Orchestra Excerpts - Seeing is Believing

March 15, 2021, 4:01 PM · For as long as I’ve been a violinist, I’ve been inspired and motivated by watching other people play. It was the case when I saw Joshua Bell perform when I was five years old, and it was the case when I, as an undergraduate, watched older students in my studio give recitals and perform with the school orchestra. These experiences help me generate new ideas and become a better violinist.

I am an Artist Diploma student at CU Boulder, and one of my degree requirements is a recording project of orchestra excerpts. I decided to turn this content into a Youtube series.

Here is the intro video:

I've also posted Don Juan, Mendelssohn Scherzo, and the last movement of Brahms 4.

In the early stages of this project, I was struck by two things:

  1. How useful certain videos were in my preparation (like this one on Ein Heldenleben or this one on Brahms 4) and...
  2. How these types of videos don’t exist for very many excerpts.

After I realized this, I reflected on what videos I post online. I, like most other graduate student musicians, have dozens of unlisted videos on Youtube. These are mostly for auditions, not to be seen by the general public. There is almost a taboo against sharing very much of our playing online. It seems gauche, somehow. Least of all orchestra excerpts, unless we are playing them in a masterclass.

I was struck by what a disservice we were doing to ourselves and each other. I love what I do, but I’ve always resented a certain culture of secrecy in the classical music world. People are not necessarily forthcoming with information that might help someone else get into the best schools/summer festivals/orchestras. I think there is an unwillingness to post both our hard earned knowledge and videos of ourselves playing. There are notable exceptions, but I found the type of content I was looking for largely absent.

Why are older students, like myself, so unwilling to share the videos I know they have of themselves playing excerpts? Not just the "practice fails" type videos, but the real stuff; our best efforts are often firewalled. If I may speculate, I think it’s because of how naked this style of playing can feel. Excerpts are like a stage designed specifically for us to walk upon and bear intense judgment. Why do that in the vicious waters of the internet? And anyway, no one wants to post things that will age quickly. We practice, we change how we play, and we get better. Youtube videos persist, though.

This is all a very long winded introduction to my project: creating a series of Youtube videos in which I play a wide range of orchestra excerpts, with 5-10 minutes of commentary from myself. I’ve posted the first four videos on my page, and I’d like to share them here on violinist.com, in case anyone in this community would benefit from watching them. I want them to be like the videos I sought for at the beginning of this project and couldn’t find.

In my most idealistic frames of mind, I would like to encourage others to post what they have, so we can all improve as a community. I’d settle for one or two people getting some phrasing ideas. I’ll be posting updates of this project as I finish the videos (there will be about 15). Enjoy!

You might also like:


March 15, 2021 at 09:12 PM · Hear hear, Robbie! What a concept that we all want to play our best, and that we want the people around us to play their best too! Props on your project, from another Boulder alum.

March 16, 2021 at 02:06 AM · Interesting concept. One thing you might want to keep in mind is that you are basically putting up an entire pre-screen recording for anyone who wants to go to the trouble of looking you up. That being said, I think you have a wonderful idea here, and I wish you all the best.

I noticed that in your intro video you invite listeners to judge your intonation and general ability as a violinist, but you don’t mention rhythm. In my 30+ years on audition committees, it has been my experience that we will forgive the occasional intonation glitch from an otherwise good player much more readily than we will forgive rhythmic shortcomings. I strongly recommend that if you aren’t already doing so, listen to your recordings while tapping all the rests and long notes. I assure you that the audition committees will be doing the same.

So far I have only listened to your Don Juan. You play well, but you made my heart stop at the very beginning with your bow swooping in for the first note. Please don’t do that. Start from the string!

March 16, 2021 at 08:15 PM · Actually, Robbie, having watched more than one of your videos, I'd your sense of rhythm is excellent and you have clearly attended to that. As for the beginning of Don Juan, as long as the attack is good, some minor bow sweeping will also be okay behind a screen.

