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Orchestral Newbie Survives Day One

February 18, 2011 at 4:05 PM

The call went out a few weeks ago -- via the local newspaper -- that the New Horizons Orchestra was looking for string players.  Beginners like me were welcome.  I phoned Brook, the conductor.  "Beginners?  Really?  I've only been taking lessons since June.  I studied piano for several years as a kid, but my sight-reading is pretty.....'eh'".  "You'll fit right in!", he pronouced, apparently relishing a challenge.  Did he hear the part about the sight-reading?

I arrived a half-hour early, and began warming up on scales.  Carolyn, a cellist, was next to arrive -- handing out reassurances to "the new 'kid'" that this is all just for fun, and that she had been just as nervous on her first day (last year).  Gradually, the rest of the orchestra members wandered in -- maybe a half-dozen cellists, one violist and eight-to-ten violinists.  If I had to guess, I'd say ages ranged from 40's into 80's.  I lost track of how many times I heard, "Oh, look -- a new face!"  Everyone was genuinely friendly.  I eventually stopped wondering if I'd be offered up as the season's first sacrifice to the rehearsal gods.

We arranged ourselves into looselyuctured sections.  Another violinist asked me if I was a first or second violinist.  "Jeez, I don't know.  Who decides?"  She said she'd started out as a first violinist, but felt she was struggling too much, and asked Brook to reassign her to second violin.  I figured it would all get sorted out eventually, and really hoped I'd wind up in a beginner-friendly slot.

Cue the conductor.  Brook breezed in, juggling a cello, a CD player and a stack of music folders.  He was positively ebullient.  He plugged in the CD player, and began by announcing, "This is what we'll be playing!"  The next thing we heard was a whirlwind of Mozart (Quartet in C Major, K. No. 157) that left the entire orchestra with a "deer-in-the-headlights" expression.  "Don't worry -- we won't even TRY playing it anywhere NEAR that fast!"  Whew -- collective sigh of relief!

After the music folders were distributed (I'm playing second violin), we tuned up, and then sight-read a simple hymn.  So far, so good.  Then came the Mozart.  After the first time through Page 1, I felt like I'd been dropped into a blender.  We tried it again.  Brook grinned at me, and said, "Marsha, you're doing great!"  I must have looked incredulous.  "But I can't keep up -- I wasn't even playing on quite a bit of it!"  He assured me that everything was fine.  Two of the other violinists told me they'd gotten lost, too.  Take three.  This time wasn't another "blender" experience -- I was merely being dragged by one leg behind a runaway horse.  Bump. Bump. Hey, I just bounced to my feet!  I'm keeping up!  Oops!  Bump.  Bump.

Maybe there's hope for me.  It WAS a lot of fun, in a masochistic sort of way.  We practice again tomorrow.  Eventually, I think I'll be able to keep up with that horse!

ADDENDUM:  The second rehearsal went MUCH better.  After the first rehearsal, I went home and spent three hours practicing the Mozart.  Even after that length of time, I still felt like I was beating my head against a wall.  In rehearsal the next day, however, the "vast expanses" of sixteenth notes didn't look nearly as formidable.  I even managed to land some of them.  Can't wait 'til the next rehearsal!

From Anna Meyer
Posted on February 18, 2011 at 11:28 PM

 I liked reading your post. And don´t worry about being lost. Everyone is lost during their first practise and it takes a while getting used to being in an ensemble. I have been involved in ensembles for many years but I still feel I´m learning something new every time. Just practise carefully, listen to the piece you´re playing while reading the score and concentrate on listening during practise, not just bury yourself in the notes :) Good luck :)

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