From Henri T.
Posted April 20, 2006 at 01:22 AM
Student orchestras, in which the goal is to *teach* the players about ensemble playing necessitates a revolving seating system, so that many students have the opportunity to play different parts in different sections. It is for this reason that I despise semester-long "chair placement" and "seat challenges" in the high school programs that I work at...it is akin to watching a group of marathon runners shoving each other aside to see who can be 1457th as opposed to 1458th place. It is idiocy of the worst kind.
However, more established orchestras will create a foundation of regular non-rotating players (especially principals) that provide consistency and leadership to the ensemble. The professional ensemble's goal is to achieve artistic excellence, and not to teach its players how to function in orchestra...by the time they audition into say, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the music director will have an understanding of where that player will make the greatest contribution, and place them appropriately to serve the needs of the group in sound and musicianship.
The Orchestra where I play used to be fixed seating system, but cheefconductor is replaced now, and we have short period without cheefconductor. In this short period violin section without leader starting to push the idea of rotating system.
I was just wondering what can works better. My opinion is that fixed seating system can lead to better quality of violin section, but on the other hand I don't know how does it feels and works in rotating system. Or are there any other?
What are your experiencies?
I don't mind concertmasters seat system.
Henri, in response to your question, the Montreal Symphony tends to change the seating of the rotating players for each different programme. I don’t get to other orchestras regularly enough to know what others do.
1) The EVSC Honors Orchestra did it entirely by skill. Best violinists were first, best in front, worst in back, then it trickled over to the seconds being those who weren't as good, and finally, the worst in the back of the 2nd section. I don't like this way since the 2nd violin part is often just as difficult if not harder (as the 1sts play mainly melody and the 2nds mainly the rest of the story, which often involves complex rhythms and fast runs and stuff).
2) The middle school I went to seated people ALMOST the same way, but it balanced the 1st and 2nd sections by seating 1st best as concertmaster, 2nd best as 2nd principal, 3rd in the firsts, 4th in the seconds, staggering evenly. This is more ideal than the first method because this way both sections are equally as strong. However, sometimes this can create slightly more tension between stand partners, since more gap is being left between skill levels. Adjustments can be made, though, since the staggering doesn't have to follow any particular order.
3) My high school orchestra had a heirarchy of who'd been there the longest. The newest players were sent to the back of the 2nd section, and the seniors got the front of the 1st section (provided they were okay with playing the first part-- some requested to stay in the front of the 2nd section). In my opinion, this method is nice in that everyone has the eventual opportunity to play 1st, but also, it fails to balance the sections.
4) This is one I discovered by accident: Go by what syle best fits the violinist (high-pitched sweet melodic sounds vs. complex counting/rhythms and weird notes). When I was a guest musician for another school's spring musical, I played 2nd and let the other violinist play 1st out of courtesy, since I felt it appropriate that those native to the group should be in higher ranks. Turned out he was better at playing higher stuff anyway, and I was better at playing the complex rhythmic patterns and counting and odd notes and other stuff you find in 2nd violin parts.
I would have to go with staggering as the best method for seating, if auditions are done, but if you know the violinist very well, you should place them according to what will suit them the best, as seen in the fourth method.
I think it is OK and good to have a seating rotation (also changing the sections - 1st and 2nd violins) in a highly professional orchestra in which all the players are highly skilled. But in a non professional orchestra in which players are in different skill levels, a fixed seating arrangement is better. This fixed arrangement must be according to the level of skills and not just depending on how long he/she is playing in the orchestra. I admit that experience is important but it must be a good kind of experience. For an example if there are two players with equal levels of skills, then we can give the priority to the more experienced one. But a good player who is highly skilled but joined the orchestra very recently must get the priority over an 'experienced' player who is just miming the bowing for last 15 years!
Antonio mentioned his orchestra where any new people joining get added at the back - that's the sign of a lazy concertmaster. Something nobody's mentioned is the desk partnership - rather than rotating individuals, it's probably better to move people as a desk. That is , provided they're happy with their desk partner!
On the "experience at the front" - the local choir seemed to operate like this. (I'm going back 30 years - they've changed) so the front row were all ladies of let's say mature years - and sat less than elegantly in the choir seats. Relations between the choir and orchestra were never great, and not exactly enhanced when just before a rehearsal, one of the string principals looked round and announced loudly "God! 40 miles of varicous veins".
I n my adult orchestra it is based upon how long you have been a member. However if that were true I should be on desk 8 of 1st violin not 7! I plan to hang around several years and hopefully climb up to 2nd/3rd desk.
In my youth orchetsra apart from the fixed front desk which we decided amongst ourselves we just sit wherever we please. I often sit near the back to help the younger newer members. My desk partner changes every couple of weeks. So long as I am on desk 3 or higher for concerts I am happy because i know everyone behnd me is not as good as me or less experianced mainly due to being younger than me.
withiin school, i am in a chamber ensemble and orchestra, and also in a district orchestra outside.
-in chamber, it's highly competitive. there's a lot of rotation in the firsts, once a month usually, mostly depending on who's making most progress. within the seconds, it is a more steady move up, and the 1st desk of seconds are better players than some never-touching-the-violin-to-practise types at the back of the firsts.
-in the 'big' orchestra, there is some rotation among firsts...but very little anywhere else, and this means that you learn to work together and know who needs a little extra support it in hard bits.
- in the other orchestra, it's only in session six months of the year and there are seating auditions at the beginning in september. after that you keep your seat.
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