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How do I handle this as concertmaster?


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I am new to the forum and have a question
about how to deal with a power struggle as concertmistress.  I
have been the concertmistress of a community orchestra for about 3
years now.  I am one of the youngest members of an orchestra
that has been around for 20+ years.  There are some regular
members, but generally the orchestra has different people with each
gig.  We usually rehearse 2-3 times before a concert, which
has a mix of classical musical and show tunes.  It is never
possible to receive the music in advance to mark bowings (believe
me, I have asked), so I do that during and between
rehearsals.  I have experienced good and bad things that come
with being concertmistress. 


Recently, I’ve been having a power
struggle with a couple of members in my section who have a lot of
seniority in the group.  They are very vocal when they
don’t like a bowing.  Many times they have told me how
they play “this section” differently in another
orchestra or how “this” should be on a down bow. 
Once in awhile I take their suggestions, but most of the time I
don’t.  If I took every suggestion offered to me, there
would be much rehearsal time wasted and the section would be pretty
inconsistent.  During my last rehearsal, one of these women,
in front of the whole orchestra blurted out loudly to the conductor
that she needed more bow on a certain note and couldn’t play
it in one bow.  I believe she did this to get me to hear yet
another suggestion.  I was really embarrassed.  I changed
bow just to shut her up.  Was that a good way to handle
it?  Should I have not changed?  Should I have said
something back to her?  What does one do when they are
challenged in front of their whole orchestra?  Is it petty to
fight back? 


The weird thing is that these two members who
hassle me about the bowing, will compliment me about how I played a
certain solo or ask me how to position the microphones on their
instrument during a concert.  Sometimes they are nice to me
and other times they attack me.  Is this normal? 

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My dear, you have come up against the usual failings of us humans! We like pre-eminence.

Have a little talk to the group in general.

I suggest you say exactly what you have said here - that to accept every suggestion would throw the rehersals into termoil and suggest not to cause embarrassment by making critisisms in public. Also say that you will welcome any suggestions and help which will improve their performance but to give you time to consider it before making a change.

Maybe you could suggest that someone would like to take over your position and do the required work.

I wish you well and say that to have such a position will be full of difficulties but will bring great rewards.

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Welcome...hello to the forum....

Quite fascinating.....sorry to hear about your troubles.

Firstly, this is quite normal stuff, so don't feel bad. Secondly, it is not your fault that they are behaving this way. Certain orchestras have these struggles all the time. I have been there (oh, yes siree) but there are ways around the problem. If you are the Leader by merit (i.e. you are clearly the best player) then here is my advice.

Listen to your players and consider their advice, but ultimately make your decisions and stand by them. In pro orchestras the issues of bowing are easily dealt with - the leader's decision is final. We all have to play things upside down, back to front, in the opposite way to the time before and all these things, but I only ever make changes when something is clearly crazy......it saves time to keep things as they are and I often state that something "isn't my personal preference" but arguing over the point will acheive very little. You know whether things "work" and if a player struggles with it, be strong (and say they must stick to it) but also give them the "right" to do it their way if things are realy too tough. I allow my players to take the odd extra bow ( I give them carte blanche!) but then most of them don't because they'd be embarrased to mess up the section.

Sadly, strength of character will always out....you need to be firm but also like a counsellor to their inferior ability/experience. I have had one or two players "removed" that won't play ball. Last time I, and a local "concertmaster" appeared for the same community concert. He was close to quitting (being so shocked as to bow to my position). I said plainly, and without giving an inch "if after this weekend you feel that you should have been sitting here, then I will gladly back down for the next concert"....."but you will have to be better than me....and that's going to be darn hard".

Needless to say........

PM me if you need....


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We have a new concertmaster. Prior to her assumption of the post, she (supported by the conductor, who also attended) invited all of the first violin section out to lunch. They had a wonderful time, and I think she cemented her relationship with the section. (Like you, she is younger than most, if not all, of her section.)

It may not be too late to try the social approach--have the orchestra pay for the luncheon (definitely worth the cost) & insist that the conductor attend.


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Thank you for all the advice.  It is much
appreciated.  Even though I’m been concertmaster for 3
years, I have been in the orchestra for about 6 years.  I have
been a stand partner to almost everyone in the section at one time
or another, including the two women who are hassling me.  The
previous concertmasters weren’t really consistent.  They
did what they wanted to do in terms of bowing and would change
their minds almost every other time they played a piece of
music.  The bowing was very inconsistent.  Now I’m
trying to make bowing consistent and I have some resistance.


