Monday, September 28, 2009


The chamber orchestra I'm in does four concerts a year. For each concert, there are five rehearsals, scheduled for the two weekends preceding the concert (one Saturday, one Sunday each weekend) and with the dress on the Friday before the Sunday afternoon concert.

As in many amateur orchestras, the wind section is fully staffed with a big proportion of musicians who have been to music school, are music teachers, and/or are employed in military bands. Competition is often fierce for these spots.

The string sections, on the other hand, are small, the players weaker. This is the result of a basic supply-and-demand situation: More players are required in string sections, so there are fewer violinists, violists,  cellists, and bassists who are competent and "at liberty" (as they say in the International Musician). Most people will opt to play for money if they have the opportunity. I suppose I'm one of the few who does not.

Over the past 10 years or so, I came to realize that the amounts of money I was earning through playing were insignificant and that I would be better off playing only when it was something I would enjoy in some way. For me, that includes not spending an hour each way driving on freeways during rush hour to get to rehearsals, and not being treated like a lower form of life (sitting in the back of a section of people who play worse than I do). On this last point, I wish it did not matter to me where I am seated, but it does.

The current orchestra rehearses a 15-minute drive from my house, and not during the week except for the dress rehearsal, so those are both pluses (even with that, the weekends when I have these rehearsals fly by and I don't get too much else done at home). Another plus is that I am the section leader, so I decide on the bowings, suggest fingerings, and play any solos.

So Saturday, the whole orchestra met and played through everything on the program: Brahms Academic Festival Overture, Haydn London Symphony, a Gluck piece for oboe, a Bloch piece for flute, and a Dvorak Slavonic dance. Sunday was strings only, and we had sectionals, so I met with the cellos, we went through the technically difficult spots in each piece, and I suggested fingerings and how to practice them. Then for the last hour all the strings got together with the conductor and worked on the Brahms. We had only two first violins, four seconds, four cellos, and no violas or basses. Such is life in an amateur orchestra.

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