Firsts versus seconds

September 23, 2011 at 08:53 PM ·

We all know there is often (not always, but often) a status differential between the first and second violin sections in orchestras. Through the years I’ve played a wide range of repertoire as both a first and second violin, and I realized something that no one ever talks about.  Namely, that although the first violins usually get the coveted melody and get to play in that oh so impressive upper range, the second violins frequently have a more difficult parts than the first violins. Indeed, I think that a person who consistently plays first violin can become complacent, and when suddenly faced with the complex rhythms, non-standard scales and arpeggios, and sudden jumps in registers that second violins often have in their “accompaniment”, the first violinist can become flustered.

Case in point, the community orchestra I’m in is rehearsing the Firebird Suite right now. After rehearsal last week I overheard one the first violinists ask “why do the seconds seem to be able to play this better than us?” At that point one of my fellow second violins bluntly said something like “We’re used to this kind of stuff, you guys are used to only playing melodies.” The statement somewhat offended the first violinist, but I think it does sum up the situation. (What made it ironic is that the second violinist was about 30 years younger than the first violinist).
When playing in school orchestras, the arrangements used usually do have a simplified second violin part compared to the first violins; however, when you play “the originals”, the situation is often reversed. And yet the perception that the first violins are better players than second violins persists. Personally, I have no problem being a second violin (I actually prefer it right now because the high shifting in the first violins can be painful for me due to my tendonitis), but I know some of the younger members of my section have a strong desire to be a first violin like it’s some kind of trophy or title promotion. I really think these kids learn more playing second for a few years than if they had immediately went to the first violins.
Sorry for the ramble, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about since I overheard that conversation last week.

Wayne

Replies (49)

September 23, 2011 at 09:13 PM ·

September 23, 2011 at 11:22 PM ·

A couple of years ago I got a "free transfer", at my own instigation, from the cellos of my chamber orchestra where I had been playing for the last godknowshowmany years, to the violins. So they put me into the 2nds, where I still happily play.

When I was a cellist the only prominent string sections I could hear properly outside my own were the violas next door and the basses almost directly behind. The detail of what the 1sts and 2nds the other side of the orchestra were up to was only too often lost in the crowd of bodies and sounds between them and the cellos.

Being in the 2nds was a pleasant surprise. Bearing in mind this was the first time I had played the violin in an orchestra I realized I could now hear clearly what was coming from every section. This was because the 2nds are more or less in the middle of the orchestra, and if you're occupying a chair in the 3rd desk you're also more or less in a mirror image position to the conductor (who is supposed to hear and see all). In the cello section the stick waving of some conductors wasn't as always clear sideways on as it should have been, especially when one or two seemed to forget about the very existence of the cellos for long periods (we must have been doing something right, obviously!). Playing in the 2nds I always have a clear view of the conductor – and he of me.

From what I've seen of the 1st and 2nd orchestral parts (we always use the professional editions) I agree that the 2nd violin part is frequently more technical and complex than what the 1sts have. On the other hand I've heard more than one member of the 1sts  say how grateful they are for the 2nds supporting them an octave below.

If you want to see a string part that is even more "interesting" and demanding than the 2nds then you need look no further than the viola section. (My heretical theory is that some composers use the viola section as a general repository for all the notes they can't cram into the violin and cello parts, without much concern for the technical demands they unwittingly impose on the violists.)

The bottom line is the 2nd violins has got to be the best training ground for an orchestral violinist. In my chamber orchestra the violinists are frequently swapped around both within and between the sections, so there's no sense of "them" and "us" – we are all equally colleagues and friends.

Incidentally, in last Wednesday's rehearsal our initial run-through of Haydn's 103rd was an excellent opportunity for me to give an extended try-out of my new snakewood baroque bow that I had bought on Tuesday (a copy of a mid-18th century French bow), and my conclusion is that it is ideal for Haydn, as it also is for my English and Irish folk-music activities.  

 

September 23, 2011 at 11:26 PM ·

"I really think these kids learn more playing second for a few years than if they had immediately went to the first violins."

My experience lines up with this -- although my timeline was more compressed.  In high school orchestra, I began as the youngest member, the rookie on 2nd.  In the next semester, due to attrition, the director tapped me to come over to 1st.

