by Jamie Maletz
When you see a Broadway musical, who is playing the score? The pit orchestra, of course! On any given night, the pit might have a number of “subs” – substitute musicians filling in for the chairholders. And when you take a look at what the subs do and how they make it happen, it’s downright incredible. We talked to Alexandra Eckhardt, Maggie Gould, Cecelia Hobbs Gardner, Jocelin Pan and Julie Pacheco (click their names to learn more about them!) and asked them some questions about the life of a Broadway sub.
JAMIE MALETZ: So what is it like to be a sub for a Broadway show? I’ve been told that subs don’t usually get to rehearse with the cast and band. How do you learn the show?
CECELIA HOBBS GARDNER: You learn the show by first watching the book during a live performance and practicing the book many times at home until you are assured that you have the notes firmly under your fingers. I also play along with the video and/or audio recording of the show taken from the live performance in the pit or in a separate room where many players are now often situated.
JOCELIN PAN: Generally the chairholder will reach out to me and send me an email with the conductor video and the book, scanned with their cuts and their markings and anything they think might be pertinent to the situation. And then I generally will practice along with the recording, and if there’s a click, with my headphones on – one ear on, one ear off.
JULIE PACECHO: I really like having both a video recording – like with the conductor video – and I also really like having an mp3 recording without video. I’ll learn mostly with the conductor video, but then once I know the show better, I’ll just put on headphones and play with the mp3 version. Because a lot of times the conductor videos don’t have very good sound. And things are pretty much the same every night, but some nights things are a little bit different. It’s helpful to have a slightly different version of it to compare to. And the other thing I really like to do is, if I can, I like to watch [the show] twice. The first time I’m just getting a general sense of the show, and the second time I watch, it’s pretty close to when I’m going to go in. The notes I make when I watch the second time are mostly about volume and articulation, so that when I go in, I’ll sound as much like the regular player as possible. Because I’m used to hearing it one way, how I’ve been practicing it, but then I go in the pit and I listen during the show, and it stands out to me. I’m like, “Oh, that’s different. They’re tonguing that harder,” or “I wasn’t tonguing it at all,” or “That’s really coming out of the texture, and the way I was playing it was different.” So I think watching at a point when you know the show really well and already have it running in your ear is helpful to compare what reality is versus what you’ve been doing.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: Yeah, I would say also as a rhythm section player, I’m rarely playing any of my own instruments. All of the bass players that I’ve subbed for, they’re typically always doubles. So you’re playing acoustic, you’re playing electric, you’re playing a four-string electric and a five-string, or a fretless, or a synth… it can be an endless combination of variables. Prior to getting the book or anything, I’ll go hang out with players, see how everything’s set up, and as I’m practicing, I’ll set my own gear up in the exact same way. So it gets to be muscle memory of “Oh, I know to grab the–” yeah, just when to grab everything. It’s like a dance in itself — the choreography of it all, the pedal work. The number of things that can go wrong, you want to prepare for them at home. And then you practice on the player’s rig.
JAMIE MALETZ: So how does it feel when you come in to play the show for the first time, and you haven’t played with the band before, and you’re here to do it for the first time in front of an audience?
JOCELIN PAN: I’m always very nervous! [laughs] I always show up very early for my first show, to make sure that I’m fully set up in the space, and if I want to practice stuff in the book, I don’t want to do that while a bunch of people are there and disrupt their preparation, so I try to get there early enough that I’ll be alone when I’m flipping through the book and playing different spots. And of course you know on Broadway, everything is very much live and spontaneous, so you have to be on your toes at all times to make sure that no matter what happens during that specific show, you’re ready to catch what the music director has to give you.
MAGGIE GOULD: The biggest thing as a sub that I’ve learned is adaptability. You don’t always know who you’re going to play with. There are going to be different subs. There might be a different MD who you don’t know as well who might look a little bit different than the conductor cam, right? So, Alex, you were talking about creating the environment in your home. For me, it was trying the book at different times per day, or doing it under different circumstances. Just sort of getting that heart rate up and making sure that I was testing myself a little bit.
JAMIE MALETZ: So I’ve been told some of the many rules that come into play with subbing, and I had no idea it was so complicated! One thing I’ve learned is that when someone from a section is subbing out for the first time, no one else from the section can sub out at that time. Do any of you want to explain designated subs?
