Foreign orchestras

September 17, 2019, 12:28 PM · Hello,
This isn't strictly to do with strings but thought some people here could provide some insight. I am aware I'm not ready for what I'm going to ask, so for now it is just hypothetical.

If I went and auditioned and won a place in an orchestra outside of the UK (or any English speaking country), would I be expected to be able to speak the language of whatever country I was in?
I seem to have a vague recollection of a friend before telling me professional musicians (world touring) should be able speak multiple languages.

Replies (21)

September 17, 2019, 1:33 PM · I think you would be expected to *learn* the language of rehearsals, and pretty darn quickly too.
September 17, 2019, 2:06 PM · Would you expect the people of the country you were in to speak YOUR language instead?
September 17, 2019, 3:06 PM · To be fair, English is the new lingua franca… So if an orchestra is trying to attract international players or in some other way be “international,” everything would probably be in English.

That being said, in most situations you would have the privilege of learning a new language! :)

September 17, 2019, 4:31 PM · Given our musical terminology, perhaps the lingua franca should be Italian. :-)
September 17, 2019, 4:39 PM · I wonder however if in the non English speaking world orchestra musicians aren't expected to speak English well enough for rehearsal purposes. Otherwise a lot of international guest conductors would have a hard time rehearsing.
September 17, 2019, 7:16 PM · @Albrecht, I thought the same thing to be honest. But as I understand, a lot of them speak more than one language anyway
September 17, 2019, 8:35 PM · You need to pass whatever language requirement that country has for immigrants. For instance, I believe that to immigrate to the Netherlands, you have a requirement to take classes on the Dutch language and culture, and you need to pass an exam demonstrating basic Dutch proficiency.

Plus, you'd have a tough time living in a country where many of the people you interact with don't speak English.

September 18, 2019, 5:02 AM · Regardless of whether many of the musicians and/or conductor speak English, if the rehearsals are not held in English, it would be rude and unrealistic to expect someone to be somehow translating for you.

It’s hard for me to process measure numbers quickly in German (because “4 and 60” is 64, but my brain hears it and thinks 46!), so my stand partner will often helpfully point to the proper measure for me...but I couldn’t really take part if I couldn’t understand the majority of the directions the conductor gives, regardless of how many of my orchestra mates speak English! Even if they whispered what the conductor was saying in real time, it would be such a distraction and waste so much of the conductor’s time.

Lydia, not all countries have such language proficiency requirements, especially for residence permits less eternal than permanent residence. (I believe some such language/“culture” requirements were created in response to the refugee crisis, as the far right pushed for and gained some influence in various European countries...there was a rise in nationalism, which has been a global trend...).

However, yes, it can be very lonely to live somewhere you can’t understand or be understood...

September 18, 2019, 5:30 AM · This is what I thought honestly. But thanks everybody!
Edited: September 18, 2019, 4:39 PM · In our citys pro symphony orchestra (mostly German speaking country) there are German, Austrian, Dutch, French, Italian, Czech, Slovakian, Hungarian, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese musicians if I remember correctly. (That's at least whom I know in person.) There also used to be a Finnish percussionist a while ago, and a Spanish lady in the woodwinds. No matter who studied part of their education at German or Austrian universities, all of them speak German good enough to participate in rehearsals. Note that often a major source of income for orchestral musicians is in teaching, so this is another reason for learning the local language rather soon.
Edited: September 18, 2019, 5:27 PM · That's an excellent point regarding teaching. I would expect most orchestral musicians to have at least some ability to communicate in both the local language (because they teach locally) and English (at least for guest conductors).

But I understand there are some exceptions in countries where Western classical music is in the process of being introduced top-down through a newly established professional orchestra. In those orchestras, many of the musicians may live outside the country and fly in only briefly to rehearse and perform. (For example, the Symphony Orchestra of India operates this way, with a relatively small group of musicians resident in Mumbai and most of the musicians arriving from abroad for three weeks in September-October and three weeks in February.) In this type of orchestra, I would assume rehearsals are conducted in English.

Edited: September 18, 2019, 5:43 PM · Reading various comments with interest, I would think if you won a position outside of the UK, btw, my favourite part of the world, what many here have pointed out regarding learning the foreign country language would be of infinite value ~ Even when moving from the U.S., to London, it took some doing to get familiar with local colloquialism's, and even we 'Yanks' speak our 'brand' of English!!

Certainly, if teaching in a country where English is not spoken even 12/7, it might cause you difficulty in communicating musical ideas in a completely unknown language ~ However, with all said, if one madly loves a place, the attraction will inspire hurried learning to meet and become a member of the community in which you settle! When reflecting on the millions of people's who flocked to America following the Second World War, speaking almost no English, I'm amazed at the quickened adaptabilities of so many foreign people who created great lives for themselves here in America, and with
joie 'di vie!

If you have an inner yearning to try getting a job outside the UK, then, by gosh, go for it!!!!! If meant to be, all pieces of an as yet unknown puzzle, will come together to make a New 'Face' and Life!!!

Wishing Jake Watson every blessing including courage ~

Musical greetings from America,

Elisabeth Matesky *

*Decades ago, my great violin colleague & friend, Henryk Szeryng, made a
beautifully profound and astute observation ~

"Where there is courage, there is Joy!" (Quote, Henryk Szeryng, in our live
BBC Television & Radio recording of a Double Violin Concerto with Piano
collaboration, Summer of '70, in Wimbledon, UK)

Edited: September 18, 2019, 10:43 PM · For what it's worth, musicians tend to pick up languages rather quickly & jobs don't always start immediately, so you'd probably be ok.
September 19, 2019, 11:16 AM · My wife and I played for short stint in the São Paulo Symphony in Brazil about 20 years ago. Rehearsals were in Portuguese with the regular conductors and in English with the guest conductors. To the surprise of many, Skrowaczewski showed up speaking only Italian during rehearsals.

Before that sometime in the mid '90's, I was the principal violist for some gig at Lincoln Center in NYC, and the conductor somehow only knew Russian and German. When he needed to talk to anyone in the orchestra to his right side, he told me in German, and I translated. (I remember fondly getting to scold the trombones.) The concertmaster did the same, but from Russian, for the other half of the orchestra.

Never know what you're going to run across.

Edited: September 19, 2019, 3:26 PM · I spent a sabbatical semester in Mainz (Germany) at one of the Max Planck Institutes. Essentially, there are so many international people there that the institute was basically an English-language place. But there is the additional factor that nearly all scientific journals are published in English. I would still have enjoyed the experience much more if my German were better. But it would have made no difference in the academic setting, only for jokes and war stories around the water cooler or when out and about in the village. All of the German professors and graduate students spoke entirely fluent English. Your German will never be as good as their English unless you are among the very rare American who grew up speaking German at home (which I am not, even though my mother is German). The Romanian, Bulgarian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Italian, and Indian graduate students spoke very good English, and the Chinese graduate students spoke fair English, all of which is entirely understandable in historical context.
September 22, 2019, 4:05 PM · Lydia, countries "where many of the people you interact with don't speak English" are quite rare these days. Such a problem is much more likely encountered by French of Finnish people.
September 22, 2019, 6:13 PM · As someone who is fairly well traveled internationally and who works with a global clientele: I think it is very dependent on who you interact with. Young, urban people are far more likely to speak fluent English than the older generation, people whose professions do not require interacting with English speakers/media/materials, etc. And it certainly varies by country, too. Germany is an easier place to get around as an English only speaker than France, for instance.
Edited: September 23, 2019, 9:33 AM · Paul, respectfully, the scientific community is very different from the music community when it comes to the prevalence of English.

I played in a Japanese orchestra for six months as part of a cultural exchange program in 1984. The conductor did a little translating for the seven American musicians (who were, after all, recruited by him) but with help from our standpartners we could get along in rehearsal OK most of the time. I started studying Japanese assiduously from day one. While I had been told that "everyone learned English in school," it turned out that while they might have spent years taking classes labeled "English," to say that the majority could communicate in even basic English was quite a stretch. This may be different now and it was certainly different in Tokyo even then but I was in a provincial city a couple of hundred miles north of Tokyo where westerners of any variety were a rarity.

September 23, 2019, 3:31 AM · As someone who lives in a multilingual society (southern Europe) and works in teaching immigrants, refugees, etc. to integrate in society by learning the country's native language, it seems to me that learning the language of the country you are in "from day one" is the most healthy and respectful situation. That does not mean that you may not use translation by foreign language proficient natives to communicate when necessary and available, of course. Lenguage diversity is wealth, not a problem.
Edited: September 23, 2019, 11:21 AM · Mary Ellen, that remains true in the tech community in Japan even today, including in Tokyo.

My Japanese colleagues are required to speak, read and write English "fluently", but in practice, this can be pretty marginal. Enough to get the gist across. Not enough to have a rapid conversation or to avoid misunderstandings.

Similarly, tech workers at Japanese companies can be comprehensibly fluent if they're young (and for some reason, usually women) but the older management's language skills tend to be rudimentary.

Plus there are cultural sensitivities that can make it very hard to communicate politely, especially if one is attempting to convey a criticism. (Doing so non-offensively is immensely hard.)

September 24, 2019, 12:55 PM · Lydia, I can imagine. I struggle with my colleagues at work with that

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