Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Orchestra music is ready!

I have this little community orchestra thing. Twelve years ago someone came to my house and said "I play cello, and I hear you play violin ... and I'm trying to start a little orchestra." Erin was about 18 months old and I was happily busy being a mom, but I agreed to come along and give it a try. It was pretty dreadful for a while. A handful of wind, brass and string players, some of whom were nowhere close to playing in tune, tooting and scrubbing along with no leadership.

I started offering some suggestions, and doing a little of the music arranging. With time and experience it got somewhat less painful. Eventually we decided some conducting was a good thing, and I began sharing the directing with a couple of other folk. They preferred if I did most of it. Gradually, reluctantly, I was eased into a leadership role.

After Sophie was born I resigned for a year. The leadership and organization was too much the year I had three kids under five. I expected others would step forth to fill the leadership void, but nothing happened without me. There was no repertoire, there were no rehearsals, there was no concert. People began pestering me to start things up again the following year. I decided I would be willing to come back and take the helm again, but I had my own terms, terms that would make the endeavour manageable for me.

It had to be a string orchestra only. The intonation, balance and transposition issues were just too huge to stay 'symphonic.' Four clarinets, no violas, nine violins, a trombone, two trumpets, two cellos and an alto sax just wasn't working for me. And I wanted a flexible ensemble that could welcome my young violin students, and eventually my own children, for a selection of easier numbers.

And so the Slocan Community Orchestra was reborn the year Sophie turned one, with a couple of extra letters in its acronym. An "I" for Inter-generational and an extra "S" for String. It's been fun. My older kids have gradually slipped into the ensemble, taking on two or three easy numbers their first season, slowly gaining experience to the point where they're anchoring their sections, performing solos, helping hold things together and providing leadership. Sophie eased in a couple of years ago and is now really solid. And Fiona is now part of the orchestra this year too, playing a handful of the easier selections. The group is fantastic to work with. They're eager, respectful and hard-working, but with no egos on the line and a lovely atmosphere of humour and mutual support.

The orchestra has a lot of consistency now. There's a tradition we've built up. The same people come out every year, a few come and go, kids join when they reach Suzuki Book 3 or 4, and grow up in its midst. We have rehearsals on a schedule that everyone knows, and concerts at about the same time every year. Keeping the organization afloat is a lot less work now than it was when we were first trying to find our groove.

But there's always a crunch as I try to pull together repertoire for the first rehearsal each season. I need to have a range of styles and a range of difficulties for a huge range of players. I like to find special things for some of the students to do -- solos or other unique roles -- while also trying to ensure that the long-term adult amateur members are not feeling ignored. We're small enough in number that I need to be sensitive to the limitations of individuals and the strengths and weaknesses of particular sections in choosing repertoire. I often have to re-arrange music we purchase to accommodate for these idiosyncracies, and sometimes it's easier just to start from scratch, working by ear or from a public-domain score to pen a new arrangement.

So here we are, the day of 2009's first rehearsal. And I have the music done a full five hours early! The simplified cello parts have been penned, the abridged Corelli Concerto Grosso has been created, the solos distributed appropriately, the cello solo redistributed to viola, the Violin 3 parts have been transcribed from the viola parts where required, decisions have been made about seating and about which numbers only the most advanced players will play. And the music is all collated, stacked and ready to hand out. It's a stack of parts about 2 inches thick, and I'm really happy I'm done with this job until next year!


  1. Oh, my, that is a big job. When I taught band, that was my least favorite part, getting the music together and making sure all the parts fit all the players. Looks like you did a superb job on it. Way to go!

    Don't you love conducting? I did. I mean once the music is all together and the parts are rehearsed enough to not kill your ear... It was like playing a big, multi-human instrument. I loved it. I miss it.

  2. Congrats on being so organised.
    Oh my, 9 clarinets and no violas! While I totally understand timbre wise I just thought I should point out that it's an easy transposition for a Bb clarinet to read a viola part, most decent players should be able to do it at sight. Just in case you ever have that problem again ;)

  3. No, we weren't talking "decent players" here, LOL! People with two years of school band in their background, twenty years ago, some still using fingering charts to read some of the less common treble clef notes ... that sort of thing. Alto clef transposition was definitely not going to happen!

    It was only 4 clarinets, but they had an intrusiveness equivalent to nine :-D.


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