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On adults and amateurs.

October 8, 2008 at 1:01 AM

over the last few years I have become conscious of a major lack in the music world. These days countries have ageing populations with time and energy to burn (nowhere more so than Japan) and as more and more adults turn to the violin (as they should) there doesn’t seem to be that many places they can go to for gaining orchestral training/experience without being thrown in at the deep end or feeling a little old and out of it. One of my adult students who has been playing for about two years has been so determined to get into an orchestra I eventually had to give the green light even though all the amateur orchestras in this region play really standard repertoire. I’ve got her through the basics by sitting in with her at the back of seconds and explaining what was going on, what to listen for etc. She is going to do really well I think.
The bonus for me is I get to play second violin. I can barely remember ever playing second so it was fantastic for me. Liszt Les Preludes just has some wonderful moments where the seconds have suddenly shine out like a beacon of light blinking over the water then disappear. Tchaik five second violin part is so beautiful. I have to say this is my favorite symphony of his even if it ain`t the greatest (?) Sort of like preferring Beethoven 7 to number 9.....
I have led and coached quite a few amateur orchestras here and boy, do they work hard and achieve incredible standards. However, they do seem to have a few faults in common which I will note in passing in the hope that –conducters- rather than players put more emphasis on them.
First of all, continually strive to use the same kind of bowing and the same part of the bow. There is a tendency here for some reason to sort of shrug and say `everybody has a different body structure.` This is somewhat lazy.
Second, remember that in octave passages between first and seconds the seconds must be stronger than the firsts. Very typical in Tchaik five...
Third, inner voices be aware of when you are accompanying and when being a leading voice. Both may be marked piano but the dynamic and intensity is markedly different.
Fourth, remember that initially the first priority is playing together (assuming intonation is okay). You cannot do this if you are bogged down in your part because of lack of practice. After this comes dynamics (often missing in even intermediate orchestras) then rhythm (patterns within a phrase) and finally the notes. Ultimately you have to get it all.....

From Tess Z
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 4:43 AM
I agree Buri. It is a real issue for adult beginners who want to move into the mainstream of music. Large cities will have options for adult learners in amateur orchestras but for the rest of us, it's jump in with both feet.

Thanks for the advice.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 5:17 AM
"Third, inner voices be aware of when you are accompanying and when being a leading voice. "

This is easy for violists. 99% of the time we are accompanying, not leading with few exceptions. Those exceptions are well known in the viola world, and eagerly anticipated :)

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 5:49 AM
the world of music has lied to you. Its the other way round. Go forth with vim,
From Mendy Smith
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 6:54 AM
Sorry, couldn't translate that one....Vim????

Seriously, there are some really fun orchestral pieces for the violas. Beethoven's 5th 2nd movement, almost anything Dvorak, and a few others. Still, the "important parts" are few enough that we all collectively know what those are. In my CO, it is a sectional joke when the conductor tells us we have the important part. We all feign shock over the viola section getting something "interesting".

However our definition of interesting includes anything that is not the same note repeated for 20 measures, which might not match the conductor's definition of "interesting" :)

From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 12:42 PM
Vim: Ebullient vitality and energy. (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.)

"Ebullient" is such a nifty word. It sums up how I feel about Tchaikovsky 5, although 'Manfred' is my favorite...

There is no training orchestra for adult amateurs around here. What a shame. I have found that teaching duets in lessons is a good way to learn basic ensemble skills.

From Dottie Case
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 1:54 PM
I know there is a movement afoot, called "New Horizons" that is about forming orchestras or bands of adult amateur, beginner or 're-beginners'. In our area, we have formed a group we lovingly refer to as the 'rusty-dusties'. Rusty players whose instrument cases are covered in dust from being shoved under a bed for decades. :) Anyway, we live in a very small area and still have enough players for this group to exist. Check out New might find it worth while to form a group of your own, either coaching it yourself, or collectively hiring someone else to come in a do so. It's incredibly rewarding.
From Dottie Case
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 1:59 PM
From Debra Wade
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 2:16 PM
Great post Buri!

I'm fortunate to play in a CO where we welcome beginners, and in our flexible seating for the different sections often times a beginner will be paired up with a much more experienced player and that seems to help them get a feel for ensemble work.

But you said something I'm not octave playing between violins why should the "lower" voice be stronger? Is this a general rule or only applied in certain pieces or types of music?

From Erica Thaler
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 2:27 PM
I am lucky to be sitting in the back of a student orchestra...and it is just fabulous experience. (Plus my daughter is occasionally persuaded to play the first violin part with me to practice...very cute and she's a good teacher too!)
From Craig Coleman
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 9:11 PM
Thanks Buri,
Also everyone should have a score. Recently I worked on the Mozart Viola Quintet with my students.I didn't have the parts ready,only the score,so I copied that and gave it out.Everyone read and practiced from the score adding bowings and fingerings for the first weeks. When the parts arrived it was good to see everyone knew their parts plus the other parts too.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 10:18 PM
>But you said something I'm not octave playing between violins why should the "lower" voice be stronger? Is this a general rule or only applied in certain pieces or types of music?

Interesitng question. I cannot remember an instance when it wan`t true. It smooths out the sound, stabilizes theintonation and stops those screechy first violins from pressing too hard in their excitement.
Is there a
parallel with the need to focus on the lower string in solo octave playing?

From PM Rolf
Posted on October 9, 2008 at 3:17 AM
Buri, great post!!! In regards to Tess comments, I find it quite opposite that in large cities, most community orchestras already has fairly high standard, I find it difficult to find something that will take beginners (I got really lucky).

Ensemble playing is so important, when I used to play piano, I never get to play with others, so I lack this skill, orchestra playing really help!!

I'm so glad I stick with it even though I was completely lost for a good month!

From Stacy Pigott
Posted on October 9, 2008 at 3:34 PM
I just started playing with a wonderful community orchestra. Unfortunately, our first concert is with a choir that dictates the music we have to learn. So my first orchestra experience in 20 years is Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass. Talk about feeling like I've been thrown off the deep end! Some of those fast passages are just beyond me. But I'm having fun and learning a lot, including how to "fake it until I make it." :)
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 9, 2008 at 10:25 PM
Haydn is a real pig. But its the bets posisble trainign for a stirng section. the problem I find with bigger amateur orchestras is they work on the principle thta all the players need to be emploed at all times. This means all music is mor eor less post Beethoven (trombones) with ambitious and somtimes painful attempts at Mahler or Bruckne ror whatever.
As a result stringas never develop a true sound and then the wind moan about them....;)

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