Member Handbook


This Handbook has been written to provide basic information for members of the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra and to reflect the orchestra’s artistic philosophy. The cornerstone of this approach is that artistic achievement and developing a sense of community and collegiality within an ensemble are not mutually exclusive goals, but instead mutually supporting ones.


The Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra is comprised of a core of the following players:

  • An optimum of 14 first violins, 12 second violins, 10 violas, 10 cellos, and 8 double basses
  • Wind: 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons
  • Brass: 4 horns, 3 trumpets. 3 trombones, 1 tuba
  • Percussion: 1 timpani, 1 percussion

Additional players to cover parts are engaged as needed from the Sub/Auxiliary List. Occasionally repertoire will require a smaller orchestra and the Music Director may ask some members to sit out for that selection.


The PSO player base consists of musicians of varying ranges of ability and experience. The orchestra has established a list of minimum technical standards:

  • An intermediate level of musical and technical proficiency.
  • The ability to clearly improve on one’s part through individual practice.
  • The ability to hear how one’s part fits in with others, and thus be a functional ensemble player.
  • The ability to sight-read at an elementary to intermediate level.
  • A functional sense of rhythm and intonation, and the ability to tune within simple harmonies.

It is the responsibility of all members to:

  • Practice individual parts diligently
  • Pay annual dues (See dues section below)
  • Attend all rehearsals (See attendance)
  • Be warmed-up and ready to play at the start of rehearsal
  • Notate directions/corrections and practice consistently enough so that the same instruction need not be repeated

Substitute and Auxiliary Musicians

The orchestra maintains a Substitute List comprised of musicians who have successfully auditioned but for whom a permanent membership position was not open. An Auxiliary List is also maintained comprised of referred or qualified unauditioned musicians. Placement on the Substitute List and/or Auxiliary List will be determined by the same procedure used for seating current members. In general vacancies will be filled from the Substitute List first although the Music Director has sole discretion on the selection of sub/auxiliary players.

Annual Dues

Annual dues are required of all players who are permanent members of the orchestra. Dues are used to cover the costs of venue rental, music, soloists, and other general orchestra expenses. The amount of the fee will be determined by the Board or Directors at the start of each season. Members are responsible for paying a full year’s dues even if they are unable to play in all the concerts or are on a Leave of Absence.

If dues cause an undue hardship members may approach any board member or the membership coordinator for dues assistance or to arrange for alternate payment arrangements.


Membership in the orchestra is by audition only. General open auditions will be held annually and individual ad hoc auditions may be held throughout the year as necessary. The Music Director has sole discretion over the minimum requirements for entry and whether or not the prospective member has sufficiently met those requirements. The Music Director may solicit assistance from section leaders on determining minimum requirements or designate one or more proxies to adjudicate some auditions.

Interested prospective members are welcome to sit in on a rehearsal after speaking with the Music Director, membership coordinator or section leader.

During the year, if a musician leaves the group, a substitute may be appointed from the substitute/auxiliary list at the discretion of the Music Director.

Musical Ability

Musicians are expected to make individual progress on their instruments. If a member has a complaint about the performance ability or standards of another musician a written complaint must be presented to the Music Director and Board of Directors. The Music Director will make recommendations on how the player might improve. Possible recommendations might include, but not limited to, additional section rehearsals, taking private lessons, reseating, part reassignment, or coaching sessions. Only in an extreme case, when all other courses of action have been explored, could dismissal become a possible option.


The rotation of seating is beneficial to the educational experience of musicians. All seating is ultimately at the discretion of the Music Director, however the orchestra endeavors to encourage rotation to allow all musicians to develop their skills in ways that are best suited to their individual musical personalities.

Winds, Brass, and Percussion:

Each section will have a Section Leader appointed at the Music Director’s discretion. Musicians will be given part assignments for each work on a performance by the Section Leader in consultation with the Music Director. These assignments will likely, but not always, change from work to work to allow and encourage all players to develop experience while maintaining a high artistic standard.


With the exception of the concert master and principal players, musicians in the string sections will rotate throughout the rehearsal process in way that offers a varied experience to members but not to the detriment of the rehearsal process. The Music Director in consultation with the concertmaster may fix seating for a portion or entirety of the rehearsal cycle if it is deemed in the best interests of concert preparation. Due to the significant leadership responsibility that their positions entail, the principal players in each of the string sections will be selected through an audition process open to all returning and new members at the beginning of each season.


