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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Where do you like playing in orchestra?

October 5, 2007 at 4:44 PM

Whether you are in a professional orchestra, school orchestra or community orchestra, the issue comes up: first violin or second? First violins very often get the melody, and they get to play way up in the stratosphere. Second fiddle has the reputation of being easier, yet the counting and noodley accompaniment can be downright complex. Then there is the much-picked-on viola section. And if you are a cellist, we gave you an option, we want you to feel welcome.

And how about those hot dogs that want to wave the stick at the rest of us? Would you rather be playing, or conducting?

Let us know, and tell us why:

From Mara Gerety
Posted on October 5, 2007 at 4:46 PM
Conductor, of course. Hah! :)
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 5, 2007 at 4:48 PM
I voted for second violin because I really like to be in the middle of things. In the 2nd violins I can hear all the parts and I feel like the sound is washing over and through me and I can lose myself in it. I also like to be in the seconds because in that section I have more of a chance of sitting closer to the conductor where I can see better. I hate the back of the firsts; can't see, can't hear. It feels like purgatory, or Siberia.

A couple times when I was a student, the conductor moved me from the front of the seconds to the back of the firsts, and meant it as a compliment. I appreciated that, but I didn't enjoy playing in the new position nearly as much. In fact, I started learning the viola partly so that I could play it in an orchestra and sit in the viola section without any danger of getting moved to the outside. But I've only played viola in an orchestra a few times so far; not enough to know whether I actually like it better or not.

From Karin Lin
Posted on October 5, 2007 at 6:21 PM
Before I read the choices, I thought the poll was going to be about where we like sitting within a section. For me, I care far more about sitting close to the conductor than about which part I'm playing. I suppose I prefer playing first violin parts (if the orchestra is bad enough to let me sit there :) ), but I'd definitely take first stand, second violin over fourth stand, first violin.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 5, 2007 at 11:37 PM
I love playing principal second, when I get the chance!
From Tommy Atkinson
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 12:09 AM
i chose first violin because most of the time it's easier... more melody, less thinking.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 2:14 AM
I love my viola spot. Good view of the conductor, far enough away from the piccalos and flutes to not hurt my ears. Then there is the rare "viola sola" with the big viola sound. Absence makes the hear grow fonder.

Violas rule!


From Jasmine Reese
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 3:04 AM
I am principal second... I was offered first violin position but declined.

So I like the second violins.

From Christina Wilke
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 3:13 AM
I chose the second violins as well.... it feels more like playing chamber music. I like tricky parts that have to fit in sometimes with the first violins, sometimes with the violas, and every once in a while a melody!
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 6:19 AM
I chose second violin, which I've been playing all my adult life. Initially, I thought it would be easier than first violin, but it has its own difficulties, as you explained. It can be a pain to practice because it often doesn't sound like much of anything. The payoff is getting together with the whole orchestra to play and finding out how all the individual parts come together to make a sound that's greater than the sum of its parts. The contrast between playing alone and playing as part of a group is strong, sometimes surprising, and fun. I've discovered that playing second violin has helped me become a better folk musician. I can improvise harmonies and rhythm backup more easily because of my experience as a second violinist.

At first, I, too, thought the question would be about seating. I strongly prefer sitting on the conductor's right. I can hear the different orchestral sections clearly and distinctly. When I play second next to the firsts, I hear a wall of sound. It's even worse if there are timps right behind me or, worse still, trumpets, as in part of Carmen. At times like that, I think of wearing ear plugs.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 6:33 AM
Laurie, why do you love playing principal second?
From Emily Grossman
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 7:49 AM
I prefer second, but perhaps it's only because I've never gotten to play in the seconds. It just looks like fun, and I love harmonizing.
From Deborah McCann
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 12:11 PM
Though I voted 1st violin. I play second most of the time, and am usually principal or assistant principal. I love the excitement of playing in nose bleed country. However, the seconds have the intonation is more critical for glue in the ensemble of the orchestra and keeps me on my toes. Also the things that were cited. Too many times we do not have good players in the second section (especially in school and community orchestras), and then wonder why it does not gel right. As I tell my students, it the part was not necessary, the composer would not have wasted time writing it.

I also am a conductor-my Masters. When I get the chance, the excitement of playing all the instruments is really heady.

