One Does Not Simply Walk Into The Met Opera Orchestra Pit

Hat tip to Drew McManus for reposting a link to timpanist Jason Haaheim’s summary of his 13 part series on the value of deliberate practice. I figure Drew just reposted the link as bait to me since I have frequently posted about deliberate practice.  Even though I didn’t identify it as such, I think my post on Hilary Hahn’s discussion of daydreaming as part of her practice is a manifestation of deliberate practice.

You may have heard of Haaheim before. He was feted as the scientist who secured a position playing timpani with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. While he says he is not talented, did not go to a major music school and doesn’t have a graduate degree in music, he did not simply walk in off the streets and secure a position the way the stories make it sound. The Met was his 28th audition in field of international orchestras. (He frequently refers to himself as a tenacious loser.)

The fact he wrote a 13 part series on deliberate practice is pretty compelling evidence that he has has invested a lot of time and energy into the act and evaluation of his practicing. He projected his ratio of  hours spent in solitary practice to working under the supervision of a mentor at 112:1

But note, while he says you have to be willing to put in the time, by no means does he claim that they who clock the most hours are the winners. As with the posts I have previously made about deliberate practice, no benefit is accrued if you aren’t paying attention to what you are doing, reflecting upon the experience, collecting feedback from others or by self recording, and analyzing it all. Going through the motions yields very little and may even be harmful if you aren’t paying attention to stress and tension.

In his view, the process of deliberate practice has an exact correspondence with the scientific method where you identify a problem, formulate hypothesis and solution, test, gather data and, analyze.  While that may sound sterile, Haaheim frames many of his posts in pop culture references. For example, the title of one post is: Unless Your Phone Is in Airplane Mode, You Are Practicing like a Nazgûl, in which he compares the influence phones have over minds to the fact a Nazgûl’s will is subsumed by the Dark Lord, Sauron.

So if you have read about the process of deliberate practice but are unsure how to structure a regimen for yourself, Haaheim lays out a pretty thorough road map in his recent post which includes a hyperlinked annotated index of his previous 12 posts on the subject.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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