A HR Question on Violinist Section

January 4, 2011 at 05:13 PM ·

Dear Violinists,

In my organization, I have spent a lot of resources in training people about team work. Team work is a great competency in HR (Human Resources) terms. To my regret, the training result is not satisfactory.
In my view, teamwork means:
1.       Commitment (team members stick together and do not walk way);
2.       Shared vision for future and norms on routine operations;
3.       Complimentary skills among team members;
4.       Trust on the skills and personalities of teammates;
5.       Healthy resolution of internal conflicts;
6.       Great culture or team spirit.
There are several types of team which I admire:
1.       Musician groups from duo to orchestra;
2.       Special arm forces such as US Navy Seal;
3.       Sport team in soccer, basketball, rugby, etc.
They represent the smooth functioning and excellent performance. All teammates often possess skills which were acquired through over 10,000 hours in exercises.
Different from other teams, the musicians have great passion on their profession and performance.
Years back in October Fest in Munich, I found a small musician group playing under an arcade. They played Vivaldi, Mozart, etc. at very high level with great enjoyment and harmony. They were there every day. I do not think that they made good money from those plays. However I did get their enjoyment and pleasure.
To musicians, especially violinists as the pearls of crown in orchestra, I would like to learn the following:
1.       How does the group select and decide who plays the 1st, 2nd, 3rd violins and other violins? Is it done on the basis of reputation (prizes obtained), test of skills, requirements of music, or simply the tastes of conductor?
2.       How would the group evaluate the performance of these violins? Are they being evaluated by the comments from the media, or by the peer musicians, or by the conductor or by the manager?
3.       How would the group reward the 1st, 2nd, 3rd violins and other violins? Are they paid equally or differently? Are they paid by fixed among or by basis plus bonus?
4.       How would the positions of violinist change? Are they rotating their positions or staying stably there in a number of years?
5.       How would the violin section being treated in respect to entire orchestra? Do they have any more privilege besides the respect and appreciation shown on stage by conductor by the end of show?
In regular business, people's mood does marginally affect the results in short term because they have to follow work procedures or even follow the movement of machinery (movie Modern Times). However I am sure the mood of musician will be more likely reflected in their performance in a huge manner.
I deem that proper solutions on these sensitive HR issues must have been resolved satisfactiorily. So I wish to listen to some comments and input from violinists.
I am aware that I might touch some sensitive or even private concerns. That is not my curiosity or intent. If you feel that way, just ignore my questions. Forgive me for asking these non-violinist questions.
Thanks a lot of for your attention, comments and advices.


Replies (23)

January 5, 2011 at 12:33 AM ·

o.k. I'll dive in. Fools rush in etc.

As someone who spent a number of years in orchestras, and now work in IT and have done for years in small and large organisations, I detect loads of "HR speak" in you questions. You mention "training" for team work - you can't! "Shared vision" is one of those buzz phrases beloved of HR departments which is meant to enthuse us all - sorry, it doesn't. Teamwork is one of those things which happen through mutual respect for the rest of the team, guided by a Team Leader who has everyone's respect. This is only gained through the Leader's personal qualities, and never by "I am the leader - I must be in charge". If the leader has everyone's respect,  he or she will trust the team members to do the job with just a touch of guidance when needed - and interest to show that everyone's work is valued. In orchestral terms, when we'd done a particularly good concert, one leader would thank the orchestra at the start of the next session (Not applicable if it was for the principal conductor - he can do it himself). Another leader, when I suggested to him that it might be nice after a particularly good performance, just said "No - that's what they're paid to do". Guess which one we loved and repected!.

You mention one of those other things beloved of HR - "evaluation" aka "appraisal". Doesn't normally help anybody to sit down twice a year and be marked on how you've performed - especially if the manager doesn't understand everything about the job. And usually leads to bad feeling - especially if a pay rise is dependant on the outcome, as it often is.

Orchestras (well, violin sections) don't normally have "rankings" - you're not usually "promoted" from No. 10 to No. 9 - this varies. Some orchestras have fixed seatings, and others rotate the rank and file. The front couple of desks are more senior, and fixed, and paid more, but usually the rank and file players are either paid the same, or may be on a pay scale that goes up with length of service. And there aren't any "bonusses" - especially differential ones. These again are pretty counter-productive.

Basically, if all the members of a team respect each other and respect the team leader (and are respected by him/her) you'll find you have a pretty well functioning team - which will probably unite in derision at the initiatives flowing from HR. Sorry to be so brutal, but that's been pretty much my experience.