CECELIA HOBBS GARDNER: At the beginning of a Broadway show run, the conductor – often along with chairholders who are section leaders – determines what percentage of musicians can be absent during a performance. Those decisions are based on many factors but ultimately are intended to preserve the musical integrity of the show so that it should be undetectable to anyone in the audience, on stage, backstage or in the orchestra that a permanent chairholder is not there. Being designated means that you can be considered an “acting” chairholder for a performance.
JULIE PACECHO: A designated person doesn’t count as a sub any more. So if there’s five people in your section, and only two people can be subbed out at the same time, if one of the two people subbing out is using a designated person, then there can be “three subs” in the section at that point.
JAMIE MALETZ: How far in advance do you get told if you’re needed to sub, and what’s the shortest notice you’ve ever gotten?
JOCELIN PAN: Shortest notice I’ve gotten, I’d say is like an hour and a half before a show.
JAMIE MALETZ: [stressed noise]
JOCELIN PAN: Usually that happens if it’s like, a double day, and I was just there and they ask if I can stay and do the next one. But in general, I would say I get pretty advanced notice. But a couple of times when people are sick or there’s an unforeseen circumstance, I always do my best to run in when I can.
JAMIE MALETZ: What are some little-known facts about what subbing is like that you wish people knew?
MAGGIE GOULD: I think some people assume that you’re only subbing when the person you’re subbing for is very ill, or there’s an emergency, or something like that. They assume that you’re going in maybe once a month. Whereas sometimes you may go in, maybe half the shows per week. I feel like I’ve had so many conversations where people say, “Oh well, you must not do it often, that must not be a lot of work,” but it can be.
JAMIE MALETZ: I’ve been told that every chairholder, in their contract, is allowed for their attendance to be as low as fifty percent. So it sounds like you could sub a whole lot.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: Yeah, there can be times… there are eight shows a week, and you can literally play eight or nine shows a week, depending on the schedule of things and the insanity of how you booked yourself. I think people are shocked that you can play two different shows a day, like one show matinee, one show at night, a different show the next day. The combination of things is endless. But that’s part of the fun, that’s what I love about subbing. You just get in the headspace where you walk in the theater and you say hi to the doorman, and you sit down at the station, and you’re just like, all right. I’m in this headspace now of School of Rock. And at night I’m playing The Color Purple. It’s completely different genres of music, completely different instruments and instrumentation, different scenes of people, and it’s just fun! It keeps it fresh.
JOCELIN PAN: Honestly, when I first started subbing I had no idea what to expect. I come from a classical background, and as a child of immigrants, we and my parents weren’t really exposed to Broadway. And so I didn’t know much about musical theatre in general. So I would say, I had no expectations, definitely like a blank slate. And when I went in there to do it, it’s such a unique experience – nothing like playing in an orchestra. Especially if you’re on a click with Avioms or part of the band is somewhere else, or if you can’t actually see the conductor except through a video. It’s definitely a steep learning curve. And I was lucky that my colleagues around me were very generous and welcoming, and were ready to be like, “Let me show you how this works.” Very kind of them. If I were to give someone advice, I’d say, every show you walk into is so different. There’s so many personalities, there’s so many styles of music you’re responsible for. I would just say to be really observant and really respectful of everyone. And there’s so much to learn as you’re there. There are so many variables that you have to be aware of and ready for when you go to play the show.
JULIE PACECHO: I think it’s harder to be a sub than a regular, ‘cause you just don’t get as many chances at it. You don’t get the benefit of rehearsals, and you don’t get the benefit of doing it a lot of times, and when you’re starting out you don’t get a lot of shows in a row. It might be a week or two weeks before you do it again. It’s really nice when you’re going in to sub for someone and they get you in a couple times in relatively quick succession – that’s one of the best things that can happen. It’s hard to build that familiarity and that momentum, of like, “I’m comfortable here, and I know what I’m doing and I know what to expect all the time.”
