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The Weekend Vote

Weekend vote: Do you have the opportunity to play in a group?

July 1, 2012 at 12:51 AM

I have found, with my students, that something very important for them is having the opportunity to play their instrument with other children, whether it's in Suzuki group class, school orchestra, youth orchestra or some other kind of regular playing situation. It's important for adults, as well, whether they are amateurs or professionals. If violin is just a solitary activity, it's hard to stay motivated to practice and improve. The problem is easily solved if you are in an orchestra, but it also may mean that you form a quartet, play chamber music, join in a Celtic music band, play at church -- there are many different ways to fulfill this near-universal need to make music with other people.

Do you have the opportunity to play in a group? And feel free to describe your group, or your feelings about this matter, below.

From Paul Deck
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 2:40 AM
There are local orchestras that I could join, but I would have to take an evening a week to play with them and then I would not be able to practice those evenings. I think it would be more fun to find other musicians to play chamber music together. The trouble is that everyone, myself included, is just so busy.
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 2:22 AM
I've never been much of a "joiner", but when I heard about a "beginners' string orchestra" in my area, I cautiously checked into it. At the time, I'd only been taking violin lessons for about seven months, so I was really uneasy about possibly (probably) overreaching my ability.

The orchestra program is called "New Horizons Orchestra", and I learned NHO has groups in several locations. The local one is run through Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. It does have a "starting from scratch" level, but somehow I wound up playing with a group of string musicians who had either played in their youth and were returning to their instruments, or had started as adult beginners a few years before. The lower limit on age is 50. We have one member who's almost 90. The median age is -- mmmmm... not sure -- maybe upper 60's?

The director is a cellist who teaches both privately and in one of the local school systems. He's perennially over-caffeinated, and his resulting enthusiasm is contagious. The group's motto is "Your best is good enough!"

In the three "semesters" that I've been involved, we've worked on and performed Mozart, Brahms, Broadway tunes, hymns, and much more. When we resume rehearsals in late Summer we'll be working on a movement of the Elgar cello concerto. The rest of the semester's curriculum is still a mystery.

I never thought when I began playing with NHO that I'd become so completely enthralled with it, but it has become one of the great joys of my life.

From steven su
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 4:02 AM
I actually like playing by myself more cause I enjoy solo works more. but I still join local and school orchestras so I learn to work with others. Plus, I can learn from other players as well. Not my favourite thing but I do learn new things!
From Dottie Case
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 4:30 AM
Marsha, I direct a New Horizons String group here too. We are small...less than 10...but have all instruments represented. Last year we traveled to Grand Rapids and spent a day with 3 other New Horizons groups. It was fun and inspiring. Any adult beginning/novice who has a chance to play with a group like this should give it a shot.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 5:05 AM
"If violin is just a solitary activity, it's hard to stay motivated to practice and improve"

Laurie, you must think I am weird, for me, it is this solitary activity that is the most rewarding and motivating factor that keeps my practice daily and improve technically and musically. I do play with others from time to time, usually when invited by others and rarely on my own initiative. When I do that, I learn certain things that I don't get by working on solo pieces alone. But the deep satisfaction always comes from working alone. When playing with others, I feel a lot of obligations to others that is social but is not always necessary musically relevant. I do enjoy that from time to time, but what keeps me going is that I can be left alone to work on the pieces that I really want to learn. In a sense, practice violin for me is not unlike doing yoga and meditation.

From marjory lange
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 11:24 AM
When I play chamber music with people I don't know, it's easy to hear who plays mostly alone, who has experience playing with others: it shows in the continual awareness of what others are doing, sensitivity to rhythm, and the ability to contribute beyond making one's own sound.

I LOVE practicing and playing alone, but without opportunities to play with other people, either in orchestras or smaller ensembles, I've learned that one runs the risk of becoming one of those who 'runs with scissors,' so to speak.

