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

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