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Starting your own orchestra

Orchestra: How! I'm in need of advice.

From Blake Newman
Posted July 9, 2008 at 04:19 PM

After reading an article in a Teen Strings magazine(Aug/Sep/Oct 07), I realized that I had managed to over look an article entitled "A New Dimension"(written by Donna Shryer) in my first assualt of the fourty-four page magazine. The five page article's opening paragraph compares the "musical layers" that musicians possess to a banana split. One of the scoops on our banana split would be chamber music, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets and octets make up the bits of strawberries in the fruit-flavored scoop of music.

On the fifth and final page, Mrs. Shryer has written a small three paragraph guide entitled "Getting Started". This guide contains one paragraph on how to join a "teen-geared music program", while the other two are simple statements from a seventeen year old violinist and a faculty member of a music camp. While reading the first paragraph, I noticed something about a local orchestra. . . . well my town doesn't have one. So I slept on it, this morning I awoke with this thought it my head, "What if I somehow start my own orchestra. . .hmmm??".

Being that I am only 14, almost 15, I'm pretty positive that I won't be able to start an orchestra without some help. Tomorrow, I plan to contact the city office and the Chamber of Commerce.

So basically my questions are: How would one go about doing such a thing, and Has anyone here done something similar?

Thanks in advance,

From Zina Lee
Posted on July 9, 2008 at 04:22 PM
1) It's going to be harder than you think;
2) Don't you dare let that stop you! :)

Think big, scare yourself! Then just go do it, and don't let anyone stop you.

So, first off, are you trying to get together a community orchestra, or a professional symphony orchestra?

Are you going to try and find enough musicians in your community to make up an orchestra? Can anyone join, or do they have to audition and meet certain criteria?

Or, are you going to try and put together a committee to start fundraising and bringing together a professional sympony orchestra?

I've been involved in putting together a church orchestra for a specific event. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and totally worth the blood sweat and tears we put into it!

From Andrew Victor
Posted on July 9, 2008 at 06:25 PM
You do need to have a sufficient number of "musicians" in the community to eventually comprise an orchestra.

When I was 14 (and a beginning cellist and experienced violinist) I was fortunate to be included at the first rehearsal of the Hood-Frederick Orchestra in 1949. The director was the cchoral director at the college. Until that evening there had been about a dozen young women at Hood College who comprised their orchestra and about an equal number of town citizens who comprised an informal group that met at the local music store (since they had outgrown anyone's living room - especially after the tympanist arrived). When they finally got these two dozen people together there were about 40 of them - an orchestra!

The town contingent had originally been a string quartet that added a local trumpeter and clarinet, etc.

I continued to play with them until I graduated HS - I was the youngest member. After the initial concerts of Handel's Messiah with the combined Hood College and U.S. Naval Academy choruses, the orchestra went on to perform standard symphonic and concerto literature appropriate to its size.
This orchestra has since evolved to have some other name.

Since that time (59 years ago) playing in a community orchestra has been a part of my life virtually all the time. I have agreed to some jobs and moves (including across the continent) on the basis that there was an existing community orchestra. I have also served on the corporate board, as president, and orchestra manager (and concertmaster -- not all at the same time) of one orchestra over a period of 33 years.

Without a dedicated core of volunteer musicians, a managing committee will have an awful time trying to assemble the necessary group. But a core group can attract additional musicians if it offers what they want.

i think you have to have a core of musicians who want to play literature beyond what they can accomplish without more players than are already assembled.


From Roland Garrison
Posted on July 9, 2008 at 08:28 PM
I have no experience in this area, however I do think one of your first steps would be to contact current existing community music groups, and see what support they can offer. This may include chamber groups, church groups, school bands, etc..
They may have people with specific skills in certain areas of organizing or managing groups, and use those people as much as you can. Then, try and manage the areas when these team leaders have differences of opionion; keep that level of control.
From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 01:26 AM
I hope I can be of a little help.

1. First off you need to decide what kind of group will it be. I'm thinking you want to start a small chamber orchestra with a conductor that meets once or twice a week and puts on a concert every few months. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

2. Find a conductor. Or play without one but I think a conductor would bring some focus to the group. This could be a budding musician friend of yours that's itching to get on the podium, or the members of the orchestra can take turns conducting one piece each.

3. Find a place to rehearse. This may be a church basement, a local highschool band room, a community center. Make sure they let you use it for free otherwise it won't be worth it in the beginning.

4. Find members. This will be the easy part as word of mouth does wonders for this sort of thing. Ask kids from your local youth orchestra, or call the orchestra teachers at neighboring high schools. Send a mass e-mail to all the musicians you know and urge them to pass along the email to those they know. Even if the group is very small in the beginning it has potential to grow.

5. Decide on rehearsal times. Ask everyone's input on what is best and then make a decision and stick to it. Once you decide that rehearsals always take place on Tuesdays try not to change it. That will create stability after a while and more people will start showing up.

