Solo Work may be Nullified by Orchestra Playing
On page 128 of book "Violin Mastery", Alexander Saslavsky claimed:
"... Four hours of (solo) study work may be nullified by a single hour of orchestra playing. ...".
Agree or Disagree? And Why?
agreed. at least for me, I feel that blasting in an orchestra and blending with less expressive players changes my bow arm habits. It seems to take a while to get back in to playing with more nuance.
The OP left off the very next sentence in the relevant quote:
Well probably it depends on the orchestra. But posture? You're in a cramped space, and likely you're not paying as much attention to form as you should. Maybe with more experience one adapts to that better, but I haven't.
I have definitely heard from teachers that orchestral playing does nothing for your technique, and that it makes it too easy to hide. I had one teacher who suggested her students count orchestra playing as half as many hours as personal practice.
What you do in an orchestra depends only on how conscientious you are. Orchestral parts can be every bit as demanding as solo literature. It's really up to the player and their work ethic.
When I was in music school--and as far as I know this hasn't changed--orchestra was a requirement, chamber music was a requirement, and solo repertoire was what we studied in lessons. I wouldn't describe anything as being put on the back burner, and I certainly didn't know anyone who considered time spent in orchestra rehearsal as any part of personal practice.
Conjecture, but my impression was that my university program wanted to fill seats with the ‘best’ students and paid handsomely for that with scholarships. Their justification seemed to be that orchestral playing improved ensemble playing, which is why many soloistic players ‘crash’ and why so many pianists are so bad at piano quartets, etc. (did you notice that the chamber thread did not mention the wonderful lit out there with piano and strings?) Who really uses metronomes anyway ;-( and matching someone else’s direction in rubato can be challenging when you are used to just ‘feeling it.’
I'm not a fan of orchestra playing and prefer to spend all my time working on solo reps, techniques and chamber works. However, I believe orchestra works will broaden my musical skills and knowledge in ways the former activities won't. So I've been taking this "should pill" for the past a few years and more or less forcing myself to play in the local conservatory orchestra among pre-professional students. I don't think it hurts my technique but doesn't seem to help it either. There were fun moments, but the long rehearsal hours, let's hope, will build character.
I don’t find the orchestral rep I play to be at all lacking in technical challenge, so that’s not the issue for me.
I don't practice on orchestra day, but not because I consider it equivalent to practice. As a player new to orchestra I find it a little fatiguing still, especially where the current piece we are working on requires many, many, many sustained notes across multiple measures. By the end of it my bow arm is a little tired from the slow sustained bowing.
The reason I said other things were put on the back burner is based on the frequency of performance required for each type of playing in each program. For instance, where I went to school, you performed in orchestra every two weeks, chamber music once a semester, and solo recitals were required twice during the course of a degree with juries every semester. There were some optional things you could do such as the studio showcases, the concerto competition, and chamber music outreach, but these occurred still with a level of frequency that didn't even compare to that which you had to play in orchestra.
Disagree. We don't do orchestra music because it improves our technique, we play in an orchestra because it is great music. I think Carl Flesch recommended that all potential soloists do an apprenticeship in an orchestra. Pablo Casals played in a provinicial theater orchestra.
You can learn a lot from orchestral playing, and the literature.
I think Scott makes a good point: "it's really up to the players and their work ethic".
I wouldn't want Mr.Savlasky in my orchestra with that attitude.Orchestral parts can be extremely challenging along with playing together in a group.I've sat with people with this kind of attitude.Not fun.
I love orchestral playing but I do find my technique is mucky after an orchestral concert - and if I'm seriously preparing for an exam or something I park orchestra for a while so I have extra practice time.
Quite frankly I think playing in an orchestra is a huge waste of time. That includes all-county and all-state orchestras. From a musical perspective, it is much better to be active in a small chamber group or string quartet where you can really see and listen to one another.
I think in respect to the orchestra requirements at Universities, no one has mentioned the fact that probably 99% of music majors who become professionals will play in orchestras as at least part of their professional income. It really helps to cut down on the practice/preparation time if one has played a piece previously and has some of the tricky spots already mostly in your fingers. So from a purely practical perspective it is useful to have played a large amount of orchestral literature before graduation.
Saslavsky,mentioned by the OP, may have had a point for string players at an insecure point in their development, but orchestra concertmasters (who obviously play in orchestras) often play solo concertos with orchestras as well as perform recitals and chamber music. Mischakoff, mentioned by Stephen was a marvelous soloist and was called on to play concertos with various symphonies into his 80s (read the fascinating book "Mischa Mischakoff, Journeys of a Concertmaster" by Anne Mischakoff Heils).
1 hour is an exaggeration. But I think substituting orchestral playing for solo practice in the long term can affect the way you play. Some soloistic skills may be neglected while other skills like rhythm are strengthened.
The other thing no one is mentioned is the dearth of creativity one subjects themselves to. Yes, there are some amazingly creative conductors, but if orchestra is your main thing, you aren't really flexing your creativity muscles, just by the sheer nature of the beast. Orchestra, for the string section players at least, is almost an exercise in anti-creativity. You have to play like a conformist to achieve the best blend.
so much orchestral hate.
