Whether you’ve been learning the cello for a few years or played the oboe since you were a child and want to keep it up, being in an orchestra is a brilliant activity you can do. In this blog, we’re going to tell you why you should play in an orchestra, what orchestras you can join and how PlayScore 2 helps your orchestral playing.
If you’ve had instrumental lessons at school or as an extracurricular activity, your teacher will probably encourage you to join an orchestra so you can put what you’ve learnt into practice and improve your musicianship and musicality. For example, if you’re learning to read music on your instrument, you’ll be using your already existing knowledge of music theory, by rehearsing new works throughout the year. If you’re taking music grades, orchestras are excellent preparation for the sight reading and aural components of these exams as you’ll often be learning repertoire for the first time from sight in your rehearsals.
Additionally, you learn how to play with other musicians and blend together as an ensemble, skills that are very different compared to playing on your own. You also learn about artistry, phrasing and interpretation as the conductor will often instruct you or your section to play your parts in a certain way.
What’s more, you hone a range of essential transferable skills that are applicable outside of music. As we’ve just mentioned, you sharpen your listening skills, by responding to the sound, dynamics and tuning of other musicians around you, and by listening to your conductor, concertmaster or section leader’s instructions during rehearsals. You gain excellent presentation and communication skills, by performing concerts and playing expressively and confidently in public. And by interacting with your fellow musicians and being part of something much greater than yourself, you develop respect for other people and learn to work as a team so that everyone’s individual parts neatly fit and harmonise alongside each other’s, just as the composer intended when writing the score. However, if you’ve been in the orchestra for a fair amount of time, there might eventually be the opportunity to become a section leader or concertmaster, so you’ll be displaying important leadership qualities and negotiation skills in front of other musicians.
Motivation and discipline are two other qualities you attain from joining an orchestra. For instance, you need to spend time practising your parts outside of school or work as rehearsals can be fast-paced, and your conductor or section leader will want to focus on aspects of music outside of “note bashing” such as interpretation and creating a nice blend between different instruments. You need motivation as rehearsals are often long so you have to maintain good concentration and stamina for these. You also need to be motivated so that you’re able to attend rehearsal and concert dates on time. Your conductor and fellow musicians won’t be happy if you’re late (and certainly on a regular basis) as this’ll question your commitment and attitude towards the rest of the orchestra.
Indeed, for many people, being in an orchestra is as much a social and communal activity as it is about making music. A recent study by Dimitra Kokotsaki and Susan Hallam (which was about the perceived effects of group music making among Higher Education music students) highlighted the act of making music with people as an inherently social one. This study also demonstrated that group music making provided an opportunity for the students to develop their social and personal skills, improve their mood and self-esteem, and make friends with like-minded individuals. To get to know other people better, players are often encouraged to join in with the orchestra’s social side, by attending social events such as going to the pub, an activity that proves rather popular with musicians after a rehearsal or concert.
If you’re applying for university courses or jobs, drawing attention to your involvement in an orchestra is a guaranteed way to boost your UCAS personal statement or CV as the panellists will recognise the above mentioned transferable, personal and social skills, gained from orchestral playing, and which apply to studying for a degree or the world of work. Indeed, if you’re hoping to study at one of the music colleges, you should join an orchestra and highlight this in your CUKAS application as it shows that you have previous pre-professional experience and a willingness to develop a career as a performer as freelance musicians’ work typically involves playing in orchestral concerts and recording sessions.
Indeed, it’s never been easier to do an online search for an orchestra you can join. Today, orchestras cater for a whole range of ages and abilities, and it’s likely that your school, university or local music service will have an orchestra to suit you, whether you’re a relative beginner to your instrument or looking to be pushed to a more advanced standard. The National Children’s Orchestra and National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain are the UK’s flagship pre-professional orchestras for children and teenagers. Many members of these two celebrated youth orchestras are aspiring young musicians themselves, who study at the specialist UK music schools or junior conservatoires and go on to win places with top international music colleges and orchestras.
The UK also has an established tradition of amateur or “community” orchestras. The Kensington Symphony Orchestra is one of the country’s premier amateur orchestras, inviting international guest musicians to join them for concerts, including opera singer Sir John Tomlinson, pianist Richard Uttley and conductors Michael Seal and Holly Mathieson. While many amateur orchestras require new and even existing members to audition in order to maintain a good artistic standard, there are others that are non-auditioned and welcome members on the basis of enthusiasm. Such is the worldwide recognition given to amateur orchestras that there is a network called The World Federation of Amateur Orchestras, which has celebrated and supported amateur orchestral music making across the globe since 1991.
And there are orchestras, encompassing many different genres and instruments, from traditional classical symphonies to jazz, video game music orchestras and even a national recorder orchestra. For UK readers, visit Making Music’s directory for music groups, the UK Amateur Orchestras directory, and DS Music’s Amateur Orchestra directory to find the perfect orchestra for you!
Of course, it might not be possible to play in an orchestra in person right now due to the current Coronavirus pandemic. However, one of the most popular trends that occurred during the lockdown period was the creation of “virtual” orchestral performances. Over the past few months, this has become something of a “new normal” in place of live, in real life music-making, whereby people remotely record videos of themselves performing their own parts, using a backing or click track for guidance and timekeeping. Then these individual parts are edited and spliced together in a video that gives the impression of participants, playing altogether as one unit. Even though the musicians are, clearly, all not performing in the same place, virtual orchestras aim to foster something of an online musical community, boosting morale and providing escapism for participants and viewers around the world.
For example, London’s All Souls Orchestra invited musicians over the last year to join in with remote recordings of well-known hymns and worship songs; these videos have had over 40,000 views on YouTube. Last year, in partnership with Decca, rising star saxophonist Jess Gillam led three virtual “scratch” orchestras, with at least 2,000 participants performing on a huge variety of instruments, from nearly 30 different countries and with an age range of 6 to 81. Why not get together with some friends, family or like-minded musicians and create your own virtual orchestral performance?
Whether you’re rehearsing for an orchestral concert or playing in a virtual ensemble, PlayScore 2 is the ideal app to help you learn your parts easily and smoothly. Simply take a photo of your sheet music or import a score from IMSLP and then PlayScore 2 will sight read your music with amazing realism. PlayScore 2 can help you practise difficult passages and rhythms, and you can play along at any tempo, repeating tricky passages as often as you need.
Additionally, PlayScore 2 can read scores with systems of many staffs so if you’re learning your music from an orchestral score/reduction, the app lets you select or mute any combination of staffs, so that PlayScore 2 can play just your part or everything except your part so you can play along and hear the whole effect of the orchestra. Furthermore, if you play a transposing instrument (e.g., clarinet, French horn), PlayScore 2 allows you to auto-transpose the score and hear the music at its “real” pitches.
PlayScore 2 is an essential practice app that develops confidence and enjoyment in any orchestral musician so why not make a resolution to join an orchestra this year, when it is safe to do so!
Image by Johan Anblick on Unsplash