I do remember making the comment at a previous firm that "Dilbert is meant to be cautionary, not a training manual". Not sure it made me too popular.

Not sure how much help this is to you, but full marks for actually "thinking out of the box" (to use another common phrase) and coming here to try and improve things for your firm.


January 5, 2011 at 01:27 AM ·

When I was employed by a very large organization some years ago everyone was subject to annual appraisals (even right at the very top of the tree where the 3 top men would appraise each other). My immediate superior and I worked in adjacent offices and typically spent quite a lot of our time working together and advising each other, so we knew each other quite well.

About the only difference in our job descriptions was that John was responsible for organizing the department's holiday rota and was entitled to sign off higher value expenses chits than I was. He came into my office one day in a December waving a sheaf of papers from HR and said that he was supposed to subject me to a 2-hour interview, appraise me, and fill in all the ridiculous boxes for HR.

My "2-hour interview" turned out to be a very sensible extended pub lunch where we chatted about anything and everything, family, friends, hobbies, holidays, and no mention whatsoever of work. I found out later that John's own appraisal by his superior in Head Office was a very similar process. So much for time-wasting HR appraisal forms applied to people with identical professional qualifications and very similar job descriptions. These thoughts could be applied to appraisals of musicians in an orchestra.

January 5, 2011 at 03:07 AM ·

 I am not a professional and I don't have any experience in a high talent violin section but I have a few friends who do.

1. Some hear with very acute ears and what we hear as blend and harmony can be very much outside their tolerance llmits. They can be hypercritical of some of their colleagues. I am assured that in a great violin section every violinist can hear every other violinist and they know who is and who isn't pulling their weight. (It is hard for me to believe too).

2. Some players are seriously unchallenged in section violin roles. Their playing is flawless at a technical level but they are not engaged and colleagues can find them very irritating. 

3. Some sections despise conductors especially those who cannot hear and have no ideas. 

In short it appears that violin section can be a very intense and concentrated version of The Office.

January 5, 2011 at 04:19 AM ·

The seating in top US professional orchestras-- i.e., those with collective bargaining agreements and long histories-- tends to have three tiers that I've noticed.  You have the section leaders (and the assistant concertmaster, and the associate concertmaster, et al.).  There is then a group that tends to stay fairly stable but doesn't have a title-- maybe the first 3 stands of a section.  Then in the back, you might have rotation, even between first and second violin sections.  If you look at the Boston Symphony programs, you'll find maybe half of the string players have asterisks next to their names, meaning that they move around between concerts.

The principal and assistant principal jobs are specifically auditioned for.  Section members are often guaranteed a shot at the final round of auditions, and management might have specific people they invite to participate as well.  The section jobs are generally arranged by seniority.  The guys in the back -- or the bottom of the section list in the program-- were the most recent hires.  There's usually a 1-year trial period, and I suppose their section-mates can throw them out if they don't like them.  After that, there's tenure and fairly well-defined salary progressions.

Often, junior sections players are better than the older players up front, but that's the way it is.  Sometimes they later get promoted to a leadership job.  Joseph Silverstein sat in the back of the violin section of the Boston Symphony before the concertmaster job opened up.  He had to audition, but nobody was surprised when he won.  You can see him in the Charles Munch era DVDs of the BSO, and it's a little jarring to have him look so young, and sitting in the back row.  Other principal players come from the outside.  I know of one guy who made the finals 3 or 4 times with a really great orchestra for the section job but didn't win the position any of those times.   When the assistant principal job of the same section opened up, management invited him to try again and he ended up beating all the guys he'd lost to previously.

As far as motivation and teamwork, some of it comes from working with colleagues you respect, some from the conductor, some from management or the prestige of the orchestra.  And there's always the thrill of playing great music for people who like it.

I've heard references to studies showing that average job satisfaction among orchestra players is down around that of ditch diggers, prison guards, and lawyers.  My guess is that if true, it's because orchestral jobs are attractive enough in the music world-- decent pay, regular schedule, opportunities to teach, etc.-- that people who are lucky enough to get them feel they can't move on if they become less happy.  Especially if they have families, mortgages, instrument loans, etc.  You can't just jump to another orchestra; often there are 200 applicants for one job.  And snapping your fingers to start a successful solo career or string quartet is not easy, nor is it easy to give up the nice salary and pension.

