David Sumbler’s Weblog

February 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm (Artist's News, General Information, Music, Tour News) (, , , , , , , , , )

David Sumbler, principal flute player

David Sumbler, principal flute player

David Sumbler, principal flute player, has performed with the Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra for over 20 years. In his new blog David gives an insight into the life and work of the Orchestra, both on and off tour.


I’m sure most of you have been following the fascinating blogs written by Hannah and Rym. Well, now you are going to have the chance to find out what the Orchestra has been up to as well.


As the Company is not yet on tour, I thought I would begin by telling you a little bit about how the Orchestra works, and what the musicians’ lives are like.


At the moment the dancers are, I am sure, working very hard to learn the productions for the forthcoming tour. But the Orchestra only starts rehearsing for the Mixed Programme on Monday 23 February, just 3 days before opening night!


On Monday we will have 6 hours rehearsal in a church in Brighouse, just for the Orchestra, and 9 hours the following day. The first time that dancers and Orchestra try things over together is at the dress rehearsal at Leeds Grand Theatre on Wednesday afternoon. Up until then, the dancers will only have heard the music played on the piano, or perhaps on a recording. We have a second dress rehearsal in the evening, and then we open the show on the Thursday afternoon. Now you know why people talk about first night nerves!


As I said, the dancers don’t get to hear the music live until a day or so before the opening night. We, on the other hand, sometimes never see the dancing at all (although the conductor will have been to some of the rehearsals). This is because being in the Orchestra pit it is difficult or impossible for us to see the stage, especially for the brass and percussion who are sometimes actually underneath the stage. It all depends on the theatre and where you are sitting in the pit.


We don’t work full time for NBT: we are freelance musicians. It would not make much sense for NBT to put us on full-time salaries, when they only need us for about half the year. At the same time, they don’t want to have a rag-bag of musicians sight-reading the show at every new venue. So we have a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement: the Company agrees who it wants in the Orchestra and offers the work to us; we accept as much of the work as we can, although there may be occasions when particular players are not available. In this way, NBT gets the players it wants most of the time without the expense of paying retaining fees, and the musicians have about six months work in the year which they can fairly count on, but can still keep up other professional connections so that they are not out of work for the rest of the year.


So, if you have ever looked into the pit and noticed that, for instance, a bassoonist called Paul looks suspiciously like a woman, it is most likely that Paul was not available and a “dep” (deputy) has been booked instead. All of our deps are excellent players who work with us frequently and are as much part of the team as those of us who are there the rest of the time.


You might be wondering what sort of work the musicians do when they are not working for NBT. Mostly it is freelance work with other Orchestras: various NBT Orchestra members work regularly for the Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic and other such orchestras. There are also TV and film sessions. Most also do some individual teaching of their instrument, either privately or in a music college or school. People also do concerts of chamber music, solo recitals and suchlike.


Personally, I used to do all of the above, as well as working as a music examiner, adjudicator, composer, arranger, editor, accompanist and repetiteur. I have even played the piano for rehearsals and ballet class for NBT in the dim, distant past. Now, from choice, I do little paid work other than working for NBT. This is because, as the oldest member of the Orchestra (although not the longest serving) I decided that it was time I just did the things I really enjoy doing, and so far as work was concerned, that meant playing for NBT.


And why do I enjoy working for the Company so much? Certainly because of the music and the dance (even though I often can’t see it!) but it is also because of the people I work with. This is even more important than it would be in a normal job, because since we are staying away from home for a week at a time, we tend to spend much of our free time with our colleagues, so they need to be good friends too.


So that’s a little bit about the background of the Orchestra and the way we work. Next time I write we shall have begun the spring tour, so I shall tell you something about life when we are actually working for NBT!

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