Meri’s Musical Musings

The joy of playing second parts in orchestras

Posted on: November 9, 2015

I may be unusual, but I prefer and enjoy playing second parts in orchestras. And yet, so many people only want to play the first part, and much orchestral training on orchestral parts for all instruments are mostly on the first parts. However, if you are a violinist or a wind player on most parts, one is most likely to enter an orchestra playing second parts.

In some pieces, especially when there are canonic or fugal sections in a work, the second part players have to be far more secure rhythmically than those on the first part. Smetena’s The Moldau has sections which the first and second clarinets pass off the sixteenth note runs, and average to poor rhythm counting skills quickly leads to a breakdown of the effectiveness of these passages. Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream also has the second clarinet taking the baton from the first to continue the passage.

Another reason I enjoy playing second parts in orchestras is that it is generally far less painful on yours and the ears of people who live with and near you, such as in an apartment building or townhouse complex.

Third, I like playing second parts in orchestras because conductors appreciate a strong second part player! There’s even a saying that says that sometimes the players in orchestras that don’t want solos are more highly valued.

Fourth, playing second parts well builds your middle register skills, because there are a lot of passages that lie around the middle 3 lines of the staff that are somewhat to very difficult on most instruments, and an excellent facility in this part of the range can make rehearsing music go a lot faster. Ravel’s Bolero, for example, has many bars of quick low to mid register crossings on the second clarinet part, which the first part there is MUCH easier.

Finally, I like playing the second parts in orchestras because I get plenty of exposure to chamber and solo music, and like the change of far less pressure to play perfectly early on, especially if the mistake is not in an easily heard part of the range of the instrument.

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  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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