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 The Honest Person's Guide to the Orchestra

  The members of the orchestra are divided into four sections. These
are: the strings, the woodwinds, the brass, and the percussion.

  There is also someone standing in front of all these other folks
playing no instrument at all.  This person with the ego that is bigger
than some of the musicians is called the conductor.  It is generally
believed that the conductor is required to make musical decisions and
to hold all of the instruments together in a cohesive interpretation of
any given work.  Not so. But never tell a conductor this, because they
are easily offended.  The conductor is necessary because the four
groups would rather eat Velveeta than have anything to do with someone
 from another section.  And as we know, musicians are quite serious
about their food. 

  Why all the animosity? Before I begin my explanation, let me set the
record straight in plain English about some of the characteristics
which typify the four groups.
  String players are neurotic prima donnas who won't even shake your
hand for fear of permanent injury.  They are known to question the
musical ability of the conductor.  A string player will never look you
directly in the eye and they never bathe carefully ... or often.

  Woodwind players have IQs in the low- to mid- genius range. Nerds with
coke-bottle glasses and big egos, blowers who tend to be extremely
quiet, cowering behind bizarre-looking contraptions -- their
instruments -- so nobody will notice them. It is often difficult to
discern whether a woodwind player is male or female.

  Brass players are loud-mouthed drunkards who bully everyone - with the
possible and occasional exception of a stray percussionist.  They like
to slick their hair back. Nobody knows why.

  Percussionists are insensitive oafs who constantly make tasteless
jokes at the expense of the strings and woodwinds. They look very good
in concert attire but have the worst table manners of all musicians.
They are always male, or close enough.

  Now, is it any wonder that orchestra members have little to do with
anyone outside of their own section? For the answer to this and other
pertinent questions let us examine the individual instrument and the
respective -- if not respected -- players within each section.



  Let's continue now with the real truth about ... the strings.  We
begin with the string family's smallest member: the
violin.  The violin
is a high-pitched, high-tension instrument.  It's not an easy
instrument to play.  Lots of hard music is written for this instrument.
 Important things for a violinist to keep in mind are: Number one --
the door to your studio should be left slightly open so that everyone
can hear your brilliant practice sessions. Number two: you should make
disparaging remarks about the other violinists whenever possible, which
is most of the time. And number three: you should tell everyone how
terribly valuable your instrument is until they drool.  Violinists have
such big egos that the violin section of an orchestra in Germany wanted
their union contract re-written so that their section would be paid
“per note played” instead of “per concert” as everyone else is paid. 

viola is a large and awkward instrument, which when played, sounds
downright disgusting. Violists are the most insecure members of the
string section. Nothing can be done about this.  Violists don't like to
be made fun of and therefore find ways of making people feel sorry for
them. They wear shabby clothes so that they'll look as if they've just
been dragged under a train. It works quite well.

  People who play the
cello are simply not good looking. They have
generally chosen their instrument because, while in use, the cello
hides 80% of its player's considerable bulk. Most cellists are in
analysis which won't end until they can play a scale in tune or, in
other words, never. Cellists wear sensible shoes and always bring their
own lunch.

  Double bass players are almost completely harmless.  Most have worked
their way up through the ranks of a large moving company and are happy
to have a secure job in a symphony orchestra or anywhere. The fact that
it takes at least ten basses to make an audible sound tends to make
these simple-minded folks disappear into their woodwork, but why do
they drive such small cars?

  Harpists are gorgeous. And they always know it. They often look good
into their late eighties. Although rare as hen's teeth, male harpists
are equally beautiful. Harpists spend their time perfecting their
eye-batting, little-lost-lamb look so they can snare unsuspecting wind
players into carrying their heavy gilded furniture around. Debussy was
right; harpists spend half their life tuning and the other half playing
out of tune.

Pianists in the symphony orchestra work the least and complain the
most. They have unusually large egos and, because they can only play
seated, also have the biggest butts. When they make mistakes, which is
more often than not, their excuse is that they have never played on
that particular piano before. Oh, the poor darlings.



Flute: Oversexed and undernourished is the ticket here. The flute
player has no easier time of getting along with the rest of the
orchestra than anyone else, but that won't stop them from sleeping with
everyone. Man or woman, makes no difference.  The only thing that
flautists need to use for birth control is their personalities.

bass flute is not even worth mentioning.

