Hard-to-find instrumentalists in bands and orchestras?
February 15, 2009 6:15 PM   Subscribe

In orchestras and/or marching bands, who are the harder-to-find instrumentalists - the instruments that you have to constantly scrabble to find someone who plays it, or is willing to?

Just asking out of curiosity, so don't worry too much about the answers. I'm sure big orchestras and philharmonics have no problem filling any position ... this is at the high school, college, community orchestra/band level.
posted by Xere to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oboe and bassoon spring to mind.

Double reed instruments are harder to play than the single-reed woodwinds. (Or so I've heard - I'm not a woodwind player...)

In marching band, the heavier brass could be harder to find willing participants.
posted by tomierna at 6:21 PM on February 15, 2009

Response by poster: Also for a friend's soon-to-be-formed community orchestra. Don't know who the players will be, don't know what instruments are coming. There's about five mind-bogglingly quick studies willing to learn these hard-to-find instruments.
posted by Xere at 6:21 PM on February 15, 2009

Marching bands usually have a hard time finding people to play tuba and mellophone/euphonium.
posted by downing street memo at 6:22 PM on February 15, 2009

In our HS band it was always hardest to recruit Baritone Horn, French Horn, Bassoon and oboe.
posted by genefinder at 6:28 PM on February 15, 2009

In string groups, viola is hardest to fill.
posted by cabingirl at 6:33 PM on February 15, 2009

In my experience: the double reeds win this one - the oboe, english horn and bassoon, contra bassoon; followed shortly by the flugelhorn and to a much lesser extent the french horn; and then we round out with the "other" woodwinds which are only needed occasionally and have great "faking" potential (these are derivatives of the flute, sax and clarinet: piccolo, alto flute, bass flute, Eb clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, soprano sax, tenor sax and bari sax).

Also, in many bands it is hard to find a percussionist who has good enough pitch to play the timpani (though I think this is probably changing with technology since these days it looks like you can pretty much push the C# button on the timpani and wail away).

Most viola players I know started as violin players and were "tapped" at some point or another to switch over. Harpists are a very rare breed.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:40 PM on February 15, 2009

For a Concert Band? Low brass and low woodwinds. Baritone/euphonium, tuba, bass clarinet, bassoon, alto clarinet, bari sax; tenor sax and oboe to a lesser extent. A good piccolo player is a ghodsend, but there's a reasonable repertoire you can put together without one.

Is it going to be a string orchestra, or a full orchestra? I know very little about string instruments and their relative popularity, but bassoon and tuba/baritone are probably the hardest winds to get for an orchestra; while I would expect that cello and bass are the hardest strings to find.
posted by jlkr at 6:43 PM on February 15, 2009

while I would expect that cello and bass are the hardest strings to find.

Cellos are not hard to find at the community orchestra level. I've been in groups where there were more cellos than violins.
posted by cabingirl at 7:11 PM on February 15, 2009

My college music professor says bassoon.
posted by Ugh at 7:16 PM on February 15, 2009

If you want a really obscure orchestral example, sometimes a cimbalom player is called for. Actually, the inclusion of the cimablom in the modern orchestra stems from one piece, Háry János by Kodaly, but there are a few new pieces that require the services of someone who can play this traditional Hungarian instrument. More often than not, percussionists learn it and those who do can supplment their salary quite nicely with the odd cimbalom gig.
posted by ob at 7:31 PM on February 15, 2009

Harpists can be hard to find for school/community orchestras, and you don't need them (us), so a lot of orchestras manage without them, but they broaden the possible repertoire.
posted by dreamyshade at 8:00 PM on February 15, 2009

I would also voter for Double Reeds, in the concert band. In marching band, I've haven't had too much problems recruiting low brass, but I make this a fun group in my band. Also, the hardest instrument to find in orchestra??? Harpists!!!!
posted by snoelle at 8:25 PM on February 15, 2009

Marching band: Mellophone for sure

@downing street memo
I don't know if it's just my school, but at UMD, we have no trouble getting people to convert to sousa. Only 5 or 6 of the people in our 16 person tuba section originally played tuba. The rest are converts from other sections.
posted by azarbayejani at 8:30 PM on February 15, 2009

Double reeds, French Horn and Harp.

While String bass, Tuba and Keyboard percussion players can be had, good ones are hard to find.

This doesn't really reflect the difficulty of the instrument, so much as the barrier of entry concerning price. While a quality American, Taiwan, or Japanese clarinet or flute can be had new for around $500, an oboe made of resonite with a modified conservatory keying system will set you back at least $1800 just to get into the club. A tough sell to the parent of a curious ten-year-old.
posted by sourwookie at 8:35 PM on February 15, 2009

Nthing French Horn. When I was in grad school, the director of the University Orchestra could almost always fill out the double reeds from people who were actually affiliated with the university, but never the French Horns.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:56 PM on February 15, 2009

Former bassoon player nthing bassoon. I have never met a bassoonist (myself included) who wasn't recruited out of another section (usually sax, for some reason) by a junior high or high school band director out of necessity.
posted by rebel_rebel at 9:44 PM on February 15, 2009

Nthing oboe and bassoon, famously so.
posted by desuetude at 10:07 PM on February 15, 2009

Also, lapsed and current oboe and bassoon players? Is all sexy, please keep playing. Thanks.
posted by desuetude at 10:08 PM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Me an another flautist were summarily thrown onto the French Horn in high school. Apparently the flute embouchure and breath control are great for horn!

Also definitely double reeds. I think we rarely had more than one of each.
posted by that girl at 10:13 PM on February 15, 2009

My son the composer and grad student says that a genuinely talented double reed woodwind player will have gigs for life.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:23 AM on February 16, 2009

As a bassoonist, I'd like to say that in the concert band and orchestral settings, I've never had problems finding gigs. Double for oboes.

If you're playing a higher level of music (or any classical music in orchestra), you're going to need at least 1, preferably 2 of each. It's one of the characteristics, especially in concert band literature, that separates younger band music from more complex, more robust, more professional band lit.
posted by SNWidget at 5:18 AM on February 16, 2009

As a young bassoonist, I benefited from the chronic shortage because I always got to play with people who were better musicians than me. As I improved, it meant that I could earn money at it, obtain a union card, etc. I was recruited from the clarinet section.
posted by carmicha at 5:47 AM on February 16, 2009

Agreeing with the hive mind-- unquestionably double reeds (oboe and bassoon) followed by french horn.

Alto and bass clarinet players are harder to find than soprano clarinet players simply because fewer clarinet players own the bigger (and more expensive) brothers of the clarinet family. Any clarinet player can easily transition over to alto or bass clarinet.
posted by andrewraff at 8:15 AM on February 16, 2009

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