Marin Alsop, conductor of the BSO, has invited local musicians to play along with the BSO

November 5, 2009 at 05:58 AM ·

Marin Alsop, the first female conductor of a major orchestra (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) in the U.S., has made quite a splash with her innovations to reach out to her audiences and to keep classical music alive and well in this country.  For her latest project,  "Rusty Musicians," she has invited local area musicians to register for playing with the BSO.  People over 25 who play any orchestral instrument, can read sheet music, and can attend a few rehearsals may register, but space is limited.  The chosen musicians will play the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony with the BSO in concert in February 2010. 

Replies (68)

November 5, 2009 at 05:03 PM ·

 She's so cool. This is great to hear about.

November 5, 2009 at 05:08 PM ·

This is awesome! I'm so happy to see an orchestra (and conductor) reaching out to the community like this. If orchestras want to survive, they need to come up with innovative ways to fill the concert halls. This is a great idea!

November 5, 2009 at 05:10 PM ·

neat idea but I can't help but wonder about the choice of music.

There's a whole lot that has to happen to get from 'able to read sheet music'  to 'able to play the last movement of Tchaik 4th'.



November 5, 2009 at 05:20 PM ·

In this economy, it isn't about's getting the community involved.  Keep in mind, music is supposed to be for everyone, not just the elite players. 

This is a wonderful effort on her part to reach out to fellow amateur musicians.  Those amateur players will have friends and family in the audience who might not otherwise buy tickets or support the orchestra.

It's a step towards a kinder, gentler...more orchestra.

November 5, 2009 at 05:29 PM ·

I think it's wonderful.


---Ann Marie

November 5, 2009 at 07:17 PM ·

I have signed up.  We will see if they accept me and give me my 15 minutes (actually more like 10) of fame.  Christina's point, however,  is a good one.  Having looked at the music for violin 1 and 2, this will take a lot of practice even for a good amateur.  It would have been easier if the BSO invited us to play along with them in the Hallelujah Chorus for a Messiah performance, but hey, I will be thrilled if chosen.

November 5, 2009 at 08:50 PM ·

Trade secret but shhhh! Don't tell anyone!

I was playing this 4th movement - on the front desk - and I'm pretty sure I didn't play every note. I'm also pretty sure that nobody behind did either (our leader did!). However, we all played 16 semiquavers in the right time, and when I heard the recording, it sounded pretty stunning.

November 5, 2009 at 09:22 PM ·

Thanks, Malcolm.  That thought occurred to me if I am chosen.  I had a teacher once who was a violin 1 in an orch that was supposed to play something written by Lutoslawski.  She showed me her part, and we both agreed it was unplayable as written.  She then told me that she had listened to a recording of Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony and could clearly hear that they were not playing all the notes either.

November 6, 2009 at 01:30 AM ·

The seasoned orchestra will be carrying the amateurs so there will be no disasters or embarrassments.

Goodluck Tom!

Edit:  From the AP today about the Classical concert at the White House..."the Obama's used two concerts and a series of workshops for young musicians to send a clear message that the music of the masters isn't just for stuffed shirts...that classical music is "lifiting hearts and spurring imaginations" all across the nation, and is something to be enjoyed by aficionados and the uninitiated alike."

Also mentions, Joshua Bell inadvertently skipped a couple of lines of music and jokingly pronounced it, "the abridged version".  So he showed off a bit of improv too.  ;-)


November 6, 2009 at 02:27 AM ·

Tom and Pauline,

I signed up too.  Hopefully, one of us (all of us?) get in -- keeping my fingers crossed.

November 6, 2009 at 07:10 PM ·



This is what I think we all received today from the BSO:

Thank you for registering for Rusty Musicians with the BSO. Due to the high numbers of applicants, there has been a delay in email notification. We apologize for this delay. You will receive further information on selection process, sheet music and a rehearsal date by January 1, 2010. This is an automated email—please do not respond to this email.

Stay tuned! 

November 6, 2009 at 10:58 PM ·

Tom, to follow up on my earlier post about "approximations" in violin sections, one of our conductors a number of years back told a lovely story. Nice to know it happens everywhere.

He was a violin student - and his teacher was in the Vienna Phil. One day, he was told - you're playing in the next concert. When he protested he wasn't ready, his teacher told him - you play, or I don't teach you any more! So he played, and in the concert was floundering. There was his teacher just ahead playing away - so he leaned forward "Where are we?" Without a break, his teacher mouthed back "Haven't a clue!"


November 7, 2009 at 06:10 PM ·

Great story Malcolm.  Thanks.