With the higher positions already in my technique, I actually found 1st easier in most regards than 2nd -- probably because of a strong bent for melody.  When sight-reading new repertoire, I found it easier to stay on track on 1st.

Same pattern after high school, when I did some heavy-duty symphonic training.  Carrying the inner harmonies and rhythms on 2nd unquestionably made my experience on 1st more meaningful -- and I know I became a better listener and team player for it.

In both orchestras, the 2nds were not inferior as a group.  But they were generally younger, new to the group, less experienced in orchestral playing.  The directors first wanted to see how well you pulled your own weight with an inner voice, rhythmic challenges, and ability to blend -- before they entrusted you with playing a leading voice.

I've read several comments from v.com players in community orchestras who prefer to play 2nd or viola.

September 24, 2011 at 01:52 AM ·

 "If you want to see a string part that is even more "interesting" and demanding than the 2nds then you need look no further than the viola section"

Egads!  How true is that.  Indeed, we seem to be given the odd notes that don't seem to make sense on their own until put into context of the whole orchestra.  It forces you to practice rhythms, counting, and odd shifts constantly, not to mention immense bow control!  

When it comes to chamber music, things get even more interesting when composers think it is a good idea to have the viola mimic what the 1st violin does (a certain Mozart Quintet comes to mind), not to mention many composers were often violists themselves and gave the instrument many interesting parts.

September 24, 2011 at 02:44 AM ·

Technically, the 1st part is usually more difficult. An exception coming to mind is Verdi's "Va Pensiero". But the 2nd part can be quite tricky at times. There is an orchestra in which I regularly play, and am proud to do so. It's a fine group with lots of nice people. Our CM is fairly famous. Some people are frozen in certain positions. I'm rather "utility", and never know where I'll sit usually untill the last moment. I've played guest CM a couple of times, prin.2nd sometimes, and usually 3rd stand of 1sts.

Well, for our last concert a couple of weeks ago, the contractor told me - at the last moment - to play prin. 2nd. We had 1 rehearsal, a supper break, and the concert - typical for us. The program included Beethoven's 5th. One problem - I didn't know the 2nd part to the Beet. 5th! It has lots of independent entrances. I basically had to sight-read it while trying to lead the section under the nose of a demanding conductor. I can tell you, I was sweating bullets! Well, except for one unscheduled little "solo" entrance on my part, it went off pretty well, and the conductor later told the contractor that he was happy with all of us. But I asked the contractor to please give me a heads-up the next time he planned to put me as prin. 2nd - and he said he would. That's showbiz!

September 24, 2011 at 10:40 AM ·

As always, I think there's more than a bit of truth in some of the jibes. I prefer playing 1st in an orchestra, and yes, I'll freely admit there's more than a bit of the "prima donna" about it. Though I'm quite happy playing 2nd in our quartet.

A lot of the "status" thing probably goes back to very early years in school orchestras etc. where the "better" players i.e. the ones who can get up there and find the notes have to be in the 1sts, and hence the idea is born of people being "promoted" from 2nds to 1sts.

Of course, later on it's probably more a case of personality with some people preferring to contribute to the sound and the harmonies and providing the bed-rock of the melodies in octave passages. leaving the prima donnas to the exposed stuff.

Anyway, 1st is easier physically - I don't have to keep lifting my right arm so high!

 

September 24, 2011 at 01:11 PM ·

Yes, sometimes 1st IS easier physically, and sometimes even psychologically. Once I was hired to do a New Year's Day concert of mostly Johann Strauss - and was put 2nd. Umm-pa-pa X Infinity! Long before the end of the concert, I was praying for death! Someone told me that he heard that memebers of the Vienna Phil. 2nd section make it through such concerts by drinking a lot!

September 24, 2011 at 03:39 PM ·

You have that one right, Raphael.  The Moldau is the other classic "just shoot me now" piece for 2nd or viola.  On the other hand, anything by R. Strauss, Brahms symphonies, most Beethoven, the 2nd and viola parts are beautiful beyond belief.

September 24, 2011 at 03:51 PM ·

Raphael, I was once in the position of possibly applying for the vacant principal 2nd job. I'd done it for a few weeks, and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, looming up were the New Year concerts - in those days probably about 8 - 10 concerts around the country. And the thought of cha-cha for that length of time quite honestly was enough to put me off!

