What Is a Pops Orchestra?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

A pops orchestra is a musical ensemble that plays popular music. They perform pieces that, although requiring the same basic instrumentation of a traditional orchestra, deviate from the more traditional classical repertoire. All of the works played are well-known, although the concerts may center around a variety of musical styles. These types of orchestras are made up of serious musicians, but the atmosphere surrounding the concerts is somewhat more relaxed than for formal classical orchestras because the emphasis is on providing some fun for the masses.

A pops orchestra plays classical music, as well as other genres.
A pops orchestra plays classical music, as well as other genres.

Pops orchestra concerts originally started as concerts designed to emulate lighthearted concerts provided in Europe. Often held out-of-doors in the summer, the concerts also came to be known as promenade concerts, but pops orchestras perform in concert halls and similar venues, as well. The first concerts featured not only light classical music, but also music theater and patriotic pieces. Contemporary concerts still feature these styles of music, but concerts can even feature film and video game, jazz or rock music.

Pops orchestras play in concert halls and, sometimes, outdoors.
Pops orchestras play in concert halls and, sometimes, outdoors.

In terms of size, pops orchestras can be as small as one player per part. Other pops orchestras are mammoth by comparison, having 75 to 100 members not including any choir members who may work with the orchestra. This occurs primarily when the orchestra performs for a national or international event, with performances often broadcast over television and radio. More commonly, the size of the orchestra is around 50 members, the same as for regular orchestras, but even pops orchestras of this size may have their concerts broadcast. The event at which the pops orchestra performs, in addition to the theme of the concert and instrumentation of selected pieces, has an impact on pops orchestra size.

It is not unusual for pops orchestras to invite talented soloists to perform as part of pops orchestra concerts. This ultimately depends on the specific pieces the pops orchestra director wants on the program. In some instances, the headlining soloist plays a major role in attracting attention to the pops orchestra concert and getting people to purchase tickets to the event.

The distinction between a pops orchestra and a regular orchestra is not always clear cut. Many orchestras labeled and known as traditional orchestras perform at least one pops orchestra concert per year, especially Christmas and other holidays such as the 4th of July in the US. Other orchestras do pops orchestra concerts only. Regardless of the orchestra's status, the public usually receives pops concerts very well because of the type of music performed.

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Discussion Comments


If a well-known soloist is scheduled to play as a part of a pops concert, he/she can really bring in the crowds. They add a lot to the mood of the performance. They are usually very upbeat and animated when they perform.

Sometimes, even a vocalist or a group will sing parts of the concert accompanied by the orchestra. This adds variety and energy to the concert.


I love listening to pops orchestra concerts, whether in person, on a video, or on TV. I hope to attend an outdoor concert on a beautiful summer evening some day.

The director of the orchestra usually makes them fun with a variety of little surprises. I think that all sizes of orchestras sound good - they are just a little different.

I have been to some concerts where the orchestra plays a variety of pieces - some classical, some popular, well known songs, and maybe even some jazz.

If you've never been to one of these concerts, try one!

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