NWSO Member's Handbook

The opportunity to participate in the Northwest Symphony Orchestra requires a serious commitment on the part of the musicians. Cooperation in following the guidelines set forth in this handbook will help meet the demands of the music and the artistic level to which we all aspire as an orchestra, and achieve a rewarding experience for all members of the orchestra, our colleagues, clients, and audience.

Mission Statement

The mission of the Northwest Symphony Orchestra (NWSO) is to be the premier orchestra in performance and promotion of music by contemporary Northwest composers while also performing, promoting, and educating the public about the full spectrum of classical music.


Founded in 1987, the NWSO affords both the serious professional and amateur musician alike the opportunity to play in an accomplished orchestra while developing and maintaining their musical skills. The orchestra presents four major concerts each year.

The NWSO performs several concerts a year from its home base, the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien, WA. The NWSO also performs annually on Bainbridge Island with the Bainbridge Chorale, at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in West Seattle, and at an annual benefit concert for Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall.

The NWSO has received local, regional and national acclaim, and was featured several times on National Public Radio. The NWSO has recorded three CDs on the KOCH, Albany and Gale labels. These CDs have been highly praised by many sources, including the American Record Guide.

The NWSO's commitment to Northwest composers is unparalleled. The NWSO performed its 100th work by a local composer at its celebratory finale, a concert given in May 2007 to honor the orchestra’s 20th season. This unwavering commitment to local composers has garnered the seven national ASCAP awards in the category of "Programming of Contemporary Music." These include:

  • Three 1st place national awards in 1994, 2007 and 2012
  • One 2nd place national award in 2001
  • Four 3rd place national awards in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2004

The area southwest of Seattle, which includes Burien, SeaTac, and the Highline School District, is underserved by the arts, and the NWSO receives funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), 4 Culture and the Washington State Arts Commission, as well as from the cities of Burien and SeaTac, to perform locally.

Generously underwritten by the National Endowment for the Arts, the NWSO's Composer-In-Residence and Symphony for Students programs provide educational enrichment to the Highline School District and the surrounding communities. These programs have proven to be highly successful, and our musicians have made positive impacts on program participants, from being role models to exposing audiences to classical music. Some of today’s young players will become professional musicians, but almost all of them will become part of an educated classical music audience.

An interest in and love of classical music is easiest when fostered early in a child’s life. We believe that to create lifelong music lovers and appreciative supporters of the arts requires an early intervention that must be nurtured consistently through to adulthood. As NWSO musicians, we see ourselves as advocates for this important outreach work.

Northwest Symphony Orchestra accepts applicants based on their musical ability, without regard to gender, age, race, religion, disability, national origin, or sexual orientation.

Rehearsals and Attendance

All rehearsals are considered mandatory.

Musicians are expected to be present at, on time to, and remain for the entire duration of all rehearsals, dress rehearsals and concerts. Announcements are made each week. Arriving late to rehearsal or leaving the rehearsal early is disturbing to the Conductor and other musicians and this will not be an acceptable practice.

It is vital that every musician is seated, tuned, and ready to begin rehearsal on time. 100 percent attendance is important for the orchestra as a whole in order to have complete and worthwhile rehearsals. In order to meet the demands of the music and achieve the artistic level to which we all aspire as an orchestra, we need to enforce these procedures.

  • Attendance at the dress rehearsal is required.
  • Absence is permitted in cases of illness, emergency, or special circumstances. These must be prearranged with the Orchestra Manager.

Every effort will be made to have a rehearsal order so brass, woodwinds and percussion (BWP) players will be able to plan their rehearsal time. Unless otherwise indicated, all rehearsals, including dress rehearsals, begin promptly at 7:05 pm and typically end at 9:35 pm.  Dress rehearsals will finish when adequate preparation is completed.  

Arrive no later than 6:55 pm to warm up, pick up music, etc. Be ready to tune at 7:03 pm. Rehearsal downbeat is at 7:05 pm

FYI -- The rehearsal start and end time is to accomodate members who are ferry commuters.

If an earlier rehearsal time is needed musicians will be notified well in advance.


The musician is responsible for material covered during rehearsal.

Musicians Playing One on a Part

The presence of all instruments is key to providing the overall structure of the music. Musicians playing one on a part (brass, woodwinds, and percussion) who must be absent are responsible for providing a substitute at non-dress rehearsals.  The musician is responsible for leaving music with the librarian or section leader prior to a planned absence. The musician must coordinate with the sub for material covered at rehearsal.

Dress Rehearsals

The dress rehearsal is the final rehearsal before a concert. Therefore, attendance is mandatory.

Reporting an Absence

Please communicate your absence as soon as possible by sending an email to Morven Balmidiano, Orchestra Manager, at m.balmidiano@yahoo.com and Anthony Spain, Artistic Director, at anthonyspainnwso@gmail.com up to 4:00 pm before the scheduled rehearsal time. You may also call or text Morven on cell phone (425) 213-6492 any time. If text-messaging, please remember to leave your name.

Expected Behavior

Good attendance and behavior are necessary from each musician for the success of the orchestra as a whole. The reward of participating in an orchestra comes from the pride and satisfaction of working together and striving for musical excellence.