If you want some background information about life as an orchestra player, take a look at Justin Locke's book Real Men Don't Rehearse.  It covers a lot about the pleasures and  pressures of being in a fine symphony.

January 5, 2011 at 11:08 AM ·

Dear Laurie and Violinists,

First of all, sincere thank to Laurie who permits this non-musical thread.

Secondly I am very pleased for the high quality responses. I told my colleagues this morning about my impression on tjis vionlist community.  Vionists take everyone so serious and sincere. The responses to the threads are compassionate. This is not seen elsewhere.

As I said, I want to learn from musician, especially violinist on teamwork because they are great in that.

To be precise, I shall respond to comments individually.

Many thanks!


January 5, 2011 at 11:46 AM ·

Dear Malcolm,

Thanks for being the first to respond my subject. I own you a drink if you are in Shanghai or I am in your area.

I apologize to use HR words. I am not a HR and I feel bad about borrowing HR words. Many people, including myslef, are not that excited when reading those words.

I run engineering companies. We do not have great balance sheet on tangible assests except engineers and knowledge. People and knowhow are out assests. To some extend we are similar to orchestras. The composer, conductor and musician are the mostimportant assests.

However there are some differences. I try to cope these differences to the benefit of the organization and engineers.

Orchestra in most cases plays classical music created by the top talent. Luckily musicians do not need to accommodate to BT stuff. However we as leaders or managers do not compose great stuff like classical music, but things called strategy or business plan. The startegy and business plan are hypothetical and then the people has to play it. If things become nesty, many leaders and managers have the convenience to cover up their stuff.

The conductors and musicians master their musical skills and understandings. However people in business are not that proficient in their skills despite they might have many sorts of qualifications. This could degrade the trust quickly. However IT is a different story in our company. We have some great IT professional! Result of IT has first to satisfy the cold logic of computer and then the human needs.

Let me sumarise your points and please let me know if I get you wrong. Team leader must earn the trust and respect from teammates who are professionals. Power play is demotivating. Mutual trust and respect are unconditional. Remuneration is no that critical. Seating in orchestra could be rotated. They make great senses to me.

Last but no least, I became a kind of training freak. I will continue to practise training until we get somewhere.

Thanks for being the first response.


January 5, 2011 at 11:59 AM ·

Dear Trevor,

You played music for Irish Dance! I like that. I watch one how of Irish dance in Shanghai. The music and performce are simply great!

HR procedures and formalities are not welcomed in most places. I am quite unhappy that HR tries to process people's mind-set, performance and potential batchwise like processing potatos.

I am glad that you got a great appraisal talk. You mean that HR business would be better than in an informal setting with sufficient human interaction. It deserves the managers and HR to learn.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

January 5, 2011 at 12:07 PM ·

Dear Corwin,

Those with sharp senses should still stay modest rather than crtical to others. Also people would better put their mind and emotion in performing their duties. Is that right?

Thanks for bring up this behavior part.



January 5, 2011 at 12:30 PM ·

Dear Stephen,

I am impressed by and grateful to the rich insights from your response. I learned from you about the configuration of seating and selection of musician. That sounds quite organized! New comers have to prove additional strenght. That make senses for improving the organization!

For musicians you have clear drills to demonstrate skills and capability. However it is not that easy in my circumstances. We are trying to define the drills and we also try to benchmark certain technical competencies through various tests. But they are not as reliables as an audition would be.

One headache in my circumstance is that we do not have any backup players. Does orchestra have sufficient back up musician? I noticed that sport teams have back up players.

I am surprised to hear that orchestra musician have that level of job satisfaction! To an outsider like me, I thought that musicians on stage are in paradise because all the sounds are mind pleasing. It is hard to really stand on the other's shoes.

I found the book Real Men Don't Rehearse in Amazon. Unfortunately it does not ship this book to Shanghai. It happened a few other orders before. I will try to find it elsewhere.

Last but not least, nejoy your sabbatical and come back renergized!

Thanks again.


January 5, 2011 at 01:49 PM ·

"Back-up" musician situations will vary.  Especially in  large cities-- NY, Boston, LA, London-- there is a pool of freelance musicians who either have chosen not to play in the orchestra or haven't yet been accepted by audition.  But they are very good and will fill a spot if needed for a short period of time.  So you might find a non-orchestra string player in the back if there is a vacancy due to vacation, sabbatical leave, or illness.  Or if the composer wanted more players than are in the orchestra permanently.  That happens a lot with Mahler and Wagner, where there might be, say, 4 horns in the orchestra but the composer asked for 8 or 9. 


