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Questions and Answers

FAQ from students

  • How do I become a professional musician?
    Generally, orchestra musicians have followed a long path of music study, including the completion of a post-secondary music degree. Watch or read our interviews with NAC Orchestra musicians for more information and advice on this topic.
  • I'm bored with my practicing, do you have any advice on how to make it more interesting?
    Our experts are busy answering this question, in the meantime please check out this site for advice on practicing.

FAQ from Kids

  • How many hours a day do musicians practice?
    Many, many, many hours. Depending on what piece they are preparing, they may practice up to 8 hours every day, sometimes even more!

Young Artists

  • How can I study with Maestro Zukerman?
    If you are a music student who is playing at a post-secondary level, please consider applying to the Young Artists Programme at the National Arts Centre. As well, keep an eye on The National Arts Centre Orchestra's touring activity. Although the Maestro does not arrange private lessons, you might be able to catch him giving a masterclass. You can also watch archival clips of one of the Maestro's workshops on the Music Resources Webcasts page.

Musician Advice :

Karen Donnelly, Principal Trumpet, National Arts Centre Orchestra answered the following question:

Jillian D., St. John's (Newfoundland):

Hello. This is a question for Karen Donnelly. I worked with her in the youth orchestra while she was on tour here in St. John's. But since then, I have had to get braces on my teeth and it is causing difficulty to play. I was wondering, Karen, if you had any suggestions for how I can go about playing and getting used to playing with braces. Do you know of any special tricks?
Thanks a lot,

Jillian Dawe

Karen Donnelly:

Dear Jillian,

Thanks a lot for your email and too bad to hear about your braces situation. There's not a whole lot you can do right now, although there are a few things you need to remember.

During the first little while, you will be uncomfortable. If it gets really bad, or even sort of bad, try icing your lips. This will take down some of the pain and hopefully relieve a bit of the pressure. I use a cold can of coke, but ice cubes in a glass of water work very well also.

You will lose some range at first, but usually it comes back. Try to use this time to work on your technique in the mid-range, like double/triple tonguing and lips slurs from g-c, up and down. This will help you keep in shape and will be a great base from which to build after you're through the difficult period with your braces.

I've seen some people with wax purchased at a music store or a plastic tooth guard (not sure where they got this thing but if you want I could find out...) which is supposed to help with some of the discomfort. Basically, I think it's the best way to ensure you are not "bashing the trumpet into your face" or using pressure to get the high notes. It's now physically impossible for you to play without using good air!!!! The air HAS to do the work or else it will hurt your lips.

Try to be positive about this phase. It's only a short period of time, when you think of the big picture. I know lots of people who have had braces, and after they get them off, it's even better because they have been playing with very good production/air and their sounds are nice and full and healthy.

I had a total blast working with you guys in St. John's, please say hi to all the gang there! Thanks for checking out the website and write back anytime,

Take care,
Karen Donnelly
Principal Trumpet

Nic Nac,'s mascot passed the following information to Caroline on behalf of Nicholas Atkinson, NACO Tuba player:

Hi Caroline,

I just spoke with the National Arts Centre Orchestra's tuba player Nicholas Atkinson to find out the answers to the questions you sent to This is what Nicholas had to say:

He started playing with the National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra in 1976. The NAC Orchestra is a Classical Sized orchestra meaning that it typically plays music of the Classical Period and employs only around 46 musicians. A tuba is not typically part of this kind of orchestra but there were often times that the orchestra wanted to play pieces requiring extra instruments, like the tuba. For these very instances, the NAC Orchestra held auditions and Mr. Atkinson got the part! He had a lot of experience already and it is no wonder that the NAC Orchestra wanted him to join their team.

You can read more about Mr. Atkinson and his career by visiting the following link to the Orchestra Pit - Musician biographies section of

Additionally, in order to improve your sound, Mr. Atkinson made the following suggestions:

  • Practice using more wind
  • To do this you can blow through straws.
  • Play tunes using only the mouthpiece
  • Beginner students are especially prone to having too tight an embauchure
  • Open your mouth wider when you play
  • A wider embauchure allows more air to pass through and allows you to produce a more mellow tone.