CECELIA HOBBS GARDNER: Subbing is harder than anything else in the NYC freelance world. You don’t have the rehearsal period to learn the book exactly as the conductor wants and as the orchestrator and composer envision; you have to depend on the chairholders’ markings and attention to detail when they prepare the book. You always have to come in and withstand all eyes and ears directed at you; the expectation of flawless execution is ever present; you need to be available as much as possible so that the chairholder will feel comfortable calling you and relying on you, and you have to always be prepared at a moment’s notice. Even if the chairholder doesn’t call you often, you are expected to go in and still play the book like you just played it the night before.
JAMIE MALETZ: So, how many shows do you usually sub for at a time? How many books do you have in your head that you could get called for? And what’s the highest number of shows you’ve subbed for at a time?
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: I think at one point I was subbing on like nine shows at once, just a lot at the same time in my head. That was my biggest accomplishment, yeah!
MAGGIE GOULD: Two.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: But subbing at Hamilton is like subbing on five different shows, so. There’s some cred there that you’re not giving yourself.
CECELIA HOBBS GARDNER: These days, two or three would be a lot for me. But in the past, I have played up to six, I imagine, at one time. But those days of big orchestras, with big string sections are gone. Also, there were no restrictions on the number of subs allowed per chairholder back then. So people could basically hire anyone to fill in and many chairholders hired from a large pool of subs. Now it depends on the kind of Broadway season it is – how many shows have chairholders who play my instrument, how many people I know at a given time who will hire me and whether I can “make” their list of five subs who they present at the beginning of the show to the conductor/music director for approval to come in. There are a lot of violinists out there and many who are much more aggressive than I am about trying to get hired. I am certainly in a much less prominent position for getting hired than I was for many years but I also have changed my focus to other things beyond the music scene so the “out of sight, out of mind” adage certainly applies. Also, as an older female, African-American player, the same issues that plague that demographic in any other workplace are certainly evident on Broadway.
JULIE PACHECO: The most I did was five or six at the same time, and one show I was subbing on two different chairs, which was a really interesting experience. It’s sort of disorienting, to start on one chair and then like two months later, after you’ve done that chair so many times, to just start doing something else.
JOCELIN PAN: I would say anywhere between like two and five. At some point, I think I had five books at once that I was subbing for? Yeah, it’s a lot to juggle, it’s a lot of time management, and it’s definitely a lot of reviewing before going back into a show. It’s really nice when you get to play them a few times in a row, but you know, that doesn’t always happen, and I’m always trying to be ready for anything. Sometimes in a week, I might do three shows back-to-back that are all different, which is definitely a challenge! I mean, a musical is not really a short piece of music, right? [laughs] It’s like, all different styles, and so many unique numbers, that you really have to have a feel for it the instant it starts.
JAMIE MALETZ: How hard does it get to keep track of it all, and what do you do to keep it fresh in your mind and make sure that when you’re called, you’re ready?
JOCELIN PAN: When I first get the book, I spend a lot of time preparing. And if I get a heads-up that in a couple days I’m going to be subbing somewhere, I’ll pull the book out and review. Even when I have been subbing somewhere for a while, I do always get there early, even if I’m not necessarily practicing every small lick, I might just flip through the book, and visually see what I need on the page, and be like, “Oh, I see this here; I remember this cue happens,” or like, “Oh, when I turn this page, I better turn it quickly!” So I always try to remind myself of stuff like that; have some of those different landmarks kick in, so I’m kind of trying to jog my own memory.
JULIE PACECHO: I wanted to add too, with the idea of how do you keep track of multiple shows at once and stay on top of it? My own system is I always print out the book because I always want to practice page turns. That’s along with, like, where to put my instruments and stuff. I get those little clear-colored sticky-tabs and I have them hanging off the edge in different colors. I use one color per instrument, so if I want to practice all the flute licks, I can just go to the pink tab. And I mark the hard spots in the book that I need to work on, like at the front of the book, I just keep a list with the hardest parts. So before I go in to play Hello, Dolly! I should review these five things. So that way, it’s not like, “How do I review this three hour show and keep track of everything?”
JAMIE MALETZ: How do you get gigs as a sub, and how did you all get started in this line of work? What has your path been like as you’ve worked to form relationships with chairholders, music directors and contractors?