January 5, 2011 at 02:08 PM ·

Also, be aware that auditioning isn't always just about finding the "best" player.  There is some of that, of course; everyone needs to be above a minimum level that is really quite high.  But there is also the question of whether the player fits the playing style or culture of the group, or maybe adds something new that is valuable.

 Even though Herbert von Karajan had worked with Dennis Brain in the Philharmonia Orchestra-- viewed by many as the really outstanding horn player of his time-- he said later that Brain wouldn't have been the guy he wanted for the principal chair in Berlin.  Different culture in that orchestra, and a different idea of sound.

In earlier, more dictatorial times, Stokowski engineered some of the famous Philadelphia Orchestra sound by seating violinists next to each other who had different kinds of vibrato.  He felt that putting slow next to fast would make the whole section sound more rich.  Stokowski was a little crazy at times, but it's hard to argue with the results.

January 5, 2011 at 02:40 PM ·

 This is a very interesting question.  I'm a project manager in academic science, and I sometimes think about analogies between an orchestra and a research lab.  

In my experience, there are two main areas where orchestras seem to have an advantage.  One is in clarity of expectations.  If supervisors and employees do not (or cannot) make it clear what they expect from each other and the job, then the employee becomes very difficult to supervise and evaluate. Orchestras have defined rehearsal and concert schedules, they have sheet music so that everyone is, literally, "on the same page", they have a conductor to give real-time instruction and feedback.  Orchestras also have relatively well-defined roles for their members.  If you are hired as a violinist you can be pretty sure that you will be expected to bring a violin to rehearsal and play that, and not be asked to play a trombone in the middle of rehearsal because, oh look, this piece needs a trombone here.

But in companies and labs, by contrast, I've seen expectations be extraordinarily fluid and idiosyncratic, and dependent on reading the manager's mind.  And workers are expected to wear "many hats," and do whatever it takes ("WIT").  Calendars and schedules are fluid, too.

Related to this is that in an orchestra there seems to be a relatively good match between what you are taught when you are trained and the skills you need to actually do the job when you have completed your training.  Conservatories, even high schools, have orchestras that resemble professional orchestras in terms of set-up, repertoire, and technical skills required to succeed.  Whereas in the rest of the work world you spend years as an undergraduate getting a broad education and "learning to think critically" and then maybe some specialized years taking more courses and possibly writing a thesis, but the technical skills you learn in those situations are often irrelevant and/or obsolete to the job you end up getting hired to do.  So you have to learn the relevant technical skills on the job, often without any formal instruction (or clear expectations or feedback)--which doesn't happen in orchestras.  Again, if a piece needs a trombone, they hire a trombone player who knows what to do.  They don't grab a violinist from the middle of the 2nds and put a trombone in their hand and say, "do whatever it takes to learn this by the concert tomorrow night."

There is some of the same tension between technical prowess and creativity in both music and science.  Both fields have a common (and somewhat unfair) stereotype of the technically skilled, but uninspired, practitioner.  However, in music, this tension seems to serve both technique and creativity better than it does in science/engineering.  Musicians respect technique, and they view it as essential, even when they put creativity at the pinnacle of achievement.  Whereas scientists seem to be almost ashamed of technique.  Methods sections in research papers are being shortened, abbreviated, and relegated to the supplementary online material.  Coursework in science emphasizes "ideas" over techniques.  Training in techniques is not particularly structured and is hit-or-miss, depending on the values of the individual company or lab.  

I think that companies could learn the most from orchestras by looking at how they set and define expectations, and by looking at how practitioners are trained.  Clear expectations and relevant training are why the teamwork in orchestras is so good, when it is.

January 5, 2011 at 02:48 PM ·

Interesting thought process!

I never previously thought of ensemble playing in terms of teamwork. My own experience encompasses 62 years of community orchestra playing and smaller ensemble playing during all of that time. My professional experience involved almost 50 years in science/engineering fields including management responsibilities for teams of up to 50 people.

From the inside (of a person) I think it is all ego driven - for most people. They want to do their best and be recognized and acknowledged for doing a good job (whether they are doing their best or not). The leader (who is paid the big bucks) has the responsibility to utilize each person's abilities to achieve the desired team result. This actually is a special and rather unique skill (talent), often not fully recognized by those being led, who often respond better if the leader is also outstanding at their individual tasks. (As many orchestra conductors are also performance-capable instrumentalists (or singers).)

