Am i good enough for high school Orchestra?

November 20, 2019, 1:47 AM · I am going to exchange to USA in about a year, and i was wondering if i am even good enough to make it to the school orchestra. I dont know wich school or where in the country yet.
I have:
8 years of solo lessons
6 years of playing in ensembles
2 years of playing in a quartet
The first 3 years of solo werent really productive.

The last classical peices i have played are (I usually play folk music):
Valse Triste in an ensemble
The bach violin double in f major.

Replies (17)

Edited: November 20, 2019, 2:21 AM · The standards of high school orchestras vary greatly. I know of a few high schools where someone at your level would be at the minimum standard for getting into the orchestra at all, but I've also seen many high schools where you would be easily the best violinist in the school.

I'd say you would get into more than 99% of American high school orchestras, but where you would be seated would depend on the school.

November 20, 2019, 2:23 AM · I think Andrew has a point. I know nothing about American schools being British, but I think the standard of teaching generally is higher there. But as I say what andrew says makes sense
November 20, 2019, 5:06 AM · I agree with Andrew -- it will all depend on which school you will be attending. But be careful in choosing where you decide to go in the USA -- there are many high schools which do not have an orchestra. Most (but not all!) will have a band and a chorus, but orchestras are much rarer.

I live in New Hampshire, in the 2nd largest city in the state and neither of our two high schools have an orchestra, despite the many students here who take lessons from my wife and the other violin teachers in the area. As a matter of fact, in this state there are 111 public high schools and 76 private high schools and there are only about 10 high schools (public and private) which have orchestras.

I can't speak for other states, but it's not a given that any high school will have an orchestra, so do careful research before deciding where to go.

November 20, 2019, 6:05 AM · Maybe there is a way you can send a tape and get a guarantee of admission before you go. I think they should be somewhat more accommodating to an exchange student. At least, I would be.

My local high school does not have an orchestra. But the local private music school has its own string orchestra (Bach Double maybe close to minimum standard) and there are other youth orchestras around.

November 20, 2019, 7:28 AM · David, I also live in New Hampshire, and I had no idea that high school orchestras were so uncommon here! I feel really lucky to live in a city that has a strings program starting in the elementary schools. My child just started that program this year, and our public schools have string ensembles/orchestras from elementary through high school. That said, I have a feeling the OP's experience far outweighs what most of the high school players at the local high school here have done. I am sure there are students who have studied on their own, outside of or instead of the school strings program. But for the kids who start in our schools they will have had at most 6 years of group lessons before reaching high school.

Counting our blessings, I guess. I grew up in a large city, and went to a high school that had a very robust music program, so I guess I took it for granted that orchestras (and symphonic bands and chamber music and choirs) were a thing that almost every high school would have.

November 20, 2019, 7:34 AM · Another thing to consider-- if a school's orchestra is good enough to freeze you out, their music program is probably big enough that there may be a second/junior group that will take you.

Bring your instrument!

November 20, 2019, 7:57 AM · As others have said, depends on where you will be going to school.
On average, rural America, you will be lucky if there is a healthy band program, let alone strings. Public urban school often challenged too.
Kids in wealthy suburban schools and private schools get a different level of education and opportunities (whatever the subject) Yes, there are exceptions, but in general it is a fair overview, I think.
Many music programs regardless of place are now outside of the public education system, attached to regional orchestras or private music schools.
Classical music training, in general, in the U.S. occurs through family effort, and generally only occurs for those who are middle to upper middle class
and are willing and able to pay for it.
Edited: November 20, 2019, 2:42 PM · I completely with those who say that standards for high school orchestras vary greatly. The fact that not all high schools have orchestras is also very true. If you do wind up at a high school that has a band program but no orchestra, some band directors will permit violins into their bands. It is different from playing in orchestra of course, but you can still learn essential ensemble skills by playing violin in school band. The only reason this works is because flute and oboe parts can be played on the violin without changing anything. That said, you need to be pretty comfortable playing in third through fifth positions in order to play many of the flute parts in high school band. Oboe parts generally require less shifting. And yes, I would ask if possible to go to a school with an actual orchestra.
November 20, 2019, 12:09 PM · Yes, you are good enough for the great majority of USA public high school orchestras. There are just a few specialized, high level performing arts high schools like New York City and Los Angeles. And there a very big difference between an American high school music department and a German/Austrian "Hochschule fur Musik" Many American high schools do not have an orchestra - just band and chorus.
November 20, 2019, 1:20 PM · You'd be good enough for any high school orchestra I know of, though in the schools with larger programs, you might or might not make the top group.

As others have stated, not every high school in the U.S. has an orchestra program. Texas has a very strong strings program but even here, plenty of rural schools have band and chorus only. Most of the urban and suburban schools that I know of do have an orchestra program but they range from one or two classes only all the way up to programs that fill five orchestras, ranked on skill level.

I don't know how much ability you have to make requests of the exchange program but I definitely recommend letting them know that you have a preference to be placed in a school with an orchestra.

November 20, 2019, 4:23 PM · RK -- the NH public schools that I'm aware of which have orchestras are Manchester (all 3 high schools), Concord, Portsmouth, Hanover. Possibly Pinkerton Academy in Derry (the public high school.) Private schools that I know about which have an orchestra are St. Paul's in Concord. That's all that I'm aware of although I don't know about private schools like Phillips/Exeter or The New Hampton School.
November 20, 2019, 4:53 PM · Back in the post WW-II years when I attended a 1,000-student high school in a "farmland" town, the male violinists in the school orchestra were "drafted" into the band playing baritone horn ("single-barreled" euphonium). Although the baritone horn plays in the trombone (base clef) range the parts were written in treble clef and the range of most musical parts was no greater than one octave. I was sent home my first afternoon with a leaky horn (that I played for the next 4 years) and a treble-clef book of B-flat-instrument music and learned it well enough to join the band's next rehearsal as did the other draftees.

The secret to blowing a brass instrument like that is being able to put your lips together, blow and create a fart-like sound. Do that and you are on your way.

I preferred being CM of the orchestra, but playing in a 100-piece band award-winning marching and concert band was a real thrill - even on icy-cold nights playing at football games when my lips would stick to the mouthpiece if I didn't keep it warm.

With that flexibility you can keep up your music activities even if you attend a school without a string program.

November 20, 2019, 5:27 PM · I attend a very competitive 2700 student highschool and you would easily be in the top 5 players.
November 20, 2019, 5:28 PM · If the secret is creating a fart-like sound, I ought to be a virtuoso.
Edited: November 20, 2019, 5:36 PM · To expand on my earlier post:

I'm not including specialized performing arts high schools at all. I went to an affluent suburban high school of about 3600 students which had three orchestras ranked by playing ability, and the minimum level to get into the bottom orchestra was somewhere around the Bach Double. If you're at that kind of high school, I still think you'd at least get into the program.

On the other hand, I have enough friends who are high school orchestra directors to be aware of a bunch of high school orchestras where only one or two students in the whole school are comfortable playing in third position.

November 20, 2019, 7:23 PM · And to restate, there are huge parts, the largest by square mileage, where if there is a band of any kind and one art teacher for all grades you can consider yourself lucky.
November 21, 2019, 6:33 AM · It's kind of a refreshing discussion actually. More typically a student who has just finished the Bach Double will be asking us how they can get into Juilliard or Curtis.


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