Seating Arrangements

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The conductor determines the seating and rotation within the various sections of each orchestra. Competition for individual chairs is not a part of the WYSO program.

Seating is not based on the ranking of performers; rather parts are rotated from piece to piece (most frequently in winds and percussion), and from concert to concert. Every member of the orchestra plays an important role.

Playing Check-Ins are a great way for conductors to hear individual players, get a sense of growth, and choose a good stand partner that complement each other’s strengths.

Youth Orchestra Seating Explanation

Orchestra seating is not an exact science, but the following misconception is a common one and it must be immediately addressed. We do not stack players in quality and skill from the front to the back. First of all, such a hierarchy is impossible to arrive at. Furthermore, even attempting to do so would be a very bad way to organize a section.

The reality of the process is far more subtle. For instance there will be some players who had strong auditions who will sit further back in a section, and players who had weaker auditions who will sit nearer to the front. Sometimes, if a player showed good technical ability, but a tendency to rush, they will be paired with a more measured, deliberate player. Similarly, if a player seems to lack confidence, they may be placed in the middle/front of the section, in the hope that being surrounded by others will help them find confidence in themselves. Along the same lines, if a player shows great independence and proactiveness, they may be placed far back in a section, as they are less in need of the affirming voices of the other players. The takeaway is this: sitting at the front, back, or middle of a section is not an indicator of the importance of one’s voice. It is instead an expression of how the group can be most beneficially organized given each person’s particular mixture of qualities.

For however much we all obsess over our own personal preparation and accomplishment, remember that ensemble playing is about collective achievement. There is nothing wrong with striving for prominence and personal recognition. It is an admirable quality and there is an increasingly necessary place for it in this world. But making music in a group is not about that. It is about selflessness, collaboration with your fellow players, and service to the music. The smartest players figure this out early, and they have happier and more fulfilling musical experiences because of it.

Kyle Knox
Youth Orchestra Conductor

Philharmonia Seating Explanation

Your value and worth as a musician is NOT determined by the chair number you occupy!!! There are 100 students in the Philharmonia Orchestra and 100 chairs, with almost half of those chairs going to Violinists. Seating will rotate during the season, but more important is your contribution to the orchestra. There is a reason why the composer wrote every part the way he/she did. It doesn’t matter what chair number you sit or what part you play. Every single musician in the Philharmonia Orchestra is significant and plays a vital role in the ensemble’s success.

When seating members of the Philharmonia Orchestra I will take into account the players’ experience, leadership qualities, effort in rehearsals, attendance, strengths, and areas for growth. It is important that musicians who are new to Philharmonia or to WYSO are seated with someone who has been in WYSO/PHIL before. Those with potential leadership skills will be placed in positions to develop those skills. Musicians who have good attendance and give a strong effort at every rehearsal can also be placed in leadership positions. Taking into account players’ strengths for example, I need to be sure that the 1st trumpet or 1st horn players are secure in the upper register, while the 4th horn or 3rd trombone players have rich and confident sound in the lower registers. For the string players, it is imperative to your development that you have experience playing in the front, middle and back of your sections. You will develop different skills by moving throughout the section.

I was a violinist in the Madison Symphony Orchestra for over 20 years and during that time I was seated in the middle and back of the 2nd Violin Section. The truth is, the further you are from the conductor, the harder it is for you as a musician. You must continually use your eyes and ears in order to stay with the ensemble. In the professional orchestra world, you audition for whatever chair is open in your section. If the opening is for last chair in the Viola Section or for 3rd Trombone, if you win the audition that’s the chair you get.

Think for a moment about all of those students who auditioned to be in WYSO but didn’t “win” the opportunity to get a chair in one of our orchestras. But you did! Don’t take that for granted.

