music the orchestra world

oldie but goodie

I’m taking Sunday off, so here’s a post from the days of yore to entertain you:


After you’ve been in an orchestra a certain amount of time, say *COUGH* years, you start comparing notes with colleagues in other orchestras, you begin to notice that orchestras are a collection of certain recurring characters, or to be Jungian about it, archetypal figures. I’ve been thinking about this for some time, now, and I will now present you with my (by no means exhaustive nor authoritative) list. Enjoy – and if you find yourself in this post, relax, you’re in good company.

1. The Concerto (or Trained Monkey)

This character is almost always a violinist, and almost always a first violinist. She can be found backstage cycling through a collection of the world’s greatest violin concerti at almost every service, and at high volume. Rookies play the first eight bars of each piece, seasoned veterans, sixteen. There are variations of this type which include The Etude (Dont, Paganini, Rode).

2. The Grumbler/Curmudgeon

This type is often found near the watercooler, coffee shop, or player’s lounge. Invariably, they are complaining about something, no matter what the circumstances. Hand this person a $50 bill and they will complain that you didn’t give them smaller bills and that you might bump them up to the next tax bracket. Curiously, these are often some of the more animated music-makers when the stage lights go up.

3. The Sage

Remember Cliff Claven from Cheers? He was the mailman who knew everything, or at least had an answer for everything. That’s this type. This person will often serve on many committees, and will know everything about the orchestra business, which is good. What is not so good is this person will also know about everything else that you talk to them about, and will go into elaborate detail about how much they know. Don’t talk to The Sage unless you have an entire break to kill!

4. The Stoic

This person is little seen or heard around the orchestral workplace. They show up, play their part, and after concerts, they melt away into the darkness. If they come to an orchestra meeting, no one can remember seeing them there. People wonder if The Stoic speaks English, if she has a family, and what sort of car she drives. Also known as The Phantom.

5. Big Bird

Every orchestra has one – usually a woman, often very tall and blonde — and LOUD. Every word that comes from Big Bird is an exclamation. People love Big Bird, of course, but why is she almost always a violinist or flautist? Usually seen with The Grumbler at break time.

6. The Tinkerer

This person could be the player of any instrument in the orchestra, but is commonly found in the string section. They have an intimate knowledge of their instrument, and always have a sound post adjuster handy. They’d rather knock their post around for days at a time than spend $40 to have a good shop do it, and once the post is in the perfect location, there’s always the strings to replace with at least ten different varieties before settling on “the one”. They have Strad posters up on their walls like instrument porn, and their secret internet vice is

7. The New Guy

Usually found at rehearsals bleary-eyed from clubbing with the other new folks the night before. Unusually jumpy when you mention the word “probation” in their presence. They’ve learned every note to the piece whose folder you haven’t even thought of picking up from the orchestra library yet. They still smile when they come in to work.

8. Teacher’s Pet

We all know this character. He laughs loudest and longest at the Music Director’s jokes, and in the case of a foreign-born MD, laughs a little at every comment just in case it might have been a joke. Asks clarifying questions after a 10 minute discourse by the MD. Gravitates towards the highest-ranking orchestral member in the room, preferably the concertmaster, but any principal will do. Universally loathed by everyone in the orchestra (but blissfully unaware).

9. The Mogul

The Mogul is the person who has some other sort of income generating mechanism than the orchestra gig. They sell real estate or insurance, or are a slum lord, or own multiple businesses. They have an obscenely priced instrument and/or car, and seem to be the happiest person in the orchestra. They also usually bring their own lunch to double rehearsal days.

10. The Alien

This player seems to have been beamed down from the belly of a UFO. They can be seen during rehearsals staring off into space while their section plays on without them. They are often seen talking to themselves, and there is often a delay of between 3 and 7 seconds between any stimulus and the light going on in the attic. Some are known to make animal sounds, while others develop an unhealthy obsession with personal hygiene. Though the evidence is not yet all in, a link between a “good time in the 60’s” and The Alien is likely.

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