Stand partnering conventions

August 25, 2014 at 09:12 PM · As an adult beginner I have been playing in a nice community orchestra for little over a year now. My orchestra has a very low threshold and consists mainly of people who, like me, are past their prime ;-). I suppose as a result of this everybody always brings their own sheet music and music stand.

Just before summer break, the lady sitting next to me proposed that this season we (just she and I, not the whole orchestra) would try to share our sheet music just like 'real' orchestra musicians. Though I am game, it made me realize that I know nothing about this. So I have a few quick questions about how this works.

1. Which one of us turns the pages?

2. Which one of us writes down the directions that our conductor gives?

3. How does this work with practicing at home, since there will only be one set of annotated sheet music?

4.I believe that when playing divisi, the person to the right takes the upper note and the other one the lower. What happens if it is a three note chord?

If there is anything else you can add to enlighten me on this subject, it will be much appreciated.

Replies (31)

August 25, 2014 at 09:29 PM · Hi Zina, great that you're enjoying orchestra.

Page turns are usually done by the inside stand - I say usually because I have had occasions where the turn is better done by outside stand (but this is by prior arrangement only).

Division with 3 notes - depends on the notes :) if you can play 2 and she can play 2 then both go for it. Bottom and middle, lower and middle.

Fingering and bowing - if your fingering differs from hers and you need it on the part, you can write it under her fingering. Have your own practise copy and get the bowings etc during breaks or arrange to meet and copy. Sometimes a partner can go without their piece for a few day while you do it at home.

Check that you can both work from the same stand height and angle, and if you are both wearing glasses then good luck ;)

August 26, 2014 at 12:53 AM · Good questions! Yes, usually inside turns pages, outside marks conductor directions (though there are many instances where the neater writer does that).

the pattern for section divisi is usually decided by section leader, in my experience. Some orchestras tend to divide by stand; others inside/outside on each stand. Most of the groups I've been in go 1-2-3 by player down the section for *important* three-part divisi, because stand-by-stand makes an imbalanced sound, and one player playing two notes can be dicey.

Another thing to work out is which person is responsible for the performance part, and how the other person can get it if the 'keeper' is sick. (I always duplicated all markings on my part if I wasn't keeper, just to be safe).

If your eyes can handle it, sharing a stand can be very rewarding, and each person gets/gives more support that way than when everyone is an isolate.

Good luck!

August 26, 2014 at 12:02 PM · @John

Thank you for your suggestion. I feel suddenly young knowing that you would trust me to do such acrobatics!

August 26, 2014 at 12:04 PM · Hi Sharelle,

Yes, orchestra is a blast, most of the time. Only every now and then I wish people would shut up and do what our conductor has told them like a hundred times before ;-).

Thank you for your answers, that is very helpful.


August 26, 2014 at 12:07 PM · Hi Marjory,

Thank you, we will definitely work out a absence procedure!

The eye issue is not so easy to solve, probably. Since I tend to memorize my music, it will only be a nuisance at the start of new pieces. Still, I'll propose to my standpartner that we make copies with as much enlargement as possible ;-).

I will report back on how all this is working out in a couple months.


August 26, 2014 at 12:32 PM · "Only every now and then I wish people would shut up and do what our conductor has told them like a hundred times before ;-)."

Wow. That's SO like 'real' orchestra musicians !

August 26, 2014 at 03:10 PM · Regarding the eyesight problem, which affects so many older orchestral players, I suggest special prescription glasses for use with music on a stand which is further away than the normal reading distance, but not far enough for distance seeing. I have such a pair of glasses which are set up for orchestral music. They're fine, focusing clearly on the music, and the conductor is an agitated blur in the distance - not that that matters ;-)

August 26, 2014 at 04:36 PM · "I suggest special prescription glasses.."

Yes, towards the end of my career I got myself some glasses for just the right distance, and it helped, especially as the conductor was then out-of-focus. This made it so much easier to follow the herd and ignore him ....

BTW disregard rumours that suggest that the "inside player" is called "probie" and compelled to bring the senior executant coffee and other refreshments.