  Piccolos, on the other hand, belong mainly on the fifty yard line of a
football field where the unfortunate audience can maintain a safe

Oboe players are seriously nuts. They usually develop brain tumors
 from the extreme air pressure built up over the years of playing this
rather silly instrument. Oboists suffer from a serious Santa Claus
complex, spending all their waking hours carving little wooden toys for
imaginary children, although they will tell you they are putting the
finishing touches on the world's greatest reed. Oboists can't drive and
always wear clothes one size too small. They all wear berets and have
special eating requirements which are endlessly annoying and are
intended to make them seem somewhat special.

clarinet is, without a doubt, the easiest of all orchestral
instruments to play. Clarinets are cheap, and the reeds are literally a
dime a dozen. Clarinetists have lots of time and money for the finest
wines, oriental rugs, and exotic sports cars. They mostly have no
education, interest, or talent in music, but fortunately for them they
don't need much. Clarinets come in various sizes and keys-- nobody
knows why. Don't ask a clarinetist for a loan, as they are stingy and
mean. Some of the more talented clarinetists can learn to play the
saxophone. Big deal. 

  English horn players are losers although they dress better than
oboists. They cry at the drop of a beret.

Bassoon players are downright sinister. They are your worst enemy, but
they come on so sweet that it's really hard to catch them at their
game. Here's an instrument that's better seen than heard.  Bassoon
players like to give the impression that theirs is a very hard
instrument to play, but the truth is that the bassoon only plays one or
two notes per piece and is therefore only heard for a minute in any
given evening. However, in order to keep their jobs -- their only real
concern -- they act up a storm doing their very best to look busy.

  It takes more brawn, and slightly less brain, to play
They are available at pawnshops in large numbers -- the instruments as
well as the players -- and play the same three or four numbers as the
tuba, although not quite as loud or beautiful.



Trumpet players are the scum of the earth. I'll admit, though, they do
look good when they're all cleaned up. They'll promise you the world,
but they lie like a cheap rug. Sure, they can play soft and pretty
during rehearsal, but watch out come concert time! They're worse than
lawyers, feeding off the poor, defenseless, weaker members of the
orchestra and loving every minute of it. Perhaps the conductor could
intercede? Oh, I don't think so.

  Trombone players are generally the nicest brass players. However, they
do tend to drink quite heavily and perhaps don't shine the brightest
headlights on the highway, but they wouldn't hurt you and are the folks
to call with all your pharmaceutical questions. They don't count well,
but stay pretty much out of the way anyway. Probably because they know
just how stupid they look when they play. It's a little-known fact that
trombone players are unusually good lovers. This is true. 

French horn. I only have two words of advice: stay away. Horn
players are piranhas. They'll steal your wallet, lunch, boyfriend, or
wife or all the above given half a chance or no chance at all. They
have nothing to live for and aren't afraid of ruining your life. The
pressure is high for them. If they miss a note, they get fired. If they
don't miss a note, they rub your nose in it and it doesn't smell so

  The kind-hearted folks who play the
tuba are good-looking and smart.
They'd give you the shirt off their back. The tuba is one of the most
interesting things to take in the bath with you. It's a crying shame
that there's usually only one per orchestra. If only it could be
different.  They are simply the most fun musicians to hang out with. 
There was once an old joke that two tuba players walked past a bar. 
Although this theoretically could happen, such an occurrence has never
been documented.



  And finally -- the
percussion. These standoffish fools who get paid
perfectly good money for blowing whistles and hitting things that don't
deserve the considerable space they are allotted on the stage. Aside
 from the strange coincidence that all percussionists hail from the Deep
South, another little known, but rather revealing fact, is there are no
written percussion parts in the standard orchestral repertoire.
Percussionists do have music stands and they do use them -- to look at
girlie magazines. Percussionists play whatever and whenever they damn
well want to, and it's always too loud! Whole percussion sections can
be seen and now and then on various forms of public transportation,
where they practice getting up and down as a group. This represents the
only significant challenge to a percussionist.

  The ones who have a spark of decency and intelligence play the
timpani.  Most percussionists are deaf, but those who play timpani
pretend to tune their instruments for the sake of the ignorant and
easily duped conductor.

  The guy with the short nose who plays the
cymbals is no Einstein, but
he's also one of the best guys to share a room with on tour. Cymbal
players don't practice -- I guess they figure it's bad enough to have
to listen to those things at the concert.

  And that just about does it. I trust that this little tour has
enlightened you just a little bit to the mysterious inner world of the
symphony orchestra. This world, one which is marked by the terrible
strain of simple day-to-day survival, is indeed not an easy one.
Perhaps now you will be a bit more understanding of the difficulties
which face a modern-day concert artist. And so the next time you find
yourself at the symphony, take a moment to look deeply into the faces
of the performers on the stage and imagine how much more difficult
their lives are than yours.  This is surely what's on their minds ...
if anything.