September 24, 2011 at 08:31 PM ·

 I have very limited experience of amateur orchestras and indeed am still very 'junior' in learning the violin (have been learning 4 and a half years), BUT in my limited experience my opinion is that 'to me' 2nd violin are A LOT HARDER than 1st!!

'to me' that is, and I also 'do not' like being in the 2nd violin section here is why I think they are harder 'to me' and why I do not like it:

more often than not (but not exclusively) they do not hold the melody and play the 'odd parts', hence you have to be much better at 'holding it together' :) (I find it easier in the 1st section because if I 'get lost I find my place back in more easily' ;) LOL)

I like the 1st section better as I love the higher positions and 'navigating' the fingerboard (and love the melodies we get to play), plus I 'dislike' the 'odd parts' the 2nd violin sections are 'stuck with' most of the times.

I do admire the 2nd violin section a lot and I really look up to them :) I do not see them as 'less experienced' at all!

September 24, 2011 at 11:52 PM ·

 A possible analogy with first and second violins is officers and sergeants, respectively, in the army. As any soldier will tell you, it is the sergeants who really run the show.

September 25, 2011 at 12:03 PM ·

Regarding titled positions, given a choice I'd usually prefer to play Concertmaster. But I've sometimes preferred to play Prin. 2nd to Assistant CM. And here, a different analogy comes to mind. The CM is like the President of the violins, and to some extent the rest of the strings, and to a still lesser extent, the rest of the orchestra. The Asst. CM is like Vice-President - a heartbeat away, but usually remaining in that unbridged, miss-is-as-good-as-a-mile, heartbeat distance. The Prin. 2nd then, to me, is like Secy. of State, with a little more independent leadership. As Milton's Mephestopholes said "better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven" ;-)

September 25, 2011 at 12:44 PM ·

First violin parts in are often more exposed, thus the players in high-achieving middle schools, most high schools & community orchestras need to have position & vibrato technique that not all members have acquired or polished yet. I appreciate school orchestras where the teacher/director rotates seats & sections often, to the extent that players can manage. Setting things up so kids play both 1st & 2nd, from every part of the section, and with an assortment of partners is good teaching, imo. Sue    

September 25, 2011 at 10:59 PM ·

Raphael, yes, they're very different skills. I love leading - that way, I know the bowings are going to be good ones! I had quite a bit of experience at No2 and No 3 and they're very different - at No 2, you have to learn to "feel" with your leader and go with him/her so you play as one. I actually like No3 - the link to the rest of the section. And if the leader does miss an entry (happened once in a concert) you have to play it - but you'd better be right! It was Portsmouth Point, and when we got to the end and the leader leans back and mouths "Thanks" it all becomes worthwhile.

September 26, 2011 at 03:04 AM ·

Yes - I once experienced the same thing in the 3rd chair once!

September 28, 2011 at 12:50 AM ·

Greetings,

sometimes second violin parts can be fiendish and one nee dnot look to romatic or modern for this.  The Haydn  and Mozart symphonies (especially the former)  conatin many examples.   What makes them tricky is the need for flawles sbowing technique.   If one is doing an alternate string crossing accompaniement for example,  if it is played well the seconds will get no credit but if it is rough they will be given some stick.

Why are we also making this distinction between meoldy and acocmpaniemnt so strong?  Oneof the functions of the seconds is to plat at the distance of an octave with those screeching firsts.  And it is amazing how even quite advanced player sand orchestras don`t know that the seconds have to be quite a bit stronger than the firtss in such cases.  They also have to play dead in tune other wise the nose bleed twiddling of the firsts will never be quite right.

Cheers,

Buri

September 28, 2011 at 05:13 PM ·

I look at first and second being a different skill set, not a different skill level.  At least, ideally...

AMEN! to the Strauss 2nd parts.  One good thing about playing 2nd for Strauss pieces is that you learn to count long oompah sections, then rip off an incredibly fast run at just the right time.  Same for the Moldau -- where the advantage is that once you learn the "ripple" phrase, you have whole piece, and can sleep during the performance (That was a Joke, Son!  I say, I say, a JOKE!).

Firsts normally play in higher positions (no surprise).  Seconds usually get more "inside" parts -- and sometimes, the 2nd part is the "motor" or "glue" for the piece.  A bad 2nd section can trash a good piece.