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 11:27 AM
Dottie -- One of the groups you met in Grand Rapids was from my group. I couldn't make it that day, but it sounds like everyone had a great time! We, too, have all the strings represented, although we only have one viola and one bass. And last December at our end-of-semester concert, the other two 2nd violinists had to miss the concert, so I was the only 2nd playing. :) Glad you responded to my post!!
From Sue Buttram
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 1:54 PM
I'm a teacher of beginning and intermediate string players. Many of the schools don't have orchestras these days so I'm constantly working with the students to form ensembles within the studio. And in the school year, I have workshops to bring as many together into a string orchestra as are available. Playing chamber music is one of the things I love most and I want all of the students to have that experience.
From Paul Deck
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 4:53 PM
I agree with Yixi but I don't think I could have put it in words nearly as well as she did. There is definitely a meditative (zen-like?) aspect to solitary practice.
From Julie Wilson
Posted on July 1, 2012 at 8:59 PM
As an adult beginner, I love the freedom and privacy that comes from practicing alone. However, I do admit that playing in a group has been very helpful for me to progress and provides additional motivation to keep going. The opportunity to contribute to a group collaboration of beautiful sound is VERY rewarding and motivating!

Currently I play at least once per week with a Scottish fiddling group and there are numerous 'jam sessions' available around town most days of the week. My classical Suzuki teacher also offers twice monthly all-student group sessions that have also proved very helpful. There is a chamber music class I'd also like to participate in but as previous posters have said - time is an issue. You have to make time for things you want to do, but even then there are limits if one is to maintain balance.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on July 2, 2012 at 5:57 AM
I love solo violin but there is so much ensemble repertoire that is beautiful. I would love to play chamber music but for now my opportunities are Scottish fiddle music (unfortunately our group meets in my area only a few times a year) and Klezmer with a friend who lives in Britain and comes to Berkeley only about once every two years.
From Kit Jennings
Posted on July 2, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Am I the only one who doesn't have the desire to be a soloist. I love playing with others. I like being a part of something bigger than myself. I admire those who are better and work to improve because of them. I enjoy sharing my experience, however little, with those who haven't played long. It's a community of people with something in common. Only those involved truly understand.
From marjory lange
Posted on July 2, 2012 at 1:15 PM
I don't think that loving to play alone means one necessarily wants to be a soloist! If a person doesn't like to play alone, s/he is unlikely to become a good player of any sort. Individual practice is the only way to learn the instrument and the only way to keep honed and strong as a player. Besides, the sound of your own instrument, the uninterrupted concentration-- these are so essential to the love of the thing.

I know that too much ensemble playing without enough individual time can wreck havoc on playing: one's intonation tends to go sharp if too much orchestral work (in order to hear one's own instrument over the rest: I suspect that is one reason orchestral tuning keeps rising, at least in some groups); the finer edges of sound get lost; and there can be a loss of creative energy.

But to not enjoy playing in groups, at least once in a while, well...there's a very crude analogy available, but I won't employ it.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 3, 2012 at 4:41 PM
Kit, no, you're definitely not the only one. The main reason I like to play violin at all is to play in a group. My goal when I restarted the violin 5+ years ago was to play in an orchestra. I joined a community group about a year later and met people there to play chamber music with. Four of us formed a string quartet and we've been playing together now for over 3 years. I also like to play with my children, who play violin and cello.

I like to do a lot of things alone, but perhaps surprisingly, playing violin really isn't one of them. I think my dislike of playing alone contributed to why I quit playing in the past, twice. This time around I started blogging on this site to combat isolation and keep me going, and that has helped (although I admit, I still find it a struggle especially during the summer when orchestra is not rehearsing). This fall will mark my 6-year anniversary of playing again.

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on July 3, 2012 at 9:26 PM
Since my wife plays cello, I guess you could say that I have a ready-made group to play in. The violin-playing friend who started all this madness makes it a trio, and we've already played at a couple of weddings and other functions. All we need is a viola player and we'll be a string quartet.

At least once a week I go to bluegrass jams. Originally I got into bluegrass through my mandolin playing, although now I usually play fiddle instead.

One of these days I'd love to try playing in an orchestra, but given my schedule I don't see how I could squeeze that in along with everything else.

Playing with others is great fun, and good for developing your technique. It's best if you can play with people who are slightly better than you are - it gives you great incentive to improve.

I strongly recommend to anyone that they find others to play with. Every now and then everything clicks and the result can only be called magic. When you have one of those moments you realize exactly why you're going to all the effort. It really is worth it.

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