From The Back Desk - Amos Miller, Royal Ballet Sinfonia
Have you ever fallen asleep on stage at Royal Festival Hall? Amos Miller from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia has...
Name: Amos Miller
Instrument: Principal Trombone
Ensemble: Royal Ballet Sinfonia
Why did you decide to become a musician?
Partly lack of imagination, if I'm honest; I couldn't picture any other career for which I would have been remotely qualified, where one's working life could involve such emotional and visceral moments. I genuinely can't think of a greater human achievement than music, and to be surrounded by people doing it at an amazing level is a daily privilege. Admittedly there is far less glamour (well, none, actually) than a lot of people imagine, but nonetheless there are often 'goose-pimple' moments, even in surprisingly mundane circumstances. Also, having toyed with becoming a doctor, I caught a glimpse of my sister-in-law's colour illustrated encyclopædia of dermatology which was enough to put me off that course for life!
What's the one performance from your career that sticks in your mind?
If I had to pick only one (that's really hard!), it would be playing Brahms Symphonies 2 and 4 with Carlo Maria Giulini in with the European Union Youth Orchestra. It took me about a week to come down from that ecstatic final D major chord of the 2nd symphony.
What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you on stage?
I'm ashamed to admit this in public: when my boys were very small and not sleeping much I was permanently knackered, and I fell asleep on the Royal Festival Hall stage in a performance of Beethoven 6 with the LPO. To be fair, I didn't miss any entries as the trombones don't play for the first 3 movements, but I was very grateful for the gentle way that my neighbouring colleague woke me, with about 10 bars to go. My heart rate from 30 to 200 bpm in a flash, as I realised where I was. There, I've said it!
If you could work with any musician, living or dead, who would it be?
Hard one. If I'm allowed both living and dead, I'd say the astonishing US vocal group Take 6 for the alive bit, and J.S. Bach for the dead bit. I'd love to go back in time and try to persuade Bach to write trombone parts in everything.
In concert, have you ever thought, "I can't actually play this bit very well, I'm going to mime and hope no-one notices"?
Surprisingly, no! The trombone isn't really the sort of instrument that you can pretend with. Having said that, I did once mime a bit when the conductor (no names!) kept on telling me I was too loud. Rather depressingly, he still said I was too loud even after the mimed version. Don't get me started down that path though…
Could you give us an example of the downside of the profession, something that the average concert-goer might not know about?
Money (sorry, I know it's a bit sordid to bring it up). For example the rates for a film session are only £3 per hour more now than they were in 1977! Less prosaically, there can be something a bit depressing about going to work when everybody else is coming home. Touring jobs mean that family life can suffer. Sometimes you can't read the kids a bedtime story for weeks on end.
Does the touring lifestyle bring out rock star behaviour in the orchestra?
Depends on the predominant ages of the orchestra members, and how often they go away. Rock star behaviour only in terms of over-indulgence though, I've never seen anyone throw their TV out of a hotel window! To be honest, the touring schedules of British orchestras are so tough compared with our European and US counterparts (daily flights, concerts very day, no days off etc), that most people wouldn't be able to play properly if they went bananas every night.
Have you witnessed any serious diva strops in your time as a musician?
One or two! In the ballet world there can be fairly severe discrepancies between the tempi that the dancers want and the tempi that the conductors want. In the symphony orchestra world, I did see an extremely eminent German conductor (no names again!) lose his rag at the Concertgebouw audience in Amsterdam, because the programme had mis-spelled his birthplace as Siberia rather than Silesia! "I HOPE YOU CAN STAND A GERMAN CONDUCTOR! I AM NOT A RUSSIAN!"
What's the biggest challenge facing musicians like you these days?
Maintaining the ability to earn a living! Sorry to be prosaic again, but arts are always the place where the axe falls first in an economically challenged climate: our political culture means that short-termist decisions tend to be favoured. We have to be able to adapt and be versatile, without losing the discipline that means we can perform to the highest standards.
What's the best thing about being a musician?
Partly the joy of immersing oneself in the artistic genius of the great composers, but massively also the joy of looking out over the sea of faces in an audience, and seeing the blissful escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life afforded by the arts.