Some frequently asked questions (with possibly helpful answers)…

Are there auditions?

  • No

Do I need my own instrument?

  • Yes (except for percussion)

 Do I need to be able to read music?

  • Yes – it helps

 Where and when?

  • Regular rehearsals are 7:30 to 9:00pm on Tuesdays, in Glasgow City Halls. Enter by the Stage Door on Albion Street (map). For security reasons you will need to sign in (and out) on the attendance sheet at the front desk before proceeding to Studio 1 (level 5).

 Should I bring a music stand?

  • Yes. Music stands are available for rehearsals in Studio 1, but often of dubious quality. You may wish to bring your own.

 What if I have never played in a band or orchestra before?

  • Then this is for you.

What instruments?

  • Standard orchestral instruments (strings, woodwind, brass, percussion) but others possible – just ask.

Why do I not get email confirmation messages?

  • When you hit the “Submit” button on enrolment forms, two things should happen automatically if your submission has been successful: (a) you should get an immediate on-screen confirmation message (on some devices you may need to scroll up/down to see this). This should be followed by: (b) an email confirmation to the address you gave on the form.
  • If you don’t get the confirmation email, this could be for various reasons: (i) the email address submitted on the form might be incorrect – please check for typos; (ii) the email might have been diverted to your spam/junk folder – check your spam settings; (iii) there might be an issue with your email service provider. In most such cases we will have received your submission, but please check with us directly.
  • If (a) does not happen (very rare – but sometimes happens with iPads, etc.) try submitting from a different device…
  • … or email us directly at: admin@merchantsinfonia.org.uk

What does it cost?

  • In addition to the annual membership subscription (currently £zero) the playing member fee is typically £78 per season, based on the nominal rate of £6.50 per player/rehearsal per 12 week season. This costing is based on running expenses, tutor fees, etc., plus a contingency for anticipated Concert Hall fees in later seasons.

Why must I pay the playing member fee in advance?

  • Advance payment (normally at least one week before first rehearsal) is required to confirm acceptance of your place and to give us time to prepare the attendance sheets required by City Halls.
  • We do usually have a waiting list, and only fully paid up members will appear on the sign-up sheet for rehearsals.
  • Please let us know (in confidence) if you may have difficulties meeting the payment deadlines.
  • [Older members will recall the old “ticket” system, where payment was required at time of application. We hope the present system is more accommodating, without making life too difficult for the treasurer.]

Can I pay by bank transfer?

  • Yes
  • Acct. Name:    Merchant Sinfonia
    Sort code:    83-07-06    (RBS Gordon Street)
    Acct. No:    11613678

Why are you having Members and Playing Members?

  • Playing membership will be for only one season at a time (eg Sept – Dec or Feb – May) to ensure that newcomers have a fair chance to play.  Therefore, between seasons there would be no membership and no way to organise the annual necessities of AGMs etc, unless some continuous membership arrangement existed.  So to apply for Playing Membership you have to already be a Member.  We hope too that supporters who do not want to play or have particular conflicting commitments in a given season, will stay as members and perhaps help in other ways.

I don’t think I’m very good, does that matter?

  • No. We do not hold auditions and we aim to be different from most amateur orchestras in being specifically about encouraging the late starter, the returner or less confident player as well as developing the more experienced.  It is hoped that we can develop, in some sections at least, a system of mentors to guide those who wish to have support to begin with.  Louise Martin, our conductor, always says that if you can play a few more notes each week then you are fulfilling what this orchestra is all about.

How does the ballot work?

When the number of playing applications exceeds our allowed capacity, the Committee will adopt the following guidelines:

  1. Meetings to ballot for playing places should normally include the chair or a
    depute nominated by the chair, normally the vice chair, plus at least four other
    committee members.
  2. Decisions regarding which sections of the orchestra to be balloted will be
    made by the committee in the light of the best possible orchestral balance.
  3. Names going into the ballot will normally be checked by the chair or
    designated depute, and one other committee member not part of the section
    to be balloted. Likewise, the draw will be made and checked by committee
    members not part of the section to be balloted, as directed by the chair or
    designated depute.
  4. The number of names drawn will equal the number of applicants by which
    available places are exceeded.
  5. The names drawn will be numbered in the order in which they are drawn,
    and this determines their priority on the list for withdrawals, absentees or
    payment defaulter places that session.
  6. Balloted-out members will be given priority over late applicants in that
    session for withdrawals, absentees or payment defaulter places. Balloted-out
    members as well as new members will also normally be offered a place the
    following session, irrespective of section numbers.