The way this works in orchestras is that all the players agree to use their best abilities to abide by the director's wishes - even though they may not agree at all times. Their ability to do so is what got them past their auditions in the first place.

In almost all ways, orchestral teamwork is easier than most other kinds. The score is all written out, the instruments to be used are clearly defined, and the players and the leader  have all been superbly trained to do what is required of them.

Teamwork in most other commercial and technical settings can be much more difficult. The "score" is often poorly defined or undefined, the necessary tools must often be devised "on the spot" and may not be ideal for the job, and in spite of good training (in whatever they were trained in) there is always much more that needs to be learned to do the job.

The "real skill" for all these situations is that of the "rank and file" (or "employees") when the leader's skills are inadequate. We've probably all seen it in orchestras: there are conductors who can bring out the results they want at the first rehearsal without saying a word, but there are others who really have to explain what they want, because their body language fails to convey it.


January 5, 2011 at 08:33 PM ·

This is an interesting question, Wei.  I think it's important to remember that what you see when you watch a musical performance is only the end result of the work that musicians do, perhaps more analogous to a pitch to a potential client or a product marketing campaign than the day to day functioning of a firm.

For large orchestras, and sports teams as well, things are run in a much more hierarchical, almost dictatorial, manner which would be unacceptable to most employees of an engineering firm, for example.  While many people see being an orchestral musician as a career that involves much creativity, this is simply not true.  In reality, innovation on the part of an individual musician is anathema.  If an engineering firm were to demand this type conformity, I suspect that it wouldn't be in business very long.

For smaller ensembles, such as string quartets, there can be a much greater spirit of collaboration.  Still, the score is always king.  I imagine that the sense of harmony and friendship you sense would disappear fairly quickly if the quartet were to play a badly written composition.

January 5, 2011 at 09:52 PM ·

Wei, Thank you for taking the time to respond to each of us. You're in engineering. I started life (briefly) as an engineer, and have two sons in it. One graduated about 6 years ago, and still works for the firm he joined, and teh other is currently at university. Maybe the problem with engineers is that they try too hard - everyone wants to build a Rolls Royce when the budget says Ford. I know it's hard for people to accept the concept of "good enough" - that the customer won't pay for what you'd like to do. Maybe that's hard to get across? And could lead to the "shared vision"? One problem I had in more recent years in a large IT firm was management - to some of them, everything had to fit with the planned timescales in Microsoft Project, and any development - whether software or engineering - is an inexact science where you always seem to run out of time. And even after nearly 30 years, I'm still as guilty as the next man. "I'm sure I can do this in 5 days, so I'll estimate 10 just to be safe and allow for testing" - and then something crops up, and you're struggling to complete it in 12. Testing? - well, I hope it'll work all right, but it has to go in yesterday.

Actually makes playing the violin easy - you rehearse towards the concert, and do your best. If you still make a mistake on the concert, well, it's gone and most people didn't notice anyway. (Although I do have some pretty good ones on my crime sheet that everyone DID notice). Of course, do it too often and you'll be looking for a new job, but it's not going to hang around like a motor vehicle recall to cost the firm millions of dollars in maybe three years time!

I hope you get some ideas from us, and afterwards that you keep in touch with us and let us know how things are going.


January 7, 2011 at 04:12 PM ·

Dear Violinists friends,

I raised same question to colleagues and consultants. I never get this many great feedbacks as you provided. This is an unbelievable community!

To Stephen:

Backup players are a huge luxury now.  How good the player fits the culture is as important as skills. I shared this view. In business we say people get hired for their skills and get fired for the culture fits.

To Karen:

Your background and response made me feeling resonances in several places.

I also spent time in academic world and got my Ph.D. in molecular physics. You got Ph.D. from Neuroscience. At this moment I am learning basics on neuroscience due to my curiosity on the study of emotional intelligence. The findings of neuroscience provided the basis on which emotional intelligence developed. I am trying to apply the EQ theory in the HR practice in my business.

I appreciated that you bring up the expectation, fluidity or dynamics, and WIT. I did not have such reflection on these terms.

In business people talk about vision, mission and values. However there are not many organization could really get all their people buy in on these things. The fluidity or dynamic circumstances blur up the situation. Therefore it is hard for business leaders to get their strategy or plan as sophisticated as the scores of classical music. Even worse, the staff are usually not as trained as musician.

