Articles » I want to improve my school or youth group string orchestra
Advice for the music coordinator who is not a string specialist.
A school string orchestra or string group is possible but can be difficult to organise in a Primary (5-11) School, easier in a Middle (9-13) School and should be quite easy to run (providing the players turn up) in a High (11 or 13-18) School. Basically the same set of rules applies to them all but how they are applied varies considerably.
So let us start by remembering that -
Every rehearsal should be an enjoyable experience for those participating properly and leave them with a feeling of wanting more.
Rehearsals should not be too long and should be carefully managed. Do not try to achieve too many things in any one rehearsal and be very clear before you start what your aims are.
Any sense of frustration felt by the teacher should only be transmitted to the students as a last resort. - if after a suitable time they cannot play the music chosen replace it with something easier because it is essential that every rehearsal has a period when all are participating and feeling part of a homogeneous group.
Don't be put off when some unhelpful member of the group informs you that it is 'boring'. Suggest that they play it next time in a specific section of the bow or as a solo etc.
Always make sure that there are copies available for students to take home to practise or produce work sheets of difficult excerpts from the chosen works (time consuming to first produce but very useful in later years when you do the piece again (and again and again etc.).)
Arrange sectionals when necessary (even at the expense of cancelling a seemingly invaluable full rehearsal to do so).
Do consult with any string specialists you might have visiting your school or organisation - they should be able to tell you what is possible or not possible for a particular pupil. Don't feel inadequate because of any lack of specialist knowledge you may feel that you have - ASK.
Remember that the rehearsal does not start until all the instruments are suitably tuned. With younger groups especially this can be a frustrating period especially if there is no one to help you.
The choice of music is a very important part of creating a successful string group.
If possible all the players should find their part interesting and at least slightly challenging (remember that young players often find counting rests very challenging and can be very resistant to it).
With small younger groups who have no vibrato skills try to avoid very slow music. If the group is very large however you can try it because the mass effect will improve the overall sound.
When choosing pieces base your choice on the possibility of giving a good performance at the end of the available time - don't choose pieces because you like it or because the head teacher wants it played. Your orchestra must contribute to the student's overall music education.
Remember that first violin parts often require a much higher level of technical development than second and viola (or third violin) parts. However you must make sure that all parts are within the overall development level of the player.
Make sure that your players respect their music and do not fold it two hundred times before stuffing it into their instrument case.