I personally prefer playing 1st, but I don't mind being in the 2nd section, if there's a need.  Where I sit in the seconds, I get to tease the front desk violas -- which makes it all worthwhile.  :-)

September 28, 2011 at 08:43 PM ·

Is this the appropriate time to resurrect the old

"What's the difference between the front desk of violas and the back desk?"

"Usually about half a bar"

The old ones are the best ones - that's what I keep telling the youngsters, anyway.

September 28, 2011 at 09:20 PM ·

I'd like to bring up a different issue of the 1st/2nd relationship - that of seating placement. The 1sts are the only string section who always sit to the left of the conductor. The others have been shifted around by different conductors. Until relatively recently, the 2nds would usually sit next to the 1sts, and the violas or the cellos would sit on the outside, opposite the 1sts. In recent years there has been  a trend to put the 2nds outside to the conductor's right, opposite the 1sts. This is actually a revival of a much older practice.

I for one, don't like this, and in my experience most fiddlers don't. With all the jokes - not w.o. some grain of truth sometimes - about 1sts being prima donnas and 2nds having inferiority complexes, and even with many violinists' competitive instincts, most of us recognize how much of a support we are to each other. For a number of years I was CM of an opera orchestra that sometimes branched off into a symphonic chamber orchestra. For the opera, the conductor seated us in typical fashion, with cellos opposite the 1sts, and 2nds next to the 1sts. But for the chamber orchestra concerts he insisted on the 2nds opposite the 1sts. When I questioned him, he said that this way, when the 2 violin sections play antiphonally, it's brought out more. I tried to argue that the lower strings play antiphonally to the 1sts more often, and that for every time there is antiphonal playing between the 2 violin sections, there are so many more instances where the 2 sections play in octaves, 3rds,or that the 2nds have accompanying figures that support the melody but are, after all, inner voices. But I couldn't disabuse him of this notion. BTW, I prefer the cellos, rather than violas, opposite the 1sts. It makes sense that the outer voices be out front.

Recently, when Alan Gilbert took over at the NYP, he also put the 2nds outside, opposite the 1sts. He claimed that he did that for acoustical reasons. Avery Fischer Hall has always had problems. But if that's true, I wonder if he changes on tour. I do know for a fact that a number of NYP fiddlers dislike it.

September 28, 2011 at 09:48 PM ·

If the 2nds are opposite the 1st (a la cellos) where does the principal of the 2nds sit – is it immediately next to the audience (again a la cellos) or should it be in the current position, on the right? If the cello section layout is adopted then there could be some confusion caused by  this interchange of places.

Only once, many years ago, when I was a cellist, have I played in an orchestra where the conductor changed the layout to 2nds opposite 1sts, and this was for a specific programme where he wanted to emphasize the contrast between the two sections. I don't remember where the principal 2nd was seated. 

Again, is there a specific "rule" for string quartets? The last quartet I saw live a few months ago were students from the Royal Academy, the upper 3 strings electing to play standing – the layout was 1st, 2nd, cello, viola (facing the leader). The cellist was seated on a platform to bring him up to eye level with the other three – a thoughtful touch. The previous quartet performance I saw was by more mature (in age) perfomers who were all seated, for obvious reasons, in the more traditional 1st, 2nd, viola, cello configuration.

 

September 28, 2011 at 11:52 PM ·

Aside from the physical separation from the firsts, using the "bookend" violin placement...

When the 2nds are where the cellos normally sit, they have the top plate canted back into the woodwinds and brass, rather than toward the audience.  The back plate is canted toward the ground.  So maybe it sounds better to the conductor, but the audience can't hear the 2nds as well.

When cellos sit where they normally do, it's not an issue:  they usually don't tilt their instruments as much as violinists do.

Besides, as someone already cogently said, 1st and 2nd sections need to work together.  When separated, it's harder for seconds to balance against the firsts.

 

 

September 29, 2011 at 12:24 AM ·

One point about the orchestral cello that is sometimes not understood is that the cello spike digging into a wooden concert platform causes the platform to act as a useful amplifier, certainly for the lower frequencies. This cannot be said of the other string sections, except the basses. It is an effect I've noticed many times when I play cello in a barn dance band, and I've pointed out to the sound engineer that I don't really need the PA when a particular stage provides the same function anyway.

