Saturday, June 16, 2007

orchestral unity

The other day, I had a very interesting conversation with Blake, Ray, and Alex about string players versus wind players. For some reason, in my experience with orchestras, especially in school, each of the major sections seems to stick to themselves. Strings stay with strings, woodwinds with woodwinds, and perscussionists and harp players just do what they want. Now part of this phenomenon is that you talk to those who sit next to you, and that orchestral music often divides instruments into sections, so that you end up rehearsing with those who sit near you, as well.

But it goes beyond that. String players complain that wind players play sharp, or behind the beat, or that they can't play their solos well, or simply get annoyed when wind players freak out about big solos (not getting some eye contact from a conductor before a solo can be disconcerting if a cue is expected, especially if there are lots of bars of rest before it). Wind players get annoyed that string players play sharp (everyone thinks it's someone else's fault that the orchestra is sharp, which it invariably is). They get irritated when string-players don't learn their parts and don't show up for rehearsal, or show up late. Non-brass-players frequently complain that the brass is too loud, and that they crack notes. Section string players sometimes feel that their part is not important, since there are 10 other people playing it, and wish that they could have solos like the principals or the winds. Wind soloists sometimes wish (or at least I do!) that they could play those beautiful melodies with a whole section so they could enjoy the music and not stress out about playing a solo. Plus sometimes it's so satisfying to play something together in a coherent group. We always complain about each other, no matter what.

Why? We're all musicians! I think we need to step back and put ourselves in each other's shoes for a bit. As someone who played string instruments for years before choosing to play oboe seriously, perhaps I am more sensitive to this. It always bothered me in college that people often socialized by instrument groups: I wanted to hang out with violinists AND clarinetists, not one or the other. But others just complained that people who played that instrument were snobs, or this instrument were weird.

Perhaps there is nothing to be done about this situation. But I think it would be in the best interest of future musicians to learn an orchestral instrument completely different from their own, or at the very least talk to other musicians and learn about their craft. You, cellist over there, name me three respected bassoonists. You, flutist, tell me what notes the strings are on a bass. Hey horn player, name a brand of oboe-maker. Violinist, what is the difference between mallets and sticks? I think these are the kinds of things we should all know about each other, and in my experience, most musicians are more than happy to explain the idiosyncracies of their instruments. The more knowledge we have of each other, the more understanding we can be so that we can play together better.

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