I hope Mr. Atkinson's comments and suggestions will help!

Good luck with your music!

Nic Nac

Another question from Caroline B. for Nicholas Atkinson:


My name is Caroline. I have another question for the National Arts Centre Orchestra's tuba player. I am interested in buying my own tuba and I would like to know what kind of tuba Mr. Atkinson plays.

Thank you,

Nic Nac,'s mascot, passed the following information to Caroline on behalf of Nicholas Atkinson, NACO Tuba player:

Hi Caroline,

Nicholas Atkinson, the tuba player in the NAC Orchestra plays two different tubas in the orchestra: the larger of the two is a CC Hirsbruner, made in Switzerland. The smaller one is an Eb Boosey and Hawkes Sovereign model (now called Besson), made in England.

Mr. Atkinson said, "If Caroline wants to buy her own tuba she is better off getting an Eb. It is more versatile and works very well in bands, orchestras, brass quintets etc. I use mine probably 75% of the time. I prefer the Besson for its weight of sound, but Yamaha also makes a good instrument. Caroline is better off buying a professional model of the highest quality if she can afford it. You can always sell a good instrument if things don't work out. Arduini and Twigg (both in Montreal) are good dealers."

Hope this information helps, Caroline!

Nic Nac

Ken Simpson Percussion, National Arts Centre Orchestre answered the following question:

Romain, Bourg-la-reine, France:

Hello, I am passionate about music and I would like to know how and through what studeies I can become a professional percussionist. Thank you in advance.
Romain, 18 years old.

Dear Romain,

Thank you for your very interesting question. I am sorry to have taken so long to reply but the life of a musician is very busy!

I would like to tell you that it discipline, hard work and passion are necessary to establish your self as a professional musician. Your message leads me to believe that you already possess many of these characteristics.

My first advice is to find a good teacher and to regularly take lessons with him or her. He or she will help you perfect your technique, recommend good exercise books, and with a bit of luck, he or she will become for you a good source of inspiration.

Of course, that is a lot to ask of one person, but you should not forget that the most important work comes from you. If you enjoy what you do then all of your effors, your studies, and practicing will be a source of enjoyment rather than duty.

I also suggest that you see as many concerts of the highest quality possible. Do not hesitate to speak with musicians that you meet. They have great advise and useful information to pass on to students like yourself who are passionate about music.

I wish you the best of luck and if you are ever able to come to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, call me!

Ken Simpson
NACO Percussionist

Jean-Philippe Tremblay, Former apprentice conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestre answered the following questions:

Question from Sandra, Ottawa

Hi, Mr. Tremblay, how are you? How do you manage to conduct so many people? Do you like travelling so much? How long did it take for you to find out that you were suited to be a musician?


To conduct so many people, you have to know the score and all the instruments that make up the orchestra. Then you try to transmit your understanding of the work to them, and also find out how they understand it. Travelling is enriching and I like discovering new cities and countries very much. You make a lot of new friends when you travel.

Question from Christopher, Ottawa

Does it get tiring to have your arms up in the air for so long?


Let's just say it keeps you fit! It's like any sport: you have to develop endurance and eliminate unnecessary moves and tensions.

Question from Kacie, Ottawa

Who is the best string player in the history of music?


There are several string players that I really admire, like Pinchas Zukerman! I also really like Yo Yo Ma. It's a matter of personal taste and there are hundreds of brilliant musicians!!!

Questions from Rosanna, Ottawa

What's it like to be a conductor?


Being a conductor is sort of like being a chef in a restaurant: you have your own responsibilities and you also have to make sure that all the ingredients are being measured and mixed correctly. You have to respect the musicians you work with and inspire them to play the music in front of them. For me, it's a fantastic way to grow artistically!!!

Question from Chloé & Chantal, Vancouver

Mr. Tremblay, do you have any brothers and sisters?

Jean-Philippe :

I have an 18-year-old sister who's studying law.

Question from Dominic, Montréal

How old are most musicians when they start playing the viola?


