June 18, 2020
Issue 07 2020

Clarihoes and bassic bitches: Life in the orchestra

Behind the outward facade of poise and decorum, orchestras are just as messy as your stereotypical American high school, with cliques and clichés that tend to fit most ensembles of musical misfits.

Your standard 80 piece orchestra can be broken down into 4 sections: strings, woodwind, brass and percussion, each as hilariously awkward as the rest. 

In the strings you’ve got the violins, firsts and seconds. The firsts are the genetically modified prodigies that could play Vivaldi before they learnt how to walk. There is a not so subtle elitism to the way they act because they know they’re better than you. They move an alarming amount when they perform, and you worry that the second chair is going to rip the page off on page turns.
The seconds are the ragtag bunch of not-as-good violinists that either didn’t make the cut for firsts or have ins with the conductor. Their biggest fear is getting called on and having to play by themselves during rehearsals, with beads of sweat visible all the way at the back by the timpanis. 

Next are the violas, who are just odd. No other way of putting it, they tend to be a little awkward, probably read online fanfic and cosplay for Armageddon. They’re the most bullied section in the orchestra, and you’re bound to find the most memes about them and piccolos. 

Cellos are basically first violins except Daddy had more money. Their hard travel cases are covered in stickers from all their tours and they know Saint-Saëns’s “The Swan” off by heart. 

The section principal takes their job way too seriously and will sometimes make the mistake of thinking they’re the principal for the double basses too. 

Speaking of, the double basses are the least problematic of the strings, and maybe the orchestra. They tend to keep to themselves, even within their section and just watch the drama unfold from afar. Typical of most of the bass instruments, most their time is spent waiting for their cue or playing one note per bar for 60 bars. They live in constant fear of snapping a string and being asked to play the Jaws theme song. 

If there’s a harp in your orchestra, they’re usually super humble and definitely have a sore back, like the double basses, from having to drag it everywhere.

We move onto the woodwinds, starting with the flutes. Usually very well put together, they’re punctual and behave themselves. They just want to be your best friend but will forget your name the second you tell them. 

Piccolos look adorable but will literally cut you. 

Clarinets are very busy and have a lot on their plate. They are very serious about playing the clarinet and will tend to double book themselves a lot. They own a minimum of 3 clarinets that live in an obnoxiously large briefcase and don’t tend to associate themselves to bass clarinets. 

Oboes tend to be given more responsibility than they really want. The entire orchestra has to tune to them and that’s a lot of pressure to always be in tune. They have sore lips from constantly impersonating a grandma and are always seen with a water bottle. 

Bassoons are a combo of the violas and cellos, i.e. oddballs, but tend to get a far greater number of solos. They get randomly checked at airports because the instrument literally looks like a rocket launcher. The woodwind section have their own group chat and don’t invite the rest of the orchestra to go bowling.

The brass are the more elusive of the sections, the only thing connecting them being spit (you’ll see what I mean). They’re the first to the biscuits during the tea break and the last back. The floor around them is littered with spit puddles that you’d be unlucky to step in.

The trumpets get the part melodies and have to do the least work to be loud. They are the last ones to stop playing when the conductor stops the orchestra and walk a fine line between loveable and cocky. 

Trombones think they’re so cool. During school visits they get the most attention from kids wanting to play with the slide. Emptying their spit valve ends up being an orchestra wide event because everyone needs to comment on how gross it is. 

French horns are the unsolved enigma of the orchestra. Half the time they’re paired with the brass, the other with woodwinds. They read books during breaks and can sometimes be seen with wrist braces. The most exciting thing they get to do is play fanfares and lift their bells up. 

Tubas give the best hugs, hands down. You can’t not love a tuba player because they’re helpful and supportive, all while cradling an instrument the size of a small teenager between their legs. 

The percussion have the most fun seeing as they just have to hit things to make music. It's magic how usually only a couple people end up playing 20 different instruments between themselves. The biggest mistake you’ll make is assuming it’s easy to play the triangle, because they will throw hands. 

Having just exposed the orchestra for the messy bitch that it is, you might be a bit uneasy - put off, even. But don’t let that stop you from going to a performance; just because the principal cellist is sleeping with the conductor, doesn’t mean they’re not going to play some damn good Mozart.