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Second Fiddle

September 9, 2009 at 3:42 AM

 I  recently returned from my annual week at chamber music camp for strings, where I tend to see many of the same people from year to year.  On the first night, we form a circle and introduce ourselves, tell a bit about how long we've played, and what instrument we play. One woman always earned a laugh when she introduced herself this way: "My name is K__ and I play the second violin".  

I am a second violinist. I too play the second violin.

For the last few years at camp, I've played with a core group during our chamber music ensembles times.  This group has varied from 4-6, and we play repertoire accordingly...Schubert Cello Quintet, Brahms Sextets, Dvorak American.  Last year we needed to replace our first violinist, so added Eric to our group. This year again Eric played with us, and a few times during the week he'd make comments about how it was time for me to dive into first violin parts. 

I attempted to explain to him---I am a second violinist.  I love the role and function of the 2nd part, particularly in a quartet or chamber group.  I enjoy the dialogue that the 2nd part carries on with both first violin and viola.  I appreciate that the whole key tonality often rests on my shoulders. I love how the inner voice functions...the fact that I can often drive swells, shape phrases  or control ritards from the inside.  I appreciate the need for the 2nd part to be played with confidence and competence.... "my" part adds richness to the ensemble.  So, while I certainly COULD be playing first violin, I'd far rather play 2nd in a really good and sensitive ensemble,filling the part the way the composer must have intended.  That's my spot.   
 In my orchestra,   I tend to be the swing player in our violin section...I go where needed, on a concert-by-concert basis.  For the last few years though I've spent most of my time in the first violin section. I played first violin ii the opera this summer, and again this year I am playing first in orchestra. So, as I explained to Eric, I CAN do it.  
But really, I play the second violin. 


From Patricia Baser
Posted on September 10, 2009 at 12:02 AM

Ah, you've been to Blue Lake (I've met K who plays 2nd violin).

From Dottie Case
Posted on September 10, 2009 at 12:59 AM

 Shhhh.....  we're trying to keep it a secret!

From Wendy Evenden Loney
Posted on September 10, 2009 at 12:43 PM

Thank you for that post Dottie. I appreciated hearing about playing second violin from the perspective of someone who prefers it to playing first. 

Back to lurking.


From Ray Randall
Posted on September 10, 2009 at 3:02 PM

Many people think the "poorer" players should play in the second section. No way, the second violin parts are quite important supplying the tonality and harmony as you mentioned. If they don't sound good the whole orchestra or quartet suffers. In our local world class orchestra many of the second violinists are top solo quality.

From Louise Pallet
Posted on September 12, 2009 at 3:15 PM

In our Orchestra we get told  the seconds are the backbone of the Orchestra and without seconds they could not function. So we have lots of seconds and are only too pleased to be so needed. Our leader of the seconds is very important and rehearses with us a lot and we love it.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 14, 2009 at 6:22 AM

Dottie, I love your explanation of the fun of playing second violin.  I'm a second violinist, too.  I've also found that my experience playing second violin helps me play backup, an important role, when I jam.  A lot of the techniques I've learned and play almost instinctively as a second violinist in classical music fit well into bluegrass and other styles of improvisational music.  I, too, love the "sneaky" way the backup violinist can shape the music while it is played, the importance of the texture, the effect of the rhythmic drive, and the type of harmony I can use to great effect.  Sometimes I'm playing the only melody instrument and I have to belt out the melody strongly and clearly, and I get bored.

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