Advice on following the conductor and leading an orchestra
I auditioned to join a community orchestra recently and was placed at the first stand, second chair, among the first violins. While I was pleased with my placement, I was having to lead the orchestra when the CM was not there during a few rehearsals.
Let’s just say there were some embarrassing moments.
It has been almost 30 years since I played in an orchestra and my ensemble skills were never very strong. Besides learning my part, what are the things I need to work on to improve my leadership and “followership” skills in an orchestra?
So that chair is the associate CM's chair. Whether or not you carry the title, that hot seat carries responsibilities. You lead the inside players of the section, effectively, because those players are more likely to be able to see you than the CM. In inside/outside divisi, you lead the inside part. You play with the CM on parts marked "2 Soli", and sometimes split a duet. In concerto grossi and the like, you lead the ripieno players. And if the CM misses a rehearsal, you pick things up entirely. In a concert, you've also got to be fully alert and ready to lead because CMs also make mistakes.
Lydia, thanks for your advice. The community orchestra I am in is an all amateur orchestra.
I wouldn't be too much in awe. They had a reason to give you the job. If you know the parts well and pay attention in rehearsals you'll get used to it. You won't have to "lead" like in a chamber music ensemble; the conductor will do most of that. Just play with assurance (which requires you are prepared of course) and--as Lydia said--make sure you play the bowings and articulations the way the CM does. Unfortunately you are the one who has to turn pages.
From personal experience, don't be a bossy boots! To make sure everyone is in the same groove communicate in a friendly way with your section and the other section leaders. Don't treat them like kids, even if they are kids!
The CM and associate CM definitely do have to lead, even though they are 'following' the conductor. They help the rest of the section come in at exactly the right time, and communicate the mood, bow placement, bow stroke etc. even fingerings sometimes.
Leading is something that can't really be taught. A good leader (CM to our American friends) has a slight nod that indicates "I'm playing". If I'm leading, it's definitely "first among equals". I like a noisy section - making suggestions etc. - in amateur orchestras, you probably get parts with bowings in that don't match. So I'm always open to suggestions - but when I decide - that's it! No more discussion. We'll have a laugh together in rehearsal - and make sure we turn in the goods for the show. First/early rehearsal I EXPECT mistakes - that's why they're further back. Later on - you get it right!
Lots of good advice already. I find the number 2 seat really hard....not leader/cm , but not rank and file either. I've found it helpful to play as if you're playing chamber music with the other front desks.
Last night we had another rehearsal in which I was again the *acting* CM. Everyone was very nice and it went a lot better than previous occasions.