ADVICE PLEASE...

September 21, 2022, 7:41 AM · Do Violin I musicians retain their section chair after they've been absent for several years (due to pandemic, frequent sudden illnesses, home improvement projects)?

Replies (19)

September 21, 2022, 8:01 AM · Perhaps you could add what level orchestra this is? Professional, semi-pro, community, school etc?

[I think it highly unlikely - its the concertmaster's call. If you have been absent there will also be questions as to whether your ability has been affected.]

September 21, 2022, 8:11 AM · Semi-pro & community...there are no guidelines or protocol with this orchestra.
September 21, 2022, 8:21 AM · I wouldn’t expect positions to automatically be carried over if the orchestra hasn’t been meeting at all during the last couple years. A smaller community orchestra with long-term members might be more likely to just go back to the previous configuration, but I think that would depend on the amount of competition for chairs. Some orchestras even keep the leading positions in rotation intentionally.
September 21, 2022, 9:55 AM · In our community orchestra an absence of 3 yrs is more than enough to establish other players in the chair hierarchy. You would join at the back and wait for a reorganization - perhaps at the end of the season or year.

I wonder if the switching of positions in professional orchestras is more about pay scales than music. They never switch the first desk so obviously the organizers recognize that you do need the strongest players at the front. However, if you give one player 2nd desk and another 5th on the basis of ability isn't #2 going to also demand a higher salary based on their superior skills? So much simpler to have everyone equal (rotating) and set salary by years of service.

Perhaps a pro could comment?

September 21, 2022, 9:55 AM · In our community orchestra an absence of 3 yrs is more than enough to establish other players in the chair hierarchy. You would join at the back and wait for a reorganization - perhaps at the end of the season or year.

I wonder if the switching of positions in professional orchestras is more about pay scales than music. They never switch the first desk so obviously the organizers recognize that you do need the strongest players at the front. However, if you give one player 2nd desk and another 5th on the basis of ability isn't #2 going to also demand a higher salary based on their superior skills? So much simpler to have everyone equal (rotating) and set salary by years of service.

Perhaps a pro could comment?

September 21, 2022, 10:06 AM · Thank you all for your comments ~ it remains a dilemma...
September 21, 2022, 11:24 AM · For any orchestra, pro. or am., after the titled (principals) chairs in front, there does not need to be a hierarchy. It is harder to play in the back of a section than in front. For a less than fully professional orchestra one approach to seating the 1st violin section is to have the 4 or 5 most accurate players on the outside row, closest to the audience.
September 21, 2022, 11:48 AM · In my community orchestra, the only seats that are really fixed is the first stand of V1 and V2, and the viola and cello principals. Aside from that, if you want a good seat, you get to rehearsal earlier! After the first few weeks, people typically retain their seats, though, just because that's easier for everyone.
Edited: September 21, 2022, 1:50 PM · “I wonder if the switching of positions in professional orchestras is more about pay scales than music. They never switch the first desk so obviously the organizers recognize that you do need the strongest players at the front. However, if you give one player 2nd desk and another 5th on the basis of ability isn't #2 going to also demand a higher salary based on their superior skills? So much simpler to have everyone equal (rotating) and set salary by years of service.“

Different orchestras do this in different ways but I believe a majority of orchestras have some kind of rotation, either within each section or between sections. The pay scale is title pay/section pay, with seniority as appropriate.

There is no such thing as ranked pay based on superior skills. Everybody is expected to be professional. In orchestras that do have assigned chairs, people get the chair that they auditioned for, which would be wherever the vacancy occurred.

You really cannot take information from student or community orchestras and transfer it to professional orchestras. Totally different worlds.

Editing to say I am a little thunderstruck at the thought that home improvement projects would be a reason to miss rehearsal. I would have no interest in playing with somebody who treated their musical obligations so flippantly.

September 21, 2022, 2:01 PM · @ Mary Ellen...hence, my dilemma. This is my stand partner. I have been sitting with a wonderful, dedicated musician over time and we've developed a good relationship both on stage and off. We want to sit together (we're 2nd stand) but I am in turmoil as to what to do. Maybe I should move back to be with her? We even breathe together!
September 21, 2022, 2:12 PM · A home improvement project can be an extensive renovation and that's a much bigger deal than redecoration or something like that. We moved into a fixer upper once and it required a complete kitchen renovation including leveling the floor.
Edited: September 21, 2022, 2:15 PM · I’m familiar with home improvement projects as we just redid our kitchen from the studs out.

Still not an acceptable reason to miss rehearsal.

Shari, you need to have a frank conversation with the personnel manager, conductor, or whoever determines the seating.

September 21, 2022, 2:28 PM · @ Mary Ellen....I am the Orchestra Manager..
September 21, 2022, 3:34 PM · Shari, then you need to have a three-way conversation between yourself, the concertmaster, and the conductor.
September 21, 2022, 4:51 PM · @ Mary Ellen ~ thank you, I will!
Edited: September 21, 2022, 5:00 PM · Depends on the culture of the orchestra. Some community orchestras are hugely loyal to their members, and will notionally hold a spot. I've been "on sabbatical" from one for over 15 years and I doubt I'd need to audition if I came back. Not that I'd pass up the chance to sound better than the other amateurs in what is literally a semi-pro group.

By contrast, Interlochen was notorious for allowing weekly (or daily?) challenges for seats. Duel at dawn, Brahms excerpt at the ready.

So, yes. Chat with whoever thinks they run the place.

September 21, 2022, 11:36 PM · In community orchestras, if player X wants to sit with player Y, assuming that neither of them is a principal (or assistant/associate principal), chances are that nobody cares.

Some conductors and/or concertmasters prefer to deliberately spread skill through a section in order to produce a more balanced sound and better overall section strength. In that case you can simply have a discussion with them -- presumably you know who makes seating decisions in your orchestra.

It is very unusual for community orchestras to seat hierarchically. Indeed, it is unusual for adult orchestras, period, to seat hierarchically. Pro and semi-pro orchestras either seat by seniority or rotate (other than leaders, of course).

Hierarchy is an artifact of youth orchestras and young musicians who build their orchestral expectations around constant competition and jostling for rank are in for rude awakenings when they get to the adult level.

P.S. It sounds like the home improvement projects have been a reason to stop playing with the orchestra, not to miss individual rehearsals. Being gone for years is a different matter than being undependable.

Edited: September 22, 2022, 3:59 AM · If the orchestra has gone on playing in your absence there's now a new incumbent who feels equally entitled to your old chair. Have no expectations, just sit where they tell you and make the best of it.
September 22, 2022, 12:02 PM · Thank you everyone for your sage advice ~ I truly appreciate it!

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