Usually the "inside" player will turn, but in the old Hallé orchestra the "outside" player did so using the left hand. Barbirolli's idea, I think. Actually, it works well because the outside turner doesn't have a bow to contend with. For a turning "insider" the bow, waving in the air, can be a distraction and poke out the eye of the "deskie" if the RH is used without putting the bow down on the lap, and the LH is rather too far away from the RHS of the music for comfort.

August 26, 2014 at 08:37 PM · Slightly off topic, but this post reminds me why my desk mate and I each have our own stands:

He's about 6' tall and I'm 5'

We both need glasses

I can't see music or cope with a blur when I DO wear glasses, so now read all of my music from the iPad

My neck and back couldn't cope with the twisting required to be able to view the centrally placed stand - I have to be very careful where the stand is placed as I have a few cervical disc bulges now (ah, age)

August 28, 2014 at 09:45 AM · But Sharelle, you simply have to turn your chair in the direction of the stand, so that your entire body, legs and all, is in the good direction. It is indeed not advisable to sit as if you have your own stand in front of you, but you don't, and then you twist your neck or spine or whatever to still see the music...

August 28, 2014 at 01:25 PM · Jean, everyone seems able to do as you suggest except me :(

I'm lucky it's a community orchestra with plenty of stands and a dearth of folks prepared to play in the 1st violin section. The conductor probably wouldn't complain if I used a smart board and projector for the music - he wants to do all the Dvorak symphonies and keeps dropping Tchaikovsky pieces on the stand, and it gets pretty desperate when there's only four of us.

August 28, 2014 at 07:46 PM · just on a sidenote: If you are following those rules you are a exception and a loved neighbor at the stand. Do it! ;)

August 29, 2014 at 11:54 AM · Zina,

I suggest you convince your partner to follow the herd and use separate stands like everyone else. I've played in conducted orchestras with 2 on a stand since 1948. But as my vision got worse and before I had cataract surgery, my stand partner and I decided to use separate stands. We still followed the "rules" outside-high part on chords and double stops.

I still found it increasingly difficult to follow a conductor as I got older - so many of them do extraneous crap that only distracts rather than informs or leads.

Three years ago I was fortunate to become one of the starting members of a new community chamber orchestra without a conductor. We concentrate on the early classical literature. We have grown to a full 30 pieces (including 12 violins) and give about 6 concerts annually. We meet in mornings - so we are mostly non-employed "elders" (I'm not the only one who has been around for at least 80 years) but we include some retired professionals and music teachers - it's actually the best orchestra I've ever played in. We each have our own stand - and feel no shame in it. As far as I'm concerned, I shared a stand long enough! I often photocopy my parts and will sometimes use a 3-page spread and if necessary cut and paste to get a decent rest at a page turn.


August 30, 2014 at 12:18 AM · I agree with Andy. After years of sharing a stand, I recently had an opportunity to play with a smaller group where we had our own stands. It seemed really weird to me at first, but once I realized how much better I could see the music and how many fewer headaches I had at the end of rehearsals from straining to see it, I am dreading going back to sharing a stand this year.

August 30, 2014 at 06:24 AM · "Health and Safety" has tried. without success, to intervene in the UK Symphony Orchestra Protocols. They wanted all players on risers (wind, percussion etc.) to wear hard hats, and, because of high decibel levels, each member to have ear-plugs. The next step might well have been "a stand for everyone".

BTW a most important piece of equipment is a pencil fitted with a rubber (an eraser in the USA). I was HORRIFIED once when after a number of young trialists had done their stint with our orchestra (the BBC Philharmonic) they awarded the job to the one candidate who DID NOT BRING A PENCIL'N'RUBBER.

My custom was to saw a 2B pencil in 3 and attach an eraser to, and sharpen, each tiny part. The resulting implements were easier to carry around than full-length objects - my pockets are still full of them after years of retirement ! Handy.