I don’t think this woman’s suggestion comes from the
fact that she can’t play the bowing the way it is
marked.  I think she would rather just do things her own
way.  If she wants to stick out in the section and bow it
differently that’s fine with me.  But now I feel like I
can’t bow things the way I want if she feels differently
because she’ll just blurt out that she doesn’t like it
and then I look like I don’t know what I’m doing.
 The conductor is not a string player and therefore
doesn’t really know much about bowing.  I can definitely
defend my bowings, but I don’t want to have an argument in
the middle of rehearsal.  When she has given me a suggestion
in the past and I haven’t taken it, I have explained to my
reason behind my bowings, but I don’t think she really
cares.  She sees things her way.  Other principal players
in the group just tell me to leave things the way they are, but how
does one do that when someone in the orchestra is constantly
interrupting the conductor to get their own way?


My stand partner joked that I should do the bowings as requested
during rehearsals and do what I want during concerts.  Not
that I would do that, but for all the hassling I’m going
through it is an interesting idea. 

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Good luck! A typical type of problem in a community orchestra where the notions of professional hierarchy are not necessarily respected. The conductor's role, even if he does not understand string playing, is to support you. He should stand up for your decisions on bowing without question and make clear to the others that you rule on those matters. That said, you may still want to try to get on the good side of the difficult folks to the extent possible without compromising what you think is crucial. However, if the conductor is unwilling to give you the support you need, you may wish to go to an orchestra where you will get that support. An orchestra is not a democracy, as my conductor is fond of saying.

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I'm sure you realize that if these other players do not have "enough bow" to play as you have marked it, they are probably playing it wrong and too loud.

There is a lot of bad fiddle playing that goes on in community orchestras. you are probably aware of what and where it is, since you have been a stand partner to all the other players. Perhaps some sectional rehearsals might fix things.

(Of course, I know how stubborn old players can be - been there, doing that!)


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Originally posted by:
crazy jane

new concertmaster supported by the conductor, who also attended, invited all the section out to lunch.

It may not be too late to try the social approach--have the orchestra pay for the luncheon (definitely worth the cost) & insist that the conductor attend.


Yeap, that would be the way to go, I think, too.

As to getting the parts in advance,

surely this could be managed with a little cooperation

of the conductor again and the librarian?

Worth a try anyway.

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I understand your predicament, as I also am a female concertmaster of a similar, although maybe slightly more professional, orchestra.

Many years ago, when I was for the first time concertmaster of my conservatory orchestra, the conductor took me aside and blasted me for trying to be liked, rather than being a leader. He said I could not have it both ways - there would always be someone who would disrespect me, whether I tried the nice approach or acted the more assertive leader role. That was one of the the hardest, but best, lessons I ever learned.

I hate to bring gender even into it, but it IS part of the problem - I doubt that a male concertmaster would be as likely to be challenged, by women or by other men. I personally loathe the term "concertmistress" - my gender has nothing to do with my mastery of my instrument. Every time we get a new manager of the orchestra I have to make sure that I am listed in the program as "concertmaster, " because they always think they are doing you a favor by making you a "mistress." (sounds way too much like "the other woman" -- someone who is assuming a role she has not earned.) I know not everyone feels as I do, but I personally think that women have to work harder to be respected in such a position.

One way I combat the attitudes behind me is to be always superbly prepared. Usually even the most ornery section violinists will grudgingly come to respect me if I'm prepared, and if I treat them with courtesy and respect (that does not mean necessarily taking their suggestions!) I do try to make a point to say "great job tonight" or "our section rocked today!" I try to act as professional as possible, and that includes such things as walking on stage to give the A briskly and confidently, leading the standing up and sitting down with energy, standing tall, and always giving the conductor a firm handshake. Those things do add up.

I'm not sure that I agree with the advice about taking them all to lunch. Maybe it would work, depending on the group. On the other hand it might make them feel even more familiar and free to offer their suggestions. But I think you have to expect that in a way "it's lonely at the top." It used to bother me a lot, but by not being defensive, by being well-prepared, and by asserting my leadership I have gotten to the point that the orchestra mostly respects me, and I am friends with most, but am not bothered any more by the ones that want to challenge me.

Hope this helps - I know I'm a bit late to the discussion - just have been busy and haven't been on the board recently. Welcome to Maestronet, and please feel free to PM me.

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Welcome, Lilylynne.

