Tuning the orchestra

November 9, 2008 at 10:05 PM ·

So, last year when I offered to do the bowings for the first violin section of the community orchestra I play in, it led to a new learning experience:  I'm the concertmaster. 

I don't have a lot of previous experience in this role, but I feel that it is helping me grow as a violinist. 

My most recent challenge is tuning.  I get up there on the podium and it is hard to get the orchestra's attention.  I'm short and I can't whistle.  Out of consideration for my bow, I don't want to bang it on the stand (at least not too hard).  Maybe if they get used to seeing me up there it will get better.  But last week it was kind of a zoo. 

Replies (20)

November 9, 2008 at 10:40 PM ·


basically I think you have to communicate with people what you want.

Next time just stand ther euntil you do have people attention,  or maybe just hold an arm out in front of you.  Then explain that you feel that the role of the cocnermaster is getting people to tune etc and could everybody help you by being quiet and waiting for you to begin the tunign routine when you stand up.  i have usually foudn thatonce people udnertsand what you would like and tat you wnat to woerk togtehr it is not such a problem.



November 9, 2008 at 10:45 PM ·

If it was me, and I couldn't control the whole orchestra, I would turn to the louder instruments and get them to help me out. So I would look at the first stand cellos, and start playing my A.

November 9, 2008 at 10:47 PM ·

If it was me, and I couldn't control the whole orchestra, I would turn to the louder instruments and get them to help me out. So I would look at the first stand cellos, and start playing my A.

November 9, 2008 at 11:25 PM ·

Practice standing up in your living room/garden/bedroom and saying in a LOUD carrying voice without shouting or letting the pitch get high - normal speaking pitch:  "Quiet please everyone!  Can we have an A please oboe?"   Main thing is to look "in charge".

If the band keeps on yakking - get on the conductor's podium and slap your hand flat on the conductor's stand a couple of times, then repeat as above, looking ominously in direction of brass since they are almost certainly misbehaving...

When I started doing orchestral management (which obviously involves communication with musicians before rehearsals etc - I was terrified about standing up and making my presence felt.  But practising at home and then just getting up and doing it worked fine - after a few times they knew whenever they saw me approaching that it was time to listen. <evil grin>

November 10, 2008 at 01:23 AM ·

Folks that possess milder pesonalities would find this troublesome, for sure. .. especially in a youth, or non-professional  orchestra. You now have a position of authority and need to exhert yourself... that is why you get that etra measure of applause when you take your seat prior to the performance. My suggestion is that you seek the cooperation of all first chair players.... ask them for  help in this matter. They should be able to bring their sections under control rather quickly. Nothing wrong with asking for help. Don't forget to talk to the percussion and brass sections!!!!!! Oh, the oboist needs to be your best friend!!!!!  If this doesn't work, get a Dick Cheney mask.... that wil bring them into line. Good luck to you.

November 10, 2008 at 02:13 PM ·

Karen - the conductor should be calling the orch to order so that they can tune to you.  It is his/her job, not yours.

November 10, 2008 at 03:52 PM ·

Tom, that's part of the confusion, I think.  People aren't sure if it's supposed to be him or me.  He told me recently, however, that I should do it.  He also told me that he wants 3 A's, one for the winds and brass, one for the lower strings, and one for the upper strings.  That seems to be what is creating the most confusion at the moment:  the strings are not waiting for the winds to be done and the upper strings are not waiting for the lower strings.  It sounds like I should talk to the oboe-ist and the other section leaders and tell them what the plan is before the next rehearsal starts.

November 10, 2008 at 03:57 PM ·

Not a bad idea to talk to the oboeist first.  Also, do not hesitate to tap the conductor's stand with your bow to make some noise and get attention.   Good luck!  But, it really is the conductor's job to tap the stand with his baton to get quiet and attention and then turn over the tuning to you.

November 10, 2008 at 03:58 PM ·

Get up there on the podium and yell if you have to. This orchestra needs discipline. Don't be apologetic when you try to command attention. You don't have to sounds nasty, just firm. Nod to the oboe for the A. If they start yapping or playing tell them firmly "we're tuning now, nothing else." Then go about the tuning business.

Leadership 101.

