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Oh, the quirks of a student orchestra!

Michael L.

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If you looked at us in a photo, you would simply see

a crowd of penguin colored (well not exactly, but you

know what I mean) students all wearing

nearly the same smile (yes, the director examines and

critiques our smiles before photo shoots), holding

instruments in a completely uniform manner,

individuality neatly erased for the sake of the whole,

but OH OH OH, what a facade!

When I look at the very photo I am describing I can

hardly believe this is the same group of people

I see in the rehearsals! In the rehearsals, some

students are trying to please the conductor into

allowing them to move forward while those of us who

already have desirable seats are (admittedly) doing

the same in order to protect our status from invaders

behind. It is considered a mark of social-musical

status to have dark lines on fingertips 1-4 on the

left hand (an indication of practice and dedication),

and (I kid you not) to have a red mark under the left

jawbone (for violinists and violists) is thought to be

a certain sign of musical prestige!

Some people have been known to "accidently-on-purpose"

drop difficult repertoire on the floor near the

conductor as if trying to fool him. I saw someone from

the back of the second violin section have this exact

type of "accident" with extremely difficult Paganini

stuff! I know this is as I suspect, because said

violinist perspires in 3rd position, uses open strings

before ever considering 4th finger, and complains

of any note faster than 8ths in 4/4 time andante!

I will not mention this person's name because they are

generally well-meaning, but what on earth is up with

the stack of caprices bursting said violinist's folder?

Some of these people can't seem to close their mouths

even when playing and simultaniously being screamed at

by the conductor to *shut up*. Some of these people

consistently arrive at rehearsals looking every bit

as tidy as street urchins.......and yet there we are

in the photo wearing tuxes and gowns, instruments in

hand after playing a glorious "Halleluja"......perfect.

I almost can't decide whether it's ironic, a

coincidence, or just a photo-negative!

-Michael L.

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I hear ya, bro! Especailly that thing about people in the back trying to move to the front. When I move from my seat as concertmistress over to 2nd chair cello for a couple of pieces, it's like the whole first violin section is moving!! My stand partner moves over to my seat, and there is a stampede in other people's rush to sit in his seat!! Then, when I return 15 minutes later, everyone has to get all sorted out again!!! I will admit, however, that I used to do the ole' universal "really hard music falling on the floor" trick. Except I really DID know the music. And I know one girl who would sit in all the rest of her classes scratching her neck so that it would leave a mark that looked like she spent HOURS diligently practicing her violin. I'm sure you've never tried any of those tricks, have you? (he, he). Well, those are my thoughts.


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Once after a concert, someone told me that we seemed

like we were all best friends when we play. I laughed.

We don't hate eachother, but unfortunately everyone

is often "at odds" with eachother. For instance, when

I first came to the orchestra, the conductor didn't audition me, he instead put me in the back so as not to be risky. Well, my stand partner in the back didn't dislike me at all, but now is rather resentful at me because I got moved way up in front. Other people in the front have told me similar things happened to them.

There's also another issue. Over compensation intonation-wise. I have noticed that sometimes in the more advanced music we play, if a lot of other people's intonation is wrong, it affects the whole sound so I think my intonation is off and I overcompensate which sends my intonation the other way. I can play this stuff with correct intonation by my self. Hmmm.


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We've got preps, jocks, druggies, just a little bit of everyone in our orchestra. And, miraculously, we all pretty much get along. Except for me and my stand partner. I don't even want to start discussing him, except to say that he's my ex boyfriend and you can cut the tension with a knife.


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In my university orchestra, people actually avoid sitting near the front because they don't want the conductor to hear what they really sound like. Occasionally I sense some bad vibes from people over seating, but we no longer compare hickeys (except as a joke) or drop difficult music-- everybody knows that in college, unless you are a music major, you don't take private lessons anymore anyway. Most of us don't practice either-- college students who are not performance majors (and my school doesn't even have a performance program) hardly have time to practice! (well, that is not necessarily true, but for most people practicing is no longer a priority!)

I must say that I can understand being jealous of the players in the front. In the back it's really hard to make music. The brass section blasts right into your ear, nobody else there can play the notes, and you can't even see the conductor, so it's definitely harder to play well in the back than in the front! When I started playing with my university orchestra, I sat in the VERY last seat, so I know what it is like back there! So I feel some pity for the poor guys who struggle along and drag the whole section down-- that was me! But, thankfully, I practiced (for a couple of years), and I managed to escape that position-- that is, until I join another orchestra one step up from this one. Some people are in the back because they are unmotivated (especially in high school), but some people are in the back just because they are working their way up.

Seriously, I think it is good for us string players, especially violinists, to have our egos deflated a little and sit in the back of the section. For some people, getting stuck in the back can be a dead end, but I think that if you are wise (someday you may find yourself in the back of a much better orchestra than you are in today), you would take it as a challenge to yourself and your own playing. In which case sitting in the back will actually work for you and not against you. That way you can't lose!

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It gets worse. To have an orchestra full of academics who miss every third rehearsal because of AP Chemistry lab session during orchestra! I'm too young to be in AP yet so I man the 1st clarinet section alone. We usually have 40 or so people but sometimes as little as 20.

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Yep, there's nothing quirky about any of this, I've seen it all. OK, maybe except the difficult music thing, maybe some people do it and I thought they're really that good, after all I'm just a lowly 2nd violin. (Most people probably does figure out though, especially with the conductor I used to have, he can see and hear, so such trickeries are useless.)

But yeah, everything else is like the typical description of youth orchestras, with some people desparate to move up front while others hiding in the back, tension during audition times, over-emphasis on seatings, a partially social but not unaninimous atmosphere, etc. It's all there. I think it's just human nature.

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<< There's also another issue. Over compensation intonation-wise. I have noticed that sometimes in the more advanced music we play, if a lot of other people's intonation is wrong, it affects the whole sound so I think my intonation is off and I overcompensate which sends my intonation the other way. I can play this stuff with correct intonation by my self. Hmmm. >>

Interesting, because I think I also have the same tendency sometimes. Intonation can be quite difficult when playing in an orchestra, because it's really hard to hear yourself among twenty other violinists and countless other people. It really demands for a bit of solid muscle memory.

Of course it's clear that overcompenesation only makes things worse. It's probably better to try to intonate with the section, because at least that way the intonation won't be as noticeable. The conductor is there to tell the orchestra about unacceptably bad intonation shall it arises, and to make sure the section improves about it.

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