September 29, 2011 at 01:42 AM ·

When the 2nds sit opposite the 1sts, their violins indeed tilt the wrong way - in toward the back of the stage, as is the case when the violas sit in that place. That's another reason for having the cellos opposite the 1sts. In that position, the prin. 2nd is on the outside closest to the audience.

With quartets, I've also seen seating various ways. There too, I prefer the 1st in the usual place, the 2nd next to the 1st, then the viola, and the cello opposite the 1st.

Glad my point has proved to be of interest. I now must take a break for a while. Check my blog in a couple of weeks as to why!

September 29, 2011 at 08:57 AM ·

I suppose I shouldn't tell this story as its against myself, but the other night I decided in a quartet session to try the second vln part with the cello and viola, in a problem spot, only to find that I had to have two goes at it. It was certainly harder than playing first!  I also felt that it was not that rewarding - so I think we should applaud all second violins for doing a difficult and necessary job.

September 29, 2011 at 10:32 AM ·

In our quartet I play 2nd to an extremely good leader. The thing that catches you is when the 2nd part gets the solo - I find I get used to balancing to our leader and then suddenly you get that "Oh it's me" moment and it just feels suddenly exposed. And as for the fifficulty - in one of our last wedding gigs some clot (actually me) suggested K136 and found myself just about hanging on on that infamous bit at the start of the second section. Didn't miss anything but I couldn't have described it as "polished"!

September 29, 2011 at 02:47 PM ·

I am under the impression, learnt long ago as a teenager, that the violinist sitting on the inside of the desk (that is, further away from the audience) has the job of turning the pages. Subject to correction, I suppose this for cellists as well if they are opposite the first violins.   But I don't know what happens in viola and double bass sections about page-turning.

Edit: I now realize that double bassists, requiring individual music stands, will have to turn their own pages.  Thanks are due to Lisa (see below) for enlightening me about violists.

September 29, 2011 at 06:58 PM ·

In the viola section the person on the inside turns the pages.  With a standard configuration (cellos on the outside) this is the person on the right.  It's physically easier for the right-hand person to do, as they don't have to reach clear across the music.

September 30, 2011 at 12:19 PM ·

 I sometimes wonder if the overall moral of the violin sections wouldn't be enhanced by players rotating back and forth between the sections. Since I do this frequently, I guess I can speak to the matter. Initially, there is little doubt that the younger players aspire to the mantel of "first violin" however with time, and experience, most violinists have to admit that both parts offer illumination, as well as artistic satisfaction in the playing experience. Add to that, the sheer work load of preparing 1st violin parts every week for performance. It is no wonder that 1st violin section players experience so many injuries. Switching back and forth between sections not only makes sense from a physical health perspective, but in terms of knowledge of the score, and better, more balanced relationship with your coworkers.

October 6, 2011 at 03:11 AM ·

 I've played in all sorts of positions at quite a variety of orchestras, ranging from semi-pro to complete amateur. And here are my two pence:

 

Amateur: the more advanced players definitely sits in the 1sts. Simple reason: 1sts generally carry the melody and therefore the upper register, and so if something goes wrong among the 1sts it's more noticeable. 1sts generally have higher positions, more double stops, e.t.c. 

 

Student: heavy rotation. Students need to learn to lead and to support. That being said, I generally was sitting at the 1st desk in the 1sts. But then again, whenever someone went MIA I was demoted quite randomly and stuck into all sorts of places. I once had a rehearsal where I went from 1st desk 1st to 2nd from the last in the 2nd. 

 

Semi--pro: The distribution of skilled players is equal; the difference is that the back is definitely less skilled than the front. I can't really tell the difference between assistant conzertmeister and the 2nd principal. 

 

Unfortunately, some people (like Rachmaninov) evidently never considered the importance of the 2nds, as evident from his quartet. There are some symphonies where the 2nds are just playing lower register tiddlybits and I have often started muttering "Kill. Me. Now. Kill. Me. Now." while playing, it was so boring. 

 

Another thing is how your teacher raised you. My teachers definitely geared me toward solos; they threw Brahms and Tchaik and what have you at me, but never Beethoven. Therefore, I am not very good at "blending" my sound and my sound is rather obvious even in practice recordings (it's a bit embarrassing). On the other hand, my quartet's 2nd violin was raised as an orchestra member, so his sound blends in very well. 