CECELIA HOBBS GARDNER: I have been a Broadway show musician since 1982, with numerous jobs as a permanent chairholder and countless ones as a sub. How I get most of my gigs has changed dramatically since that time but the constant throughout is meeting people, playing with other musicians and networking in whatever way you can. When I began on Broadway, it was so much easier to come in to play a book. You met someone or were friends with someone who was a chairholder and you came in once to read the book and then played. There were no recordings of shows, books that you took home to practice or Dropbox pdfs of the Broadway show book – at least not as a string player. You came in and looked at the book on the day you were supposed to play and you played. Conductors were demanding but not unforgiving. As the years have passed, the emphasis on playing a Broadway book without any mistakes seems to be the high bar that is set now. Though that, of course, was always the goal, the pressure to perform flawlessly along with the additional expectation from many of the music directors that any perceived mistake will keep a player from returning has made the sub experience much more stressful. Meeting contractors has mostly been a function of subbing at shows and performing successfully. Once the conductor/musical director designates you to play at a show, you eventually will meet the contractor or they will hear about you and maybe consider you for an upcoming show.
JULIE PACECHO: I started out subbing for my teacher. I actually went to a woodwind doubling master’s program that was run by a Broadway doubler who’d been playing for a long time on the Broadway scene. I studied with him as well as another man who was also on the scene. It was the second guy that I ended up subbing for the first time. I don’t know how I would have gotten into it otherwise. I met a lot of other people just by doing other gigs. At a certain point you start getting to know contractors and making a good impression. Things like showing up early, being peasant to be around in rehearsals, nice to the people around you. That’s the basic idea.
JOCELIN PAN: Wherever you play as a freelancer in New York, you’re representing yourself as a musician. Honestly, my experiences have been very organic in the sense that someone will approach me after we’ve had a relationship for some time, and we know each other and play well together, and we trust each other, then they reach out to then ask for me to sub. So you know, always be prepared wherever you’re going. Be respectful of your colleagues and show up on time. It’s all the little things that people notice.
MAGGIE GOULD: Once you start meeting contractors, and you start to meet a core group of people that you know have Broadway chairs… it’s also timing, right? They might not necessarily have a space out of their five [allotted] subs open. So they may want you to sub, but you may have to wait until they have the space. For me, it took a couple years, getting to know people that I was gigging with and having them trust me.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: You get into these communities. The bass community is – I just love everyone in it. They’ve become some of my best friends and mentors. You find your people. People who have your back, people whose back you have, people you meet up with between shows. Everyone looks out for each other. And another way that I got some opportunities is through music directors. I got my first In the Heights tour through meeting Alex Lacamoire and I auditioned with him. And from then on, he’s been very much a mentor/supporter and has brought me along to different projects, like subbing at Hamilton or even Bring it On. Just by subbing and working a lot, you meet so many people. And that’s one of the things I was most grateful for as a sub. You really get to expand your network when you’re subbing at all these different shows, meeting a ton of different players.
JULIE PACECHO: I can trace back getting chairs or subbing for people to, like, I subbed at The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I met this guy, and he recommended me for this, and then so-and-so heard me play this, and they wanted me to sub for them, and then this music director heard me when I was subbing for them, and then I got a show. You never know what it’s going to be.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: And doing workshops. All these music directors who have subbed on all of the shows you’ve subbed on end up doing these different workshops, and bringing you along, and it just keeps going.
JAMIE MALETZ: So if we’re talking about the best and worst parts of being a sub, and the best parts are the variety, opportunity, keeping things fresh, meeting so many great people… what are the biggest downsides?
CECELIA HOBBS GARDNER: Always having to keep one or more books ready at a high performance level; unrealistic demands and expectations of some conductors; never knowing if you have work or not; financial uncertainty; wondering whether subbing will lead to a show of your own; worrying that anything you do or say will keep you from returning to sub at a show, even if you have performed there for years; worrying that a new conductor or a new member of the orchestra will find fault with you and you won’t be called again.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: Well, in terms of life management as a sub, you kind of have to be on-call. ER doctor with your beeper on you at all times. So even if you’re on another gig, or you’re out to dinner and it’s something you planned forever ago, or you’re seeing a movie… it could literally be anything, and they’ll be like, “Can you cover for me in an hour?” It’s like, ugh, do I want to cancel my plans and do it? Or do I want to have a life and commit to what I’ve been planning? You just can’t really make plans. It’s a tough work-life balance when you’re not in control of your own schedule. I mean, you are ultimately, but you know what I mean.
