July 12, 2012
Aa an adult beginner living in a small town my opportunities to play in an ensemble are limited. There isn't an amateur orchestra in my home town, with the exception of a youth orchestra. My teacher has been generous enough to allow me to participate in the annual String Fling K-State hosts each year in January. I've been to three now. String Fling has been a great experience and I am looking forward to participating again this coming January. However, with 50 or 60 kids of varying ability in each String Fling ensemble there is no opportunity for individual attention. Starting in August I'll be sitting in with the youth orchestra, having passed an audition for it in May. I attended a music camp this week as a warmup for the start of rehearsals next moth for the Gold Orchestra.
Each day we spent about 3 hours rehearsing the four pieces picked for the camp. Rehearsal included discussions about the structure of the music and about how the pieces should be performed stylistically. For example, the Bach Suite we played was composed at a time when it was understood that quarter notes would be played staccato. The composer didn't write all the staccato dots in the piece as it was assumed that musicians in that era would know to play them. Modern musicians unless they were told about this convention wouldn't know. David allowed us to play the piece as "written" and then explained about the invisible staccato dots. The change in the piece when we played it next was startling.
We spent quite a bit of time working on dynamics and proper bowing direction. As David says, every day is dynamics day and every day is bowing direction day. For some of the participants this was their first introduction to playing with an ensemble, i.e., not playing solo music. Needing to follow the baton and play in tempo with the ensemble was a struggle at first but by the end of the third day we sounded pretty good as a group.
We also spent time each day discussing music theory. The other participants were all grade and middle school aged children so we didn't get into advanced music theory but we did touch on the Circle of Fifths, key signatures, relative keys, treble, bass, tenor, and alto clefs, and intervals. Having taking a freshman music theory class a year ago this was a nice review for me. I've forgotten my major and minor keys. I need to memorize them all again.
We also spent some time each day looking at pieces of several Rodger's and Hammerstein musicals. We watched snippets from Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. And we watched the entire 1957 television version of Cinderella. We talked about how musical themes were brought back later in the musicals to tie things together, and about how songs were structured.
Yesterday we ended the camp with a performance for the families of the participants and a potluck dinner.
It was a good introduction to being conducted for me. Since I had the music ahead of time and had already learned it, I was able to focus on the conduction and dynamics rather than just on trying to keep up. My confidence going into the start of orchestra rehearsal next month is greatly increased. I am still in over my head, but not as far as I was just a couple of days ago. The next four weeks and the two lessons they contain will be spent focusing on the pieces the Gold Orchestra will be performing this year:
Concerto Grosso by Antonio Vivaldi, Op. 3 Nº 11, edited by Alfred Einstein
Brook Green Suite by Gustav Holst
Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, Op 11.
An English Suite by C. H. Parry, adapted by Paul Lavender
Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlen, arranged by Merle Issac
Sabre Dance by Aram Khachaturian