Orchestral Metapatterns

The Social Patterns of Orchestra

Herbert Reed once said, “These groups within a society can be distinguished according as to whether, like an army or an orchestra, they function as a single body; or whether they are united merely to defend their common interests and otherwise function as separate individuals” (“Orchestra Quotes Page 5-Brainy Quotes”). It seems that most, if not all social groups have many relationships and patterns that interact for a variety of purposes, such as order and stability (Bloom 330). However, these same patterns and relationships can be seen in science as well. These relationships may be hierarchical, holarchial, clonons, or holons; yet, within the orchestral setting hierarchies, holarchies, and holons are the most common relationships that can be seen.
In Phoenix, there are many youth symphony organizations. Since 1952, the Phoenix Youth Symphony (PYS), previously known as the Phoenix Symphony Guild, has provided the valley with the highest level of music education and instrumental training for youth. There are five ensembles within the program that make up the hierarchy of PYS, or as they like to call it, the “stair step program.” The highest and most prestigious ensemble to be accepted into is the Youth Symphony. This is the most advanced group in the program and performs professional orchestral repertoire at each PYS concert and for about 10,000 students each year through the Music Memory program. They also have the opportunity to perform side-by-side with the Phoenix Symphony each year. Symphonette is a full symphonic orchestra and the next step down from the Youth Symphony in which they perform increasingly difficult music throughout the year to develop their professional attitude and repertoire. Symphonic Winds is a wind ensemble that enables students to develop their individual and ensemble skills necessary for more advanced symphonic bands or orchestras, such as Symphonette and Youth Symphony. The String Orchestra is at the bottom of this hierarchy. The PYS String Orchestra accepts advanced elementary and middle school students, unlike the other groups who usually only accept high school students, who are ready to enhance their rehearsal and performance orchestral skills. Though Percussion is the final group and seemingly at the bottom of the hierarchy of PYS, the students in this ensemble also perform with Symphonic Winds, Symphonette, and Youth Symphony, making them a unique exception to the PYS hierarchy (“Phoenix Youth Symphony Ensembles”).
Though this program is explained as a stair step program, it is difficult to ignore the hierarchy relationships due to the way the program is set up. It is understood that those students who are a part of the Youth Symphony are significantly better than those in the String Orchestra and even Symphonette. Once students are accepted into a higher program, the power and control that each “higher” group has is present within both the social interactions between the students and parents as well. This can be seen in the politics between each group of parent volunteers for each ensemble group. For example, though my parents have been volunteers for the String Orchestra for eight years as well as help run many other events for PYS, such as the Young Musicians Competition or the reception after the teacher appreciation concert, the parent volunteers of Symphonette and Youth will doubtfully treat them as if they do not have the slightest idea as to what they are doing.
Hierarchy relationships are not only seen between each group of PYS, but can be seen within each group and section as well. For example, in an orchestra the conductor is at the top of the hierarchy pyramid. However, the concert master then answers to the conductor. From this relationship, each person within each section answers to the concert master; yet the 1st violins are viewed as the “better” of all the other sections. The 2nd violins, cellos, violas, and bass all follow the order of control from there. If it is a full orchestra, the woodwinds are seemingly better than the brass and the brass better than percussion. Within each section is a smaller hierarchy consisting of the principal chair and assistance principal with the rest of the section following these two important people. It is important to recognize that though an orchestra plays together, these leadership roles are important to hold each section together in order to perform as a whole. Though each section could likely perform without a designated principal, a hierarchy would still form from someone taking the leadership role.
Though an orchestra is hierarchy in nature, it is also a holarchy. A holarchy, as defined by Dr. Bloom, “is a nested system of layers in which the units within one layer are parts for the whole in the next larger, encompassing layer” (Bloom 330). In other words, each section of an orchestra is a layer that works with each of the other sections in order to work together as a whole orchestra. For example, the 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos, and bass work together to make up the string section of an orchestra and the woodwinds, brass, and percussion work together to make up the winds section. All of these sections or layers work together to make up the entire orchestra. Despite the hierarchy relationships discussed previously, an orchestra must function as a holarchy in order to develop and perform the music as the composer intended.
An orchestra also consists of holons, or each individual musician. A holon is a nonidentical, individualized part that makes up a whole, in this case the orchestra as a whole (Bloom 331). Each member and his/her personal style and technique helps create the layers of the holarchy. Without each holon, the music would not exist, nor would the holarchy be able to function properly. No matter where each member or holon sits in the orchestra, he/she still contributes to the beautiful music made as a whole.
With each relationship and pattern, other social situations can be explored as well within hierarchies, holarchies, and holons. In the hierarchy relationship there are animal societies and levels of ecological energy, pyramids and other architecture, but of course there are also governmental relationships that are hierarchical. Such government relationships can be seen in monarchies and dictatorships when one person is at the top of the theoretical pyramid and has all or most of the control with other people below them carrying out most of the work. Within the holarchy relationship solar systems are another great example. Solar systems consist of many layers, the planets, that make up the entire solar system and each planet assists with a function of the solar system and each solar system adds a different dimension to a galaxy. Democracy is also a holarchy when it is in its purest form, meaning when each person actually has a say in what the government should do. Finally, an example of a holon would be a planet as a part of the solar system. In society, a holon would be one concept a government works on as well as each family or each individual as a part of that society/government (Bloom 330-331).
When teaching students, having the students explore the patterns present in the world around them, including their interests and personal relationships, can help them think more creatively. When students are taught to see the connections and relationships amongst the details in life they may take for granted, such as their own morning routine or the clusters of pine needles on a tree, they are able to gain a deeper understanding of the lessons they are being taught. When people learning something, they make connections or changes to the neurons they have already built about that subject. Making these changes and additions to their knowledge enables the person to better store the information. Emphasizing patterns in a classroom will provide students with the ability to link the patterns in math, social studies, art, etc. with all the other subjects rather than thinking in a linear manner where they simply memorize information to pass a test and to remain separate individuals, defending their own interests.

Also, please feel free to watch the power point presentation that goes along with this analysis: orchestra_patterns_project.pptx

Works Cited

Bloom, Jeffrey W. "Appendix D." Creating a Classroom Community of Young Scientists. New
York: Routledge, 2006. 330-31. Print.
"Orchestra Quotes Page 5 - BrainyQuote." Famous Quotes at BrainyQuote. Web. 05 Nov. 2011.
"Phoenix Youth Symphony Ensembles." Phoenix Youth Symphony: Homepage. Web. 05 Nov.
2011. <http://www.phoenixyouthsymphony.org/Ensembles.php>.

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