That depends on the individual, but most people study the violin for a few years before making the change. But it's like any other instrument: you begin when you have the desire and the opportunity!!!

Question from Andreanne, Buckingham, QC

Hi, I have a question for Jean-Philippe Tremblay. Have you ever forgotten your score for an important concert?


Several times! Luckily, someone else usually has another copy, otherwise you have to play it from memory!!! I've even forgotten to put my viola in its case before a concert and arrived at the hall with an empty case!!!

Question from Marie-France, Buckingham, QC

I would like to know ... what's it like when you're in front of an orchestra and you're the music director?


When you're the Music Director, you have different responsibilities than when you are guest conductor for a week only or so. Musically, it's the same when you are on the podium, you have to know what you are doing and inspire all those great musicians.

Question from Curtis, Buckingham, Quebec

Hi. My name is Curtis and I have a question for Jean-Philippe Tremblay. How do you prepare for a concert?


When I prepare a concert, I spend many weeks looking at the score, listening to the music, playing it on the piano. Learning a new piece is a very long process; it sometimes takes months! You need to prepare how you are going to conduct the music, but also mark the parts, add bowings for the strings and many other duties!

Question from Natacha, Buckingham, QC

Hi! I'd like to know how long it takes you to learn a new piece perfectly, and how long for all the musicians to be able to play it perfectly? Thanks a lot.


Learning a new piece can take weeks, even months, for the conductor and sometimes even for the musicians. Once the rehearsals start, though, it's usually a matter of a week of rehearsals.

Question from Mélanie, Buckingham, QC

I'd like to know how you feel when you are on stage in front of hundreds of spectators. Thanks a lot.


I always feel a bit nervous, but you have to forget all the people and just play the best music you can. Once you start, having so many people behind you is very exciting!!!

Posted on March 14, 2002: Marjolaine Fournier, Assistant principal double bass answered the following questions:

Questions from Lory, Montréal,

Lory: Have you always worked in the field of music?

Marjolaine: My work is playing the double bass in the NACO. I've been very lucky: I've always managed to make my living through music, playing in orchestras, teaching music and playing the organ in church.

Lory: Was there ever a time when you wanted to give up on music?

Marjolaine: Yes! When I began studying music, I had one class where the teacher was never satisfied with my efforts. I cried a lot and wanted to quit, but then I pulled myself together, and worked harder and better. My good luck!

Lory: How did you come to join the orchestra?

Marjolaine: The orchestra had an opening for a bass player. l signed up for the auditions.

Here's how it works. At an audition, everyone who has registered gets a number to determine in what order we play. Then, in turn, you go into the hall and play several passages chosen by the jury. The judges make an initial selection and those chosen play again, in a second round, and then a final round, or until they decide on someone. It's a pretty intense day!

* When you sign up for the audition, the orchestra sends you a list of passages that you have to prepare for the audition.

Questions from Alexandra, Montréal

Alexandra: How many hours a week does the string section have to practise?

Marjolaine: We usually have eight sessions of two-and-a-half hours of rehearsals and concerts. And of course I practise at home as well.

Alexandra: Is it possible to make a reasonable living through music alone?

Marjolaine: Unfortunately it's not always very easy. In my orchestra it is possible. I also have some friends who are able to manage fairly well by playing in several small orchestras at the same time.

Alexandra: Do you enjoy playing concerts and what are your feelings beforehand?

Marjolaine: I'm nervous before a concert. It's the same kind of nervousness that you feel before giving a gift to someone you love. But I really enjoy playing concerts as long as I feel that I'm well prepared.

Alexandra: Have your other jobs ever affected your music practice?

Marjolaine: Now my work is playing in the NACO. Before playing here, I always made my living through playing or teaching music. I played the organ in church, played in orchestras, played some jazz, taught organ, bass and music theory.

Questions from Dominic, Montréal

Dominic: How do people get into a professional orchestra?

Marjolaine: You have to wait until there's an opening. Then you sign up for the auditions, prepare the music that the jury wants to hear and then everyone plays in turn, on the same day.

Dominic: Are you doing a lot of travelling?