November 9, 2009 at 01:54 AM ·

Tom and Smiley, please give us followup information as soon as you get it.  I'm really fascinated by this.  I'm looking at a flyer I got from Strathmore Music Center, where the concert will be held.  The concert is described, as are the instructions on registration.  It says, "Space is limited -- first come, first served."  It sounds like there will be no auditions of any kind.  Amazing!  It also says "TICKETS $10."  Amazing again!  Will the entire concert consist of the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4?  I know that that is a daunting piece for violinists.  The conductor of a community symphony orchestra I used to play with told us once, "Tchaikovsky did not like violins."  Many of Tchaik's works, including his Violin Concerto, are not violin-friendly to play.  I wonder about the other instruments in the orchestra.  I really want to go to the concert, but when I looked online for tickets, the date of the concert was blank.  I'm  eager to hear how the mystery unfolds.

November 9, 2009 at 03:47 AM ·

The electronic announcement for Rusty Musicians is at,1,21 .  The application to play includes space for writing 500 words on previous musical experience.  There must be some selection process here.  I wonder...

November 9, 2009 at 05:29 PM ·

There is certainly a selection process.  I assume they got way more violin volunteers than they need, and they probably want to get folks who likely have enough experience to be able to do this.

January 8, 2010 at 06:11 PM ·

Smiley Hsu and I were both accepted!  Maybe some other v.commers were also.


 You have been selected to perform with the Rusty Musicians Orchestra, on stage at the Music Center at Strathmore with members of the BSO under the baton of Maestra Marin Alsop.

 Based on the overwhelming positive response to this event, we have added a second night. The two Rusty Musicians events will now be held on:

 Tuesday, Feb 2, 6pm-10pm

Thursday, Feb 4, 6pm-10pm

 You have already been assigned to one of these evenings. You can see your assignment at :

 username: rustymusic

password: rusty

 Each night will include four one-hour sessions. Please check the site on or after Friday, January 15 to see which hour you have been assigned to and which part you will be playing (where applicable).

 Your music is available for download in pdf format at

 We will post logistical details to the site by January 15.

 Please confirm or decline your participation in this event NO LATER THAN JANUARY 15 by sending an email to, and indicate CONFIRM or DECLINE in the subject heading. If we do not hear from you by JANUARY 15, we will assume that you do NOT plan to participate.

 Thank you for your interest, and we look forward to seeing you in February!

January 8, 2010 at 07:36 PM ·

The "acceptance list" is quite large (several hundred people).  Perhaps they accepted everyone?  I'm still trying to figure out how this is going to work.  Is it just a publicity stunt?  At any rate, I am looking forward to it. 

January 8, 2010 at 07:42 PM ·

Smiley - I assume they are waiting to receive all the acceptances and then will divide us up.  Since they received 600 applications, I do not think they accepted everyone.

January 8, 2010 at 09:54 PM ·

Congratulations to the both of you.  I hope they post some of this on Youtube...


January 8, 2010 at 11:31 PM ·


January 9, 2010 at 02:53 AM ·

Here's the page from the Strathmore web site describing the event.


January 9, 2010 at 03:27 PM ·

I made the cut too.  It's going to be crowded! 

Here are the numbers (if everyone who was accepted shows up).  

Feb 2nd: 245 and  Feb 4th: 238 rusty musicians

  • 76 violin 72
  • 20 viola 20
  • 21 cello 20
  • 11 Bass 11
  • 11 Flute 11
  • 4 Piccolo 2
  • 12 Oboe 12
  • 12 Clarinet 12
  • 12 Bassoon 12
  • 22 Horn 22
  • 12 Trumpet 12
  • 12 Trombone 12
  • 7 Tuba 7
  • 10 Percussion 10
  • 4 Timpani 3

January 10, 2010 at 01:23 AM ·

Where will they fit the BSO members?

January 10, 2010 at 02:41 AM ·

Congratulations! Now get cracking on that 4th movement, it's a doozy!

January 16, 2010 at 03:21 AM ·

Looks like I'm one of the lucky 1st violinists.  Does anyone have any idea what tempo they are going to take for Tchaikovsky 4th?


January 16, 2010 at 06:27 PM ·

As written the Tchaikovksy is 144 BPM (based on the youtube clip I found of the San Fran Orchestra).  That said, I noticed a handwritten note in the margin of .pdf file with the 2nd violin part.  It says "In 2." I interpret this to mean the conductor will be counting 2 beats per measure --a tempo of 72 BPM.  Those 16th notes are d*mn fast! 

On the other hand, the Elgar's Enigma Variation - Nimrod (in 3/4) is adagio - a very slow 34 BPM as played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  

I see the musicians are divided into eight performances across two nights.  Like you, I'm playing 1st vln at 8p on Feb 4th. There was no word about when we are to arrive that night and I was surprised to see that there are no rehearsals.  I suppose we are to be dressed, tuned and ready to walk on stage at 8p. 

