Flute: Like the violin, the flute is an instrument that faces the fiercest of competition, starting at an early age. Constantly wary, flautists can’t show any sign of weakness, and will act overly confident even if they don’t feel that way inside. This will sometimes manifest itself in excessive upper-body movement while playing (it should be noted that piccolo players will either A. move way too much, or B. sit stoically straight with only the occasional jerk of the head to the right on emphasised notes).
flautists are wonderful musicians, and often don’t get the credit they deserve, as people tend to view them as fluff, or generally not as cool as other instruments. But I have never been in a group where I wasn’t impressed with the flute players. They are classic type-A’s. Competition and sheer will power drive them to be studious practicers (maybe the most studious in the orchestra), they always watch the conductor, and they play at an extremely high level. This can sometimes lead to frustration when the other instruments in the wind section don’t maintain the same level of perfection.
Unfortunately, I must add that, while there are always plenty of exceptions to the rule, flautists tend to not have much of a sense of humor. If someone makes a joke, the brass will laugh, the violas will snicker and look at each other for special viola-section-laughing-bonding-time, and the flutes will have a confused smile on their face expressing “wait, was that the punch line?” or “I know this should be funny, but I’m not sure how.” If the conductor tells a joke, however, the flutes will be all over it. “Haha, you are so funny.” I think this sad lack of funny bone stems from the fact that they are so focused on the music and their instrument that it’s hard for them to let their guard down and relax.
Oboe: Crazy. There’s just something about the oboe that either A. attracts crazy people, or B. makes people crazy once they’ve played it for a certain amount of time. Because of this, you really get all kinds within the oboe section. But the one thing that is consistent is the quirky factor.
My individual experience with oboe players has been that I really like them and enjoy their company, or I can’t stand them. I have been blessed to know some truly wonderful, albeit strange, oboists – I even was roommates with one for a year and loved it! But on the other end of the spectrum, some of you will also remember my arch nemesis, the snooty oboe player. So I swing either way when it comes to oboists, and hardly ever fall in the middle ground.
Although there is a huge variety of weird in the oboe section, here’s what we do know: Oboe players are tough. The oboe is one of the most difficult instruments to play, and it takes diligence and fortitude to get past the beginning years filled with squeaks, squawks, and comparisons to our fine feathered friends (let me take this opportunity to apologize to all the oboe players I called “ducky” throughout the years). Another thing we know is that oboes are non-conformist. They didn’t pick flute or violin, they picked a hard instrument that’s pretty rare in most school music programs. They’re not ashamed of their quirks, and they don’t particularly care what others think of them.
Clarinet: This is my instrument, so I may not be the best judge.
The clarinet stereotype has got to be dork. And I must admit that telling someone (especially a non-musician) that you play the clarinet is not a very glamorous thing. “Oh… I think my mom played clarinet in band.” Clarinetists aren’t particularly stylish and chic, but they are good at blending in (just like their instrument). Generally, clarinet players are not as uptight as flautists and go with the flow.
Like Shrek, clarinet players have layers. Your first impression might be that they are quiet, dorky, and a little awkward. But upon further inspection, you might find that they are funny, dorky, and entertaining. Once a clarinet section has bonded (after the initial awkwardness), they will start their own little clarinet sub-culture that goes largely unnoticed by the rest of the orchestra. This may involve dozens of tiny origami creatures, playing passages in parallel minor seconds to annoy the flutes during breaks, and discussing the topic “if you were a road sign, which would you be?”
A clarinetist constantly battles with reeds, mouthpieces, ligatures, barrels, and bells – trying new products, switching things up, and generally experimenting in hopes of attaining the perfect setup. A clarinetist’s nightmare involves a huge squeak in a soft, exposed passage and/or reeds splitting in the middle of a performance (that one’s happened to me!).
A clarinetist’s sense of humor would have to be described as “jolly” and “geeky.”
Bassoon: The bassoon section is one of those where you get all types. I’ve known the broody bassoonist, the drama queen bassoonist, the overachiever bassoonist, and yes, the infamous communist bassoonist.
What we do know about bassoonists is that they are dedicated and love what they do. They have to if they chose to play an instrument with twelve thumb keys (yeah… clarinet only has one).
I love the way that the wind section is set up in the orchestra: flutes and oboes in the front row, and clarinets and bassoons in the second row. I generally get along with my reedy neighbors, although they tend to be even quieter people than clarinetists.