Why is there a limit on the number of playing members?

  • For health and safety reasons. The designated capacity of our regular rehearsal space (Studio 1) is set at 75, as determined by City Halls authorities and strictly monitored via the sign-up sheets.

Older questions (mostly historical, relating to changeover):

Why can’t playing membership be on a first come first served basis?

  • Many people found the old 9.00am  telephone system of application to be unfair, tiresome or difficult.  Therefore we are adopting a system of having a set week for people to apply (probably online or by e-mail).  At the end of that week, if numbers applying are within the limits on our rehearsal space, all will be accepted, but if more than than limit apply we need some way to allocate places because of fire regulations.  Merchant Sinfonia has always been about encouraging less confident players, as well as developing experienced ones, so giving priority to newcomers is definitely part of the plan.  Thereafter, places will be allocated to those who failed to secure a place in the previous season and next we will consider the balance of the orchestra, given the repertoire planned.  If sections are still oversubscribed after this, names will be drawn by secret ballot and unsuccessful applicants will get priority next time.

Can’t we move to a different and larger venue?

  • This may be possible in due course, but City Halls is centrally located and until we can develop some financial reserves, it is preferable for us to remain at City Halls where we have been offered in kind support by Glasgow Life who run the Halls.  Besides, it is not often that amateurs get to play at such a venue!

Who can become a member and when can I apply?

  • Anyone who plays an orchestral instrument, who supports the objectives of Merchant Sinfonia and is over 18 can apply.  We cannot accept applications for membership just yet as we are still setting up bank accounts etc, but notice of the opening of membership lists will be given via our mailing list and on the website.  Unlike Playing Membership, there is no limit on the number of Members of Merchant Sinfonia.

How will the music be sourced?

  • This is still under investigation and will depend on the repertoire which will be chosen by the Music Director.  However, three members of the Working Group have been looking into sources and are confident that scores can be sourced by the Orchestra at a reasonable price (which will be included within the fee for Playing Membership).

Can you supply instruments?

  • No, with the exception of percussion.  Other players will be expected to bring their own instruments, at their own risk.  There is no storage facility for instruments at City Halls that we can use.

What are the dates for the next season? What about Concerts – will they still be at City Halls?

  • Dates will be made available as soon as they are confirmed, but the aim is to reconvene in early September and run the first season through to December 2013.  As to concerts, we hope and intend to remain in City Halls, but are still negotiating dates with Glasgow Life.

Will there still be professional sectional tutors at rehearsals?

  • That is our intention, drawing on both BBC SSO and other players.  If possible, we will aim to have two tutors for different sections at each rehearsal.

Who are the Working Group?  Were they elected?

  • The BBC did not give us much notice of their intention to withdraw support and so it was important to maintain the momentum by setting up an ad hoc group who could begin planning to take Merchant Sinfonia forward as quickly as possible.  This group is small, to ensure speedy decisions and all are volunteers drawn from the orchestra.  At the first rehearsal of the new season members will have the chance to vote for the on-going committee to run Merchant Sinfonia thereafter.  Nominations for that Committee will be invited in due course.
  • Working group:
    • Tony Strachan (chair), Gib Fitzgibbon – constitution and membership issues
    • Anne Richards, Gillian Lever – financial arrangements
    • Alison Scott – enrolment forms and Glasgow Life liaison
    • Louise Martin, Allison Grant, Fiona Kindness, Dominique Somers – music
    • Gillian Batters – meetings and minutes, tutor coordination
    • Alan Cooper – website

Why has the BBC SSO withdrawn support?

  • This is for the BBC to answer as they did at a rehearsal several weeks ago (towards the end of the 2012-13 session), but after more than five years in which Merchant Sinfonia has gone from strength to strength, there is in any event a case for us to run our own affairs and for a publicly funded body to deploy its resources elsewhere.  This is also an opportunity for us to source tutors from a wider circle of musicians, to consider perhaps more concerts in different venues and maybe offer smaller ensemble opportunities at some stage.  At present the main concern is to keep Merchant Sinfonia going, because so many of us have got so much pleasure and valuable playing experience from it.  Other possibilities can be explored in due course and as our resources allow.

What are the membership costs likely to be?

  • It is too early to be sure as we are still compiling budgets, but annual membership is likely to be somewhere around £10 – 20 per head.  Playing membership for a single season is likely to rise somewhat from that paid under the BBC’s auspices, because some costs such as providing scores will no longer be covered by the BBC.  However, the intention is to keep any increase as low as possible and it is likely to be based on the number of rehearsals in any given season (Sept – Dec or Feb – May).

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