August 30, 2014 at 10:54 AM · David, did you shape staedler type rubbers to fit and glue them on? What with if so, how else if not? I have cut the pencils (in 2) but still carry a separate rubber. Well, I don't use it much now with the ipad.

Imagine an orchestra with players wearing hard hads - you'd be pressing to play the Anvil Chorus every season.

August 30, 2014 at 11:21 AM · ".... did you shape staedler type rubbers to fit and glue them on? "

Er, no. This link shows the type of plug-in things to which I referred.

Is this type of product not available in Oz or the USA ?

August 30, 2014 at 08:06 PM · I agree wholeheartedly that having one's own stand is more comfortable. The reason for wanting to try stems from the ambition to at one point in the far future move 'up' to a higher level community orchestra with 'official' seating arrangements.

There may also be a hidden agenda that this keeps us seated together in the ever moving landscape of our tiny 2nd violins section ;-).

I definitely own (and bring to rehearsals) sharp pencils with erasers galore. Due to often being worried that I will not find one, I think there must be at least five pencils in my violin case at any time. I often lend one to a fellow orchestra member.

Following up on the post on 'orchestra' glasses I went to an optometrist. As it turns out, my contacts give optimal support for shared stand distance. The problems that arise from having a not so good eye due to cataracts can best be handled by using extra lights. Oh well. At least I didn't get to spend money.

The other day I bought two little magnetic sleeves that fit around a pencil and will attach themselves to the music stand. They are brilliant and save me from the usual twenty times picking my pencil up from the floor during a practice session. I'm sure they will be very useful in orchestra rehearsals too.

August 31, 2014 at 12:35 AM · David - Oh THEM! D'Oh.

Zina, those pencil sleeves are like gold, although a great alternative if you should lose them (or forget to take them home after rehearsal and they are gone for good) is a bull dog clip. you know how you can get really tiny ones - well you don't want them, you want the next size up. clip it on to the edge of the music tray on your stand and fold the two silver wire sections so that they are out together (not folded back on the clip). then slide your pencil in the hole at the end. sometimes I had to use a small o ring (from a set purchased at $2.00 shop) slid up the pencil shaft to stop the pencil going right through the hold in the clip. but a pencil with an eraser on the end should stopper itself.

August 31, 2014 at 07:37 AM · These pocket clips can be handy for holding the pencil in readiness. Clip the device to the ledge of the stand.

To Pilot-Nurse-Doctor they should add OrchestraSlave.

Avoid, in idle moments, the temptation to twang the pencil.

Not everyone is amused by that "plunk" sound.

Some music stands have loop-ended height-adjustment screws into which a pencil fits neatly, obviating any need for a spring-clip, provided that the pencil has a plug-in rubber end to stop the pencil falling right through.

September 1, 2014 at 06:56 AM · In my youth I attended a Saturday-morning music school for kids. One of the activities was "Orchestra".

Finding the music tricky one day I asked the conductor if I could take the part home to practise. "NO !" was the reply. "You would not be allowed to take home the music in a REAL ORCHESTRA".

That's ALMOST true. Normally, we don't take home our part. At home we will usually have a book or two of horrid excerpts from the repertoire.

A lot of the music put in front of us in our REAL ORCHESTRA would be "on hire". Despite the fact that the material had been edited for performance at the previous destination, (e.g. Berlin Philharmonic), the concertmaster would always feel the need to busy himself by CHANGING ALL THE BOWINGS.

That's why a pencil is a must.

One day soon the part for each stand will appear on a computer screen linked to that of the supremely important first desk. If a bowing is changed the alteration would be copied automatically to everyone's screen at once. No need for each change to take ages and ages, as one by one the outside players peer over the stand in front. The temper of all, including that of the conductor, will be greatly improved.

BTW sketching cartoons of the conductor in the margins during those many idle moments when he/she is talking to other sections is a practice that can REBOUND upon the perpetrator.

