Chamber vs. Section Players

I love to play chamber music! So many beautiful works were written for small ensembles, and were intended to showcase each and every musician. But what happens when the one and only person playing that part decides to leave out a measure, or drop out for an entire phrase? Now that depends on the musicians playing as a whole.

This applies to small string ensembles as well as rock bands (sometimes, they are both at the same time, like Violectric.)

If the musicians are used to working together and have rehearsed ad nauseam, then usually the concert goers will not notice much because the other musicians in the ensemble will keep playing and hope that the person who has missed notes or entrances will find his/her place again in the music. It is even more difficult when all the parts are memorized. I always listen to all the parts and learn where to “cue in” on a specific entrance. When someone else misses their cue, it can throw off the whole balance. I know when I miss something, others also can be shaken.

You can’t hide in chamber music!

In a typical orchestra string section, there are usually a dozen or so other people playing your exact same part. If one person misses a measure, then the audience will usually never know as there were probably 11 other people playing it. It is easy for a player to “hide” in the section. Granted, this usually means that they will rarely be featured on a solo as part of the orchestra, unless you are the concertmaster. For those musicians who have stage fright or are scared to death of playing solo, being a “section player” may be the perfect job for them. I know several good musicians who are just terrified of someone actually hearing them play solo, and they love being in an orchestra. Unfortunately, some section players use the orchestras to hide their playing inadequacies. Or they may think “No one will know if I didn’t practice since all the others in my section will cover for me.” WRONG!!!!

This is where I applaud orchestras and employers who actually do a screening or audition process on musicians. There are some musicians who totally freak out at auditions (I was that way until I started doing lots of solo work), but play comfortably and confidently when in a section or ensemble. Still, there are those who hide in the section. Those musicians do not realize that their stand partners are relying on them to know their parts, too! What if no one ever practiced and we all just came in and sight-read a concert? Yes, it can be done by the best sight-reading professionals, but why go to all the trouble of rehearsals? Even the casual audience can usually tell when an ensemble is “tight,” and this is even more visible/audible in a small chamber ensemble.

In a rock band, if a drummer decides to not beat for a measure, the band will probably stop and wonder what happened. Same thing if the lead singer decides to leave out a phrase in the middle of a verse. We rely on each other to know their parts and to know them well. This is one of the items that separates the amateurs from the true professionals.