During rehearsals it is expected that musicians refrain from unnecessary talking or other non-rehearsal activities.  When coordination within the sections is required, please keep the noise level to an absolute minimum. Listen quietly if you are not playing and please be considerate of your fellow players. These are good chances for you to silently review difficult passages in your own parts.

Show respect for the music, as well as your Conductor and orchestra colleagues. Honor your commitments and take responsibility for your actions. Have fun and enjoy this shared musical journey!

Music and Markings

It is expected you have a pencil at every rehearsal and that you mark your part with all verbal indications given from the Conductor, concertmaster and principal section leaders. Please mark your part in pencil only.

Sheet music is entrusted to each orchestra member and must be handled with great care. The Librarian distributes parts to each musician at the first rehearsal of a concert program. Music must be signed out at the first rehearsal of a concert program and returned at the concert, or as otherwise instructed.

If original music is lost, damaged, and/or not returned by the designated time, the musician will be charged a minimum of $10 per part. The NWSO will charge musicians accordingly, should cost for replacement exceed this. In the case of rented, borrowed, or out-of-print music, the replacement fee may be a great deal more than $10.

Sheet music must be returned at the end of a concert as instructed by the Librarian.

String Musicians and Bow Markings

Bowings are the responsibility of the principal chair in each string section. String principals are responsible for getting bowings from the Concertmaster at least two weeks before the first rehearsal of each concert set and are expected to come to the first rehearsal with complete bowed parts and enough copies for each member of their section.  

It is then each outside stand member’s responsibility to put in all bow and musical markings in the original part by the string sectional, or second rehearsal, of each concert set.

Membership Requirements

NWSO membership is based on musical ability as well as the NWSO’s specific needs for the season. Placement into the orchestra is competitive and based on artistic quality. All musicians will be admitted by audition only.  Musicians who pass the audition will be admitted on a one-year assessment period. The player may, or may not, be admitted to the orchestra at that end of the one-year period.

Once admitted to the orchestra, placement, seating and retention in the orchestra is at the discretion of the Conductor. Seating within an orchestra may be changed during the season at the discretion of the Conductor. Musicians will be removed from the orchestra for chronic absences, sub-standard performances, or unacceptable behavior. The decision of the Conductor will be final.

Positions within the Orchestra

Orchestra members are selected by the Conductor for principal or section positions based on auditions, the Conductor’s discretion, the quality of the sound to be achieved, and the good of the orchestra.

String Section Seat Rotation

Except for principal chairs, seating will be assigned on a rotating basis. Assignments are up to the discretion of the Conductor and will be available before or at the start of a concert's first rehearsal.

Teacher's CEU / Clock Hours

CEU / Clock Hours are available for educators who are members of NWSO, to be used for teacher certification renewal and district salary schedules.  Clock Hours are issued through the Washington Music Educators Association (WMEA) at the level of one clock hour per hour of rehearsal or performance.  Clock Hours are free for WMEA members, or $2 per hour for those without a current WMEA membership.

Dress Code

The dress code described is standard concert attire for symphony orchestras.


You are free to wear a polished black outfit of your choice but it should meet the requirements listed below.

  • Long black dress or long black skirt/dress pants
    • Avoid wearing short skirts/dresses
    • If you choose to wear a skirt or dress please select one where the length is at least ankle high
  • Black blouse
    • Elbow length or longer (preferred)
    • Please avoid spaghetti strap style top
  • Black shoes, black stockings
  • Unobtrusive jewelry
  • Refrain from wearing perfume, cologne or scented hair spray.


Any outfit below with black shoes & black socks

  • Black tuxedo with white tux shirt and black bow tie (preferred)
  • Black suit with white shirt and black bow tie
  • Black suit with black shirt and black tie
  • Refrain from wearing perfume, cologne or scented hair spray.

Inclement Weather

In case of inclement weather, decisions will be made by 5:45 pm the day of any rehearsal or concert.  Please call the Orchestra Manager  (425) 213-6492  for a recorded message that will indicate whether or not a rehearsal or concert will proceed.

Other Information

Some General Guidelines for Good Rehearsals

  • Warm-up carefully, discreetly, and in an organized manner. Others need to hear themselves too.
  • Respond quickly to the Conductor’s instruction.
  • Be considerate when the Conductor is working with sections other than your own. This is a good time to silently review challenging passages in your music. Be ready to play again as soon as the Conductor asks.
  • Listen to the other parts, and think about how your part fits into the overall texture of the music.
  • Always look at least a measure or two ahead when playing. When sight-reading, play patterns and groups of notes rather then one note at a time.
  • Look up foreign words and directions that you do not understand.
  • Never view any passage as easy; playing anything well requires practice, skill and concentration. Take nothing for granted and focus on refining details.
  • Avoid getting overly worried about difficult parts – it will only make them more difficult. Take these parts to your private teacher for assistance, or practice them slowly at home with a metronome.
  • When beginning a new work, apply interpretive ideas from other compositions in the same style or period.
  • The principal player(s) in your section is/are your leader(s). When in doubt, look to a principal to answer questions about bowings, entrances and any other related issues.

Open Communication Policy

NWSO maintains a confidential open door policy and encourages you to communicate your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and concerns. Please feel free to talk to or e-mail the Conductor or the Orchestra Manager at anytime.

Key Contacts