Alright friends, time to share perhaps the dorkiest fact about me, and by that I mean, the simple fact that I am an orch dork.
Before you snicker and make your rude comments, allow me the opportunity to share my experience with orchestra music.
I did not grow up listening to orchestra music. It was quite the opposite – classic rock and alternative artists such as the Dave Matthews Band. In 6th grade public school we had to choose an instrument to play, and the band director wouldn’t let me play drums, so I chose viola.
Quick information: A viola looks like and is played the same way as a violin, only it is a bit larger, and it has a lower string instead of the highest string on a violin. It actually has the same strings as a cello. The viola would be what you get if you put a violin and cello together. The viola section sits in between the cellos and violins in an orchestra. I chose this instrument simply because the orchestra teacher said she needed someone to play it.
Anyways, so I chose viola, and since I never quit anything, I kept playing it in high school. My orchestra teacher was Ed Schaefle, and he changed the way I see music. Until class with him, I thought orchestra music was boring, like most uneducated folk. Mr. Schaefle started teaching our class not only the history of orchestra music, but more importantly, how to listen to it.
I remember in 9th grade he would make us listen to a shorter orchestra song (maybe 4 minutes), and we had to write down everything we heard. He wanted us to be writing during the whole song. My notes would be something like, “okay, this is allegro, the orchestra sounds nice, the cellos are playing the melodic line, either the clarinet or oboe has a sweet solo, the violas need to be louder as always….” and so on. By the end of the song I would have about a page of things that I heard. Doing this exercise multiple times, I was soon excited to listen to orchestra music, because I realized how INTERESTING it was. There is SO MUCH going on in each song. Now I can easily listen to a 45 minute orchestra piece, and actively listen the whole time. The great thing about Mr. Schaefle too was he always shared history about why the song was written. Orchestra songs are so emotional, and when you know why the song was written, it is so much easier to relate and place yourself in the song.
Like listen to a bit of this: Dimitri Shostakovich wrote this string quartet, expressing his feelings towards the holocaust. Can you feel his anger? Wait until 56 seconds in, you surely will.
Orchestra music is so full. If one says it is boring, I simply believe that they have not ever listened to it truly.
Last Saturday night I was coming home from Fargo, and I was really tired, so I decided I needed to play some upbeat music to get into. What did I choose? George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. I listen to the version where Jon Nakamatsu is playing piano because it is the best. Basically, I can conduct this whole song from listening to it so many times. Another embarrassing story, I actually got so much into conducting this song while driving one time that I nearly drove off the road. I now have a rule that I have to keep one hand on the steering wheel while conducting in the car….anyways…Below is half of the song. The whole song is about 17 minutes long. And this piece is SO GREAT. Bah. And yes you have probably heard it before, or parts. But in whole it is SO great. And this recording isn’t the best, but it is slightly fun to see the orchestra. But if the orchestra is distracting to you then close your eyes. And maybe just find a higher quality recording of this song.
In conclusion, don’t be a hater on orchestra music. And come hear me play in my community orchestra too (next concert – June 18th!). And if you actually get something out of this blog, and want to listen to some orchestra music, I have so much to refer to you, just ask.