JULIE PACECHO: Well yeah, ‘cause if you say no too many times, they stop asking you.
MAGGIE GOULD: Exactly.
JULIE PACECHO: I would add, the other thing that’s hard for subbing as a woodwind player is the instrument haul. It’s just hard. You’re just homeless, and if you’re playing two different shows with completely different instruments, you’re just lugging instruments around all day long. So that sucks.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: I feel your pain. Carrying an upright around anywhere is like, “This better be worth it.” When you’re carrying an upright, an electric, an amp… as a small person, it can be really hard! And you don’t have a locker room, so you’re just going from thing to thing. If you have a fancier gig at night, you have to bring along clothes and shoes and makeup, and it just gets to be a lot.
JAMIE MALETZ: Okay, what is your favorite backstage or “this could only happen in my line of work” memory?
JOCELIN PAN: Playing at Radio City is very eventful, and some of the fun parts are like, when you notice some of the animals going by in the back. It’s funny, we always have stuff in our music and someone will point– someone who’s been there a lot longer– “Oh over there, you’ll notice there’s a donkey going onstage!” It’s stuff like that you’d never expect to see on any other musical gig.
JULIE PACECHO: I have a story that could happen to anyone, you don’t have to be a sub. But it was particularly terrifying as a sub, and another sub helped me out. So, my swab got stuck in my oboe in the middle of the second act of An American in Paris. And coming up are all these oboe solos. Terrifying. Terrifying. And I think it was only my second or third time subbing in. And the whole side of the pit that I was on was trying to help me. They were even trombone players that were like, “I have this long tube to shove in my trombone to get it straightened out, will that help you?” And like, the opening to the oboe is like, three millimeters, you know what I mean? It’s so small. I’m like, “No, it won’t.” Luckily, another sub on another woodwind chair knew where a spare oboe was. She knew the combo for the locker, and there was a break where she could run out and get it. It was a totally different brand of oboe than mine, so my reed–my reed didn’t sound amazing on it. But it was an oboe. It made oboe sounds. Right before the big ballet with all the solos, I transposed the little scene change music. It was supposed to be on English horn, I played it on oboe instead, just to test it. ‘Cause otherwise I’d just be going in cold. And it worked, and it saved the day. So, get to know the people around you, be friendly with them, you never know when they can help you. It was insane. It was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.
JM: I’m stressed just listening to you.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: I feel like I have endless stories like that, that are so close to being fatal, but then luckily at the very last second it works out. Like at Hamilton one time, the pedal just crapped out on me. The sound people came, it was this whole big to-do… and you’re still trying to play and talk and it’s just chaotic. Or at Dear Evan Hansen, it’s so dark on that stage. Maggie, you know what I mean, there’s literally no light, it’s pitch black. And I’m playing electric, and then I put that down really fast and grab the upright, and one time I totally tripped over the cord. Or once I couldn’t find the bow. There’s so many things that can go wrong.
MAGGIE GOULD: I have one… the very end of Hamilton is so quiet, and so mellow. And my mic, my clip-on mic just decided to collapse off the instrument. They had me turned up, and the mic went, [clunking noises]. It was so loud that they actually had to take a beat on the stage. It was so bad. But they didn’t know it was me; no one in sound could figure it out. Of course, we had to diagnose it and I was like, I think it was me.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: Oh, comin’ clean!
MAGGIE GOULD: Well the worst part was I still had a solo after that, so I had to fix it. Either I let it crash, or… it was this moment of, “What do I do?! Everything I do is really loud!” But, I was just like, “Oh god, I’m fired.” Everyone in the pit was like, “It’s not your fault, you had your mic on properly.” But I’ll never forget that.
JAMIE MALETZ: So stressful! All of these stories are so stressful! On the topic of stress… what have you all been doing during the shutdown?