It seems that our 1 hour on stage will be both the rehearsal and the performance.  If anyone has experience and advice on what to expect - pass it on!   It's going to be a first for me. 


January 17, 2010 at 03:59 AM ·

144 should be no problem if I have about 5 more years to prepare, that is assuming I spend 30 minutes a day on Schradiek.  But with 2 weeks until the concert and no rehearsal, I predict a lot of faking on my part :-)


January 17, 2010 at 04:46 PM ·

You said it.  Glad I won't be the only one!

January 17, 2010 at 05:45 PM ·

I had a lesson a copule of days ago and went over the violin 1 part with my teacher.  She was very helpful in pointing out the stuff I really needed to know and the stuff I could fake and how to fake it.  I really cannot fathom why they chose the Tchaik.  The whole Rusty Musicians idea is a terrific one, but in their place I would have picked something a bit more accessible for "rusty musicians."  Unless they thought it would limit the number of string applicants.

January 17, 2010 at 06:08 PM ·


Would it be too much to ask for you to share those tips?  I'm mostly interested in knowing where faking is permissible.  Hopefully, the answer isn't "all the 1/16 notes" cause that just about the whole thing. :-)

January 18, 2010 at 03:41 PM ·

Dear Smiley, Tom, (and any others scheduled to play in the rusty musicians orchestra),

I just emailed a few questions to the BSO about the RMO.  If I get a reply, I'll post it here.


Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the rusty musician orchestra.  I appreciate the musicians taking the time and doing this outreach.  It is quite something for the BSO to be willing to play the same two pieces 4 consecutive hours on two nights with a bunch of rusty musicians!  I hope they have a good sense of humor – it should be entertaining.  

I am scheduled to play 1st violin at 8pm on Feb 2nd.  Can you tell me:
 <the original questions and responses sent by the BSO on 1/20/10 are posted below>

January 18, 2010 at 07:01 PM ·

John Smiley & Tom- Howzabout indulging us nosy parkers & blogging  here at about your experiences?

 Even if it's just to vent or get moral support for your Tchaik 4th woes, it would be neat to see the 3 different paths culminating in the same event.

January 18, 2010 at 08:17 PM ·

Sure.  First of all, I'm thrilled that the other piece is Elgar's Enigma Variations - Nimrod.  It is a relief to have such a contrast to the speedy Tchaik. Here's my prep so far... 

In my lesson last Wed my teacher helped me with the fingering and bowing of the Tch 2nd violin part.  On Friday I found out  that I am assigned to play the 1st vln part (!?!).  Okay, then.... back to square one! I get in 60 to 90 minutes of practice most days, but I stole away for 5 hours yesterday (and I'm still working on the A section). 

My objective is to use this gig to raise the level of my playing beyond what it ever has been.  There, the truth's out - I'm not sandblasting off rust. - I'm not even an orchestra musician.  (Shhhhh!)  I don't know how they let me in, I was totally honest about my playing level when I gave my history on the form.

My approach is to learn the notes and the bowing in groups of 4 (or 8) 16th notes - get the fingering so it fires automatically, keep the string engaged with tiny 1/4" bow strokes, and keep my arm relaxed.  Sounds so easy when I write it, but ummm... my challenge is in the execution. 

I downloaded an mp3 of the San Fran Orch playing the Tch 4th movement and am using the software program "Transcribe!. " This allows me to both slow it down and mark the measures on top of the audio file.  Now that I have them  all numbered, I can quickly find a passage, then play it in a loop at a tempo of my choice.

This Wed, I'll ask my teacher to check my fingering on the 1st violin part.  I openly admit that I have no chance of mastering very much of this piece, namely, because it requires advancing my skills as well as learning the music.  But, when the time comes, if I can play 10% of it (and flounder for remaining 90%), then that's okay with me.  With no rehearsals and only an hour allotted - my shortcomings may lost in the ensuing noise. 

Since I am scheduled for the second night (Feb 4th), I plan to watch the Feb 2nd performances.  If the rusty musicians are way out of my league then, I may have to rethink being a part of it - just out of a courtesy to the others. 

As I said, thank goodness for the Elgar piece! 


January 19, 2010 at 12:27 AM ·

John - amen to your thank G-d for the Elgar piece.  Tomorrow, I am going to enlarge the copy I have of the Tchaik fourth movement and will email it to Smiley with my teacher's notations.  After the concert, I will be glad to post my impressions on this thread.