No business organization does not have the shortage of resources. So I like the term WIT.

Following your idea, I would also have to look into combat situations or sport competition which have a lot to do with dynamic situation and get job done in WIT manner.

In science, people explore and discover things in unchartered water. In engineering, people create or innovate by applying scientific theories to solve a problem or improve on things. In Orchestra, musician and conductor play the best scores which were created by the best talents and played for decades. 

If companies could manage their expectations somewhat better and have their people better drilled than the rest in their industries, they will have much better chance to out perform their peers.

To Andy,

What areas of science and engineering did you work for that long period?

I like to discuss with you, Karen, Malcom, etc. who have both technical and musical experiences. So you people could bridge me some gaps so I could draw useful things from orchestras.

I would have to agree with you that the team work in Orchestra has better basis than the business world for the reasons you mentioned. I guess business world would never have that clarity and well trained people like orchestra has. However it might be useful to set orchestra as an ideal reference for learning and practicing team work. That would help business to improve.

To Randy,

You did put me in the right perspective. Most of my impressions on orchestra are from on-stage performance or studio records. So they represent the best moments.

I would like to learn how orchestra rehearse. I saw briefly once the rehearsal under the well known Japanese conductor in Shanghai from a TV program. Sorry for not being able to spell his name. It appeared to be rather relaxed and everybody seemed having fun. In the business meetings we often appeared to be tense and even have a lot of confrontation.

Lastly I got your point regarding creativity and I have to agree with your point there.

To Malcolm,

It is great to have you back!

You did bring up the right point regarding the cost matter. It seems that conductor and musician do not have to set the price or manage the cost of the orchestra besides taking care of their own remunerations. They do not need to spend too much time on delivery schedule.

We suffered a lot in there two areas. We deliver environmental engineering. It is very demanding on the costs and delivery time. So the team cooperation becomes very tense and challenging.

So these two points need to be taken into account.

Before a serious performance, how many times an orchestra has to rehearse on a well known score? In business people often do not have time to rehearse once their roll out their plan. They relies a lot on improvise.

I would like to thank you all for sharing so many great thoughts and experiences on this subject. As I said these thoughts and experiences are the best I got so far. I will try to put them together and share that with you here.



January 8, 2011 at 10:51 AM ·

I am neither a violinist or a professional musician, but rather an committed audience member and amateur musician. I have read a LOT of musical blogs and follow several consistently.

I'd like to recommend several for you to look at which are written by orchestral musicians, and one written by a free-lance musician.  

These will give you an inside look at some of the positive and the negative aspects of the orchestra life.

http://insidetheclassics.myminnesotaorchestra.org/   written be a violist and an asst conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra

http://doublebassblog.org/  by Jason Heath, a Chicago area free lance bass player

http://www.nobleviola.com/   by Charles Noble, a violist in the Oregon Symphony in Portland

http://csobassblog.blogspot.com/  by a string bass player in the Chicago Symphony. This is the most acerbic of these and is only irregularly posted.  He has the following on the main page:

My evolution from beginner to sophisticated professional.

    * 1) wanting to hear myself play
    * 2) wanting others to hear me play
    * 3) wanting to be paid to play
    * 4) wanting to be paid not to play

All these have extensive archives which will provide many anecdotes and discussions of life in the orchestra. A lot of material about short rehearsal times, guest conductors who may or may not know their "stuff", inspiring experiences too, and so on...

There is a good documentary video called The Freeway Philharmonic, about the lives of free lance orchestra musicians in Northern California, struggling to get regular positions in orchestras and making a living commuting across the region, playing in various community (professional) orchestras.

I can not verify all the claims made, but these writers seem to present a balanced look at their lives as they see them....

January 9, 2011 at 01:27 PM ·

Dear James,

I have filed these websites in my iPad. However I can not open this particuloar site


I will study these resources and find some insights.

I know one orchestra violinist and my father was a music teacher (key board). However I realized that I grew up without any music activities.  It is a real pity.

I started the engineering company could learn some experiences from orchestra regarding  team work,  Then I found that I know so little about musician although my father is one and I have one musician friend.

These websites shall help me to gain additonal insights.

Thanks a lot.


January 9, 2011 at 01:36 PM ·

Dear Violinist friends,

I got great response and insightful comments from you.

I will write an article regarding teamwork of engineering company with orchestra as a reference model. I welcome more comments and advices.