JOCELIN PAN: I’m teaching virtually. And mostly been hanging out with my two dogs! And finding time for things that a freelancer would never have time to do. Before the pandemic shutdown, I had just started Mrs. Doubtfire, and we were a couple previews in, and it was so sad, you know? We were so excited to get started, and the strings had just jumped in, and then everything shut down. And at first, it was like, “Oh, ok, so I can’t work.” I’m used to working seven days a week and hustling from place to place. And now, it’s hard trying to stay focused. It is very helpful, and I am very lucky and very grateful that I still teach. But mostly, you know… I took a dog grooming class, I play games with my fur-kids, just try to pass the time and stay positive! A lot of cooking, too, like a lot of people have been doing. I did dabble in some bread-making! And my partner and I have been cooking a lot of Sichuan food. We love spicy food, and we’re like, “Well, we have a lot of time, why don’t we figure out how to make it?” So, yeah! Passing the time, like everyone.
JULIE PACECHO: I had students beforehand, I was really lucky, and I picked up a bunch more. I have also been really lucky – my husband and I have a side business. We make engraved wood maps. We decided to expand it and we bought a big wide format printer, so we can print the maps as well. Before the shutdown, for about a year, we had been in the process of becoming the new owners of another business, instrument stands for woodwinds. That went through in April, right when everything shut down. So we have been spending this past year working on getting it set up. We’re trying to make as much use of the time that we have by investing it in the businesses and stuff. So I feel really lucky that I have things to do, and I’m busy, and my mind is kept engaged, but I’m not playing as much as I’d like to, so that’s been tough. I’m hoping to get more of that balance back.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: I’ve done some recordings from home. I recorded a new musical through kind of a Zoom recording setup, which was sort of interesting, and technologically very challenging. I’ve done a couple of in-person things, which have been a little scary. The exciting thing that happened was, I supervised the music for a film that just premiered at Sundance over the weekend. We started post-production right when everyone got quarantined. It was kind of crazy, and really, really challenging. But it happened, and it premiered, and I just got a notification that it got sold to Netflix, so that’s pretty cool.
MAGGIE GOULD: I was finishing up my Master’s degree right when the shutdown happened. So I’m just kind of working on that. But actually, as a capstone for my Master’s, I started a business that I’ve kept going, which has been really fun. It’s a group class for young violinists, and it’s really cool. We sort of modified our semester, just because everyone’s getting a bit of Zoom fatigue. So this semester, on Sundays we’re having our Broadway Bonanza class. We’re having people from Hamilton and Mean Girls come in and share with the kids, and have them learn parts of the show. It’s good, it’s that childlike energy that’s kind of kept me going during this time, and seeing them throughout the week. And then having that business, and hopefully having it really materialize when we’re back in person. And the idea is, we bring it to community arts centers and music schools throughout the city, so kids can easily access these group classes every weekend.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: That’s so awesome!
MAGGIE GOULD: Thank you! It’s been awesome to have something to build. Oh, the Hamilton movie came out, and I had the honor to be able to play on that, because the person I sub for was unavailable, so that was really fun to come together.
CECELIA HOBBS GARDNER: I am a lawyer and also a Health Benefits Specialist at The Actors Fund – a job I was fortunate to have found during the pandemic – and often combine many skills from my background and apply them to other projects I am interested in. I pitched and developed an alumni webinar series, Resources for the Performing Artists Series, at my alma mater, The Juilliard School. It focused on a wide variety of resources available during the industry shutdown, financial wellness and job search/career strategies during the pandemic and it was offered from October 2020 to January 2021. I was asked to write an article focused on “giving back” (Navigating a New Reality) to our performing arts community during the shutdown. I discussed my efforts to bring the first Zoom webinar to Local 802 members, which focused on financial wellness during the pandemic. I also curated and compiled an extensive list of COVID-19 and General Resources for performing artists, which is currently on the Juilliard Journal section of the school website. It is updated continuously and offers assistance in finding resources related to unemployment benefits, mental health counseling, legal help, financial assistance, performance grants, solutions to food insecurity and more.
JAMIE MALETZ: That is so amazing. You’ve done so much! Okay, last but not least. Let’s talk about the future of subbing and our orchestra pits. Do you have advice for people who are interested in doing what you do? And, since we’re Maestra, do you have thoughts about why Maestra is important?
