What is an orchestra?

"What is an orchestra? An orchestra is a community where the essential and exclusive feature is that it is the only community that comes together with the fundamental objective of agreeing with itself. Therefore, the person who plays in an orchestra begins to live the experience of agreement. And what does the experience of agreement mean? Team practice ... the practice of the group that recognizes itself as interdependent, where everyone is responsible for others, and the others are responsible for oneself. ... Agree on what? To create beauty. What is it then, that the orchestra has planted in the souls of its members? A sense of harmony, a sense of order, implicit in the rhythm, a sense of the aesthetic, the beautiful, the universal, and the language of the invisible. That language of the invisible transmitted unseen through music."

- Jose Antonio Abreu (founder of El Sistema in Venezuela)


“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. ... if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
– Henry David Thoreau

“Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.”
– Pablo Picasso

“When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”
Jacques Yves Cousteau

On Music: “It is the only sensual pleasure without vice.”
– Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English author

“Conducting is like holding the bird of life in your hand: hold it too tight and it dies, hold it too lightly and it flies away.”
– Sir Colin Davis

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
– Sir Winston Churchill

“If you feel that your particular need for music stretches beyond the range and repertoire of one instrument then you have to turn to the orchestra. This, of course, involves you in a lifetime of never catching up with great works, but of simply running after them and seeing if you can get a bit closer. If that satisfies you, if that’s what you want, then you ought to be a conductor.”
– Andre Previn

“One has the feeling that one was sent to earth with a mission, a service to perform through music, and that one should never think of one’s work as a career but as a vocation. And one must go on for as long as one’s powers allow.”
– Karl Boehm

“You’re always you. You can’t be anyone else.”
– Dustin Hoffman

“I have just looked through the score of Nielsen's Symphony The Inextinguishable. I will not criticise the work, because one finds in every piece something on which to build.
– Leos Janacek (June 11, 1921)

“One cannot be humble enough before such a privilege of getting glory and acclaim, not only from using someone else's emotions, but also from having someone else express them for you.”
– Dimitri Mitropoulos

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
– St. Francis of Assisi

Richard Strauss watched Sir Georg Solti rehearsing Der Rosenkavlier and said: “You enjoy it too much. Let them enjoy, not you.”

“If they took away all my paints, I’d use pastels, if they took away my pastels, I’d use crayons, if they took away my crayons, I’d use a pencil. If they put me in a cell, and stripped me of everything, I’d spit on my finger and draw on the wall.”
– Pablo Picasso

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

– Thomas Jefferson

“Action is the foundational key to all success.”
– Pablo Picasso

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
– Pablo Picasso

“If ever your musical instinct wants you to do something different from my markings, please obey your instinct.”

– Jean Sibelius

“If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.”
– Gustav Mahler

Pierre Monteux reportedly described conducting as like riding a horse, in that most of the time, the horse is fine without direction, but is completely helpless without it at certain critical moments. The rider’s job - or the conductor’s - is to know when to intervene and when to stay out of the way.

“He can who thinks he can, and he can’t who thinks he can't. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.”
– Pablo Picasso

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
– Pablo Picasso

Ruskin’s counsel: “For two days’ work you ask two hundred guineas?” Whistler: “No, I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.”
– altercation during Ruskin’s lawsuit against Whistler

“The artist is the person who is going by his gut ... and they can’t work any other way. Failing is not the worst, committing a sin is worse. Not failing, committing a sin. Putting something out there that is safe and that you think: ‘well, I won't get hurt, it’s worked before’. It’s kind of a sin because you’re denying yourself your gift.”
Dustin Hoffman

“Conducting an orchestra is a fantastic experience. Me and a magnificent one-hundred-and-five-horse carriage working together. I can rein them in or release them to go with the music.”
– Zubin Mehta

“Without resistance you can do nothing.”
– Jean Cocteau

“You know my opinion of metronomic indications: they are true for just one measure.
– Claude Debussy

In one of the rehearsals for the premiere of La Mer, Debussy is reputed to have said to the conductor Chevillard, “un peu plus vite ici.” So Chevillard said: “mon cher ami, yesterday you gave me the tempo we have just played.” Debussy looked at him with intense reflextion in his eyes and said: “but I don't feel music the same way every day.”

“Rhythms are stifling. Rhythms cannot be contained within bars. It is nonsense to speak of 'simple' and 'compound' time. There should be an interminable flow of both.”

– Claude Debussy

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties; you alter the difficulties or you alter yourself meeting them.”
– Phyllis Bottome

“Unless you do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” – Ronald E. Osborn

Thomas Paine -- the great American pamphleteer, patriot and dreamer, wrote: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
“En art comme en amour, l'instinct suffit” - Anatole France
“Il faut toujours que ce qui est grand soit attaque par les esprits petits” - Voltaire
. . .

Poetry & Quotes from other literature

“...No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee ...”
- John Donne - Meditation 17

Quotes by conductor Eugene Ormandy

I'm sure you will enjoy reading these humorous quotes by conductor Eugene Ormandy (click here).

And along those lines, this quote could also pertain to conducting:
"If I were in this business only for the business, I wouldn't be in this business."
- Samuel Goldwyn

Favorite quotes from films

“Anything can be great. I don’t care, bricklaying can be great, if a guy knows. If he knows what he’s doing and why and if he can make it come off. When I’m goin’, I mean, when I’m really goin’ I feel like a... like a jockey must feel. He’s sittin’ on his horse, he’s got all that speed and that power underneath him... he’s comin’ into the stretch, the pressure’s on him, and he knows ... just feels... when to let it go and how much. Cause he’s got everything workin’ for him: timing, touch. It’s a great feeling, boy, it’s a real great feeling when you’re right and you know you’re right. It’s like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue’s part of me. You know, it’s a - pool cue, it's got nerves in it. It’s a piece of wood, it’s got nerves in it. Feel the roll of those balls, you don’t have to look, you just know. You make shots that nobody’s ever made before. I can play that game the way... nobody’s ever played it before.”
– Fast Eddie (Paul Newman) in “The Hustler”
“in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
- Harry Lime (Orson Wells) in "The Third Man"