So, now that we’ve (hopefully) convinced you of the benefits, how do you go about getting involved in an orchestra?
Choosing an instrument
If you already play a musical instrument, you can skip this section and go straight to the next one to find out how to find a suitable orchestra for you.
If you don’t already play a musical instrument, but you’ve decided you’d like to play in an orchestra, now’s the time to choose the right instrument for you. There are orchestras for all levels of ability, but you’ll still need to put in quite a lot of work on your chosen instrument before you’ll be able to participate in one. Here are a few considerations to take into account when deciding which instrument to take up:
– Your musical tastes – certain instruments lend themselves to particular musical tastes; if you enjoy noisy music, for instance, perhaps percussion might be right for you. If you’d prefer a gentler sound, the flute might be better suited.
– Practicality – some instruments are huge and difficult to transport, such as a harp or double bass. If you live in a small house, or have a complicated journey to school, you may be better off with a smaller instrument that’s easily transported and stored. What’s more, you’ll have to spend a lot of time practising, so a particularly loud instrument may send your parents mad if you live in a small house with thin walls!
– Your build – if you’re very small, you might struggle with a large instrument such as the double bass; if you have short fingers, you might find it difficult to play some instruments that require large stretches of your fingers, such as the piano.
– Confidence – if you don’t mind, or actively like, being the centre of attention, an instrument that will require you to play solos in an orchestral environment would be good for you, such as the flute or clarinet. If you’d rather be able to hide in a bigger group, a stringed instrument such as the violin might suit you better because you’ll be one of many.
– Competition – some instruments are more popular than others, and that means there’s variation in how easy it is to get into an orchestra. An instrument such as the flute will have lots of competition for two or three spaces in an orchestra, while a less popular instrument such as the viola is always in demand, meaning you’ll find it much easier to get into the orchestra you want.
– Budget – there may well be a scheme at your school to hire a musical instrument, but if not then budget may be a limiting factor. Most instruments have models for a range of budgets, but some are undoubtedly more expensive than others (harps, for example).
– Teachers – you’ll need to make sure there’s a person within easy reach who teaches your chosen instrument, so that you’re not having to travel great distances to lessons. There may be music teachers at your school whom you can go to for advice on this.
– Gut feeling – many people are naturally drawn to a particular instrument, which perhaps has something to do with personality; each instrument has its own personality and it can sometimes be a question of finding the one that matches yours. If you’ve always had a yen for a particular instrument, regardless of its practicality, then this is the one to go for, as you’ll be motivated to succeed at it.
Finding an orchestra
The first place to look for a suitable orchestra is your school, as it will be easier logistically if your rehearsals are on the same site and you can go straight from lessons to rehearsals. If there isn’t one at your school, try a Google search for orchestras in your local area, as there will probably be a county youth orchestra and other amateur groups. Your town’s local website or newspaper may also be able to point you in the right direction. Keep an eye out for local concerts, as this is a good way to find local orchestras and assess how good they are.
Alternatives to orchestras
Don’t forget that playing in an orchestra isn’t the only way of getting involved in playing music; music groups come in many different shapes and sizes, so you’re bound to find one that suits you. Leaving aside pop, rock and similar popular music groups, here are some of the alternative musical ensemble options open to you if you decide that an orchestra isn’t quite what you’re looking for. They all bring the same benefits as playing in an orchestra, but provide different repertoire and group sizes.
– Wind/concert bands – these are made up of woodwind and brass instruments, and usually involve a more modern repertoire.
– Brass band – as the name suggests, a brass band is made up of brass instruments, such as trumpets, tubas and trombones. This produces a very unique sound, which you’ll probably have heard on the streets playing carols at Christmas time. The brass band repertoire is a bit more varied than that, though!
– String quartet – this is perfect if you play a stringed instrument and you want a more intimate setting than an orchestra. It’s made up of two violins, a viola and a cello.
– Jazz band – these are tremendous fun and often involve improvisation, so if you’re a creative type and don’t mind making music up on the spot, a jazz band might be just the thing for you.
– Choir – thanks to TV programmes such as Gareth Malone’s The Choir, choirs are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. There are groups to cater for all musical tastes, from Renaissance religious music to reworkings of pop songs.
Not all orchestras and music groups require you to do an audition, but the best ones almost certainly will, even at an amateur level. Auditions can be nerve-wracking, because you’re very exposed and you know you’re being judged and compared to others. Here are a few tips to help your audition go as smoothly as possible:
– Choice of music – choose a piece you’re comfortable with, and one that demonstrates the emotional and technical range you’re capable of. It’s better to play a less difficult piece exceptionally well than it is to try to tackle a technically challenging piece that’s too difficult for you. Top tip: never play a piece of Bach at an audition. People have very varied opinions about how his work should be performed, and the chances are that the person you’re performing to won’t agree with your interpretation!
– Practising – in the run-up to your audition, practise your piece again and again until you could almost play it without the music.
– Page turning – if your piece of music has any awkward page turns that could disrupt your performance, photocopy your music so that you can lay the sheets side by side.
– Sight-reading – you’ll probably be given a piece of sight-reading during your audition, where you’re required to play a piece of music you’ve never seen before. This is one of the most stressful elements, but you can prepare yourself for it by practising as much sight-reading as you can beforehand. Sight-read a range of pieces with different time signatures, rhythms and tempos so that you’re as prepared as you can be for whatever they might throw at you.
– Stage fright – try to relax before the audition and perhaps try a little meditation to help combat nerves.
– Warm up – allow enough time before the audition to warm up properly. Going in with cold fingers is a recipe for disaster, as is a cold instrument. There will almost certainly be a rehearsal space in which you can do a few scales and a practise run-through of your piece to help you warm up.
Once you’ve passed an audition and got yourself into an orchestra, you’ll soon be able to experience the exhilaration of performing with lots of other musicians – and you’ll soon start to feel the far-reaching benefits of your new hobby.