November 10, 2008 at 04:28 PM ·

Some practice hand them all a kazoo, and when they look at you in disbelief, say "you can choose how to sound as an orchestra; when we tune, it is the most important notes we will play all evening."

If that doesn't work, possibly a canned air boat horn? :->

November 10, 2008 at 04:56 PM ·

Get a loud whistle and use it!  Maybe you will only have to do that once.

I'm more worried about tapping your bow on the stand. Real players don't tap REAL bows on music stands - they just wave them about to look like they are. However I did have a stand partner who would tap her lovely Otto Hoyer bow on the stand to applaud soloists, and I would just sit and wince when she did it.



November 10, 2008 at 05:38 PM ·

Yeah, it's the concertmaster's job to have the orchestra tuned and ready for the conductor.


I remember yelling once (not in a mean way; I yelled,"Hey!").  The conductor didn't like it so much.  So, my best advice--just be dignified and try to get their attention in the classiest of ways.

As a side note, however, they did listen to me every rehearsal after that.  :o)




November 10, 2008 at 07:18 PM ·

You have received some very good advise and some bad advise here. It is NOT the conductors's job to bring the orchestra to order and then nod to you to start the tuning. It is yours, and yours alone. I never, ever saw a conductor do this. He/She comes to the podium when you are done, and the orchestra is ready to perform. Absolutely do not tap anything with your bow, if you value it at all. End of sermon. Take charge, and good luck!   ;-)

November 10, 2008 at 08:02 PM ·

Use an Air-Horn like they do at foot ball games?

November 10, 2008 at 08:39 PM ·

Next rehearsal I would have it worked out with the oboe to play the A when I stand up and give him the nod.  I'd bet everyone will quieten down fast when they hear a steady A from the oboe and see you standing.  If not, I'd get on the podium and and yell "quiet - please!"  and get back down.  Once is all it would take. If I got on the podium and some of the people stopped talking without me saying anything and the noise gradually decreased, I'd just stand there staring with everybody at the last person who continued to talk.  When they finally stopped, I'd say to them "Perhaps you'd like to share that with the class." :))

" the strings are not waiting for the winds to be done and the upper strings are not waiting for the lower strings."

Point or nod at the winds and brass to start them, and and give any section tuning when the aren't supposed to the palm of the hand to shut up, conductor-style.  If that doesn't work, then a shush.  If they don't get it, then stop and say winds and brass first then low strings then high strings, and start over.

November 10, 2008 at 10:25 PM ·


>It is NOT the conductors's job to bring the orchestra to order and then nod to you to start the tuning. It is yours, and yours alone. I never, ever saw a conductor do this.

That is correct  for me.



November 11, 2008 at 01:05 AM ·

Once they know YOU are in charge of the situation, they won't mess with you.  Hopefully you'll only have to use your "army sargent major" voice just the once...  Every orchestra I've ever played in right from beginners upwards, the conductor has never ever taken a part in getting people quiet for tuning.  That's YOUR job!


November 11, 2008 at 05:54 AM ·

I watched the technique that our concertmistressed used tonight.  She simply stands in front of the conductor, turns to the Oboist and says "____, can you give us an A please....  Winds..."  If people are still talking, she casually gives her arm a wave so everone can see, and repeats her request.  IF there is still chatting, she starts to give people "the look".  Those around the chatters notice and hush up their neighbors.  After the winds tune, she asks for a note for each section (turning to face them as their turn comes around).

December 7, 2008 at 03:54 PM ·

Hi Karen,
you have really received lots of advises, - the best one from Giovanni.
I write from Germany, and I know from experience, how it works here, if it doesn't work as it should work.
Most orchestras have a board of musicians who are designated by the members themselves. The president of this board should be obliged to explain once in front of the orchestra, what the duties of the concertmaster are (even, if the members pretend to know already!...), and what they NOT are. The concertmasters standing-up-sign for tuning or occasional advises MUST be enough for the musicians to diminuate their din, however...
Good luck!

December 7, 2008 at 08:29 PM ·

For what it's worth, in our orchestra the concertmaster stands up, raises his bow and waves it if necessary and then begins,

"An A for the strings please." 

Followed by another A for the others...

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