However, I have played viola and like to play it for a change especially on the old war horse pieces.

Never have played cello for money, and you would not want me to. However, I have played string bass in orchestra and in bands.

In truth, what I like to play depends on what the selections are, my mood and options.

From Kenneth Kensek
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 12:33 PM
There is nowhere better to sit then in the middle of a viola section. Best seat in the house as far as sound is concerned.
From David Johnson
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 1:06 PM
Though I voted for 1st violin (where I usually get stuck), I dream of playing second. The seat within a section is more important for me. It is nice to sit at a front desk where it is easier to see the conductor and hear the section. I also prefer the inside so that I can busy myself turning the page during the difficult bits.
From Dessie Arnold
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 4:24 PM
Although I voted second violin, I do enjoy playing first violin, too ("either violin" should have been a choice). Each has its challenges. Although I love playing viola in chamber music, I really don't like to play viola in orchestra. In my experience, viola orchestra parts are 90% pure boredom and 10% sheer terror.
From Phillip Kleven
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 5:13 PM
I really love playing 1st violin... some of the lyrical passages in Beethoven and Brahms would be too hard to pass up
From Rick Savadow
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 6:49 PM
As a (Scandinavian) folk dance fiddler I prefer to set the pace for the dancers, and play melody. I am not as good at making a harmony. I wish I were better.
I just joined a Late-starters string orchestra because I also have always had a passion for classical music. I have chosen 1st violin parts, because I hear more melody. However, being a folkee I am challenged by position playing, and there is more of it in first violin. I really want to work on getting more comfortable in positions. However, thank you Karen & Pauline & Deborah for giving me good reasons to take on the challenges of the 2nd violins. Right now I just want to play where I can support the orchestra best.
From Mike Lambert
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 7:12 PM
Well, you know what they say, a good violist is just a violinist who switched over. (I kid! I kid!) I love the first violins! I know it's cliched but I love playing the melody and sitting on the edge of the stage where everyone can see me. On the contrary, I love playing Principal Second Violin. It has all the perks of leadership and playing a part that allows for further understanding of the music in its entirety.
From Joe S.
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 7:15 PM
This is a little odd. I love orchestral music - so I love playing first in orchestra. I love getting those nice soaring melodic ideas, etc. In a quartet situation, however, I like to play second because of the inner material to play.
From Jessie Vallejo
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 7:14 PM
Principal second violin or co-principal... I find it to be more challenging rhythmically and not so much pressure as playing first. Call me crazy but I don't mind the "oom pa pa"s so much!
From Alayna Faulkenberg
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 9:21 PM
I love to sit in the first stand of Vln1 because the celli and basses are goofy and they keep me entertained.
From Sue Bechler
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 9:47 PM
Yes. ;) Sue
From Pishta Nagybasci
Posted on October 6, 2007 at 10:56 PM
Conductor, of course but then again, they always take the rap for a s**tty performance. Poll my friend, David Kim (concertmaster of Philly) In my estimation, he's got the greatest, easist job in the world (except for having to play the solos in Ein Heldenleben and other nasty little ditties) I'd be interested in his responce.
From Mara Gerety
Posted on October 7, 2007 at 6:50 AM
Jó napot Pista, Magyarországból vagytok? :)

Well, if I can't be the conductor (which, um, I can't) I prefer playing first violin. In quartets, however, I'd fight to play second. Go figure...what is it about playing second in a quartet that's so addictive and compelling??

From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 7, 2007 at 3:10 PM
I don't have a preference for 1st or 2nd violin, except on Strauss waltzes, or Beethoven symphonies. I have always thought that Beethoven 2nd violin parts are much more difficult than 1st violin parts. For opera, I think 1st violin is less tiring, especially in Mozart. For ballet, 1st is more fun!
From Brooke Washburn
Posted on October 7, 2007 at 3:44 PM
I prefer 1st violins because its more fun but its also more work
From Alison S
Posted on October 7, 2007 at 8:07 PM
I prefer seconds because I like being in the music, and close to the violas as well as the firsts.

Even if I'm only attending a concert I like to sit in the choir seats and pretend I'm in the orchestra.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 8, 2007 at 5:32 AM
I'm surprised that so many people like playing second violin. It's often considered inferior to first violin, which is the prima donna.

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