January 20, 2010 at 03:32 PM ·

A few answers for the BSO Rusty Musicians:

1)      Would you fill in some of the logistical details:
a.       What time am I to arrive at the Strathmore? 
b.      Do I need to bring a music stand? 
c.       Where do I tune up and warm up prior to taking the stage?
(This information will become available soon, please check back with the website)

2)      Can you describe what will take place during the hour on stage?  
Marin will rehearse the group for about the first half, then you will run through the pieces.

a.       What can I tell those coming to watch us to expect?  The same.
b.      At 8pm, I assume the rusty musicians from the prior hour will be leaving the stage and the new group will take their places.  Yes.
c.       Will the hour on stage with M. Alsop and the BSO be like an open rehearsal?  Exactly!
3)      What is the tempo for the two pieces?
a.       The performance tempo for the 4th Mvmt of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 4 appears to be around 144 (72 in 2).  Do the rusty musicians need to be able to play the piece at that tempo? If possible, yes.
b.      Elgar Nimrod seems to be around 34 BPM – can you confirm or clarify the tempo for this piece?  I cannot, but I would go with what is written or your best estimate based on familiarity/recordings you’ve heard or obtain.  This information should also be posted on the website soon.
c.       This may be a hard question to answer, but what are your minimum expectations of musical abilities (i.e., “if you can’t at least do <describe skills> then it would be best to withdraw”)?  We are excited to welcome any and all levels, without reservation!  The only requirement is that participants are excited to attend and contribute to the best of their ability.

(Thanks to Lindsay Gomes for these responses)

January 20, 2010 at 06:40 PM ·

Thanks, John.

January 20, 2010 at 08:26 PM ·

In a "normal" situation two string players will use the same stand of music. You may not be able to have your own fingered part. Be nice to your partner to see if you can come to a compromise on whose part to use.

January 21, 2010 at 12:01 AM ·

It sounds strange to me that there are no rehearsals except one just before the performance.  It certainly will sound more like an open rehearsal than a concert.  For those of you who will be playing, please write about the experience for us later. Can someone give me information on when and where the open rehearsals / concerts will be held?  I'd like to attend some if I can.

January 21, 2010 at 01:54 AM ·

Hi Pauline,

So far I know of four members of who will be participating, so I'm sure accounts of the experience will be posted.  I've heard that there will be media coverage as well.

The event takes place on two evenings at the Strathmore - Feb 2nd and 4th.  Each evening starts at 6pm and a different group of rusty musicians take the stage every hour (6p, 7p, 8p and 9p).  The event is general admission with tickets selling for $10. 

The BSO website says: 
To celebrate the Music Center at Strathmore's fifth anniversary, Music Director Marin Alsop, the BSO and Strathmore invite members of the community to perform with the BSO at the Music Center at Strathmore. This once in a lifetime opportunity, led by Maestra Alsop, will feature Movement IV from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. Bring your family and friends! This event starts at 6:00 pm and runs until 10:00 pm. Patrons are welcome to come and go as they please while being courteous to the performers.

Here're links to Feb2nd and Feb4th.

January 21, 2010 at 05:13 AM ·

John, thanks for all the information.  I'll try to attend for at least part of the time.  It should be fun.

January 21, 2010 at 01:38 PM ·

 Congrats, Tom, Smiley and John! Very, very cool. Yes, do let us know all the details!

January 23, 2010 at 01:22 PM ·

I've been slowly making my way through the Tchaikovsky 4th, and to be honest, there are some parts that are just ridiculous -- I mean, practically unplayable, especially the last page.  I guess there are violin virtuosos that could play it up to tempo and more or less in tune, but I wonder if all the orchestra members can play every note.  I know each and every member of the orchestra is WAY, WAY better than I'll ever be, but it makes me wonder if perhaps they also fake their way through some of the more difficult passages.  Can anyone shed some light on this?  In a piece like the Tchaikovsky, are all the first violins playing every single note? 


January 23, 2010 at 06:57 PM ·

Smiley - the answer to your last question is "no" at least from what I hear.  My teacher showed me a bit about how to fake certain parts, and she is a very talented professional.  A previous teacher once showed me a Lutoslawski piece that she had to play.  She said the violin 1 part looked unplayable, so she listened to a recording of DuToit and the Montreal SO.  She said she could hear that the violins were not playing all the notes.

January 24, 2010 at 04:51 PM ·

I am amazed that my teacher plays all of the notes at tempo when he demonstrates each passage. He remembers playing this piece in youth orchestra when he was 13.  The music always reminded him of an orchestra falling down a flight of stairs  : ) 

He pounces on every note that I flub - even on the fastest passages (e.g., "play an A, not an A-flat!"), but in a pleasant matter-of-fact way.  He is encouraging and knows that this piece is way above my current skill level.  But, I like that he treats me as though he expects me to be able to play it. 

