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Orchestra Fun for a Lifetime

On Sunday, I’m participating in University of Hartford’s President’s College Showcase 2010. Dean Aaron Flagg of the Hartt School is convening a panel to focus on the future of orchestras. (We start at 11:30am) He asked each of us to submit a written response to this question for publication in the program.

The orchestra field includes school, community, youth, collegiate, semi-professional, and fully professional orchestras. Describe your ideal future for the American Orchestra. What part of it do you think will actually take place? Why?

I was asked to further comment on these questions related to youth symphonies and university orchestras.

What is different about the young performers in youth orchestras today than 20 years ago? What experiences might higher education be surprised to realize youth orchestra members have and therefore want from a collegiate experience? How might colleges and the professional world adjust to maintain their long-term interest? Having advocated for funding at the county and state-level, what are some of the perceptions of the orchestra field in the public sector and how might or how are they impacting the future?

Here’s what I wrote. If you’re there please come say Hello!


Orchestra music is inherently a community created art form,
yet it is dependent upon the excellence and dedication of each individual
participant. Understanding and working with this duality is essential to successfully
advancing orchestral music into the future. Inspiring individual musicians to
commit themselves to enthusiastically pursuing the goals of the ensemble consistently
results in the most successful orchestral experiences for musicians and
audiences. Sustaining this enthusiasm in musicians over a lifetime,
particularly professional musicians, is a challenge.


Enthusiasm is not hard to find in student musicians. And, we
have clues as to how their youthful enthusiasm may be extended beyond their
current experiences. The majority of students participating in youth orchestras
today don’t have the same school orchestra experiences their counterparts had
twenty years ago. Unlike in the past, most are receiving their musical
instruction through private teachers and spending much more time focused on
individual repertoire. As a result, orchestral and chamber music repertoire is
novel to them, as is the group experience of an ensemble. This is particularly
true of string players whose parents started them in lessons at an early age
without giving them an ensemble experience in their musically formative years.


Universities have the opportunity to tap this limited
exposure to ensemble. It can actually be the source of ongoing excitement and
growth in students. Framing the university music experience as a venture where
each student is charged with growing their musical skills in order to prepare
for playing repertoire alongside their peers and colleagues would communicate
the value of the orchestra as a community project. Instead of viewing their
progress as an individual concern, students would understand they are first and
foremost contributing to something larger than themselves. We might even see
the end of the senior recital.


In addition to focusing on the students’ own discovery and
embrace of orchestral repertoire, universities have the opportunity to teach
them how to share their passion for the repertoire with their wider community. There
is little doubt students will continue to come out of college with the musical
skills to perform amazing orchestral repertoire. But will universities commit
to giving them the skills they need to share their love of the music with
friends, family, neighbors, and strangers?


Twenty years from now our nation’s college, community, and
professional orchestras will have to relate to their communities dynamically to
be valued widely. Giving today’s student musicians the skills to lead that
dynamism will be good for them, good for orchestras, and good for our nation.

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