JULIE PACECHO: I think it’s really important to look at the skill sets needed to do the job, and evaluate your skill set in relation to that. And say: what are the things I can do and what are the things I can’t do? You pick the things you can’t do and you work on them. You find a teacher. After I did my Master’s degree, I studied with two teachers for two years, because I knew I wasn’t good enough to really do the job that I wanted to do. So, I think it’s really great to find your weaknesses and make them your strengths for that job.
CECELIA HOBBS GARDNER: Make a point of meeting people who are chairholders, but don’t be aggressive or irritating by repeatedly calling or emailing them; take your cues from those around you and ask for advice about how best to meet people who can hire you; understand that this is not a “cookie-cutter” type of business and that you have to figure out how to customize your approach with people, be flexible as a performer and maintain the highest level of playing wherever you are. Treat colleagues with respect and understand that nothing is guaranteed, that you do not “own” a sub chair, that you are a “guest” in a pit when you are there, that people are watching you all the time – most times you will not be aware of that – and that they are evaluating you for how you present yourself in every way, how seriously you take the job you are currently on, whether you show up on time and are prepared, whether you respect your stand partner or colleagues and whether you appear to be a person they would like to invite into their performance space.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: The community overall is really welcoming, really open. I mean, we all started out in this scene. We’ve all been there, we all get how hard it is. And know your strengths; know which shows you’d be right for, if you’re a groove player, go for that, if you’re more of a trained classical player, I wouldn’t suggest going for a groove show, for example. And vice-versa. I’m always open to chat with up-and-coming people, because we’ve all done that. And oftentimes, everyone will let you watch the show, or watch your book, even if they won’t let you sub for them at that moment, but you’re still building a relationship, you’re still being in that world, you’re still in the environment watching how it really happens, and that’s the best experience you can build on.
JULIE PACECHO: I want to add one more thing. This is kind of like a – it’s not a subbing secret, but it was told to me, and it’s really important to do. When you go in to watch the book of a show, at the end of the show, or at the end of the first act or something, tell the person that you’re watching that they sound great. And tell the people around you that they sound great. Because you’re just sitting there kind of judging them, that’s what it feels like to them sometimes. They have someone sitting next to them, listening to everything they do. So tell them, “Sounds great!” Even if you don’t like it, even if it’s not your thing. It’s really important.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: As for Maestra, it really promotes hiring equality, gender equality, and giving us opportunities. Not just because we’re girls, but because we can deliver. And because we’re girls.
JULIE PACECHO: We are qualified women who exist, and I love that there’s a place where you can find us.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: There’s no excuse not to, here we are! Look us up.
JULIE PACECHO: I think a lot of things get better when there is more equality, like women being represented. It not only increases the variety of quality players that you can have in a group, but the whole vibe changes when there’s one woman in an orchestra versus 50%, or close to that. It makes for a better experience for everyone. It’s like a quality of life change.
ALEXANDRA ECKHARDT: There’s definitely like, security is what you’re describing, when you walk in a pit and you see other females. It’s a comfort, security, bond thing. But also, Maestra’s really cool because there are mentors. It’s young people coming up, aspiring players, composers, orchestrators, what-have-you. You can link up with people who are established in their careers and at the top of their game. I just think that’s so cool, and I wish there was something like that when I was getting into it to really learn from.
MAGGIE GOULD: Just having this established network. I felt like there wasn’t a ton of that upon entering into this scene. Knowing that that exists there for you with open arms, is really wonderful. Also just having more of a platform on which you can speak, and I think that is really important when you want to talk about your experiences.
JULIE PACECHO: There’s so much you don’t know, when you’re trying to break in, and you have a million questions, and you feel like an idiot trying to ask them. Especially to certain people. When I was starting out, I didn’t know that many people, and they were like these older men who were like, more established, and I didn’t want to ask all of my itty-bitty little questions, like, “How does this work? Is this the right protocol?” Or whatever. So it’s nice to have someone who’s willing to talk to you and help you navigate it. It’s amazing.
Special Thanks to Annabelle Lee Revak for transcribing, Lisa Diana Shapiro for editing, Monica Davis for helping with interview preparation, and our interviewees for sharing their thoughts and experiences.