From The Back Desk - Colin Honour, Orchestra of Opera North

2 September 2013, 12:54

Clarinettist Colin Honour tells us about inappropriate dog concert etiquette and why arts cuts mean fewer jobs, as From The Back Desk visits the Orchestra of Opera North.

Name: Colin Honour

Instrument: Clarinet

Ensemble: The Orchestra of Opera North

Why did you decide to become a musician?
One day my primary school sent home a letter saying that it intended to offer instrumental lessons to anyone who wanted them. The lessons on offer included trumpet, violin and clarinet. My parents, fearing that the trumpet might annoy the neighbours (we lived in a small semi-detached house) and openly wincing at the thought of a beginner violinist in the house, encouraged me to take up the clarinet.

What's the one performance from your career that sticks in your mind?
So many! Performing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Orchestra of Opera North for the first time. Opportunities for orchestral players to perform concerti are not all that frequent and playing from memory takes you out of your comfort zone, but having one's colleagues on stage supporting and encouraging you is priceless.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you on stage?
There have been a few minor incidents during my career; like finding myself on the wrong clarinet for a solo, and having to transpose pages of music until there was a suitable break in the music to change instrument! On the whole these go unnoticed by all but my closest colleagues.

Perhaps the most memorable event was a lunchtime performance of Quatuor pour la fin du temps, by Olivier Messiaen. Less than four feet away from me, at the feet of its owner, lay a guide dog. I must say that although the dog did behave in an exemplary manner, some of its poses could be deemed undignified! Well, The third movement ('Abîme des oiseaux') is for solo clarinet. After the opening phrases, the clarinet has to start a long note so quietly that it appears to come from out of nowhere. Just as I was about to start, out rang that oh-so-familiar’ Nokia ringtone from about five rows back. I had to put my clarinet down and wait with as much decorum as I could muster whilst the audience member fumbled in her handbag to switch it off!

If you could work with one musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
So many great composers… but it would have to be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I would be in awe of any human being capable of writing such exquisite music, and with such humour and understanding of the instrument's potential, but I would love to meet and try to understand him.

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"?
There have been plenty of times when I have doubted whether I could play something as well as I would have liked to, but I think that the minute you stop trying is the time to find another job.

Could you give us an example of the downside of the profession, something that the average concert-goer might not know about?
The hours at work are pretty unsociable, and the hours of practice and preparation before rehearsal are unpaid!

Does the touring lifestyle bring out rock star behaviour in the orchestra?
Perhaps a little when we were all younger; now a nice meal and a glass or two of wine after a show is about all we manage.

Have you witnessed any serious diva strops in your time as a musician?
A few conductors have lost their cool at times; usually when the lights fail or there is another technical glitch on stage. It is seldom directed at the orchestra, and not very helpful.

What's the biggest challenge facing musicians like you these days?
Financial cuts, both in arts funding and music education - a double-whammy. Whilst orchestras and opera companies are finding it increasingly more difficult to put on new and challenging concerts or productions, without education, the future audiences are very likely to dwindle. Meanwhile universities and conservatoires are producing very accomplished musicians with less hope of getting a job. I bet you wished you hadn’t asked now!

What's the best thing about being a musician?
Being part of a large team, a group of dedicated musicians trying to achieve musical perfection.