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 another chair story
Author: Philip Caron 
Date:   2018-01-25 07:52

Coming up through high school first chair in our 1st clarinet section was held by the best player, which always happened to be a senior. Competition was pretty stiff; two good clarinetists lived and taught in our town, and there was rivalry between their students. Band was big in the community too, so the sections were pretty large. It was a good high school band.

As a junior, to my surprise and others', I won first chair during the annual placement auditions the first week. The senior who expected to win that chair, and who placed second, was a good friend of mine. He studied with the other teacher. The conductor permitted individuals to challenge for a higher chair at any time during the school year, and in fact it was encouraged. That almost never happened, but during that year my friend the senior challenged me four separate times.

Several kinds of audition were used for those. Usually the conductor would pick passages from our folder that we would take turns playing. Sometimes he'd throw in sight reading. One time it was a blind private audition where the conductor had his back turned and we were each allowed to pick our own music to play. The rest were in front of the whole band, and once the conductor had all of them vote on the winner instead of himself choosing. Each time I was chosen to keep 1st chair.

I hated the auditions & challenges and felt embarrassed at how they went. My friend always got upset; one time when the conductor pronounced his decision, my friend loudly demanded "WHY??" right in front of everyone, and I wanted to fall through the floor. I never sought first chair or any limelight at all, and I would probably have been as happy, and surely less stressed, in a lower chair.

Outside of band I tried to ignore the situation, but unfortunately my friend became less friendly after each contest and grew moody and threatened to quit band etc. Toward the end of the year he became hostile. One time he punched me in the face while I was asleep. That was after I placed higher than him at All State, and also at a solo competition that coincided with All State. My bruised cheek hurt for a week. He just walked away and ignored my questioning him about it.

There was more, but anyway it was a relief to get through that junior year. My friendship with the other guy was never close afterward, though we retained some friendly terms. He went on to a prestigious college and majored in physics and switched to oboe.

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 Re: another chair story
Author: zhangray4 
Date:   2018-01-25 09:32

People take chair placements too seriously...its becoming ridiculous. Thanks for the interesting story, and I'm sorry you had to go through that in your junior year. junior year is stressful enough

-- Ray Zhang

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 Re: another chair story
Author: nellsonic 
Date:   2018-01-25 10:36

Yet another story, but a happier one.

When I was in 7th grade a new 6th clarinet student from out of state showed up on campus and we became great friends almost immediately. Starting the next year we were in competition for first chair. This went on through high school and even into college briefly. Honor groups and youth orchestras - same thing. In middle school we had a standing appointment with the assistant band director once a week to conduct a challenge.

All this competition only made us closer and better musicians. Now I have a full time lessons studio and he's the band director at a middle school nearby. We have students in common and both love to relate to them how competition can either make you and your relationships stronger - or destroy them.

It all depends on whether you use competition or let it use you.

We are both grateful to have had the other in our life growing up, both for the lifelong friendship and the much greater musical strength we helped each other to develop as an important part of the friendship.

I'm always a little bit sad when one of my students is first chair with no real competition because I know that they may be missing out on a key element of discovering their true potential.


Post Edited (2018-01-25 10:37)

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 Re: another chair story
Author: MSK 
Date:   2018-01-27 05:39

My Senior year of high school there were two of us in close competition for first chair. However audition results placed us both below the person all expected to be third. We both challenged him and placed 1-2 ahead of him, with me in first chair. The band director permitted monthly challenges and the other person proceeded to challenge me monthly all year. I go so sick of it, but probably would have done the same thing in his place. It was a tfriendly rivalry and probably made us both better players. The other person had a slight edge over me in fast technical passages and I had the advantage in tone quality and musicality. It forced us both to improve our weaknesses.

Now my high school age son is in a band where they can't challenge. Auditions take place in the spring of the prior school year - about six months before concert band season starts. It can be quite frustrating for the person who had an off day at auditions - or worse yet made significant improvement in the intervening time. I think it probably makes the students a little lazy too. It seams like there should be a middle ground between no challenges and constant ones.

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 Re: another chair story
Author: Musikat 
Date:   2018-01-27 06:35

We had weekly chairs in high school and it did force me to get better and stay on my toes. In 9th grade it was just our grade in the lower band and the rule was you could only get challenged by one person at a time. I was first chair but had two girls in my section who just hated me and they challenged me every week! I always won, except for one week where I misheard what the band director said to play and one of them beat me. For three weeks I would try to challenge the new first chair and she would say her friend was already challenging her. Finally I got smart and told her I was challenging her in TWO weeks. I won that seat back and kept it the rest of the year.

The following year we joined the larger band, made up of 10-12 grades. I was in the first section and those two were in third. I guess all that practice and competition paid off, for me at least!

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 Re: another chair story
Author: donald 
Date:   2018-01-27 07:17

To put this in perspective, there are a number of people teaching at University level in USA ("Doctors" of clarinet), at least one new appointed to a prestigious college, who were never "1st chair" at all state etc (and who were, in their teenage years, considered the bottom the barrel to put it brutally). Once you grow up it will all be meaningless.

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 Re: another chair story
Author: Ashle TK 
Date:   2018-01-28 22:41

I am a freshman in high school and it has not been the most positive experience for me either. During marching band, I would get comments about how the juniors and seniors were worried about me, but when the chair auditions came around, and I got first chair in the upper band, I was treated as an outsider by my section. I guess they assumed that as the seniors graduated, they would move up to the next chair. I feel like I always have to prove myself and that I am only where I am because of the clarinet that I have or that I am a favored student of the band director. It comes down to a very big Whatever......

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 Re: another chair story
Author: dorjepismo 2017
Date:   2018-01-29 09:25

A lot of things distort reality in high school, but still, one thing that's sort of missing is why it matters to people what chair they have. It might seem obvious, but really, there are several different potential answers. Some folks in the amateur scene here say it doesn't matter to them, and some of them mean it, but it really does matter to me. It's a lot more satisfying to me musically to play the tune than to play harmony, and if you talk about first chair and playing the solos, there are some really great musical things you can do playing the solos that you can't do sitting in the section. It's worth practicing your butt off to do something like that. But if it's just status or ego, that's something else. One thing the amateur scene has over high school is that if you do nail first chair and there are other people who look at it the same way you do and have done the work to become good enough to handle it, you can often negotiate letting them play some of the solos too. Doing that is how you know it's about the music, and not just status or ego.

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 Re: another chair story
Author: apaul001 
Date:   2018-01-30 23:55

Chair struggles (and indeed, most high school experiences!) are a bit thematic of the rest of life, aren't they? Think about it: where are you going to find the most adolescent behavior: where the adolescents are. Compound that with the fact that music departments are fertile ground for behavior motivated by insecurities and ego, and you have a perfect storm. Over time I've learned three lessons: 1.) I was never the best, but people noticed the areas in which I excelled. I'm not the greatest technician, but am happy with my tone and expression. What has been of most use to me in adulthood is the leadership and community building skills I learned through music. Band leaders and conductors noticed that, too: in both high school and college I won the awards for leadership and community. Younger players wanted to be in my section or squad. I was regularly sought out for advice and help. I work in the corporate world, where you better believe I can put that stuff on a resume, but putting "1st chair" would just get a lot of blank stares in my workplace. 3.) Like the song says, sometimes the truth is all you get. In high school, the second section was the best place for me, it was that simple.

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