Michelle Kaebisch
Philharmonia Conductor

Concert Orchestra Seating Explanation

Seating arrangements, part and section assignments, and rotations for Concert Orchestra are based on a balance of myriad factors including the following considerations:

  • Spring audition results into the orchestra and accompanying judges’ comments
  • Spring sectional audition results (violins only)
  • Other conductors’ feedback from the students’ playing experience/ability in the previous year in another WYSO orchestra
  • Sectional coaches’ feedback from the previous year and throughout the current orchestral year
  • Demonstration of comfort and ability within certain ranges (high-, low-, mid-range of current playing capacity) on the instrument
  • Conductor’s weekly observations during rehearsals
  • Demonstration of ensemble skills (note: some of which are different than solo-playing ability) during sectionals and weekly rehearsals
  • Students’ weekly preparation for rehearsals and sectionals
  • Students’ interactions with one another
  • Conductor’s own need to become familiar with students (names, faces, and ensemble-playing ability) over the course of the year

From time to time within a concert cycle, I may change seating within the string sections based on the above considerations.  Within a cycle, sometimes, I may not make changes from my first seating chart, depending on the balance of different factors from above.  From cycle to cycle, however, rotations typically will occur.  (In the brass, woodwind, and percussion sections of Concert Orchestra, Philharmonia, and Youth Orchestra, the students already often rotate parts and are often based on range ability.)

When deciding the principal players within a section for any given piece (woodwinds and brass) or concert cycle (all sections), I look at a number of different factors, including all of the factors mentioned in the bulleted points above.  Some additional factors include weekly attendance and prompt arrival before the start of rehearsal and at the return from break, preparation of the music in all aspects of our current orchestral repertoire, readiness and ability to lead the section in a positive manner (especially in terms of musicianship, counting [or rhythmic strength] and entrances, bowings, ensemble playing, individual personality, and demonstration of the music through visual cues).

Throughout the year, I likely will rotate string section leaders to designate appropriate leaders as principal players in the front of the section and also to spread out leadership roles within/throughout the sections.  Seating in the sections is not based on “strongest in the front to weakest in the back,” which is one of the most common misconceptions about seating arrangements in a youth orchestra.  Oftentimes, a conductor/director will spread out strong players throughout the section to give the section its overall strength and allow projection of sound from the back, front, and within.  For this reason, different student pairings may be considered within and for different concert cycles.

Finally, the role of concertmaster is an orchestral tradition of which part of this position is to serve as a representative for the entire orchestra. (Thus, the concert tradition of the conductor shaking the hand of the concertmaster [as the orchestra’s representative] signifies the recognition and appreciation of all of the players of the performing ensemble.)  In Concert Orchestra, as in other orchestras, the role of concertmaster also must set a good example of timeliness (he/she must be ready to start the rehearsal on-time with tuning and starting the group) in addition to demonstrating strength in the areas listed above.

Christine Eckel
Concert Orchestra Conductor

Sinfonietta Seating Explanation

Seating for the Sinfonietta Orchestra will rotate on a weekly basis. By moving players around the section, students get to know each other better and it allows them the opportunity to develop a better sense of ensemble playing. It is important to keep in mind that performing up front does not mean they are better players, playing in the middle does not mean they are in the safe zone and playing in back does not mean they are the weaker player.

Placement in back usually means you are a strong, secure player with a good ear and an eye on the conductor. During the first few rehearsals, I will be selecting students with exceptional leadership skills and musicianship to be section leaders. These responsibilities usually change every concert cycle. Lastly, it is my goal to give your child the best musical experience possible and I feel that flexibility in seating helps in teaching early ensemble playing.

Geri Hamilton
Sinfonietta Conductor

Opus One Seating Explanation

Seating in Opus One will move frequently and has no bearing on musician’s raw musical ability. A common misunderstanding of seating is that first chair means that musician is the best, second chair means that musician is second best, and so-on. This is not true for Opus One or in professional orchestras! Every area of a section has an important contribution to the group, and the success of the group depends on having balanced sections with strong players in all areas – front, middle, and back! It is usually true that musicians who are strongest in their leadership skills as well as playing abilities are chosen for principal positions but strong players are needed throughout every section for a successful ensemble.

As a musician in Opus One, one week you may find yourself sitting next to someone who is a better musician than you – don’t be worried and try to learn as much as you can from sitting with them! The next week you might be sitting with someone who is struggling to improve a skill that you are really good at – be friendly and patient! Everyone is on the same Opus One team and we need to support our musical teammates each and every rehearsal and performance.

Some considerations for seating may include:

  • Experience

  • Leadership Qualities

  • Effort in rehearsals

  • Preparation for sectionals and rehearsals

  • Attendance

  • Strengths

  • Areas for growth

  • Interactions with others

  • Observation in rehearsals

  • Conductor needs to know students

  • Seating may change every one to two weeks in rehearsal with principal players remaining the same within a concert cycle (Sept-Nov, Dec-Mar, Apr-May).