March 16, 2021 at 09:02 PM · Robbie, thanks for sharing your playing, which impressed me tremendously. I salute you for your desire to involve others in your quest. (P.S. I'm also the product of a Colorado university, but a different one, University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and certainly way before your time.)

March 16, 2021 at 09:07 PM · Congratulations on this bold project, Robbie! I agree with you about the culture of secrecy, especially when it comes to orchestra auditions. People who have already won auditions or are on panels guard their secrets closely, and it can be challenging (and costly!) to get access to them when we're preparing for an audition.

I remember being in school and hearing more advanced players play in excerpt seminar, wondering, "HOW do they do that?" This is a great way to open the door and hopefully create more of a community feel around auditions, rather than just cutthroat competition.

March 17, 2021 at 01:24 AM · Greetings,

it’s great to see someone with such a positive outlook actually doing something!

As far as rhythm is concerned, that is a lifetime’s work. I think one of the crucial orchestral techniques is dynamic mental activity during what is outwardly a slow, serene, even lugubrious passage of long notes. So, in for example, the Brahms extract one might have 16th notes or any combination of rhythm patterns going on in your head. The problem is how to internalize the rhythm. Probably the most effective way is to use a metronome that only plays intermittent beats so you have to learn to play exactly in time to arrive on the next click perfectly. A great deal of this practice before auditions is always useful.

In a passage like the Brahms I would look at some top orchestras and try to really analyze what kind of tone colors and changes they make. If you like, what is a Brahms sound that distinguishes it from Tchaik 6 and experiment with the different boeing’s used to see how the result is achieved.



March 17, 2021 at 01:26 AM · If you get the wrong boeing, you will probably crash. So don’t wing it. You must always be on the right plane.

Over to you Marcus...

March 17, 2021 at 07:22 AM · In your blog you mention that it is almost taboo to post recordings online. There have been mentions of potential negative consequences such as people prescreening someone for an audition.

I think that one reason online posting is taboo is that it can undercut the economy of classical music. The poster is unlikely to receive adequate monetary compensation for creating the post. If the post is educational it undercuts traditional teaching. If the post is for entertainment it can undercut ticket sales.

Classical music is much different than pop music. The ad revenue from a video is unlikely to be sufficient monetary compensation, as the number of views is likely to be small.

All of this being said, there are arguments on the other side. One of these is not economic. It is good to share and educate people. The second is that the videos can be considered a form of advertising.

With regard to the latter point though, there is a danger. Advertising has its limits. For example, a major opera company is offering streams of recordings of its performances for free. At the same time, they are not paying their orchestral musicians. Thus we can see a real danger from the free recordings which are now increasingly expected by the public at large.

March 17, 2021 at 04:53 PM · Thanks everyone for the feedback! It's nice to read such supportive comments. I just wanted to make a quick point about the pre-screening thing. I totally am sympathetic to the desire to control what an audition committee is able to see of you online. If I ever were to start feeling that these videos prevented me from getting work, I'd take them down, rest assured. One of my aims here, though, is to push back against the knee-jerk fear of being judged negatively. I think that fear is what causes a lot of this winner-take-all thinking that can make this world unpleasant at times. It's worth it for me to try to contribute to a more collaborative community.

I also want to say that I am definitely not making money off of my channel (hahaha). I am totally receptive to the idea that musicians harm themselves by selling themselves short or offering services for free (also, the people hiring musicians harm musicians by even asking for that). However, I don't think that applies here, since I'm not exactly competing with Glenn Dicterow for teaching people how to play orchestra excerpts. Moreover, as it stands now, the audition system is tilted toward people who are willing to shell out a lot of money to get elite training. In a world where Harvard offers whole curricula online for free, I think the classical music world has some catching up to do as far as opening its doors.

I don't want to be self-aggrandizing here - again, I don't expect my specific project to change the world. It's just where my thinking is coming from.

March 20, 2021 at 06:11 AM · Great Orchestra video and sharing. It is inspired me! Violin voice priceless beautiful. Hope a day l will play violin like this. Thank you for your informative sharings and support!

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker


Violinist.com Shopping Guide
Violinist.com Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop



Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine