24. August 2009 · Comments Off on Where We Sit. What We Do. & More. · Categories: Ramble

Many people claim not to comprehend classical music. But music itself is a cinch compared with orchestral hierarchy.

This is an interesting article on the seating in Cleveland Orchestra.

Every orchestra seems to have slight differences in how things work. Most orchestras have principal and section players. In addition there are frequently assistant positions for the strings and usually in the French horn section. Sometimes other wind sections have assistant positions as well. And yes, people are paid differently, depending upon their position.

Where we sit and what we do is usually clear to us, even it it’s not to concert goers. Most of this is in writing and can be found in contracts. Sometimes, though, things are just “understood”. I, for instance, am listed as second oboe in SSV. Second oboe is a section position. But if there’s English horn I move over and play that … most of the time. (Sometimes I opt not to, although that’s quite rare.) If Pam takes a set or a work off, I will probably be asked to play principal. I don’t believe there’s anything in the contract about that, and management or Pam could always say they want someone else. (If I didn’t have their confidence I’d not want to sit there anyway, believe me!) A conductor usually would have the final say about moving up … but we don’t have a permanent conductor, so never mind that!

In some groups there is a assistant oboist (paid more than section and less than principal) and a separate English hornist. SSV only has the two chairs, and brings in a sub or two if necessary to fill the section out. San Jose Symphony (RIP) had principal oboe, second and English horn, and I was the English hornist for 27 years. In some orchestras the English horn is a principal position. In others it’s not. It is definitely a solo chair (as I was reminded by all the solos I had in Saturday’s John Williams pops concert). Sometimes it’s paid that way, and sometimes not. It’s just a section position in Symphony Silicon Valley and pays the same as any section player, no matter what I have to play. This can be frustrating, but that’s the way this business goes, and I try very hard not to compare what I have to what someone else is doing. After all, we all have important work to do! Only sad part is that if I blow it my name could get bashed in a review, while many section players would never have to deal with that!

I love the position I play, since I do get variety: playing EH, playing assistant, playing second, even playing first … keeps things from feeling like the “same old same old”, you know? And then of course in Opera San José I am principal oboe so I get that joy. And in groups that hire me as a freelancer I play whatever I’m asked to play.

It’s a good life. Even if I whine a lot. 😉

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