October 7, 2011 at 05:11 PM ·

Regarding quartet seating - a lot of very good quartets sit the cello next to the second fiddle and the viola on the outside opposite the first fiddle.

We have been trying this and it does seem to work well. I will ask a few quartets that use this seating their reasons, as I did the other night with a cellist from a British quartet.

October 7, 2011 at 05:45 PM ·

In an orchestra you are working at a huge jigsaw puzzle.

Exactly.  And 2nds have often have to put together the clear blue sky.

Some 2nd parts just don't make sense to me, until I go through the first rehearsal, and can figure out my piece of the puzzle.

October 8, 2011 at 02:26 AM ·

When I was about 12, my teacher was the principle of second violins in a good orchestra (pro, but not top tier). She told me, quietly (as if it WAS a secret) that playing second violin was much harder than playing first.

She paused a moment, and added that playing viola can be even harder.

Cello, on the other hand, she said, had a bit of both sides of it.

Then she smiled as she told me to think of how it would sound if there were only the first violins.


October 9, 2011 at 11:54 PM ·

Mozart was an absolute fiend to his seconds.

Raphael,

The Asst. CM is like Vice-President - a heartbeat away, but usually remaining in that unbridged, miss-is-as-good-as-a-mile, heartbeat distance. The Prin. 2nd then, to me, is like Secy. of State, with a little more independent leadership.

With the same line of succession if one dies while in office? :)

October 10, 2011 at 12:15 AM ·

Yes, and when you're No2 and Scheherazade is the second half, you're always VERY glad that the boss has made it safely to his chair and not damaged a finger in the interval etc.

November 1, 2011 at 01:59 PM · Hello everyone:

Sorry it took me so long to reply to your comments, but I am currently unemployed and most of my online time is spent searching job postings.

Trevor - I agree the seconds are in the ideal place in terms of seeing the conductor (in the "traditional" seating arrangement at least which is the only one I've ever played in). Its interesting that you experience gratitude from the firsts for the doublings the seconds provides, because in my orchestra the firsts rarely talk to the seconds . . .

But this is due to the general age difference between the two sections in our orchestra, which is the opposite of what Jim has experienced. With the exception of the first stand, the first violins in our orchestra are the younger and made up of the favorite students of the private teachers (and rarely is there ever a male). This is because the orchestra is supposed to be an educational experience for them; however, this creates a problem because the firsts often sound like a group of want-to-be soloists and there is rarely a "unified" section sound among them.

I typically sit in the third chair of the seconds but serve as the "transmitter" to the section. Our leader is rather small in stature and the section can't see her, so I follow her and the section follows me. This is a balancing act. A couple of weeks ago the second chair wasn't at a rehearsal and I moved up, and we could hear the difference when I wasn't in my usual position.

Like Raphael I was once put into the principal seat without warning for a concert that had some concerto grossos (grossi?) programmed, so I had a bunch of solos I wasn't planning on. Some advance notice would have been nice.

I think there is a personality difference between people who desire to be firsts and those who prefer second. I wouldn't go so far as to call the firsts a bunch of exhibitionists, but they do seem to prefer being the center of attention compared to the seconds. Last week we played Night on Bald Mountain and there is one measure where the seconds are the only thing happening. There was the usual glancing at each other in the section "Oh, it just us."

And yes, there are some works or composers where the seconds have to drink heavily in order to survive (Strauss waltzes are the worst). Buri was right about Mozart. We played the 41st last year and there are some extended passages of rapid eigth notes with many string crossings the seconds had to play.

Wayne

November 1, 2011 at 04:30 PM · Wayne, it seems a difference between your orchestra and my chamber orchestra is that in mine there is no clear age difference between the firsts and seconds – in fact the ages in the orchestra go from 30-ish upwards. Another difference is that we have a policy of swapping a proportion of violinists on an annual basis between the sections, and also among the desks, the only exceptions being the two principals.

And may I add that I hope you soon get the sort of job posting you want. I've been there myself in the past. Times are definitely getting tougher.

