This week I have no desk partner. I am like a little Norma No Friends, sitting on my lonesome at the back of the section. I look like I have been sent to the naughty step to think about what I've done (I definitely might have used a little bit of vibrato when I got carried away during Beethoven 9 the other night).
As you may know, in the string section we sit in pairs known as desks. This helps the flow of communication from front to back (someone can deal with the marking up of parts whilst the other continues to play), the blending of sound, the clarity of the divisi lines and uninterrupted page turns.
Our string section also works on a rotation system. After the numbered chairs, which are permanent seats always filled by the same people (generally the first two desks), the seat in which you sit changes, either with each programme or bi-weekly, depending on how your elected section rota manager chooses to work it out.
This has a number of practical positives. Firstly, you never have to spend all of your time at the back of the section. In the violas and second violins that would be a miserable existence as it would place you either directly in front of the high wind or directly in front of the brass, all day, every day.
Now, when I say that, I mean that with the greatest love and respect for my colleagues. If they are called upon to play fortissimo, then play fortissimo they must and it is the nature of their instruments that the sound often be quite penetrating. It is no one's fault, it is a simple fact of acoustics. However, without a doubt, sitting directly in the line of fire, as it were, each day, could eventually have a detrimental effect on a player's hearing.
Secondly, it gives you the opportunity to play alongside each of your colleagues. We have a fabulous viola section and I have learnt a lot from each of my viola colleagues since joining the orchestra.
However, this week the required string strengths meant that we would have an uneven-numbered viola section with someone sitting on their own. AND IT WAS ME (cue minor huff). I hate sitting on my own - it's more difficult to blend with everyone else; you've got to do all the secretarial work yourself but still not miss any of the playing out; you feel like a little viola peninsula separated from the main body of the viola island and you've no one to (quietly and discreetly) gossip with during the bits you're not rehearsing.
So, if you are at our Swansea Festival concert tonight (Thursday) or our Hoddinott Hall concert on Saturday, do give me a little wave. It's lonely back there on your own! I look like I've been sent to sit on the naughty step...