do a tour, the simplest fee arrangement can be to charge a daily rate from leaving home to getting back. Depending on the soloist in question and the occasion, suitable fees will always vary. However, before you request your fee, always ask yourself an important question, “is this a concert I would like to do?” – If the answer is most definitely, “Yes” be careful you don’t lose the engagement by being too greedy!

What should I wear?

Tails, white jacket, dinner jacket, lounge suite, smart but casual; these are the usual options. Ask the promoter of the concert and if possible check with the conductor and any other guest soloists. Being inappropriately dressed can spoil your concert and equally, being overdressed can be embarrassing. Here is a rough guide:

Concerto concerts - tails
Evening concerts - white or dinner jacket
Afternoon concerts - lounge suites
Workshop concerts and public rehearsals - smart casuals
Contemporary music concert – all black.

Be professional...

If you agree to send music, photos, biographical details, do it promptly. Invest time and a little money in presenting these articles professionally. More often than not, this attention to detail creates an impression and establishes an image before the first rehearsal.

Managing a rehearsal...

Diplomacy is essential, try to give some praise before you criticise. Remember that when people are nervous and tense they sometimes become defensive. Try to develop a relationship with the conductor, let him know that you are friendly and fairly easy going. This can be done prior to the rehearsal by phone, fax or email. Let the ensemble know that you are looking forward to performing with them. Don’t stand for any nonsense or unreasonable requests! Have a good idea of where you think problems will occur and make sure you cover them. The way you say something is sometimes more important than what you say. If the rehearsal has gone well, thank the band and conductor; it might be the last chance you get to do this.

Playing solos with various accompaniments...

Playing solos with bands is very different from using piano accompaniment. Generally the soloist can lead and dominate a piano accompaniment; this is much more difficult with Wind Band and even more difficult with a big sounding Brass Band. Balance problems are also compounded with heavy accompaniment. However, there is a greater feeling of security with a solid accompaniment providing everyone agrees with tempi. My experience of playing solos with big ensembles on very little rehearsal is that the soloist needs to be able to compromise in most areas, especially dynamic and tempi. It is essential to have practised your solos at different speeds and to have emergency breaths pre-arranged. Intonation problems are less evident when playing with a band, musicians listen and often compensate intuitively. Pianos unfortunately cannot! However, they are usually tuned to A = 440 (unlike many old English church organs!)

Follow up...

Take the time and trouble to write or phone the concert organisers to thank them for inviting you to play in their concert. Ask them to pass on your thanks to the band. If financial arrangements were not finalised on the night, suggest ways that they might be completed. Check that they have your address and that they will send your music and photographs back as soon as possible. Finally wish them all the best for the future and let them know that you would be pleased to work with them again.

© Robert Childs

01 Apr 2007