6. Here comes the hard part.... music. Music is very very expensive to rent so you may have to talk to your orchestra teachers about letting you borrow some of theirs. Otherwise you will have to make the investment. I don't have experience in running an orchestra so I don't know how to be more helpful.

7. Set a goal. Say you start up in September. Set a goal that you intend to perform a concert around the holiday time and immediately set forth in securing a venue at a local church or school auditorium.

Legal stuff comes later and if the group takes off. For now just start making music!

From Mendy Smith
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 05:16 AM
Starting a community orchestra costs money. There is the sheet music, costs associated with rehearsal space, costs associated with putting on a concert, etc...

You may want to start out with a chamber group first and see where that takes you. The chamber can grow into an orchestra at the right time.

From Christina C.
Posted on July 10, 2008 at 05:49 PM
the first community orchestra I ever played in started out as 2 string quartets merging & inviting some friends to join them.
From Jim Ho
Posted on July 11, 2008 at 12:45 AM
I think organizing a youth orchestra in your town would be a very noble endeavor.

I was the conductor of a youth orchestra and it was a lot work but also fun and rewarding to see the young people work so hard to produce something worthwhile and good.

You could try to organize something informal or go for the gold, or even something in between. If I was in your position and going for the gold, the first thing I would do would be to get a "partner" who is an adult and supportive of your goals - someone you can bounce ideas off of and who is able to sign agreements and contracts. Then I would form a non-profit organization. People, businesses and other organizations love to support worthwhile non-profits. Next, I'd find a place to rehearse. My orchestra rehearsed at a museum. They offered us really nice space at no charge. They always had staff and security on hand and were very encouraging and kind to the kids. You will need a bunch of music stands which aren't that expensive, especially if a business wants to donate money to buy them. You'll need to be very organized about what pieces you will be performing. The cost of music isn't too bad if you buy or rent one season at a time. You will need a good conductor. The conductor can make or break the orchestra. The conductor needs to have something that s/he can offer the kids, i.e. experience. And s/he needs to be receptive to the kids' needs. Lastly, your orchestra needs goals. You will need to schedule concerts.

I'm impressed that at your young age, you're thinking about something so worthwhile. Good luck!

From Theodore Kruzich
Posted on July 1, 2015 at 12:57 PM
I am currently coordinator of the Chicago Area Chamber Music Meetup Group. On July 25th 2015 (1:00 to 4:00 PM) we are having a string orchestra reading session at the Edgebrook Public Library (5331 W. Devon Ave. in Chicago).

We plan to rehearse the J S Bach Brandenburg Concerto # 3 as well as the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. However, we currently need a few more violin players for our ensemble.

I also have the orchestra parts to the Mozart Violin Concerto # 3 (K 216), and, if there is a violinist.com member who would like to play the solo violin part, we could read through this concerto with full orchestra.

Ted Kruzich

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on July 1, 2015 at 10:21 PM
The web site IMSLP probably wasn't very prominent (or even in existence) when the OP first posted, but now it is the primary source of free downloadable orchestral score parts (in PDF format) for the amateur orchestra community, and even beyond.

It provides free access to pretty well all of the baroque, classical and romantic era music up to the modern period when copyright steps in to spoil the party, so there is little modern music from the last 70 years or so available on IMSLP.

The only expense is the cost of printing the parts (but you can sometimes persuade orchestral members to do it themselves).

From Kevin Cheung
Posted on July 2, 2015 at 12:23 AM
Go high tech and use iPads and AirTurns for scores!
From Mary Ellen Goree
Posted on July 2, 2015 at 05:22 PM
^^^ I think that would be a fair bit more expensive than printing parts and scores from IMSLP.

Not to mention the possibility of frightening off middle-aged and older musicians with the technology. I can say that, being one myself.

From Scott Cole
Posted on July 2, 2015 at 08:11 PM

From John Hunter
Posted on July 4, 2015 at 07:30 AM
I applaud your efforts, and having been there and done that, I proffer the following advice:
1. Read Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill.
2. Demand players that will be committed to rehearsels, and have serious attitudes.
3. Terminate anyone who is uncooperative, or is late to rehearsels.
4. If you are forming a chamber group, try to find a qualified advisor or mentor to work with you.
5. Have a shared musical lecture arrangement, i.e., take turns on giving presentations on some aspect of music. Great fun and a learning experience.
6. Persist....keep the dream, and the right people will come along.

Good Luck to you!

From Shawn Wenren
Posted on July 5, 2015 at 11:28 PM
This sounds very ambitious. I think it's a great idea, but you should talk to someone who has experience with community orchestras before starting one yourself.
From Kit Jennings
Posted on July 24, 2015 at 02:45 PM
Since the original thread was about 7 years ago, I wonder if it ever got started?