Do the instruments of the orchestra have specific personalities?

I went to a high school that had a full symphony orchestra, and even back then I could see, as a lowly quirky nerdy bassoonist, that certain instruments attracted certain personality types. The brass players were brash. The woodwinds were varying degrees of studious and serious, depending on how many reeds there were on their instruments (in decreasing order from two reeds to none.) The trombonists were the clowns of the orchestra. The violists were invisible.

These tropes are everywhere in the world of symphonic music. Nothing excites musicians more than jokes about their instrument. (Why is a bassoon better than an oboe? Because a bassoon burns longer.)

But beyond the jokes, each instrument does have such a distinctive voice. I thought it would be fun to see what would happen if I mixed together the most famous melodies that have been written for a particular instrument. What fantastical character might emerge? Perhaps, a character with a magical story to tell.

Starting this weekend on CBC Music and on In Concert, the show I host on CBC Radio 2, the instruments of the orchestra come to life on Orchestral Tales, a brand new season of The Signature Series. I’m pretty excited to share this – I’ve been working hard on this along with Denise Ball, the executive producer of In Concert.

On the previous seasons of the Signature Series, you met personalities based on the major and minor key signatures.

On Orchestral Tales, you’ll meet vivid characters inspired by the instruments of the orchestra.

Follow along here – new tales will be published every Friday for the next ten weeks, starting on Friday, January 6th.

6 comments on “Do the instruments of the orchestra have specific personalities?

  1. Briony Penn says:

    HI Paolo,
    I heard the flute story and it made me cry. You are a master of sound and story. Thanks so much for everything you do. Keeps us grounded in this crazy time. Briony

    1. Paolo says:

      Dear Briony, it’s great to hear from you. I’m so touched to know the Flute’s Tale resonated for you in this way. Thanks for being in touch and thanks for the kind words. They are very much appreciated. Be well – all the best for 2017.

  2. Andrew Loveridge says:

    Quite apart from your musical knowledge, your storytelling is wonderful! Do you write all those stories yourself?

    1. Paolo says:

      Hi Andrew, thanks for your kind words! Yes, these are original stories that I wrote, along with the help of my wonderful editor, Denise Ball.

  3. Amanita says:

    Thank you for curating this series. This is exactly the kind of storytelling and music that I have in my mind, but couldn’t find anything like it. Until one day, while driving through a beautiful sunny day somewhere in southern Ontario, the signature series came along and I heard F major – the perfect companion.

    1. Paolo says:

      Thanks for your kind words! I’m so delighted you enjoyed it. (Nice to hear how you stumbled onto it, too!)

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