Tips on leading an orchestra

September 23, 2006 at 06:07 PM · Hello, i'm interested in how YOU would lead orchestra: awareness, rehearsal techniques without everyone hating you, how to tell off the people at the back...

But seriously, when i was college we got taught how to play in orchestra and as a section but never as leader or principle of a section.

It would also be interesting what you look for in principal player.

Please share your advice, thoughts, experiences.

Replies (22)

September 23, 2006 at 09:41 PM · Greetings,

1) Don't tell people off.

2) Build you team from the front. Worry less about the back but have the principals working together as a quartet. If necessray play quartets together.

3) You decide the bowings for both firts and second violin and perhaps viola. Make this clear but remember it means you have to make sure to have the parts well in advance and think about them a lot.

4) Learn the score better than the conducer. Your job is to be in contact with every single player in the orchestra. If the trinagle player suddenly has a solo you should be as awrae oif it as your own part and let thta eprson know you are inviting them in.

5) You need to have some vision of the sound you want for the orchestra and in relation to the conducter. Use eye contact, body moveent or whatever, but show people to play louder, softer, nearer the fingerboard or whatever. You have to overdo it. Don't talk. Just do it.

6)Dont tell people off.

7) Work really hard on the social aspect of the orchestra in breaks. Go round and make friends with everyone. Avoid the typical social divisions taht occur between sections.

8) Know your part from memory.

9) Always remeber that if you are -right- but not together with other people then you are -wrong- There is no right in which one person is doing somethign at a differnet tepo or whatever. That's a little fuzzy but it may be the most fundamentla rule of all.



September 23, 2006 at 11:36 PM · Buri's advice is good as always, but I wonder if you have more specific questions. It's such a big job, and there are many parts to it.

September 23, 2006 at 11:53 PM · I've had a bit of experience leading sections (I've been principal 2nd and concertmaster on several occasions, at summer programs and stuff) and I've noticed that, for example if the klutzes at the back are screwing up the rhythm or playing wrong notes, etc., NEVER address individual players or small groups of players. Always address the SECTION--i.e., "Guys, there seems to be some confusion in the firsts around measure such-and-such, the notes are c#, b, g-natural (etc.)." Demonstrate the offending passage if need be. If there are problems in other sections, absolutely do NOT address the other section yourself. Confer with the leader of that section, and let him/her deal with them.

Ah, orchestral diplomacy. Almost as delicate as quartet relations...but that's another thread. :)

Oh--and whatever you do, make sure you present an image of approachability and friendliness--so the poor, nervous last-chair player won't feel intimidated going to you to ask for advice on fingerings or bowings. Maybe crack a joke or two during rehearsal. ;) (Ah, camp memories...I once, with my sheet music, swatted a fly that had been annoying the heck out of our conductor one hot, long summer evening rehearsal and got a huge round of applause and laughter. Good times, good times.)

September 24, 2006 at 04:00 AM · Maura, along those lines I have to share that at Ravinia (where we see our share of bugs) it's a tradition to swat and "preserve" them in the orchestra parts. Since those same parts, many dating back to the 60s or earlier, are used downtown and in subsequent summers, we annotate the bugs. So when I see a nice squash with "Levine, 7/74" penciled next to it I know that someone (and some bug!) suffered a generation before.

September 24, 2006 at 04:04 AM · Hahahahaha! That's absolutely classic!

I've heard that there are "Ormandy quotes" scribbled all over Philadelphia Orchestra parts to this very day...

September 24, 2006 at 04:10 AM · Have fun playing. Try to have a smile when you request something from your section (not a fake smile) and try to make everything a big deal, but not in a way that it comes off as being a big deal (the section should understand). I hope this makes sense. The other comments are very good.

September 24, 2006 at 07:08 AM · thanks for all that, i was only joking about the telling people off bit... but i guess it's not funny...ah well

keep em coming

September 24, 2006 at 08:17 AM · bring a 60 of stoli to rehersal...................

September 24, 2006 at 08:52 AM · huh???!!! i really don't get that.

September 24, 2006 at 05:23 PM · then this option is not for you.

September 24, 2006 at 05:40 PM · does anyone else get that? (mind boggles)

September 24, 2006 at 09:26 PM · Throw a kegger after concerts, but make sure you don't make it too loud that the neighbors call the cops and they come knocking on the door and all the underage kids get scared and then the whole party is broken up and then you have to return the table that you used for a rousing game of beer pong back to the music building.

A good leader would choose a location where the neighbors are a lot cooler.

September 24, 2006 at 10:57 PM · The principal player in any section should be rhythmically precise, able to communicate with the conductor and other section leaders, and serve as a clear leader to his/her section. What do I mean by a clear leader? You have to be able to follow the body movements and cues of the section leader.

I'd like to conclude in saying that there's nothing worse than a head of a section who acts like the king or queen *@*@%&! (you fill in). We're all in this together and being first violin doesn't necessarily mean you're the best in college level and professional orchestras.

September 25, 2006 at 11:29 AM · Marianne,

Il veut tout simplement dire que tout est mieux avec une bouteille de 60 onces de Vodka!


September 25, 2006 at 11:48 AM · Cristian

thanks for clarifying that for me, i really couldn't work that out.

September 25, 2006 at 12:59 PM · Je suis d'accord


September 25, 2006 at 03:52 PM · My French has gone kaput....WHAT are you guys saying? :)

September 25, 2006 at 04:11 PM · absolut yes sir caulisse.

September 25, 2006 at 06:11 PM · I think a major role of a concertmaster is the use of body language for leading purposes. One of my teachers, Herbert Greenberg and also William Preucil, are great examples of this. Others great examples include Jon Carney of the Baltimore Symphony and Lev Polyakin, assist. concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. When you see them in concert or rehearsal, you can be sure when to come in even if you are in the very back of the section. They are playing like a first violinist of a string quartet and many of the phrase lines and articulation are shown through their movements. I think it's important to use the scroll as kind of "baton" to show beginnings and endings of phrases and also to use when their is a long tremelo (16 measures or so) and give a little cue to show when it changes pitches since many section players space out at those particular parts.

September 25, 2006 at 08:27 PM · Pieter - ROFLOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


September 25, 2006 at 09:49 PM · Pieter,

What? I am confused...

September 26, 2006 at 01:17 PM · Remember that you can see and hear what is going on. The poor violinists at the back of the firsts and seconds can't hear nearly as well, can't see as well and have to cope with a strange balance of sound (including ear-splitting percussion, gunshots and chimes).

At least they don't have to put up with the conductor's jokes...which they only know occurred because of the general laughter 30 feet away.

Seriously, it's real easy for the people at the end to feel isolated and inferior especially in orchestra's that don't rotate seating so make sure you are aware of them and include them.

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