All through last week's lesson I had to bite my tongue to keep from explaining to him why I couldn't make my notes sound like his (my brain is sending out so many instructions it feels like I'm running through an obstacle course while 15 coaches are on the sidelines shouting commands that I'm supposed to follow - my brain is simultaneously imploding and exploding..)

To try to explain this to my teacher would distract us from the lesson at hand.  Besides, I know that he understands.  He continues with his pointers and has me try it again and again until he's proven to me that I can do it.  Often I end up leaving my thoughts, my whole brain, behind and just focus rotely on reacting to his pointers - and sometimes everything falls in place and he'll exclaim that's it!  (Sort of a Yoda moment "there is no try, there is only do"). 

Time to go tune up.  Just 11 days to go (only 9 for Tom!).

January 24, 2010 at 11:11 PM ·

> I am amazed that my teacher plays all of the notes at tempo when he demonstrates each passage.

Hi John,

Did he by chance demonstrate the passage after letter H (rehearsal numbers 21 and 22)?  That's the section that I think is virtually unplayable.  That is, unless you have 6 fingers. 

I've seen similar such passages in Schubert's music.  I'm going to go out on a limb here, since I am but a lowly amateur violinist, but I think this demonstrates Tchaikovsky's and Schubert's lack of knowledge about the violin.  Any composer with reasonable proficiency on the violin, even at an amateur level such as myself, would not have written such passages. 


January 25, 2010 at 01:14 AM ·

My lesson time was up before we got to the last page and we're going to pick it up there this Wednesday.  I'll let you know if he has any secrets or tricks.

January 25, 2010 at 03:14 PM ·

Hey Guys -

I don't see the first page anymore as the ogre that I first thought it was.

My big concern is the bowing on the second page where it is up, down, up - up down..........I'm afraid I'll be the only one with the bow going in the wrong direction....It's coming together...but I have several parts that are really giving me a fit. (viola)

---Ann Marie

January 26, 2010 at 03:12 PM ·

Ann Marie - The only one with the bow going in the wrong direction?!?  No worries there, I still can't play the piece all the way through  - at any speed. 

My music is a smudge of fingering marks and there are still passages that mystify me. It feels at times like I'm applying constant pressure against an immovable force, but this weekend the first two pages started becoming more familiar to my fingers and bow and that's encouraging (though I'm hardly rock steady or up to tempo).  10 more days of practice time..


January 26, 2010 at 11:18 PM ·

Hi Ann Marie,

I'll keep an eye on you.  If I see your bow going in the wrong direction, I'll switch up so you won't be alone :-)

January 28, 2010 at 04:56 AM ·

I'm also playing in this event, with Group 6  (7 pm on Thursday), 2nd violin.  I am quite sure that even in the best orchestras, string players don't play every note.  Here's my approach as a long-time community orchestra player who has had to learn how to practice smart and fudge when necessary (and who has learned a lot of these tricks from a very talented conductor and some terrific teachers).  Maybe you will find them helpful as well, no matter what part you are playing.  My apologies if you already knew all this stuff before!

1. Figure out where your part is most exposed (and since this is a one-shot deal, I'd get that from the recordings) and make sure you sound as good as you can in those parts.  Often, those are NOT the big loud parts with all the notes, and in the Tchaikovsky, I think that is mostly true as well! In fact, I'd say that the Elgar is the harder piece in many ways because pretty much everything is exposed, most of the notes are long and slow, and all the parts have to blend well and move together as well as match in dynamics and tone color.

2. For the impossibly fast sections, try to practice slowly using the same amount of bow and in the same part of the bow that you will use at the faster tempo or it will be much harder to get your bow coordinated with your fingers.  For those fast runs and string crossings, I am using very concentrated amounts of bow in the lower half of the bow because that seems to give me the most speed and the cleanest sound.

3.  If you know what they are, practicing with Galamian rhythms on those fast runs will go a long way to making the hard spots seem easier, even if you don't have them perfectly.

4.  This next piece of advice can backfire if you aren't careful, but I find that leaving out strategic notes in passages with tricky runs while staying in tempo can work; the problem is you can end up accenting things that should not be accented and that's worse than missing the notes in the first place.

5.  Try not to play loudly on those fast passages.  The sound will be plenty loud enough from the group as a whole and you will sound cleaner and play faster (because again, your bow will be more concentrated), and if you miss some notes it will not show one bit.

Did you get the email from the BSO today?  Maestra Alsop wants us to have a good time!  So...

