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Welcome to the tenth instalment of Monday #MusicMatters as part of the JAMS Canada PRO Series – “Here’s What I Know”.

We caught up with Debbie Shaw for her insights on Playing In An Orchestra

 1.  What are some do’s & don’ts for playing in an orchestra?  Etiquette/rules/courtesy?

Practise your part – don’t waste everyone’s time at rehearsal by not preparing ahead of time. Arrive before rehearsal to give yourself enough time to warm-up. Don’t chat, check your phone etc during rehearsal- stay focused. When the conductor is giving instructions to another section, listen – it is useful information for everyone.

2.  Breathing is obviously crucial to playing the flute – what kind of breathing techniques do you do?  How do you limber up your fingers – scales?  Do you play every day?  If you don’t, do you notice a difference?

Breathe from the diaphragm. Take your breath earlier than you think you need to otherwise you may come in late!. After warming up your instrument, Andersen studies are great for limbering up your fingers. I didn’t usually play every day- but the pandemic has changed all that.

3.  How does it differ from playing solo gigs or in duos & trios? Which do you prefer and why? 

Playing in an orchestra is a unique and thrilling experience. Nothing compares to playing a beautiful piece of music with a group of 45 musicians (or more). It is an incredibly moving and a completely different experience from simply attending a live performance. When you are part of the music it is transcendent. You must be aware of how your part fits into the whole piece. Are you playing the melody? Are you simply the accompaniment? Are you doubling another instrument? In the trio I play with, Class Act, I am playing the melody line – no pressure! It is interesting and different because we have no conductor. It is us to the three of us to listen to each other, keep the tempo etc. With the trio, I enjoy having input as to what pieces we will play.

4.  What are some tips for auditioning for an orchestra?  Is it a blind audition?  Do you audition solo?  In front of the director?  Walk me through how that works. 

When I joined the Quinte Symphony, I wasn’t required to audition. That was over 30 years ago. Now we have auditions for new members. For a special position in the orchestra like concertmaster, principal 2nd violin etc. we have blind auditions with an audition committee. Other new players have a less formal audition before a rehearsal with our conductor and the section leader.

5.  How has COVID-19 impacted your musical life?  What are the negatives and positives?  What are you doing differently as a musician?

Since the lockdown began, I have found that I am playing my flute a lot more. I play every day and have taken the opportunity to dig through my music library and play pieces that I have wanted to try for a long time. Most days I post a video I have recorded on social media and a music trivia question like old TV theme songs or jingles. You have to be a certain age to get most of these! Playing on a daily basis is a positive effect but I really miss rehearsing and performing with Quinte Symphony, with my church choir and the jazz trio I play in – Class Act..

We had to cancel 3 concerts at the end of Quinte Symphony’s concert season. As president of the orchestras’s board of directors, it is very difficult to plan for our next season as there are so many uncertainties about large gatherings. I’m really looking forward to seeing my orchestra friends again and playing together!

I would love to be able to put together a split-screen video with other musicians or do some live-streaming with a musician in a different location… Something new to learn! For now, I usually play along to a recorded accompaniment.



Debbie Shaw has enjoyed living in Belleville, Ontario for over 30 years but was born and raised in Ottawa. She taught in small town Manitoba for 8 years, got married and had her first child before moving to Belleville to continue teaching French immersion students. Her musical interests were piqued at a young age when she began recorder lessons with Leslie Huggett. She picked up the flute in grade 3 and has never put it down – working her way through a youth orchestra, high school bands in Ottawa. Debbie was thrilled to join the Quinte Symphony when she arrived in Belleville and is the president of the board of directors. For many years she has enjoyed directing the senior choir at St. Joseph Church and joined a local jazz trio, Class Act, since she retired from teaching.

Facebook page @debbieshaw


Look for more JAMS Canada PRO Series “Here’s What I Know” Monday #MusicMatters here on our website and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked In.

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