Answers to your questions!
Have you always:
Wanted to know how oboists make their reeds?
Wondered why string players sit in pairs?
Yearned to ask about a particular harmonic progression in a Beethoven symphony?
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Are the musicians that play for the San Antonio Symphony full-time musicians for the symphony? And how much does the average musician make a year, for example a violin player? Does the concert master make more money? - Carlos
To answer your first question: yes, all of the musicians you see listed in our concert programs as members of the San Antonio Symphony are full time musicians. You might not see every single one of them on stage for every piece but that's because every piece has its own unique instrumentation based on whatever the composer wrote in the score. Some pieces need a tuba or harp and others don't but that doesn't affect the employment status of the players in question. They are still full time players.
The section players, or "average players" as you called them, were earning roughly a little over $29,000 last season. That would be the pay that a non-titled member of the 1st Violin Section such as myself would have earned. You might be interested to know that pay for the same position in the Dallas Symphony is over $90,000 and over $70,000 in the Houston Symphony.
Now, the Concertmaster is a different story entirely. The Concertmaster position carries with it a lot of extra responsibility and pressure because it is the single most important leadership position in the orchestra after the conductor. That person is responsible for setting the bowings of the string section which will determine how all the string players match their sound and bowing style; the Concertmaster is the
leader of the string section and, as such, the conductor's right-hand man (or woman) when it comes to getting the section to play as a unit; and, even as the leader of the string section, other sections of the orchestra such as the winds, brass or percussion will look to the Concertmaster for cues and phrasings as well; finally, the Concertmaster is also called upon to play a lot of solos such as the ones you may have heard last week in Scheherazade. Because of all of these responsibilities the Concertmaster is the highest paid member of the orchestra, often negotiating their own salary.
I hope I've answered your questions for you. Thanks for coming to the concerts and for your interest in the inner workings of the orchestra! - Craig Sorgi, 1st violin
I am aware of the status differences between the first and second violin chairs and the rest of the violin section. But is there any significance to the order in which the other violinists are seated? Does someone in the row behind as the Concertmaster have the same status/importance/seniority/etc. as a violinist seated in the last row of the section? Or is their seating arrangement functional? That is, are the violinists in the last row grouped that way because of the way their music is played? - Mara
As you noted, the First Violin section is organized in pairs of two that share a stand. The outside players all sit in a column directly behind the Concertmaster who is the all-orchestra leader; second in command to the conductor. The inside player who sits to his or her left is the Associate Concertmaster. In the second stand, sitting directly behind the concertmaster, is the Assistant Concertmaster. Those three titled chairs are fixed positions within an orchestra and everyone else in that section are called "section first violinists" and equal in hierarchy. Our job as section violinists is to blend and play together, and to follow the concertmaster. In the case of the San Antonio Symphony all of our section string players rotate our seating from week to week. It's a nice variety to sit next to a different stand partner every week, and I think it keeps us fresh.
You may have also noticed that the last couple of stands of First Violins (and Second Violins) are sitting on risers. This serves two functions:it helps the players to see their section leaders and the conductor AND it actually helps the sound to resonate better on stage.
That being said there are invaluable roles that individuals within the section must play. In any given piece of music a composer will divide the sections into multiple parts which helps to enrich the harmony and texture. A composer may indicate that a passage of music be divided into two, three, four or more parts within each section, so each individual may have a different musical line to play. When we first receive our music to begin preparing before rehearsals we must take into consideration which stand we are assigned and whether we are playing inside or outside because that will determine which part we play in divided passages. And, interestingly, there is at least one piece in which the solo line is given to the *last stand* of first violins just so it will sound very distant to the audience - the Elgar 1st Symphony, which we performed with Christopher Seaman in a recent season. -Aimee Toomes, 2nd Violin
The symphony of April 2 was filled with wondrous and new adventures in music. Perhaps the most perplexing one for me and my companion was the strange cylinder in the percussion section that was "cranked" to produce unusual wind sounds. What was it and what else can you tell us about it? -June
The wind machine you've referred to is exactly that, a wind machine. The proper name is an aeoliphone, but that's a mouthful so it's not really a word that is used except for the actual notation on the score. Wind machines have been somewhat replaced recently by synthesizers and digital sounds that can produce more realistic wind sounds and also give the performer more control of the volume. The main reason the cylindrical wind machine you saw is still used is due to performance practice reasons. Although it might not sound as much like authentic wind, we believe that it sounds authentic to the performances that the composers would've heard. Although there was wind machine on the concert stage last weekend, it is mostly used in the opera pit to accompany actual visual storms on stage. -Trent Leasure, Principal Percussion/Assistant Principal Timpani
I had never seen a contrabassoon before. Does the musician who played it play other instruments during the season? Will we hear this again? I enjoyed it very much. -June
Our Contrabassoon player/ 3rd bassoon is Ron Noble and you will definitely be seeing him play one or the other instruments in the coming weeks. Check out a recording of Ravel's Mother Goose Suite (movement 4: La Belle et Bete, or Beauty and the beast) for the ultimate Contrabassoon feature! -Aimee Toomes, violin
Answers to your questions!