Is it unprofessional for pro orchestra players to sway around during a concert???

I live in Dallas and have seen a few classical concerts played by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I recently saw a concert by the SMU(Southern Methodist University, our local major university) orchestra. It was kind of comical how much movement was going on while people were playing their instruments. I’m talking about people really ‘feeling it’ and emoting themselves physically while playing. Sixty or so musicians all waving around in different directions looked pretty odd. I don’t recall seeing anything similar in a professional orchestra. The only time I recall seeing this at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was when someone was playing a stand up solo, but the rest of the orchestra sat pretty much still while playing.

In professional orchestras, are musicians supposed to stay relatively still while playing?

Not sure there’s any hard and fast rule, though if it’s enough to be distracting to the viewer it’s probably not a good thing.

I saw a Seattle Symphony performance where my friends and I swore the last chair second violin was trying to fly away. Then again the chorus in my DVD of the BPO playing Beethoven’s 9th under Karajan it is pretty humorous how robotic the chorus looks. Though this discrepancy may be due to the 20 year difference in time than anything else.

Different musicians have different styles, and I guess the only limiting factor would be a possible collision with others. Here in Cleveland, one of the most lively musicians is the first chair second violins. But being a section leader, I suppose it’s his way of keeping his section motivated. All in all, I’d much rather watch a lively performer than a wooden one.

And what about conductors? There’s a huge difference in animation.

At a higher level, there’s a greater degree of unity in the approach to phrasing and so on, whereas the individual movements the OP observes suggest players were at odds with one another over finer details of the shape of the music. Another matter is the need for professionals, doing this all day every day, to have an absolutely balanced and stress-free posture, and also that to develop the most advanced technical abilities often means avoiding unnecessary movements which can get in the way of what one is actually trying to do.

The first chair on the first desk of the second violins, though, would be considered the leader of the second violin section, who acts as a sort of liaison between the rest of the second violins and the conductor. It can also be useful for other players- fx. if you know something you play is together with a string group, it is a good idea to keep an eye on the leader of that section (and the other on the conductor, still) to be sure that you are absolutely together, especially if it is something minute that the conductor is not going to give a singular cue for.

I’m speaking here as a woodwind player, but this would hold true for everyone else in the orchestra, too.

I am not a musician, I know nothing about music, but this gets my vote. I would bet that “movement” is not all that condusive to good technical skills and doesn’t help in any way…

Interested in the answers so far. My kids are far from pros, but all performed at high levels in HS and college, and we often discussed this. Seems like certain clarinetists were the main “emoters” in concert bands. And pianists covered every inch of the continuum. As I recall, my kids said it pretty much depended on the individual, tho the conductor’s preferences had a great deal to do with it. I know my kids seemed to get upset whenever they saw someone visibly tapping time with their foot …

As an audience member, I always found it somewhat distracting. Impressed me as unnecessary “grandstanding.” But much of the time the kids who swayed excessively tended to have exceptionally high opinions of themselves.

Moved from General Questions to Cafe Society.

General Questions Moderator

Generally speaking, I would agree with you. I’m most familiar with singers, but the better the technique the less extraneous movement and tension in random body parts. Sometimes the emotion just gets a hold of you, but if someone is constantly moving and swaying and “emoting” I start to wonder if there isn’t something wrong with their technique.

Then again, there are people like Glen Gould who prove the rule. A mass of extraneous movement, but the guy could play some Bach.

I’ve never seen an orchestra live and in person, but I have seen Itzaak Perlman on TV. The dude is more spastic playing his violin than Joe Cocker singing at Woodstock…

Movement can be a means to an end. Lots of musicians develop weird tensions that hamper their technique. To a certain extent, as part of the learning process, movement can be a good thing to promote relaxation. But once you hit a certain technical level, all movement becomes more purposeful and you can perform beautifully, and emotionally, with an amazing amount of stillness.

Speaking of unprofessional orchestras, this orchestra, lead by THE John Williams, has seen better days, I’m sure.

Movement doesn’t bother me as long as it’s rhythm.

I have seen still orchestras, and others with what are surely choreographed large-scale movements. Everyone sways with the same timing and in the same direction, etc. This has to be arranged and approved by the conductor.

I’ve never seen something in between, and I suspect it would be due to a conductor who is simply not interested in exercising much control. And I’ve never heard of one like that. So my guess would be – inexperienced or bad conductor.

An obvious exception is swing or jump blues orchestras. I have a DVD of the Brian Setzer Orchestra where they have choreographed sections that are the coolest, daddy-o!

Note that the OP was observing a student orchestra - i.e. the inexperienced element is the players!

You sure he wasn’t just . . . walking? :wink:

But seriously, I’ve seen Perlman in recital from just a few feet away, and yes he moves a lot, but that’s expected from a virtuoso soloist, as opposed to performing in an orchestra. But even more animated than Perlman is Nadia Salerno Sonnenberg, who is capable of expressing the gamut of human emotions . . . but not inappropriately. The other extreme would be the late Erica Morini, who played with her eyes closed, and almost looked like she was playing in her sleep or under hypnosis.

Yeah, all that movement is a major pet peeve of mine. I’ve played in many bands over the years (symphonic-type bands, big band jazz bands, jazz quartets, and rock/funk bands), and I’ve seen it all. For the most part, it is all 100% showmanship and it falls into two categories:

One: a dude who is really not all that good of a player and has a pretty good sized ego. This is the guy that is swaying all over the place during a performance and during rehearsal, and the stuff he is playing is not all that hard, and he’s not even putting that much ‘emotion’ into it. Just being douchie for douchie’s sake.

Two: a dude that knows that people are paying to see a show and performs as such. One of the best guitar players I ever played with would be crazy on stage during gigs when ripping out a solo: contorted face, ‘trick moves’, big swaying, etc. The crowd would go wild. But during rehearsal he would rip out an equally impressive solo just standing there using proper guitar technique. Actually, it was usually a better, more musically interesting solo since he didn’t have to worry about jumping all around. Point being is that there is no need for a really good musician to act like that to be able to do his job.

Back to the original OP and orchestral performances. All the individual swaying is ridiculous. If I’m paying to see a performance of an ensemble symphony piece, I want to ‘see’ the ensemble… not a second violin or bassoon player grooving out. It is an affront to the piece you are performing, because people paid to hear that piece of music… not see you. If you want to go sway around, become Itzaak Perlman and have people pay to come see YOU do your thing in front of the orchestra. I’m not saying that musicians need to be motionless automatons, some swaying is natural and acceptable, but conductors do let it get out of hand at times. For example, take a look at some of the military bands (the Marine Band, Air Force string ensembles, etc). They don’t move hardly at all, and you’d be hard pressed to say they are not some of the best at what they do.

Also, as far as a section leader conveying instructions to the section… that can be done in many incredibly subtle and unobtrusive ways that do not distract.