November 1, 2011 at 04:52 PM · In my orchestra the 2nds play better as a section than the 1sts, in all respects (rhythm, blend, and intonation). Not sure how well that would go if they were always exposed in 7th+ position though :p

November 3, 2011 at 12:03 PM · We're working on our Christmas program. In one medley arrangement (Anderson did it for Boston Pops), I had been diligently working on a 2nd funky part. Not like any Christmas song I ever heard. When we got to that part in rehearsal, I heard the v1 part for the first time: Good King Wenceslaus!

The seconds have a cool non-melody. The 1sts were just being Christmassy on the melody, while the 2nds provided some fun texture.

But I had this strong compulsion to jump in with the 1sts...

November 3, 2011 at 02:49 PM · Perhaps the best start to ending this rahter absurd rivalry is to stop calling them 'First' and 'Second' violins which is bound to create a heirarchy - it reeks of 'more important than'. We could have a competition for a better pair of names.

November 3, 2011 at 03:18 PM · Whatever you call them it will make no difference.

Primo - Secondo

Top - bottom

Good - bad (wink)

Higher - lower

Solo - accompanying

Prima Donnas - normal (OK, that one works!!)

November 3, 2011 at 04:21 PM · The conductor I usually play under has a bad habit of referring to them as "violins" and "seconds."

November 3, 2011 at 04:42 PM · Lisa - is he OLD? I have heard that too, but only from old men.

November 3, 2011 at 07:24 PM · The conductor I usually play under has a bad habit of referring to them as "violins" and "seconds."

Like a choir director calling for "men" and "tenors?"

Elise, I agee: rivalry is absurd. They are two diiferent jobs. Maybe violin A and violin B?

November 3, 2011 at 09:21 PM · ...if Violin B is the new name for the first violins... :)

November 3, 2011 at 09:54 PM · In our ensemble, we have two 'teams' and we divide playing first v part and 2nd v part between each team. the other team actually has a preference for NOT playing v1, I have a preference for v1, but we all agree to do it this way. Some v2 parts are really pretty, and when chamber type music is densely written they are equally complex and difficult. We therefore don't have a 1xt violin and 2nd violin, we are considering colour names. We go to a lot of trouble to search out pieces that have equal involvement not just for upper strings, but also the lower strings.

In orchestral music, I much prefer the firsts, because 1. at my level it is good to HAVE to get up to the upper registers and learn how to get the hand frame, 2. our 2nd section just won't play out, so whoever ends up doing that reallys tands out, and I don't want to be in that position. I'd rather be the weakest in the 1st v, not the strongest in the 2nd v.

Selfish I know, but we invest a lot to be able to play in community orchestra with term fees, concert program fees, buying gifts for the raffle, buying tickets for the raffle, buying the family the tickets to attend (4 programs a year), not to mention 3 hour return trip for rehearsals every week, same for at least two concerts, and up to 6 hour return trip for other concert programs as we are a regional community orchestra and the region is big. So, I'm going to be selfish in some of my aims for involvement. (sorry, this partly retorts a really heated and skewed conversation I started last year).

November 3, 2011 at 11:05 PM · Bruce- he's only 50, but I think several of his teachers were pretty old when he was in school.

In the orchestra I play in almost everyone rotates between 1st and 2nd except for the concertmaster and a couple of people who don't want to play first, ever. Anyone who thinks it's dishonorable or demeaning to play second is crazy and too much of egotist to take seriously. Preferring one or the other is fine, but refusing to play second is absurd.

November 3, 2011 at 11:44 PM ·

November 4, 2011 at 10:07 PM · Peter said

"Prima Donnas - normal (OK, that one works!!) "

Yes - I quite happily admit it.

It's actually a totally different feeling. I play 2nd in our quartet, and it's much more about matching and balancing - and that sudden feeling of loneliness when occasionally you are left with the tune.

Actually, we both try and match. Sometimes, when we're reading something, we'll have a matching passage where we differ - when it comes again, I'll match what he did, only to find he's switched to my bowing. And we both burst out laughing.

November 9, 2011 at 09:46 PM · I've started to play the 2nd violin in the orchestra recently for the first time in my life. I hated it at first because we were playing a lot of Strauss, and I couldn't count.

However, after a lot of play-along with Youtube clips, I began to like playing the 2nd violin. I was forced to count, and my rhythm improved tremendously!

It's also a fresh to play the harmony part because I was so used to practicing solo repertoire.

I highly recommend anyone who have never played the 2nd violin to try it.

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