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Principal Player

Definition: noun
A solo instrument within an ensemble or a leader of homogeneous instruments.  Each instrument section has a principal, but auxiliary instruments are also principals when they are playing in a solo manner.

For example: An English Horn player is a member of the oboe section.  When playing English Horn, they may be playing solos while the oboe section is playing supporting music with the other woodwinds.  In this circumstance, the English Horn is a "section of one".  Later, if the English Horn and oboes are playing tutti passages, the English Horn is part of the section and should tune to the principal.  

Let him keep his delusion
The concertmaster of an orchestra is the principal violin, but they are also principal player for the entire orchestra. Think of them as pope and the other principals as cardinals.  Auxilliary players are bishops, and then the rank and file are priests.  They all make up the clergy of the symphony orchestra.  Of course the conductor thinks he's Jesus Christ.  In my analogy he's not, actually music itself is the lord we serve.  (Many musicians of faith hold that any true beauty or art is a manifestation of God and that by serving music, we serve Him.)  We work with the composer and conductor to transport audience and musician alike into the world of music.  This is difficult for many conductors to understand, so we just let them think they are Jesus Christ.  It amuses us.

If you are ever in the unfortunate circumstance of having a poor conductor, the concertmaster is charged with leading the ensemble.  This can happen with great orchestras, especially in opera.  If a diva is so in need that the conductor simply ignores the orchestra, it is the concertmaster who steps up.  He/she likely has a good view of stage, conductor, and pit.  If the conductor is tough to follow, go with the concertmaster's interpretation of following this conductor.  Always situate your chair to see both conductor and concertmaster.
Timpanist has the right to play wack-a-mole with other players of his section

How a concertmaster can lead almost a one hundred players without violently waving around will the the subject of future posts on chamber music skills.

For percussionists, the timpani player is usually the principal.  In professional ensembles the timpanist is a separate job and principal percussion would head "the battery", but in most non-professional orchestras, timpani is the prized position for the back row.  Percussionists tend to be more egalitarian by nature and don't let positions and quibbling get them down, so this is generally just interesting news for the rest of us to know. 


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