I shall also watch rehearsal from orchestra in Shanghai and elsewhere. Interview some high professional musicians and conductors.

Any friend who might want to read and comment on my script please email me at Recreation2012@GMail.COM.

I will send you my script. I expect this to be done before summer.


January 9, 2011 at 05:06 PM ·

It has been very interesting reading this thread. Once again, I am impressed by everyone's insightfulness.

I think another part of the reason for the job satisfaction problem that Stephen mentioned, and Randy touched on this too, is not just that people become unhappy, but they go in already unhappy. Many of my fellow students are quite surprised to learn that I enjoy orchestra playing; they say they do not like it much (a few hate it passionately), that they prefer chamber music, because they feel that orchestras are stifling to individual creativity. And they're not exactly wrong. BUT -- the power of playing for a steady paycheck draws them anyway. Even elite quartets don't just perform, they usually have teaching residencies.

So, given that people already feel their voices are lost, anything that the leadership does to be perceived as hostile is only that much more of an affront, and musicians are especially wary of conductors, who are more often than not perceived as tyrants. I am privileged to have had an inside look at issues from both sides, and that perception is sometimes but not always fair. Nevertheless, there is an obvious personality cult around conductors which advertising strategies often capitalize on, and I am sure it is tempting to have an ego trip when one is up on a podium and sound comes out like magic at the wave of a hand, and conductors should be sensitive to this.

A word about auditions: I find auditions to be the most artificial and contrived situation I ever encounter in my profession. I do not get nervous in symphony concerts and so it is a poor reflector of how I will perform. Musicians have so much invested in auditions, they may feel compelled to go through with them when they are very ill, knowing that their playing standard will deteriorate. Or that particular day might be the one time out of 1,000 when a violinist blows it on the high D in Don Juan. It is true that better work creates better luck, but dumb luck still can't be factored out. Whether I win a job also depends on who else shows up: say I live in Boston and have a friend in Chicago, and we both plan to audition for the NY Phil. The day before the audition, a blizzard strikes Chicago and my friend's flight is delayed or canceled. He may be a much better player, but if he ever does make it in, he'll certainly be tired and frazzled.

I also was intrigued by Karen's comments about conservatory/academic orchestras. In my observation, the level may indeed rival professional groups, but most of them are highly unrealistic in one important aspect: length of concert cycle. A typical academic orchestra spends three or four weeks preparing a program. A typical professional orchestra has at most three or four days; one is expected show up having the nuts and bolts mastered so that rehearsal is for getting down to artistic matters. There might be an exception for cleaning up a really tricky passage, or for a large difficult piece maybe an extra rehearsal built into the schedule. Some don't even rehearse the whole piece if it doesn't seem necessary. The academic orchestra by nature is for learning, and it's debatable whether it is possible to resemble professional realities in every way (summer festivals are closer models, I think), but I've been in places where the schedules are bloated and the work actually expands to fill the time allotted, which encourages the problems of students learning notes as they go, which wastes time, and burnout which comes from too much wasted time, and onward in a vicious cycle. Academic schedules tend to be very rigid too, because required courses can't conflict, and dramatic change seems like a pipe dream.

Malcolm, you made me laugh. I see one of my friends described to a T in your post. Somewhere in a hotel in Tucson there is an accidental carving of the flight competition team's logo in one of the end tables from their working up to the last minute without sleep.

Wei, sometimes the atmosphere can be tense depending on the attitude of the conductor and orchestra toward one another, or if things aren't going well. I was in one group where enough people had made up their minds to oppose (in passive-aggressive fashion) the new incoming conductor, which made it difficult for him to relax and be genial. Once when I was in school a conductor immediately had a chilling effect on everyone by picking apart the violin section stand by stand after it had been acknowledged that, due to circumstances beyond our control, we were sight-reading a difficult Strauss work -- and this was his one-chance job audition! What on earth was he thinking? But sometimes when everybody is having fun, little work actually gets done; balance is important.


January 9, 2011 at 08:59 PM ·

In reading your post, it reminded me of this:


January 11, 2011 at 04:34 PM ·


i understand that the relationship could be tense due to the style of the conductor and the culture. It is the same in other places.

What kind of personalities of the conductor could make the rehearsal productive, pleasant, even having resonance?



January 11, 2011 at 04:36 PM ·

 Rebecca, I can not open this web. What is the message? Could you drop some lines? Wei

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