What is a symphony orchestra?
Strings – violins (smallest, and highest in pitch), violas, cellos, and double basses (largest and lowest in pitch). These players sit in a semicircle directly in front of the conductor, and make up more than half the orchestra.
Woodwinds – flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and related instruments. These players sit a few rows back from the conductor, in the center of the orchestra.
Brass – trumpets, horns, trombones, tubas, and similar instruments. These instruments are the loudest, so you’ll see them in the rear of the orchestra.
Percussion – drums, bells, and other fascinating paraphernalia that are struck, plucked, rubbed, etc. This includes the tympani, the harp, and, on occasion, the piano. Some works use lots of different percussion; others may have a single musician playing the tympani, or no percussion at all. The percussion section is also found at the rear of the orchestra.
Why do the orchestra members wear black?
This is a long tradition that started centuries ago. Sometimes musicians dress a little more casually, but they still try to look uniform, so that the audience can concentrate on the music. Soloists are the exception: they often dress differently, because they are the focus of attention.
What is a concertmaster and what do they do?
The concertmaster sits in the first chair of the first violins. He or she acts as leader of that section, but also plays a leadership role with the orchestra as a whole. He or she is also the last orchestra member to enter the stage before a concert, and cues the oboe to “tune” the orchestra.
Why does the orchestra tune to the oboe?
The penetrating tone of the oboe is easy for all players to hear. And its ability to sustain pitch is very secure. The oboe plays the note “A,” and all the players make sure their “A” is exactly on the same pitch as the oboe’s “A”. This ensures that they all are in agreement about the tuning before the concert begins.
Why does the conductor leave the stage after every piece?
This provides the conductor a little breather – a chance to collect his or her thoughts before starting the next piece. If the applause is very enthusiastic, the conductor will come onstage again, bow, and perhaps recognize some musicians who played important solos in the piece.
Why aren’t the musicians smiling while they play?
Look closely and you’ll see that some of them do! But in general, they are concentrating deeply, just like outfielders waiting for the fly ball or pitchers winding up to a curve ball. They’re “in the Zone.” After the music is over, you may see them smiling broadly. If it was a concerto, and they liked the soloist’s performance, they won’t just smile – the string players will tap their stands with their bows as a sign of appreciation.