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Orchestra seats are mentioned in this answer but why are seats closest to the orchestra (or stage) called "orchestra seats"? They are certainly not in the orchestra. What is the history/origin of such an expression?

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  • @user66974 : the expression may seem intuitive but this may be due to the fact that we are accustomed to its common use. If you speak any languages other than English, you can check whether a literal translation makes sense there. Aug 15, 2023 at 15:42
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    True. I mentioned that in my question. But this does not answer the question of history/origin. Aug 15, 2023 at 15:47
  • Just to add a wild speculation: perhaps at some point informal concert halls were simpler than the version we have today, and actually had spectators sitting in the space allotted to the orchestra. I have no evidence for such a guess, though. @user66974 Aug 15, 2023 at 15:50
  • This seems like asking why are window seats next to the window?
    – Stuart F
    Aug 17, 2023 at 10:56
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    As emerges clearly from Graffito's answer, the reason they are called "orchestra seats" is not because they are next to the orchestra. Rather, they are in the space that used to be called the orchestra (literally, "dancing space"). Today that space contains spectators instead of dancers and singers. @StuartF Aug 17, 2023 at 14:23

2 Answers 2

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When referring to the architecture of Greek theater, the "orchestra" corresponds to the part of the theater located between the scene and stone tiered seating.

enter image description here source

The location of the orchestra corresponds to "the seats on the ground floor directly in front of the stage" where you find orchestra seats in modern theaters .

edit:
The orchestra (literally, "dancing space") was a level space where the chorus would dance, sing, and interact with the actors who were on the stage near the skene. As it is the place for singers and chorus, it is probably (to be confirmed) the origin of the term "orchestra" in the sense of musical group. Note that the first significant orchestra was Louis XIV 24 Violin-Family Instruments

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  • Does the original meaning of "orchestra" in Greek correspond to the meaning we have today? In other words, was there actually a group of musicians in the space of the purple circle in your illustration? Aug 15, 2023 at 16:05
  • The link to Louis 14 is broken. Aug 17, 2023 at 6:30
  • "Note that the first significant orchestra was..." Music for large instrumental ensembles existed before that.
    – phoog
    Aug 17, 2023 at 17:35
  • @phoog . Quote from this source : The Italian-born violinist and dancer Jean-Baptiste Lully revolutionised music at the French court in the 17th century , not only did he transform ballet entertainments into a spectacular new genre, the tragédie lyrique, but he set new standards in orchestral playing—with him the ‘modern’ orchestra was born.
    – Graffito
    Aug 17, 2023 at 18:53
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"orchestra seats" takes the form of {noun1 + noun2} with noun1 being attributive.

noun1 + noun2 is understood as "The noun2 that is/are contextually associated with noun1".

The contextual association is the proximity.

Edit to add:

The Greek origins of the word "orchestra" are interesting but of only doubtful use in explaining why "orchestra seats" are so called.

"Orchestra" in this sense given by Graffito is historical only.

The term "Orchestra seat(s)" did not appear in English until c. 1800

Google Ngram orchestra seat,orchestra seats

History of the Colored Race in America - Page 382 William T. Alexander · 1800

One man sprang from an orchestra seat upon the stage and shouted to " Stop him!

By this time "orchestra" was well established in its meaning of "an ensemble of musicians"

It is clear from OED

2.b.(a) The part of a theatre, opera house, or other public building where the musicians perform; (b) a building or structure for a band of musicians; a bandstand (now rare).

1724 Orchestra, is that Part of the Theater, where the Musicians sit with their Instruments to perform. Short Explication of Foreign Words Musick Books

that in 1724, "orchestra" was considered a foreign word and did not refer to the Greek concept of "orchestra".

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    As emerges clearly from Graffito's answer, the reason they are called "orchestra seats" is not because they are located in the "proximity" of the orchestra as you claim. Rather, they are in the space that used to be called the orchestra (literally, "dancing space"). Today that space contains spectators instead of dancers and singers. Aug 17, 2023 at 14:24
  • @MikhailKatz May I suggest that you read the question? "but why are seats closest to the orchestra (or stage) called "orchestra seats"? They are certainly not in the orchestra." This question presupposes the current meaning of "orchestra" - not the Greek version. The Greek origins are of little use. See the addition to my answer.
    – Greybeard
    Aug 18, 2023 at 10:56
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    Greybeard, indeed I originally assumed that the meaning of orchestra in the expression is similar to the current meaning of the term orchestra. It turns out that it is not, which solves the puzzle of the expression. Incidentally, I did not downvote. Aug 18, 2023 at 11:08

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