The degree to which orchestra ruins your technique is going to be totally dependent on how conscientious a player you are, to Scott Cole's point. If you let the fact that you cannot be as easily heard in a section as an excuse to be sloppy -- to not pay attention to your intonation, to not pull a consistently good sound (and one that blends into a section), to not be rhythmically precise and even, to fake anything that's hard, etc. -- then, sure, playing in orchestra is an exercise in playing badly.
I have to disagree with Sung Han, by the way. As a child, I started playing with a string ensemble in my Suzuki program as soon as I could -- from the first moment I heard them rehearse, I knew I wanted to be part of that. I joined a youth symphony as soon as I could. Orchestras provided the greatest musical and social experiences of my childhood.
Great orchestras function like a massive chamber ensemble, they certainly don't follow a time-beater.
Fors: we have to play at someone else's tempo, how they want when they want - good training.
I really love orchestral playing and think it has stretched me as a player at times when I wasn't working much on solo stuff (e.g. college). I *have* experienced a lot of discomfort, however, based on the contortions necessary for me to see the music and the conductor. In fact, at one point I opted to sit in the second, not first, chair because it enabled me to watch the conductor without twisting.
Katie, how one sits is so dependent on so many individual variables, it's impossible to give a general answer. The comparable heights of the two people on the stand and how much in agreement they are about the optimal height of the stand is a big one. Individual variation in the angle at which one holds the violin matters--players with short arms may bring the scroll closer to the center line whereas players with long arms may swing the scroll slightly further away from center. And finally, eyesight and how the aging process affects it. I am much more finicky (by necessity) now about the amount of light available and placement of music on the stand than I was in my youth.
I hear you. It's amazing how much of a difference it makes in one's ability to focus on the important things. I want to be able to hear my section (and others around me), to see the conductor at least peripherally, and to glance at the music even if my part is 85% memorized (which isn't going to be the case for a lot of these last-minute gigs). And I want this to be possible without twisting myself to the extent that I have back spasms for days.
Also, re: orchestra for kids, fully agree with Lydia. Plus, having a conductor is a huge educational experience that one doesn't get from chamber music. That said, they feel like highly complementary learning experiences that can inform each other.
"Orchestras provided the greatest musical and social experiences of my childhood."
The individual orchestra experience is quite dependent on the conductor and the orchestra members. If you have a wonderful conductor, your orchestra experience can be wonderful, I admit. However, an incompetent conductor, combined with lousy repertoire, takes the joy out of music-making, leaving you frustrated and stressed-out.
Interesting thread! I wanted to reply but everything has already been said :-)
Interesting topic. I wonder at the way that most teachers and others seem to regard being a soloist as superior to being a musician in an orchestra. Does that mean that all professional musicians in orchestras are failed soloists?
"Does that mean that all professional musicians in orchestras are failed soloists?"
I found that playing in an orchestra taught me a good amount, but I also couldn't really make good technical process while playing in an orchestra - I guess I had to cut too many corners and had too much tension in my playing. I imagine that pro orchestral players can manage it a lot better than a bum like me in a community orchestra. But I think it's more relevant to the balance you have between practice and performance. Performing a lot teaches you a lot about performance, but your playing is liable to get sloppy if you are performing a lot and it's cutting into your practice time and concentration. Some time for methodical work is needed, and it is possible to burn out.
Christian’s got a good point. As a doubler who grew up playing various wind and other instruments in ensembles and later orchestral strings (this season with seats on vln, vla, and am now moving from fourths to fifths tuned bass in another chamber group), I have experienced playing over my head on multiple instruments ;-) The orchestra doesn’t slow its practice or performance tempo (ususally) for individual security and the deadline of a performance can strain one’s ability to improve fast enough. Under those conditions it’s easy for many amateurs and developing players to get sloppy with technique.
Is it more difficult to make a living off of being a chamber player or an orchestral player?
The main difference that I see between solo repertoire practice and orchestra practice -- from a purely technical standpoint -- is that the level of challenge for solo rep can be closely optimized to the student, and practice time can be concentrated on those portions of the piece that need it most. In most amateur/community orchestras, there is going to be a fairly broad range of skill levels, which entirely rules out pieces that are challenging for the strongest players. And in an orchestra rehearsal, you have to plod through the easy parts too -- including long rests -- because those portions might be hard for another section, etc.
They're both hard.
The distinction between chamber orchestras and (full) orchestras mentioned above is a good one. I too enjoyed and learned a lot from playing in a string orchestra conducted by an accomplished violinist.
"Mary Ellen said that people should just be expected to play in tune. But the thing is, what if they don't? What if you're trying to play the right "E" on the viola to match the "C" in the second violins, but you hear three or four different C's, not just one? That's what I meant about compromising and such."
This thread reminds me of a lesson where I was studying a concerto, and my teacher (who also happened to conduct the community orchestra I played in) said "More bow, more bow! This isn't orchestra..."
One can be as conscientious as the Buddha himself, but if a context (aka orchestra) is pulling one down, what is one supposed to do? Stick out? No, you are supposed to adapt, just in any other group.
I appreciate the difference in level between amateur and pro orchestras to the extent that I play in the amateur one and my teacher plays in a pro one. But of course I'll never have that experience myself.
Paul, I find I make the same minute adjustments as in a quartet; but the pitches in a (good) full orchestra are more "diffused", which is part of their charm!
"I've heard that in a string quartet, often the most exposed chords will need to be carefully adjusted by the group in rehearsal to ensure that they can be exactly in tune. Do pro orchestras do that too?"