December 10, 2006 at 7:04 AMI took a trip down memory lane a few nights ago, watching two of my current students play in the city youth orchestra. I don't think I'd been to any youth orchestra's concert since I'd last played in another one which is...a rather long time ago!
But youth orchestra is where I fell in love with orchestra playing. Somehow the collective voice of some 100 musicians has always pulled at my heart more than my own instrument's voice alone. In orchestra, the violin on your shoulder literally resonates with the sound of everyone else's instrument. When everyone plays well, the feeling can be tremendously uplifting. And when there is disharmony or trepidation, it can spread like wildfire.
In a youth orchestra, the ups are almost a frightening surprise, and the downs...Well, a sight-reading session in a youth orchestra, as I recall, can be replete with hopelessness. I remember that after the elation of getting into the city's best youth orchestra came the reality check of the first rehearsal, where we sight-read “Capriccio Espanol” by Rimsky Korsakov along with Dvorak Symphony No. 8. “I will never, ever, ever, figure this out,” I thought with depressing certitude.
I was wrong, I did figure it out. By now I've got it down cold; I've been sight reading and learning orchestra music since I was a child.
That's the point of youth orchestra, to learn and a young age that those challenges are surmountable.
A few nights ago I heard moments of professionalism and moments of tentative playing. I heard excitement and harmony, and the occasional momentary derailment. I heard parents whispering about chairs, about who was in the first or second violins, and wondering if their young musician would make the better orchestra next year.
It's all part of orchestra, forever. For any orchestra to grow, it must program both pieces that fit comfortably and other music that stretches its capacities. And the drama over chairs, who gets called to play, who sits where and who plays what section...it never ends.
But in 30 years, all that drama, politics and ego-checking has never extinguished my love for orchestra playing. I live for those rare and unpredictable moments, when 100 voices speak in astonishing synchronicity, when time seems to stand still. Everything else just melts away; it's all music.
As I try to get back into playing violin seriously again after a long break for having kids, it's orchestral playing that motivates me and inspires me more than anything else. My daughter starts a school string program in school next year and I think that will open a whole new world for her.
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