Amateur string orchestra
Hello. In my local area, there is already a local amateur symphony orchestra comprising strings woodwind, brass etc. So I was thinking of setting up an amateur string orchestra, open to anyone over a certain level. With myself as the conductor (to get some experience). What does everyone think? Would this be a good idea or...?
If that's a dream of yours, why not? It won't hurt anything to try.
I would do what my youth string orchestra did, seating wise
What did you do? Straight up auditions?
No. Had the best of them sat as principals, and the rest scattered around. With occasional switches around so no one was sat at the back for too long
I feel auditions could potentially spoil the fun for some people
I guess rotating seating could work, as long as you have clear-cut stars to sit in the principle spots.
Conducting is something I'd potentially like to go into in the future, so would want as much experience as possible instead of waving my baton to a recording??
2 years ago some string players in the "amateur"** conductorless chamber orchestra (~30 players) I've been playing with for 6 years(now) decided to try forming a "Friday String Serenades" group to get together twice monthly. 13 of us showed up and maintained that number pretty well for the first year. We also play without a conductor. That number of players allows us to play most of the well-know string serenades that have been composed (3 on divided parts (you know what I mean if you've played these) plus a bass). The second year the number of players dropped and now we are about to start the third year.
I'm part of a group (30 person choir and 10 piece orchestra, with violins, bass, clarinet, and keyboard) that performs at the church. We play mostly famous religious music from the classical and baroque periods during mass, but we do concerts on the side as well to balance the chequebook.
I'm not a religious man
Truth be told, neither am I. But if the church enables me to play music with a large group of dedicated musicians, then I won't complain.
"Had the best of them sat as principals"
Players like to have an experienced or at least a thoroughly competent and businesslike conductor in front. How well do they know you? How well do you know the music? It all depends on whether you can motivate them to give up their precious time.
I served on the board of my city's community orchestra, and I can 100% tell you seating is the least of your worries. Adults, with maybe one or two exceptions, are aware of their abilities don't grumble about seating- they just want to play. The difficult part will be finding a rehearsal venue and finding a concert venue. People don't want to let you use their space because of the liability and usage costs, for free anyway. You'll have to raise funds to pay for those, and they are more expensive than you'd think.
Once again, I agree with Marry Ellen. My main frustration with community orchestras was not about lack of skills, but lack of commitment and the reluctance from management to introduce rules for attendance. I can tolerate players on lower level, but can not those who miss rehearsals and then appear at concert time. It is your biggest challenge. Unless there is enthusiasm and commitment, results will be poor.
Julie is spot-on.
Can I make a suggestion? If you end up going through with this, PLEASE pick music that 80%+ of the players can do proficiently. Don't pick music just because you, as the music director, like the music. Pick it based on what you think the players can DO.
Regarding venues, churches are going to be your best bet.
Erik I agree with you entirely on that (although my youth orchestras were very good at picking rep that was the right level generally)
I'm also not a full time musician as such, currently an amateur (hoping to start university in 2020). I work full time, so could potentially fund the venue and music myself, depending on expense
Pardon me Jake for coming across like an agony aunt, but it doesn't sound like this is a venture that really burns you up. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a vanity project, but you can't expect players to devote a lot of time and effort to a conductor who just wants "to get some experience". I recall playing in at least two amateur (although hand-picked) orchestras conducted by ambitious young musicians who went on to have successful careers as conductors. At the time we (the band) weren't 100% impressed, but enough to be generally supportive and it's nice to see their names crop up on a CD cover or hear them mentioned on the radio.
@Erik "youth orchestras and community orchestras ... pick pieces WAY above the average player's level"
Another point: String repertoire is hard. The Tschaikowsky or Dvorak serenades are harder than much of the symphonic repertoire--if only because there are no wind and brass sections to hide behind.
You folks have a lot more experience than I, but, I was listening to a video of a local amateur orchestra the other day, and it was the horns that made it just about unlistenable. VERY evident when they are not in tune. Perhaps the strings were bad too, but the horns were omnipresent and intolerable. But, that is one orchestra and one set of ears behind that observation.
The French horn is possibly the most difficult of the brass instruments, so it is not surprising that amateurs can fall over in the stress of performance. Depending on the orchestra, one solution is to choose pieces where the horn parts are fail-safe. Another is to have a conductor who is also a professional horn player and can coach the horn section on their technique - one of my orchestras is fortunate in having such a conductor, and we have no worries.
I wonder if that's why so many conductors of amateur orchestras seem to be horn players? Of the eight conductors I've had in amateur orchestras, five have been horn players. (The other three: an oboist, a violist, and a pianist.)