Different kinds of musicians

Still thinking about this because of the pot that my last post stirred:

Orchestra/Section musicians: The session players of the classical world. Qualities would be:

1) The ability to handle any damn thing you threw at them technically,
2) The ability to realize someone else’s dream but to collaborate where the creator requests it,
3) The ability to work well in a group, and
4) The ability to blend musically.

Chaired players and section leaders require other skill sets, more managerial ones.

What you don’t necessarily want to do if you are auditioning for a spot like this:

1) Insist on your own interpretation.
2) Be too much of an individual.

Seriously. There is a place for people who do their best to disappear behind someone’s intentions. No, it’s not “any honest musician.” But it’s true for session players, which is what most orchestra players are.

Soloists: Same as ever. Qualities would be:

1) The inability to blend in.
2) Very, very clear ideas of how the music should sound.
3) The ability to accept other input, but
4) The ability to put their foot down and make the final decision.

I just want to state out loud that as problematic as it is to expect all musicians to fit into the “bland” orchestra mold, that it’s not there for no reason. It’s not any honest musician, but it is some of them. Session players must be malleable and highly adaptable, and take direction. If you’re being paid to realize someone else’s vision, then it is just not appropriate to fight for your vision at that time. In that situation, the ability to play anything with equal conviction is actually a plus. Orchestras that consists of 100 people who are all trying to go their own individual way don’t generally sound good, like the regional all-state one all too often crippled by a first violin section composed of nothing but thirty “best violinists in the school,” all of whom act like they are the concertmaster and none of whom will give anyone else an inch.

However, classical instruction shouldn’t teach only the ability to blend. Sometimes standing out is required, and technique can’t be the dividing line between which program a given student gets tracked into. “Occasionally blows the virtuoso runs” doesn’t necessarily mean “has the personality of a section player,” and there are many people who do have soloist technical skills who are not meant to be soloists: David Kim is the best example, who I mentioned yesterday. He has the technique to blow any tier-1 violinist out of the water, but he just doesn’t want to be a soloist. He’s a better fit for the more team-oriented concertmaster position.

Anyhow, all this is yet one more reason why there needs to be more than one path to “success” for trained classical musicians.