ORchestra BLues

If you are not a fan of classical music, please do not automatically disregard this post. This isn’t about classical music. Well, maybe a wee bit, but mostly it’s about working with a group of people that you need to rely on to do your job well. If they suck, it kind of makes it hard for you not to suck, too, especially if they’re sitting right next to you. Playing suckily in your ear.

I’m in two professional symphonies, which means that I play, and they give me money for it. It’s amazing. The orchestras themselves are small, regional groups, so don’t picture some awesome symphony in a big city. Small, but we get paid, and we sound decent.

MOST of the time. Most of the time we sound decent. Again, we’re not amazing. But we usually pull it together fairly well by concert night. The way a professional symphony works is that we’re given the music about a month in advance of the first rehearsal. We then (supposedly) all practice and learn that music, so that when the time for the first rehearsal comes around, we all know what the hell we’re doing. And we usually have 4 rehearsals, spread out over a week or less, and then a concert on Saturday night.

Again, this is what happens MOST of the time. In both symphonies. I’m not going to name the symphonies since I’m about to rant about them, but I’ll just let you know that one symphony is close to where I live, and the other is a bit further away. Usually I enjoy playing in the one nearby better, because there’s less of a commute, they tend to play more music that I like, and I have more friends there.

That being said…. the nearby symphony made me just damn flipping angry this week. Last week, we played in the far-away symphony. We had our 4 rehearsals, and our conductor rehearsed so much more efficiently than he usually does. I love the conductor in this orchestra. He’s a funny guy, and he’s enjoyable to work with, but sometimes he gets annoyed when we sound particularly crappy.

Even though I enjoy working with him, I can’t say he’s always terribly well prepared. But for this concert last week, he was. And we sounded really good at the concert. We were together, we weren’t rushing like a mad bull charging a toreador, and we were mostly in tune. I was excited about that concert, and even though our featured soloist kind of flubbed some of his performance, the orchestra sounded good.

And that brings me to this week, and my nearby symphony. And here I have to explain a little bit about classical music. Sorry. There are four major eras of classical music. Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century. Now we’ve gotten into a new era, Contemporary. Baroque is the oldest, Contemporary the newest, if you couldn’t guess from the names. And yes, there is an era of classical music called Classical. Classical music is classical music, but classical music from a certain time period is from the Classical era. People confuse the two all the time. Wonder why.

Each era has very different characteristics. The Classical era is all about being light and simple, and the Romantic era is about heart-on-the-sleeve emotions, and kind of sometimes usually makes me want to vomit. Many violinists, and string players in general, tend to play everything in a Romantic style, which drives me batcrap crazy, because Classical and Baroque music played in a Romantic style sound retarded, and bad, and you just shouldn’t do it. Music sounds best played the way it was meant to be played when it was written.

Anyway, because of its light simplicity, uneducated, inexperienced musicians mistakenly think that music from the Classical era is easier than from other eras.

They. Are. Stupid.

As we grow up going to music lessons, we’re taught to play with a strong, fluid sound and play nice, warbling vibrato (wiggling of the fingers to create a yodeling sound). And in Classical music you just need to forget all that showy garbage. You still need to play with a heavy bow to get a good quality sound, but find a way to make it sound light. You need to use fast, small vibrato, or you’ll sound like you’re very passionately and romantically strangling a yodeling cat.

Many, many musicians are either not capable of getting this light sound, or choose not to because they think that disregarding hundreds of years of history of classical music makes them the bomb. Honestly, learning to play 4 different styles well is much more impressive than just playing everything as showy as possible, you balloon-headed ego-maniac string players. Drives me nuts. Gives us all a bad name.

So, anyway. Sorry if that was boring, but now you maybe possibly know a little more about classical music. Whether you wanted to or not. So my nearby orchestra did an entirely Classical symphony last night. Two strictly Classical composers, and a fairly early work by a Classical composer who crossed over into the Romantic era. And I don’t know whose feather-brained idea this was, but because Classical music is so easy, or some crap like that, they cut one of our rehearsals. Maybe they were just like, oooooh boy howdy, a way to save some money. I don’t know. Our symphony isn’t having major financial problems like other symphonies are right now, but we might be after last night’s concert. Because we sounded like idiots.

It was like a college orchestra. A bad one. We were out of tune, had bad sound, people were sticking out everywhere because they were playing in completely the wrong style. I only played on our last piece, the one by the Classical/Romantic composer, and I’m not sure the orchestra had a unified beat during the entire symphony (sorry, more history, a symphony is a 4-movement work written for an orchestra). We were all over the place. I have a good sense of timing and rhythm. It has always been my greatest strength as a musician. But the girl sitting next to me was rushing so much, and the rest of the orchestra was so all over the place, that I had no idea where the beat was supposed to be.

So I ended up sucking just as much as the rest of the orchestra. And the entire orchestra, except maybe some of the suckiest rushers, knew we were sucking. But we were so all over the place that none of us could stop it. When you have 65 people trying to play the same thing together at the same time, it’s almost impossible to reign it in when it’s that off. It’s the conductor’s job to do it, and he was trying his damndest, but not enough people were paying attention to him. They were like, whoa that dude is waving a stick up there, whoa man. Disregarded him completely, as though a conductor isn’t necessary.

Guess what, people, the conductor is necessary, and so was our non-existent fourth freaking rehearsal. I felt embarrassed up there, and bad for the people in the audience who had shelled out money for the tickets. I hate feeling like that. Like we fooled the audience by making them think we’d sound like we usually do. Like I said before, I normally think my nearby orchestra sounds pretty darn good. But last night, in the words of Bart Simpson, we both sucked and blew.

At least I still get my money.

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One response to “ORchestra BLues

  1. This is just sad.

    For the record, I am a huge Romantic Era fan, but I firmly believe in what the Raven said about playing each era’s music in the style they were intended to be played in or else they sound retarded. I traveled to see her play and let me tell you, she is right. A musician’s job is to learn the music and understand the style and be ready to play all the notes correctly and stylistically correct and to follow the conductor and to play in tune and to count. Y’know, ’cause that’s their JOB.

    I swear, Raven’s shoulders tensed up to her ears every time the orchestra rushed, which was pretty much the whole time. So she was a very tense Raven.

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