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Laurie Niles

Kindling a Love For Orchestra

December 10, 2006 at 7:04 AM

I 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 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.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 10, 2006 at 8:26 AM
Bravo, Laurie! You expressed my feelings very well. I loved playing in an orchestra as a student, and I love it now. It gives me such a high. It is always exciting to join with other people in the orchestra, as well as other people in other times and places, and become part of something bigger than any one of us, even bigger than the sum of its parts. Call it music or call it religion.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 10, 2006 at 1:34 PM
I was in the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra at least as long ago as you were in the Pasadena Youth Symphony, and some of those experiences are still defining ones, years later. For me, playing Beethoven's Eroica was a real high point. Funny, we also had the hopeless, getting-lost-all-the-time type of experience sight-reading Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade, in our case). My junior year we went on tour to the southern US. One of the places we stayed was Fort Benning, GA. We played Brahms' 2nd.

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.

From Ronnie Elkan
Posted on December 10, 2006 at 4:18 PM
Good Job Laurie. It's hard to forget the powerful feeling you get in an orchestra. It was always exciting for me to get to rehearsal. Now I rekindle those same feelings in a western swing group with twin fiddle stuff. When it's right those same feelings come right back.
From Bram Heemskerk
Posted on December 11, 2006 at 12:18 PM
Orchestra playing is a fine thing. From 10 till 17 I had only lessons, but when I was 17 I began to play in a youthorchestra. Now I have played in 33 amateurorchestra’s in my life, 5 every week. I reach this number because There are 240 amateurorchestra’s in Holland and after playing so much I choose orchestra’s for rare repertoire,-specially rare violinconcerto’s or symfonies-, because most standardaprogrammes I have played and I don’t like to play double in my short life as amateur, in which you can not play as much as when you play in a professional orchestra.
For a flute for example it is diffucult to get in an orchestra and it is more difficult to switch from one orchestra to another. In most orchestra’s I play 2th violin behind, but then you can join the group and play that rare piece you so eager want to play. Sometimes they have enough 2th violinists and they don’t have enough 1th violinists and sometimes for audition they say you are not good enough, that is a pity, but most of the time I can join orchestra’s in which I wanted to play, sometimes big and good ones in which you even don’t have auditions. But sometimes I play 1th violin (in bad amateurorchestra’s). When the concertmaster was ill I even sat on the 1th desk next to the concertmaster and the week thereafter I WAS THE CONCERTMASTER, without someone next to me. Strange experience. After some bars rest I was once too late and forgot to move my bow, but the 2th desk helped me, because they did not make a countingmistake or notereadingmistake.
Sometimes you play in a young orchestra with teenagers, other orchestra’s with older people. Once a 2th violinist of 86 years and a double bass player of 92!!
Every orchestra has its atmosphere. Sometimes there are a lot of people with whom you can mix good and you make friends and sometimes there are no people to talk to in the coffeebreak half way the evening. But most of the time it is fine to be amongst people who also like classical and orchestra music.
I am addicted to orchestra playing. For chambermusic you have to manage people to get an appointment which suits everbody.
Even after 33 orchestra’s and a lot of repertoire there are still pieces which I have not played yet, so I think I will go on playing in orchestra’s.

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