Orchestral Attitude: Dos and Donts

Article written by adjunct music professor and orchestra director Mr.
Lewis Rosove Lewis Rosove.

Throughout my teaching career it has never ceased to amaze me that a peculiar phenomenon exists when it comes to preparing different genres or aspects of music.  Scales are, more often than not, given their due diligence.  The brunt of practice is in the pursuit of high marks/awards for solo and small ensemble competitions.  Then there is orchestra music-and, to be somewhat cynical, the goal often seems to be to work just hard enough to not stick out within the section.  This is a bit of a sore point for someone who spent over twenty-two years as a professional orchestral member.

There are a couple of axioms that should be held in high regard when it comes to the environment of the orchestra:

  1. Parts are to be learned in the practice room, NOT at the rehearsal!

 This is a cardinal sin, because if this is not done it shows a lack of respect to those who have done the “grunt-work” to get their parts up to speed. There is certainly a learning curve that everyone must overcome, but once there has been exposure to a given composition at the first rehearsal that music needs to be dissected in a similar manner as the working-out of solo literature-at the very least for the most challenging parts.  Does this mean that one approaches orchestral style as a soloist?  Not a great idea, but the level of preparation generally needs to be higher, regardless of ability level or experience.

One of the best ways to get comfortable with the vocabulary of a piece is to listen to recorded performances.  Even better, one should access several compositions written by the same composer in order to begin the process of discerning the style required to do justice to the music being prepared.

  1. There is a hierarchy in the orchestra that needs to be followed. One of the ways to create a toxic atmosphere in an orchestral session is to ignore this precept. Members of the section need to defer (one could even say submit) to the principal of the section.  If bowings or musical suggestions are set by either the concertmaster or a section principal there should be no negotiating or protest.  I have seen that failure to follow this principle has led to many fractions within an orchestra.  At best it is counterproductive, and at its worst can damage the working relationship between the members beyond repair.

Orchestral playing can be one of the most uplifting expressions of music, because the result is a creation that transcends the individual and is the culmination of cooperative effort.  If preparation and protocol are firmly in place and observed, a wonderful art form can flourish!

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