Welcome to FIM Flint Symphony Orchestra!

We’ve been around for over 100 years and are excited to share our music with you. If you’ve never been to an orchestral concert before, you probably have some questions. We’re here to help!

The symphony orchestra is made up of lots of different elements coming together, so there’s plenty to learn. Don’t let that intimidate you! It’s also an amazing and unique musical experience unlike any other. A little bit of background information will help enhance that experience, so let’s get started.

What is an orchestra?

Let’s start with the basics. An orchestra is a large instrumental ensemble which combines instruments from different families – strings, winds, brass, and percussion. The specific instruments played in an orchestra depend on the music. For example, the instruments used in an orchestra performing Bach (from the Baroque period) are different from an orchestra playing Mozart (from the Classical period). The modern orchestra can range from 70 to over 100 musicians, depending on the music and the size of the concert hall. Standard personnel for the Flint Symphony Orchestra consists of 76 musicians.

What is classical music?

Classical music is largely rooted in European tradition. It was written for both religious (liturgical) and non-religious (secular) contexts. Classical music has evolved in both style and complexity over the years, and most of what you hear was written starting in the year 1600 all the way through present day. 

Although there are many variations in classical musical, its defining characteristic is complexity. So, what does that mean? Well, most classical music has lots of moving parts, all happening at the same time. Musical elements like rhythm, phrasing, texture, and harmony can be completely different, but all work together to make up the music you hear.

What is a symphony?

A symphony is a classical music composition written by a composer for an orchestra. It is made up of separate distinct sections (usually four) called movements. When you’re listening to a symphony, you will hear a brief pause in-between movements. This signifies that one musical idea is finished, and the music is moving on to something new. Even though they’re different, all movements in a symphony are written to be presented as one piece of music. You will often hear melodies or musical themes repeated across movements.

What is a conductor? 

A conductor is the leader of the orchestra. On stage, the conductor stands with their back closest to the audience on a platform, called a podium. They move their arms in different patterns and may hold a baton (which looks like a wand or stick). FSO’s conductor & Music Director, Enrique Diemecke, does not conduct with a baton. The arm movements help guide the orchestra through the music by keeping time (tempo) and signifying dynamics (loud, soft, etc). The conductor spends a lot of time studying the music to decide how their orchestra will perform it. Most conductors read off a full score, which is the musical notation for all instruments in the orchestra. Maestro Diemecke is known for conducting from memory and without a score. Conductors usually start their careers as musicians, and work hard to gain an advanced understanding of instruments and music in order to lead the orchestra. Musicians in the orchestra often refer to their conductor as Maestro from the Italian word meaning master or teacher.

The Musicians 

The Flint Symphony Orchestra has between 76 and 100 musicians, depending on the music being performed. The musicians play an instrument from one of four different instrument families: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. Each musical piece is written for a specific instrumentation, or number of instruments to perform that music. Certain instrument families have extra instruments, called auxiliary instruments, that are only required for certain pieces. Some examples of auxiliary instruments are the piccolo (a smaller version of the flute) or an alto trombone (a smaller version of the trombone). Some pieces also use additional keyboard instruments, like piano or pipe organ.

The Instruments 

Strings: Violin I, violin II, viola, cello, double bass

Woodwinds: Flute (auxiliary: piccolo, alto flute), oboe, (auxiliary: English horn), clarinet (auxiliary: Eb clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet), bassoon (auxiliary: contrabassoon)

Brass: Horn, trumpet (auxiliary: cornet, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn), tenor trombone (auxiliary: alto trombone), bass trombone (auxiliary: contrabass trombone), tuba, baritone horn/euphonium

Percussion: Timpani, snare drum, tenor drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, tambourine, wood block, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, cortales, tubular bells, mark tree, sleigh bell, bell tree

Keyboards: Piano, pipe organ, harpsichord, accordion, celesta

What is a concertmaster?

The concertmaster is the leader of the first violin section in an orchestra. After the conductor, the concertmaster is the second-most important leader. The concertmaster plays the primary violin solos and is usually the most skilled musician in the section. They also make decisions about bowing (which direction the violins move their bows and when) and other technical details.

The concertmaster can lead rehearsals and perform other leadership duties in the conductor’s absence. A key concertmaster responsibility is leading the orchestra in tuning before rehearsals and concerts. Tuning is where the concertmaster stands up and cues the first oboe player to play the tuning note, which is an “A.” The concertmaster tunes his own instrument, then signals for the rest of the strings to tune their instruments, followed by the woodwinds and brass. Once the orchestra tunes, you know the concert will start soon.

Rehearsals & Preparation

The orchestra participates in a number of rehearsals prior to each concert, similar to the way a sports team practices for games. The number of rehearsals usually depends on the difficulty of the program or if there are special performers, like soloists. However, many orchestras have a standard number of scheduled rehearsals to prepare for a given concert. Each member of the orchestra has the responsibility of preparing their part of the music before stepping foot in rehearsal. Rehearsals are for coordinating all of the individual musicians’ parts into one overall cohesive performance.

Sometimes, only certain sections of the orchestra are called to be at a rehearsal. If it’s only one section, this is called a sectional (ex: string sectional, woodwind sectional). A sectional is used to work on a specific part of the music that isn’t necessarily difficult for other members of the orchestra.


An audition is held for individual musicians to earn their place in the orchestra. When someone leaves the orchestra, an audition is held to find a musician to fill that position/instrument. Each instrument/musician has specific pieces of music to learn for an audition, and the musician performs them in front of a panel of judges. Many auditions are “blind,” where the judges don’t see the musician – only hear them. Auditions can be very competitive, and musicians work and practice hard to earn their seat in a professional orchestra.