What’s it like to play in a symphony orchestra? I’ll start with one of the basic principles: All string players are communists.
As a brass player, one of the first things I noticed was that we had one person to a part and string players had ten or twelve. They had to play together, even use the same bowings. They had to interact. They had to… cooperate. I don’t cooperate. I’m a brass player.
Brass players are strong. We’re independent. We sit one-to-a-part and everybody can hear us, so there’s no place to hide.
Woodwinds also play one-to-a-part, but that's where the similarities end. Brass players strut; woodwinds cower. Brass players are sloppy; woodwinds are neat. Brass players shrug off mistakes; woodwinds live in fear of them.
Go to a concert early sometime. Take your binoculars and check out the oboe players. They don't just bring their instruments; they carry surgical kits: knives, pliers, thread. They set up shop and operate on their reeds, stopping to try them out, tooting like an injured duck.
Woodwind players are also paranoid. You see them lurking outside the rehearsal hall, shoulders slumped, eyes glued to the ground. Those are the same halls where you find brass players discussing football and scarfing up cheeseburgers. The string players are the ones huddled off to the side, voting on bowings and animal rights.
You'll notice I haven't mentioned the percussionists. There's a reason for that — namely, no one’s sure what these people actually do. They sit in the back of the orchestra, reading a book or dozing off. Then suddenly, without warning, they jump up and start hitting things.
You’ve probably figured out by now that my opinions are strictly those of a brass player. If I were an oboist I'd probably tell you that brass players are loud and obnoxious. Then again, if I were an oboist you wouldn't be hearing this, because I'd still be working on my reeds.