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The Orchestra Coalesces (incl. a video of “Ashokan Farewell”)

By Jonathan Qu, VI Form


The Orchestra Coalesces (incl. a video of “Ashokan Farewell”)                                            (click on photo or scroll to bottom for the video link)

Have you ever wondered what it was like to do four things at the same time? Well, all members of theScreenshot 2015-04-14 09.59.34 orchestra do. To effectively coalesce and produce a song that is pleasing to the ear, members must read the music, translate the music, play the music, and then listen to the music. This may not seem difficult at first, but simply playing the music and then listening to the music takes a lot of skill. Take the cello for example. Not only do you have to translate the notes on the page, but you also have to pay attention to what kind of combination those notes tell your fingers to do. You then also have to keep in your mind how you move your bow; you need to figure how fast or how much pressure you want to apply to it. Then, finally, you need to listen to the rest of group and figure out how you fit in. You need to figure out whether or not you are playing too loudly, too softly, too quickly, or too staggered. All of these variables still don’t account to all the other complications, such as shifting your hand in order to reach higher notes and understanding what the Italian subscripts on the music are telling you to do. If you haven’t guessed it, playing music…is hard!

On the 23rd of February, the SM orchestra was given its first chance to perform in front of the whole school. This was by far one of our biggest performances, in comparison to our other performances that garnered very small turnout. There is, of course, a process that led up to the success in pieces that we performed, such as “Carmen” by Georges Bizel and “The Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar. Although we meet only twice a week, we are able to efficiently stabilize intonation, dynamics, and pace. We arduously practice in little sections to make all components blend accurately and successfully.

To start off rehearsals, we all tune to a general “A”, or a baseline note so that all instruments are in tune together, rather than just in tune. This is to say, although one instrument may be 100% in tune, if that one instrument is not in tune with others, the sound would vary significantly, therefore skewing our balance. When we tune, we use the oboe to tune. The oboe is a woodwind, and all orchestras use the oboe to tune. Out of all instruments, the oboe cannot be tuned; it is already tuned to be perfect when it is made. In addition, the oboe has a strong piercing tone that can be easily distinguished and emulated. After tuning, we go straight into rehearsal when we practice the pieces. During our practice sessions, we split up parts and fix problems in rhythm and dynamics. Afterwards, we return and start piecing all the parts together. It is a bit like one of those 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, on which you have to put together small sections in order to accurately place the whole puzzle together. How do we pick the songs we play? As students, we usually don’t even know; our directors Kristian Baverstam and Meg Carey do that for us. It really does save us the trouble!

We work hard to sound good. Although such a statement could be seen as pretentious, the process we go through is a tough one and we are able to reap the rewards of it. Trying to place all these different sounding instruments together along with correct dynamics, intonation, and rhythm is a challenge; our process, however, is so efficient that it leads to success in the final product. Incontrovertibly, such a process is hard, but in the end we learn how important it is to listen to others and find balance.

Click here for a video of the rehearsal of Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell.”

Jonathan Qu is a VI Former from Charleston, MA.  He is a monitor, plays lacrosse, and can do mind-blowing tricks with a yo-yo.




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