The Librarian will make all public domain music available for download from the PSO or other web site. It is each musician’s responsibility to print their part before the first rehearsal. The Librarian will provide a printed part for any musician who specifically requests it at least 3 days before a rehearsal.

For music that is purchased or rented, parts will be distributed by the Librarian. Musicians should return their music immediately after each performance. A central location will be designated at the performance venue to return music. Do not leave music on your stand or chair. Members who do not return their music immediately after the performance will be responsible for any late fees, replacement costs or processing fees charged to the orchestra by the publisher. If a musician must mail their music back to the Librarian a service that includes tracking number is required.


Details on rehearsal schedule, locations and directions are available on the PSO web site. Musicians are responsible for checking the web site to stay abreast of each rehearsal’s details. In general, rehearsals during the season take place every Monday from 6:30-9:00 PM. On concert week there is typically a mid-week (Wednesday or Thursday) evening rehearsal and a Saturday dress rehearsal. Rehearsals are usually at Portsmouth High School although we use several alternative locations depending the high school’s availability.

Members are expected to be punctual, since late arrivals disrupt the rehearsal and create delays. Members should be warmed up, seated, tuned, and ready to play at the published rehearsal start time. Members are reminded to silence their cell phones during rehearsals.


Consistent and timely attendance is critical not only to the creation of successful performances, but to the overall morale of the ensemble. If a member must miss any or part of a rehearsal, please notify the Membership Coordinator and Section Leader in advance.

Any musician who has missed more than a quarter of the rehearsals in a performance cycle may be asked by the Music Director not to participate in the concert. Excessive problems in the area of attendance may result in a recommendation to the Board of Directors for dismissal.

Attendance at all rehearsals and sound check the week of the concert are mandatory. Musicians who are not able to attend all concert week rehearsals will be allowed to perform only at the discretion of the Music Director.


PSO’s typical season includes performances in November, December, March, and June with occasional educational and summer performances. Members are asked to keep these performance times of the year as free from other obligations as possible so that PSO can successfully assemble a solid performance series. The Board of Directors will make every effort to give as much advance notice as possible about specific performance dates. Most performances are held on weekends, either in the late afternoon or evening. All potential performance dates are brought before board for discussion, and are typically finalized by June 1st for the following season.

Performance Dress

The impression that we make on an audience is influenced by much more than our collective musical performance abilities. Our ability to display a highly polished appearance on the stage will assist us in communicating with our audience, in addition to inspiring elegance and class in our finished product. Our standard dress code for Sunday matinee performances is as follows:


  • A black suit and a black, long necktie, with a white long-sleeved traditionally collared button-down shirt.
  • Black dress shoes, polished. No sneakers.
  • Black socks.


  • Long black dress or black top with a long black skirt or pants. No sleeveless tops or dresses.
  • Black dress shoes, polished. No sneakers.
  • Black socks or nylons.

Leave of Absence

If a member wishes to have a Leave of Absence, a formal request in writing must be made to the Board of Directors for approval. Annual dues must be kept current for the duration of the leave. If dues are not paid, the Leave of Absence will automatically be rescinded and the member must reapply as a new member and audition for the seat. A Leave of Absence will be for no longer than one year unless otherwise agreed to in writing by the board. The position will be filled temporarily from the substitute/auxiliary list, with the understanding that the original member is guaranteed a position in his/her section at the agreed upon return date.

Inclement Weather Policy

Rehearsals will be held whenever possible during inclement weather. If a rehearsal must be cancelled notice will be sent via email by 3 PM whenever possible and updated on the schedule on the PSO web site. If you are in doubt as to whether or not a rehearsal will take place call PSO at (603) 686-8133. Player loyalty and tenacity in bad weather are crucial. If a rehearsal is held but conditions in your neighborhood make it impossible for you to get there, please notify the Membership Coordinator as you would for any absence.

Performances may be cancelled due to weather. If this happens, every effort is made to notify all members at least three hours before performance time via email, phone and the PSO web site. If no word is received, members should assume the performance will be held. Outdoor performances often have an announced rain site.


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