September 1, 2014 at 01:30 PM · Oops David, now you've got me scared! My sight reading with the violin is deplorable. Usually when we get new sheet music during rehearsal I sit back, relax and tell my standpartner-to-be when something goes wrong in her playing, which to me seems annoying but she appreciates it very much. This is because actually I can read music, but I cannot translate it to my violin fast enough. And when I say music, I must remark that oftentimes the part for the second violins is hardly recognizable as such ... So there is little transfer from my lessons where I usually get by if I go slow enough. Another (big) problem to solve then before I could ever 'upgrade' to a better orchestra.

September 1, 2014 at 01:38 PM · Zina, apologies if I sent you into information overload - but your OP contained the phrase "...just like 'real' orchestra musicians."

This gave me an excuse to vent my symptoms of Chronic Backdeskitis.

September 1, 2014 at 02:14 PM · David, no need for apologies, it was very informative.

By the way, the technological horizons you describe sound extremely attractive. I suspect a lot more time in our rehearsals could be spent trying to make our noises sound like actual music!

Can lowly amateurs also contract Chronic Backdeskitis? It actually sounds like fun ;-).

September 1, 2014 at 04:13 PM · "Can lowly amateurs also contract Chronic Backdeskitis?"

No automatic immunity for amateurs, I think.

The antidote to Chronic Backdeskitis has to be a sense of humour (or humor in the USA).

A GSOH helps in other walks of life too, IMHO.

BTW, Beck is a genius.

September 1, 2014 at 06:58 PM · Almost 50 years ago my teacher Bill Lincer, Gordon Quartet and NY Phil, told me that the best stand partners always take care of each other: for example keeping the bow over the music page if the other has miscounted and looks to be coming in too soon. Counting the rests independently and being more than ready to come in on time. Best R

September 1, 2014 at 11:12 PM · David, if your parts had been to the Berlin Phil previously, you're lucky. I'm now playing with an amateur orchestra, and I think most of our hired parts had been out to a junior school previously. Bowings on everything - surprise, surprise - after a down bow, we have an up bow. YOU DON'T NEED TO MARK EACH ONE! So if there's a change, it's a major job. And you've heard of painting by numbers - how about playing by numbers? Every note with a number above it. And always bad - just like the bowings.

Best plan - buy rubbers in bulk, and clean up the whole $%"*&! thing as best you can.

The best desk partners are complementary. In one orchestra, I was sat next to a delightful lady who perhaps wasn't the strongest player. On the other hand, I know I can be more than a bit "gung-ho" and too enthusiastic (to put it politely). I think my playing helped her, and she also did a sterling job keeping me in check. I'd notice a bit of a frown. "Was I?". A nod. "Sorry".

A very happy partnership.

September 1, 2014 at 11:21 PM · "Backdeskitis" and messing about (a bit).

One time, my desk partner and I were getting a bit bored going over the same passage so may times, so we turned the muic upside down to make it a bit more of a challenge. Unfortunately, the conductor decided we'd go for a take - "Give us a light". While looking at the 1sts. We couldn't do anything about it, and had to do the recording with our music still upside down. Did wonders for the concentration levels.

Different orchestra. I was number 3, and we were (again) fed up with the conductor over-rehearsing, and our leader started doing all the bowings upside down. I leaned forward just before the recording and said "Bet you can't keep it up all the way through". He did, and we all matched him. I think the conductor is probably still wondering why his entire 1st violin section burst out in fits of laughter at the end of the take.

I'd better be careful about this talk of conductors - we'll have Peter joining in.

September 13, 2014 at 04:31 AM · "Only every now and then I wish people would shut up and do what our conductor has told them like a hundred times before ;-)."

I was going to say, this never changes, no matter how good the orchestra!

September 14, 2014 at 07:22 AM · For a bit of fun I swapped instruments with my stand partner (an adolescent girl so it was a full size violin). We did it just before our rehearsal orchestra was due to perform, it was a laugh and we were both glad to get our own instruments back. I can't see this catching on with the older set.

September 15, 2014 at 06:04 AM · Hi Alison, my daughter and I did that one when she was stepping in for a sick orchestra member. It was fun indeed, and even more so when I got to play my own instrument again. I don't suppose anyone noticed (or would have cared if they did).

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