Have you ever run into a member of your local orchestra in the grocery store and actually known their name or recognized their face? Really? Was it because they were still wearing their concert clothes? What if they were in street clothes? Would you still recognize them? Chances are, it might prove to be a little more difficult without the wardrobe assistance.
I’m often struck by the level of anonymity that one can have as the member of a professional orchestra. Not to every member of the audience, granted, because there are the people in the first ten rows of the main floor who basically see the same people from less than 20 feet away for ten or more weeks per season. There are relatives and friends of the musicians who come to concerts (ah, the lure of free tickets!). Unless you are the concertmaster (tuning the orchestra counts for major recognition) or a principal player who has a prominent solo in a piece on the concert, chances are, you’re not going to be that well-known to the average concertgoer.
What does all of this have to do with taking a friend to the orchestra? Well, I think that by knowing that you’re not watching the monolithic unit called the Insert-name-here Philharmonic/Symphony/Orchestra, but instead a collection of relatively normal people who have many of the same problems, aspirations, and joys that you do, but just loads more musical training, will help make the first trip to the orchestra more enjoyable and less intimidating. And because happy audiences make happy orchestras.
Next time you go to a concert (or the first time), scan the program for the names of the musicians, then take a look at them as they warm up and prepare for the concert. Notice how there will be little clumps of conversation taking place as they come on stage. Yes, orchestras have groups of friends and cliques, too. Gossip runs rampant in the symphony orchestra: within ten minutes of an affair, illness, or job dispute, at least half of the orchestra knows about it, and the other half is lying. On average, there are 3 affairs, 4 divorces, and 2 pregnancies going on in any orchestra at any one time. There will be several people being probated under dismissal proceedings. Someone has cancer, another person just had their eyes done, and yet another is in physical therapy for the ravages of tendinitis.
Look at those two string players – did you know that they have sat together for twenty-five years, and they don’t speak to each other anymore? The clarinetist and flutist – they play tennis together every Thursday morning. There is a violist who is a photographer, a cellist who is a lawyer, and a double bassist who breeds and boards horses. Can you see how the orchestra, which plays so well as a unit, is really such a miracle?
There are anywhere between 85 and 105 musicians on stage who lead totally separate, normal lives. They have the same issues as you and I, but they come together under a conductor (don’t get me started!) and unite as a single, multi-faceted organism. So the next time you go to the symphony (or the first time you go) – take a little time and just look at the people down there – and see the orchestral trees for the forest.
– Charles Noble