Orchestral Playing Draft

Very difficult for control freaks and perfectionists because so many people and elements are impossible to control.


Imagine: doing something very difficult and quite emotionally charged and completely together with the same people every day and night but never really having any close personal contact with them (only musical)  – really the definition of parallel play for 2 year olds. No importance given to creating a team, to group psychology, to meeting together to talk about how it went and why – no briefing or debreifing. Within this group doing all musical things together, each one is very much alone. Is it any wonder so much drinking and depressions and low self esteem


Doing something potentially beautiful without emotion, in a mechanical way and for money is what a prostitute does. Orchestral playing can resemble this. Too much of a good thing can become monotonous and lose its’ magic.

Orchestral playing is good in small doses.


USA job satisfaction survey: orchestral players had similar levels of satisfaction to prison guards and rubbish collectors. Almost certainly only the grumpy musicians replied. And they would have been especially string-players who would have enjoyed the unique opportunity to be able to express themselves individually. As an orchestral string player, you are one tiny cog in an enormous machine. Everybody else in the orchestra plays their line alone: they have a certain autonomy, individual responsability and can hear themselves.  That doesn’t mean however that you don’t have alot of responsibility. You do – even as a tiny cog, if you dysfunction you can ruin it for the whole machine: make it grind to a halt fall apart. So you have a great responsability but you just only get a tiny amount of recognition – that all goes to the man who’s running the machine, who’s pushing the buttons. He gets to take the bow, the audience love him and if he ever gets mixed up with his buttons it is the musicians who fall into the big hole and get covered in mud.


Studies of worker health conclude that 3 factors are vital for worker satisfaction: autonomy, responsability and recognition. It is not the actual difficulty of a job that makes it stressful. The tutti string players main responsability is a negative one: not to stand out by making a mistake i.e no wrong notes, no counting mistakes and play in tune –  then nobody will notice you and youv’e done your job of being a good sheep !

Whereas orchestral players satisfaction levels were very low, quartet players satifaction levels were among the highest of any profession. Not surprising: working together as part of a small team but each one with a vital solo part i.e. a lot of autonomy and recognition.

Is it then surprising that so many orchestral string p

That is why it is necessary to be a very good technical player in order to be able to cope with the speed at which orchestras learn music. This is only possible when the actual playing side is very well automated.