6.  When the time for the rehearsal/performance comes, trust that you have put in a lot of good work to prepare and that it will serve you well--then let your worries go, stay alert, and relish the experience.  You can only do the best that you can with what you've got at that particular moment.  We will be a group of people who have in common a deep love for the music and that will make it a great performance, however imperfect.  And there's no getting around the fact that each of us will be a better musician at the end of the hour than when we started on this endeavor.

Best wishes to all of us!  And I particularly look forward to hearing about it from those of you who are playing on Tuesday night.

February 1, 2010 at 06:56 PM ·

I've thought a lot about crying uncle over the past week.  Lot's of good reasons to throw in the towel. But I really want to do this!  On Thursday I'm so looking forward to meeting some of the BSO'ers and Tom, Ann Marie, Samira, and Smiley.  But I don't want to do so under false pretenses, so I'm sharing with you the email I just sent to my teacher.  I figure that it'll be so much easier to have fun when the expectations are realistic. :-)


With just four days remaining to prepare for the BSO Rusty Musicians’ gig, I have to be both realistic and strategic about what I can do to get the most fun and benefit from the experience.  I am sending these to you so you can comment, clarify, or re-program my thinking. 
In addition to the notes, fingering, pitches, shifts and bowing, playing Tchaikovsky at tempo (72) requires that I:
·         bow 16th notes at this speed,
·         keep the bow incised into the string, and
·         hear the beat notes in every measure as I play.
In the course of taking lessons from you, I’ve discovered that learning the violin is similar to scaling a glacier (at least I think so, I’ve never done any ice climbing).  At first, the slope is totally smooth and slippery, ascent is impossible.  Your instruction, corrections, and encouragements point out where I can find handholds.  Practicing the assignments, in a way, is like pounding at the ice with a pick-axe or kicking with my spikes to form a foothold.  After a while (and seemingly out of the blue) this combination of understanding and effort produces a few foot/handholds and I can ascend a few steps.  However, until that point, my efforts feel like I’m jumping on to the slippery slope and trying to grab at the hand/footholds that I know are there, but just sliding down again.  With the requisite # of attempts and focus, I reach a point where the hand/footholds start to form, and eventually I find some purchase.  This is accompanied by the revelation “Oh! So that’s what you meant!”
Several weeks ago, you reminded me that I need to learn to play the 16th notes in 4-note or, preferably, 8-note chunks so I can execute them as a single unit.  I thought I understood what you meant, but only this past week I realized that I was still playing the passages note-by-note.  Now, I can do some of the passages as a single unit, some of the time – but these hand/footholds are just starting to form. 
With the metronome at 72, I found it impossible to fit all of the notes in.  So I tried just an open string and aha! There’s the rub!  Still too many notes to fit into the beats.  As a warm-up, I practice playing an open string with a relaxed shoulder/arm and accenting every beat.  Now, for 3 or 4 beats I can keep pace with the metronome.  I feel progress, but it is gradual. 
Focusing on this has helped me to hear and feel the beats.  After the warm-up I play the actual notes and try to keep pace with the metronome.  I also try playing with the recording.  I’m making progress, but, my fingering and pitches suffers terribly.  So I take short sections and work on them at a slower tempo with the bow moving ¼” - ½” that it does when playing at tempo.  Then I increase speed to try to get up to tempo keeping the fingering clean and feeling the beat notes.  I am almost reliable on a few measures, but many fall apart well before I get to the 72 mark.  I think that part of the problem is that I fail to keep the bow into the string, so I’m wasting valuable nanoseconds re-engaging the string.  (No hand/footholds have formed on this part of the slope yet!) 
Working on these things feels like the right thing to do.  Even so, I recognize that there are large sections of Tchaikovsky that I haven’t learned at any tempo.  I’ve played through a couple times, but it is still like sight reading (with all those ledger lines, it is more like solving a cryptogram).  BSO is four days away.  So here’s my strategy.
1.       I am going to attend the Tuesday evening Rusty Musician performances with a metronome and earpiece in my pocket so I can figure out what tempo they start with and what tempo that they actually play by the end of the hour. 
2.       When my turn comes on Thursday night, I will play the passages where I know the notes and I have a chance at keeping the beat.  If the tempo is 60-65 (slower than 72 but still insanely fast), I have a shot at playing most of pages 1 and 2, some parts of pages 3 and 4, and a little of page 5.  If the tempo is higher than that, well…
3.       Even so, I know that my fingering and bowing will not be clean and hardly sound like music, but my objective is to start and stop with the violinists around me.
4.       For the measures that I don’t know, or are beyond my skills, I’ll keep the bow on the string, stationary, and count the beats until we reach safe passage (i.e., a section I can play).
5.       I’m practicing this approach by playing along with the recording.  This itself is a challenge, but I am getting better at keeping my focus on the beat and keeping my place in the music.  Even though I am using software that allows me to slow down the tempo, I’m playing along at 72 only.  If, on Tuesday night, the tempo is slower, I’ll spend Wednesday trying to play along at that tempo. 
I look forward to our lesson and any counsel you have to offer. 
Your (ever more) humble student -


February 1, 2010 at 11:00 PM ·


Thanks for the words of inspiration.