Marjolaine: Not this year. Last year we did a tour of western Canada and before that we toured Europe and the Middle East. I'm looking forward to doing a tour of the Maritimes with the NACO next year.

Dominic: When did you decide you'd be a professional musician?

Marjolaine: It just sort of happened. By the time I was 19 or 20, all my jobs were music related. Pretty soon I was freelancing in music, and there I was, earning a living in music. Freelancing is playing in orchestras that call when they need a bass player. You can make a good living doing it, especially in larger cities with many orchestras.

Dominic: What are your hobbies other than music?

Marjolaine: I have lots of hobbies! I like to play instruments that I don't play in the orchestra. I also like running, fishing, video games, woodworking, cooking, reading and biking.

Dominic: Is there anyone else who went to École Joseph-Francois-Perrault?

Marjolaine: I had a violinist friend, Carole Meneghel, who went to J.F.P. in the '80s.

Dominic: Do you get stage fright before a concert?

Marjolaine: Yes. That's why I have to practise a lot beforehand, so that I can tell myself not to worry. When I have stage fright, my hands shake, but I can control it. After a concert it's really hard to get to sleep!

Dominic: How many hours do you practise a day?

Marjolaine: Well, I practise for an hour in the morning before work to warm up. I don't really count the hours afterwards but I practise all day and then in the evening I go over anything that hasn't gone well. All that to say that the most important hour is the morning warm-up: sustained notes, scales, arpeggios, exercises. I play all day. On my days off I practise the repertoire for the coming weeks: I learn the notes;I find a recording and listen to it. If necessary I go over the conductor's score. Then I play my part with the recording; that's a lot of fun! If I'm well-prepared there's less need to practise after working with the orchestra all day. I'm often quite tired after rehearsals.

I advise my students to do a good warm-up. My beginning students do a 50-minute warm-up, the advanced ones, 2-3 hours.

Dominic: Do you have friends in the orchestra?

Marjolaine: Definitely! I have very close friends in the orchestra. I've always tried to surround myself with friends like me, who like to work hard and well. It's very important to have good company. I feel very fortunate.

Dominic: Do you have much time for your family?

Marjolaine: I don't have any children and my family is far away. I am sure that my colleagues who have children have to be very well organized to be able to spend as much time as possible with their families. I think it's a bit of a challenge, given our crazy schedule. Many of us live far from our families because you have to move to wherever there's a job available.

Question from Mme Posso, Montréal

Mme Posso: Do you have a social life?

Marjolaine: Yes. Most of my friends are musicians, and we see each other after concerts. And as Sundays are usually big days for practising at home, we often meet for Sunday supper. Our days off vary from week to week.

Questions from Bobby, Montréal

Bobby: Can you get rich being a musician? Do you have the time to have a social life?

Marjolaine: I don't think a musician should expect to get too rich. But, I feel rich because I work at the thing I love most, and that's pretty rare. I do have some friends who have gotten rich from music. They're extremely talented.

Bobby: Who is your favourite composer?

Marjolaine: Some composers that I like to listen to aren't that fun to play on the bass. Ravel, for example: his Bolero is exciting, but I think I only play the same two or three notes over and over again. Mozart, Bach and Beethoven are fun to play on the bass. I also love listening to Chopin, Debussy and Telemann, Schubert, Prokofiev, Marais. Boy! I like Dinah Washington (a jazz singer) and Ella Fitzgerald, Jann Arden, k.d. lang and Joni Mitchell. The last three are Canadian singers who write their own music.

Question from Samuel and Meghan, Toronto

Samuel and Meghan: Do you play one instrument only, or do you play more?

Marjolaine: I play the double bass well and many instruments badly, just for fun. Here they are: organ, piano, guitar, viola de gamba, banjo, recorder, electric bass. I get my instruments at second hand shops and have fun.

Question from Carmen and Monica, Vancouver

Carmen and Monica: Why did you choose to play music rather than do anything else?

Marjolaine: I knew that whatever I became, I would always play music. When I got to college level, playing music full time became what I chose to do. Luckily, I found a job playing music to earn my living. To me, finding music was like falling in love. I didn't want anything else.

Question from Laura, Nikki and Jennifer, Vancouver

Laura, Nikki and Jennifer: Is it hard to play your instrument?

Marjolaine: Sometimes it is - my hands get stiff or tired or I'm sick. In the morning, warming up is sometimes hard and some days, I don't feel like practicing is very fun. But I do it, then I reward myself.

Question from Erica, Halifax

Erica: Were you influenced by anyone that made you join the orchestra?

Marjolaine: Yes. My teacher won a job with the NACO and left Montréal to play with them. She'd tell me how great the orchestra was, and that made me want to be there too. Luckily for me, there was an opening later for me!

Questions from Da Cunha Sergio

How many years did you practice to reach this culminating point in your career?

Marjolaine: I started playing double bass when I was 14, and I won my job here when I was 25, right after school. I've been playing with the Orchestra for 10 years now.

How old are you?

Marjolaine: I'm 36. My birthday is in June.

Questions from Olivier, Montréal

Olivier: How many years of practice did you need to become a professional musician and how much money do you make a year?

Marjolaine: I went to music school for about 10 to 12 years.

Olivier: Do you make a living by playing music? If not, what is your second job?

Marjolaine: Yes, I do. I spend all my time playing music. I also teach double bass.

Olivier: How many years of practice did it take you to become a professional musician? When did you start playing music to reach this high level?

Marjolaine: I studied music for about 10 to 12 years.

Olivier: When you were young, did you ever think you would become a great musician? Why did you choose to become a musician?

Marjolaine: It was a fantasy, a dream for me. I hoped I'd be a musician, but hadn't imagined it would be in a symphony orchestra. I was very young when I felt I was a musician - I started earning a living by playing music when I was about 18 or 19.

Olivier: Your work must have given you the opportunity to travel to several countries. What countries did you visit?

Marjolaine: As far as travelling is concerned, I've been very lucky! I visited New Orleans, New York, Florida, Spain, Japan, Korea, Belgium, Poland, France, England, Germany, Israel, Italy, Switzerland, but above all, I've played across Canada, except in the North (Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories). I hope I'll have the chance to visit these regions some day!

Posted on March 8, 2002: Donnie Deacon, Principal Second Violinist answered the following questions:

Question from Greg, Halifax

Greg: I play the violin and I would like to know at what age you started to play the violin because most people that had played the violin had started early?

Donnie: I was 10 years old.

Question from Victor, Montréal

Victor: I admire your hard work and perseverence. I guess that sometimes its hard to be proffesional violinists. But,do you have a social life when your not playing or practicing your instrument. And its it sometimes hard to live when your a musician? P.S:Your web site is very cool!!!

Donnie: Music is my passion so it takes up most of my time, but when I'm not practicing I like tooplay darts and pool. I also travel a lot. I think it can be hard to live in any profession.

Question from Alexandra, Montréal

Alexandra: How many years does someone have to play the violin to get to your level?

Donnie: It depends how much you practice and how quickly you develop. I started when I was ten years old and I'm 22 now.

Question from Lory, Montréal,

Lory: the violonists: What did your parents say about the sound the first times you played the violin at home? I'm asking this because I was told to go play in the garage since I didn't play very well!!

Donnie: I actually called my Dad in Scotland about this question. He said that of course at first it was a little scratchy but I showed signs of talent so that made it much easier.

Question from Chammi and Ben, Toronto

Chammi and Ben: What do you do when you are in a concert and you make a big mistake?

Donnie: I try very hard not to make mistakes which is why I practice so much but when they happen you must forget about them so you don't make any more.

Question from Winnie and Adrian, Toronto, Lillian Public School

Winnie and Adrian: What was the best concert you every played and why?

Donnie: The best concert I ever played was in Greyfriars Kirk (the famous cathedral in Edinburgh). I played the Bach Chaconne for solo violin. The venue was beautiful and the acoustics were perfect. In music there is no such thing as perfection but that was as close as I ever came.

For more musician advise check out the NAC Orchestra and Friends section of There you will find terrific video interviews with professional orchestral musicans!