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Mendy Smith

Large Sea or Small Pond?

April 8, 2010 at 2:58 AM

Lately I've realized that my musical plate is full to overflowing, and I need to start making some decisions to better manage my time.  I often have a rehearsal of some sort or another several times a week.  I'm finding that I simply do not have enough hours in the week to dedicate to practicing what I should be working on.  As a result, all my "musical projects" are getting the short end of the stick.

Over the past few years, I've been exposed to a very wide range of performance settings from orchestral, chamber, solo, and "the pit".  Each of them have their own set of challenges and rewards:

In an orchestra you are one of many. Much time is spent practicing counting rests, eagerly awaiting the time you can finally put bow to string, when at last it comes and the conductor calls a halt to work the measures you were counting measures. It is too easy to get lost in the sea of instruments, which can be a comfort in difficult pieces.  Musical choices are determined by the conductor and/or first desk.  However there is a camaraderie in being with such a large group of people, though many of them you don't get to know that well.

Compare that with a chamber ensembles/pit orchestra:  there may be eight to twelve of you at most.  You are your own principal, or assistant principal.  There is no relying on others when you don't have your part mastered.  Mistakes are more transparent.  In a "pit", the probability of mistakes are higher in the cramped quarters, often directly in front of a brass player.   However with a smaller group, musical collaboration happens more frequently, though interpretation debates can become quite lively.

Then there is the solo experience.  This takes a higher level of confidence to pull off.  There is no hiding what-so-ever. Mistakes aren't just transparent, they are glaring. You are completely exposed. Music interpretation is entirely up to you. 

Though I've met most of my friends through the orchestra and really enjoy playing larger symphonic works, it is the smaller, more intimate group settings that I enjoy the most.  When practice time is sparse, I tend to gravitate towards what I'm working on in these smaller settings and my practice time is more focused on techniques and musicality. 

So, after the season finale with Mahler in May, I'll be stepping away from the symphony, and directing my focus on the chamber/pit and solo works. Maybe in a year or two I'll go back to the symphony, but for now I'll be leaving the large sea for the small pond.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 8, 2010 at 10:53 AM

 Good for you making the decision to focus your efforts!  I've had to go through a similar process (with a different conclusion) recently.  It's kind of painful, but not as painful as spreading yourself too thin . . .

From Mendy Smith
Posted on April 9, 2010 at 12:44 AM


It was a painful process to make this decision, however I believe it to the right one for me.  After this summer I'll be traveling much more frequently, and it just makes sense to do some spring cleaning.  And besides, it will give me more time to learn how to play violin!  :)

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