I think T_D's comments are right on, from his and your perspectives as leaders. He's writing about being the kind of concertmaster who makes me most comfortable, as a section player. From my perspective a stand or two back in the section, I'd say that I personally would not appreciate rehearsals being interrupted by other section players making suggestions to the leaders. There is no time for that, and it might make it necessary to waste still more time adjusting bowings for other sections. I think other players feel the same. I notice that when section players speak up in this way - it's very rare in our orchestra, as a more professional tone is set by the conductor and the attentive attitudes of section leaders - other players tend to stare at their stands or their instruments in embarrassed silence.

Since your orchestra seems somewhat less formal now, maybe a slightly different tone could be set by the conductor. You might discuss the waste of rehearsal time with him, and ask that he respectfully intervene when your - ahem, "rivals?" - interrupt, and decline unnecessary "improvements" on your bowings, perhaps even with the explanation that there isn't time, if he feels he must explain. Or with whatever other disarming but quashing comment seems appropriate. You may be concertmaster, but the Conductor hopefully is qualified to be regarded as El Supremo, and needs to act like it, just as you do.

Good luck! Hope your job gets easier. I think it's unconscionable that you have to bow parts during rehearsals.


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My past experience as a long-time community orchestra cm is this, based on the fact that the talent pool is so diverse and unpredictable:

- minimize bowing alterations to save time and frustration.

- last minute changes are a no-no.

- accept that the conductor's talents and etiquette may also be an unknown.

- meet challenges with a smile and a standard phrase "try it my way if you can."

- never criticize performance, but praise good efforts.

- never single out anyone.

- be available to demonstrate IF ASKED.

As cm, I am the technical boss of the orchestra. The conductor defers to me for HOW to achieve what he/she wants. The members look to me for consistency more than anything. I demand more of myself than I do the members, so they can follow by example. Finally, I expect that none of the above may be happening at any given time. Community orchestras are wonderful training grounds and social gatherings, filled with spirited volunteers who can come and go more or less at will. So the bar is set lower. There is a limit to what can be expected (including bowing late arriving sheet music). The rank and file are not professionals in either talent nor deportment, and squabbles and dissention is unavoidable. How loud and disruptive it becomes depends on how much attention I give to them.

One last thing. True, the orchestra is not a democracy, but it does offer one democratic principle if it is quietly assumed: gender equality. I have never witnessed bias one way or the other while the musician concentrates solely on the music.

I hope you can find something of value here.

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The fact that the conductor is not a string player is essential in this problem: you'll not get any support based on knowledge and experience!

A conductor should support you without any restriction. Maybe it's worth to discuss this with him? If the conductor realises the effects of different bowings he/she will fully support you.

As a concermasteress you have the authority to dictate a certain bowing. It's amazing that it's not accepted. Some people cannot handle authority.

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I had another rehearsal last night and all I
hear is complaints.  I guess it doesn’t help that the
complainers are sitting right behind me.  Thankfully their
bowing complaints were only about a couple of pieces and not every
single one.  There is always something they (2 people in my
section) are not happy with.  One of them claims that I was
not being consistent, to which my stand partner turned around and
exclaimed that I am playing the music exactly as it is marked.
 That silenced them from complaining aloud for the rest of the
night.  I guess I’ll just have to accept that there will
always be unsatisfied people.


I have thought about talking to the conductor,
but I don’t think that he is too concerned with bowings or is
aware about what is going on.  Also, since I am the youngest
in the section, I don’t want to look like I can’t
handle what is going on.  If he were to intervene, I’m
afraid that people who don’t like what I’m doing would
just tell him that they thought I was clueless in leading a section
and/or bowing. 


I’m pretty shy and have had to grow into
being concertmaster.  I may not be the concertmaster with the
most obvious presence, but there are things that I bring to the
table.  I can play difficult passages (which some of the
section can’t play) accurately.  I also come in on time
and can adjust to any changes well.  I have the knack for
memorizing music fairly well, which when you are playing outside
(with the music blowing away from you) comes in handy.  I have
an ear for phrasing.  People in the orchestra are impressed by
how I play the solos in certain pieces.  They compliment me on
my phrasing.  That was how I was first noticed as
concertmaster.  My bowings can be that bad.  I guess you
can’t please everyone. 

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Just remember that the conductor's job is to back you up in the choices you make just as your job is to help him implement his vision of the music by making those choices. If he is not willing to do that, he is deficient as a conductor and should not have chosen you as concertmaster. So, if there comes a point at which you feel you need to draw a line in the sand, you should go to him and get him to back you up.

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