The experience reminded me of the importance of being a team player, because that's what a band or section is - a team. There were a couple of pieces that required more players than they had, so they all juggled parts and chipped in to make sure that all of the notes got covered. The pianist even covered a bell part to make things a little smoother.
In a percussion section, just like on a sports team, every person has to be willing and able to not only play any part that is needed, but also be willing to let others shine and play to their individual strengths. It doesn't hurt if you're friendly, humble and reliable, too.
Among other things, a good section percussionist should:
- Have a base level of skill on snare drum, keyboards, timpani, bass drum, cymbals and all auxiliary instruments
- Be able to sight read fairly well
- Come to all rehearsals with parts prepared
- Come to all rehearsals with needed mallets, sticks, and "toys"
- Own - and religiously use - a pencil (or multiple pencils, whatever it takes)
- Be punctual - ready for downbeat at least five minutes before rehearsal starts (15 minutes is even better)
- Always help with load in and out, and any other "heavy lifting"
- Be flexible and practical - percussion sections have to just "make it work"
And if I could offer one more piece of advice, it would be to get a reputation as somebody that's always got a good attitude and is willing to help out and not be a "diva." Many a gig has gone to the guy or girl who's easy to work with, even though he or she may not be the best player.