Friday, December 21, 2007

I love these guys

Only the video camera managed to get to the school Christmas concert, and it only managed to peek through a few heads in the audience for half a minute or so, so this is the best photo I have to share, but it'll suffice. This is the Slocan Community Intergenerational String Orchestra -- or part of the second and third violin sections. Allow me to enumerate the ages of the players shown from left to right here: 12, 70+, 60-ish, 8, 80+ and 9.

How privileged I feel to be the one waving a stick around at the helm of this ship! The orchestra began about 12 years ago, initially as an undirected inclusively symphonic ensemble of a dozen or so players, including tenor sax, a cello, three or four violins and a couple of brass instruments. Gradually interest grew until we were up to twenty or more, and experiencing a vast leadership void. We tried taking turns conducting and arranging and making repertoire choices, but eventually I somewhat reluctantly took up a semi-permanent residence on the podium. The music-arranging was a nightmare, with far too many brass, far too many treble-clef instruments, with transcriptions required for E-flat, F and B-flat instruments. There were totally insurmountable issues of balance. After a hiatus year I declared around the time Sophie was born, I reconstituted the orchestra as a string ensemble, thus saving my sanity. I was sorry to have to exclude our half dozen loyal and enthusiastic brass / wind players, but in the years since a community band has sprung up in a neighbouring community and that's a good thing.

So starting about 8 years ago, our rural community of 1000 has built up a string orchestra. Up and up. It's getting a little bigger every year, and better too! We have adult amateurs getting their instruments out of their closets and dusting them off, serious adult students, lapsed professionals, string teachers and kids of various ages and stages from about 8 on up.

Generally speaking the shorter people sit closer to the front, and we try to put less experienced members beside someone who is more secure. We always play some easier pieces and some more challenging ones, rehearsing in ascending order of difficulty, allowing less experienced members to slip out part-way through the rehearsal, once the music is over their heads. We try to offer solo opportunities around, including the chance to perform concerto movements with orchestral accompaniment.

There are now three of my own children in the front row of the orchestra. My mom sits in the next row. There are a couple of retired schoolteachers and a couple of current schoolteachers, homeschoolers and schoolchildren. And miscellaneous adults of all description.

We have such fun. There's a friendly rivalry that goes on between the violinists (especially Erin and her stand-mate J.) and the violists (principally Noah these days). There's a similar bit of banter that goes on between the cellos and the rest of the orchestra -- we pretend to be sorry about saying that the cellos are too loud and there are too many of them, but make it clear we aren't really sorry! There are times when the Burkholder kids pick on their mom, sometimes aided and abetted (or even led) by their grandmother. There are times when I tease my mom, poking fun at her uncompromising musical standards, and her students young and old enjoy this as much as she enjoys helping them gang up on me. There are no egos at stake in this orchestra. We leave our hang-ups at home and we are all there to have fun by learning to play together to higher and higher standards. We have found an amazing balance between silly fun and hard work.

What I love most is that there is no divide between the children and adults, between the less advanced and more advanced, between the school-types and the confirmed unschoolers. We are all there as musical peers to support each other and the cohesive growth of the orchestra. I couldn't dream a better community musical endeavour to be part of. I am in awe of this lovely group of human beings.

We have the full support of the local K-12 school, rehearsing in the evenings in their lovely open library area and being invited year after year to be part of their Christmas concert. Last night we opened the show with and arrangement of the lovely contemporary Jewish New Year tune "Bashana Haba'ah". Next we played a terrific setting of the Wexford Carol by Anne McGuinty, and finished up with the Pastorale from Corelli's Christmas Concerto. The local audience of school-parents, school-children and grandparents aren't the ones who tend to come to other string performances, so this is our chance to impress them, and we seem to do that just fine. They are very appreciative and we always feel very supported by our community public school. For a confirmed homeschooler, I sure love our local school a lot.

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