It’s coming up on summer again, which means it’s time for the annual reordering of the chairs. For reasons I’ll get into below, this isn’t going to amount to much. But having talked last week about some of the chair placement philosophies I’ve encountered in my checkered trombone career, this week I’m going to talk a bit about how they have adapted my personal philosophy on chair placement.
One of the big differences between what I ran into before the AWCB and after was that, with a few exceptions, almost every group I played in previously had been an academic ensemble with some sort of audition process. In the AWCB, we essentially take everybody that shows up, and as long as they follow the rules, they can stay and play. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re much more likely to kick somebody out for being a jerk than for being a bad player. This means that one of the primary considerations in assigning chairs is what people actually want to play, and what will make them happy. This goes back to those first experiences in the community orchestra. If I’m going to take somebody out of their comfort zone and make them play a part they’re not best at, I try to tell them as far in advance as possible so they have the opportunity to do the work necessary for them to succeed.
This has lead to some sticky chair placement situations in the past. We had, for a while, a guy who fancied himself a fantastic trombonist, but whose only real talent was playing loud. He couldn’t play fast, high, low, or quiet, and didn’t even play loud particularly well unless you like a really wide, spread, brassy sound. But he had attended a local music school, and claimed to have a degree from it, and essentially insisted on playing first because he felt he deserved it. We reached a bit of a compromise, in that I let him play first often enough to feel he was being respected, up until he blew a couple of prominent licks and the conductor uncharacteristically told me to not allow him to play first at all. He got insulted and left.
Summer provides its own set of issues, with vacations and distances that some people are not interested in driving for a concert. The most important things for these sorts of gigs are to remain flexible and make sure the parts are covered. For the most part, I try to keep stand partners together but spread parts out over the summer. This accomplishes three things: it maintains some stability, but gives everyone at least passing familiarity with the differences in parts, and makes things a little easier by ensuring that nobody is going to be playing first trombone for two hours.
For right now, a good part of the chair assignments take care of themselves. We have two players who like to play second, and one who likes to play third. I like to play first, whether I deserve it or not; I’m just more comfortable on the part, maybe because I’ve been playing it for so long. (I feel like I need to justify that, like I’m afraid to be perceived as the same as that guy in the third paragraph. I think pretty often that I need to check my ego and play another part for a while, but ego or not, I just like first parts!) The remaining folks, actually some of the best players in the section (including my co-blogger) are pretty easygoing about it, and will generally play whatever is needed. My personal preference, though, is to break up the better players so we have one on all three parts. This has been more of a concern in the past as the talent level has fluctuated, and we’ve had to try to shore up parts with extra players.
But for now, for the most part, it seems like everybody is happy where they are. I plan on asking one of our better players to move a little bit, and sort of reaffirm our seating now that it looks like we’re going back to a reasonably stable configuration for a while. But that’s not a bad thing, and it certainly makes my job easier!