Please share with us the tempo that Maestro Alsop takes on Tuesday.  It would be most helpful.  I have a commitment; otherwise, I would attend also.

I agree the Tchaikovsky 1st fiddle part is difficult indeed.  Not only are the notes hard, but the tempo is the killer.  For the past two weeks, I have suspended my double stop studies, and doubled up on Schradieck, trying to push the tempo up to 140 and higher.  I can hold it together at 120-130, but at 140-150 things get pretty shaky.  I'm not going to stress about it too much.  I'll to do the best I can and try to enjoy myself.

Good luck to everyone else that is involved and have fun!!


February 2, 2010 at 04:30 PM ·

Hi Guys!

Wishing everyone who is playing tonight good luck and have fun!  I'll be thinking about you!  Still chipping away at my part for Thursday....I don't know about you, but I've been going around work, humming this stuff and dreaming about playing it at about music on the brain!

(And John, I thought about crying when I first saw the music).

---Ann Marie

February 2, 2010 at 07:28 PM ·

The weather forecast is not looking good for tonight. 

Tonight: Snow. Low around 29. East wind at 5 mph becoming north. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.

Hopefully, tonight's performance will go on as planned.  If you are going, drive carefully and be safe.



February 3, 2010 at 11:26 AM ·

I attended the 6p and 7p concerts last night and it sounded great.  Earlier wonderment was expressed about why the BSO selected such a difficult piece -- from what I could hear and see the rusty musicians were well-prepared.  Tempo was very fast for Tchaikovsky and very slow for the Elgar piece.  Tchaik was 70-76 (140-150 if counting in 4) and Elgar was 32-36). 

February 3, 2010 at 01:36 PM ·

Those of us who played last night had a good time and a great experience.  I played with the 8 pm group.  We rehearsed the Tchaik for about a half hour, then rehearsed/played the Elgar and then played the Tchaik.  A lot of the Tchaik was too fast for me to get a lot of the notes, but some parts went ok.  We apparently sounded quite good on the Tchaik, despite the fact that probably a lot of the Rusty violinists were not getting a lot of the notes.   Maestra Alsop did a very good job with the conducting, conducting clearly and giving easily understood explanations of what she wanted when we rehearsed parts of the Tchaik and Elgar.  She seemed to be having a good time and enjoying doing this.  In addition, she recognized to the audience that a number of folks from my orch (the NIH orch) were participating, so we felt special.  All in all, very positive.  Now that I have had my 15 minutes of fame, I can sink back into well-deserved oblivion. 

February 3, 2010 at 04:38 PM ·

John - I assume they chose the Tchaik to avoid receiving applications from every musician in the DC/Baltimore area who could breathe or draw a bow.  If you had two pieces like the Elgar, almost anyone with a year or two could probably at least hit (or think they could hit) most of the notes.

February 3, 2010 at 09:18 PM ·

Yay Tom!  Good for you!  Now the rest of us are on for tommorow night...

---Ann Marie

February 3, 2010 at 09:27 PM ·

Anne Marie - have fun!

February 4, 2010 at 12:18 AM ·

It's great to hear from the Tuesday groups and from those who watched.  My Hopkins Symphony colleague and friend John was in the 6 pm group and got to sit up front with Jonathan Carney, which was very exciting.  I'm glad the weather didn't stop the fun.  Now I'm off to practice for my turn tomorrow! 

(PS to those who found my earlier post helpful--you are most welcome.)

February 4, 2010 at 12:22 PM ·

Washington Post has a nice article about Tuesday night's performance in today's paper.  This website is mentioned and there're a few pictures.  Here's thelink.  It's our turn tonight!

February 4, 2010 at 01:43 PM ·

You will note in the article that there is a reference to this thread on  I wondered who tipped them off.

February 4, 2010 at 10:46 PM ·

This is such a neat idea -- true "community outreach." Good for Marin Alsop, the BSO, and 400 "rusty musicians"!

February 5, 2010 at 03:56 AM ·

I just finished playing with the group at 8 PM tonight.  What a blast.  It's amazing to sit amongst a group of violins and hear everyone playing all those blazingly fast 1/16 notes in sync.  My stand partner was Kenneth Goldstein, a member of the symphony for 3 decades.  He was a great sport and a lot of fun to share a stand with.  It was also great to meet v.commers Anne Marie and John Hartge.  Hopefully, they will post with their observations. 

