a group of performers on various musical instruments, including especially stringed instruments of the viol class, clarinets and flutes, cornets and trombones, drums, and cymbals, for playing music, as symphonies, operas, popular music, or other compositions.
the space reserved for the musicians, usually the front part of the main floor (orchestra pit)
the entire main-floor space for spectators.
the parquet.
(in the ancient Greek theater) the circular space in front of the stage, allotted to the chorus.
(in the Roman theater) a similar space reserved for persons of distinction.

1590–1600; < Latin orchēstra < Greek orchḗstra the space on which the chorus danced, derivative of orcheîsthai to dance

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World English Dictionary
orchestra (ˈɔːkɪstrə)
1.  symphony orchestra string orchestra See also chamber orchestra a large group of musicians, esp one whose members play a variety of different instruments
2.  a group of musicians, each playing the same type of instrument: a balalaika orchestra
3.  Also called: orchestra pit the space reserved for musicians in a theatre, immediately in front of or under the stage
4.  chiefly (US), (Canadian) the stalls in a theatre
5.  (in the ancient Greek theatre) the semicircular space in front of the stage
[C17: via Latin from Greek: the space in the theatre reserved for the chorus, from orkheisthai to dance]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

c.1600, "area in an ancient theater," from L. orchestra, from Gk. orkhestra, semicircular space where the chorus of dancers performed, with suffix -tra denoting place + orkheisthai "to dance," intens. of erkhesthai "to go, come," from PIE *ergh- "to set in motion, stir up, raise" (cf. Skt. rghayati "trembles,
rages, raves," L. oriri "to rise"), from base *er-/*or- (cf. L. origo "a beginning;" Skt. rnoti "rises, moves," arnah "welling stream;" O.Pers. rasatiy "he comes;" Gk. ornynai "to rouse, start;" Goth. rinnan, O.E. irnan "to flow, run"). In ancient Rome, it referred to the place in the theater reserved for senators and other dignitaries. Meaning "group of musicians performing at a concert, opera, etc." first recorded 1720; "part of theater in front of the stage" is from 1768.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

orchestra definition

A group of musicians who play together on a variety of instruments, which usually come from all four instrument families — brass, percussion, strings, and woodwinds. A typical symphony orchestra is made up of more than ninety musicians. Most orchestras, unlike chamber music groups, have more than one musician playing each musical part.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
Both turned to the symphony orchestra as their central medium.
In addition to its inherent interest the program must reflect what the
  orchestra sees as its larger mission.
Orchestra members take souvenir snapshots of the spread.
Indeed, some of his first dance paintings portray the audience and orchestra as
  prominently as the ballerinas onstage.
Images for orchestra
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