Regarding the choice of music, I think the Tchaikovsky was a brilliant choice.  Difficult for sure, but that made the experience that much more special.  It was a privilege to experience what a professional group of musicians are capable of.  The experience wouldn't have been nearly as exciting if the music was less challenging.  Kind of like sitting in a race car with a professional race car driver; you don't want to drive around the track at 40 mph, you want to experience what the car is really capable of.  Tonight's experience truly delivered in that respect.

Maestro Alsop said she is going to make this a yearly event.  If so, you can count me in.

PS  Several audience members complimented me after the performance -- said we sounded great, but it was my 8 year old who stole the show.  He was in the balcony, telling everyone his dad was on stage, and conducting while we played.  He is a complete ham.


February 5, 2010 at 02:13 PM ·

Ann Marie here checking in from the violas.  I was also on the 8:00 p.m. slot with Smiley and John.  I was placed with the Principal - Richard Field.  What an honor.  Mr. Field was as kind as he was talented.  Like Smiley said, it was a night to remember. 

It was as if Superman took his cape off and said,"Here.  You can borrow this for one night."

I was also sitting right in front of the conductor - which gave me a first time perspective of conducting.  I would definitely be in if this happened again.  I'm still on my adrenaline rush from last evening.


February 5, 2010 at 03:04 PM ·

For someone who has never sat in an orchestra before, it is pretty intense to sit on the stage of the beautiful Strathmore surrounded by BSO musicians, led by Marin Alsop, and play Tchaikovsky and Elgar... But what a blast! 

I arrived tightly wound, more nervous than my wedding day (25 years ago)!  At the check-in, we received name tags and directions to the backstage entrance.  When i entered the labrynth of backstage hallways and rooms I could hear from around the corners crisp 16th notes being fired from many different instruments - it was like walking into the middle of a ambush, only the machine guns were brass and strings. 

Along a long hall, rusty and BSO musicians were mingling - some nervous chatter, some animated, some voices were totally cool and reassuring (I think these were mostly the BSO folks).  One wall had floor to ceiling cubbies in assorted sizes - wide, tall, deep, narrow, well-designed to hold various instrument cases. 

After tuning up, I found Smiley and Ann Marie in one the dressing rooms just to the right of Marin Alsop's dressing room.  I looked, but never found Samira! : (    We were having a great time catching up and trying out Ann Marie's Luis and Clark viola when Madeline Adkins (associate concert master) walked in and joined us.  She tried out the viola and Smiley's violin, chatted, even posed for some pictures (I'll post a couple when I get them out of my camera), then went to grab a bite before the 8p performance.  Next the Maestra swept into our room greeting us warmly.  As she left we realized the appointed hour had arrived and belatedly joined the rest of the musicians on stage. 

My bundle of nerves had loosened a bit thanks to the comradery with Smiley and Ann Marie, but everything tightened again when I walked from the wings onto the stage.  First thing I noticed was how easy it was to see the audience.  I mean, it's obvious now, but while the house lights are on even just a little, the performers can see the audience just as well as the audience sees the performers.   My family and friends were a group of 9 in the box closest to the stage on the promenade level.   Next I had to find my seat... first violin seat 12.

I found it comfortably near the back of the first violin section.  It was great to have a sea of violinist in front ot me so I could see the rise and fall of theiir bows -  like a huge visual metronome!  I had no stand partner to my right, but to my left was Chris Scroggins - one of the professionals playing the 2nd volin part.  It was great fun to exchange quick asides with her during the rehearsal.  She was very nice and even complimented my playing. 

Then the Maestra entered, welcomed the audience and turned her attention to us.  She was all business, but with humor and wonderful warmth.  After five minutes I felt relaxed and in the groove.  Somehow the group effort made it easier to keep pace with the tempo - I was able to play most of the of the passages - many more than I thought possible (but, no not all of them).  It was exhilerating!

Did anyone know that there are words to the Tchaikovsky piece?  My brother's wife's mother was there - she grew up in France and said when she was little, one of her friends was from Russia and they used to sing and dance to that tune.  She sang it for us there in the hallway of the Strathmore, but she has no idea what the words mean - she'd just learned them phoenetically when she was a small child.

So thanks BSO for doing this.  Like Smiley, I'll be there if they ever do it again.  Now, I'm looking forward to returning to Vivaldi, Sitt, Mazas and, of course, the fiddling.


February 5, 2010 at 05:22 PM ·

BSO just posted this video on Youtube.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine