Today’s Orchestra – The Itinerant Musician

I remember distinctly that early rush as I sat in a large All-City Orchestra that was a grand collaboration of three local high school ensembles.  We enjoyed the thrill of performing Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave with top student performers from our community.    In addition to those youthful concerts as a performer, hearing live performances of the Chicago Symphony inspired me and cultivated the dream of becoming an orchestral musician.   My collegiate orchestral experiences grew with intense private study, university ensemble life, and some additional experience with local and regional orchestras.  The more I studied orchestral excerpts with my teacher, the more I yearned for the experience of playing the repertoire in complete form, in the moment and learning it’s joys and challenges.  No matter how much one practices the orchestral literature alone, there’s no replacing the experience of performing the masterworks with full orchestra under the leadership of a variety of conductors.  Each conductor brings their own insights and each section experience is as varied as the humans behind the instruments.  Performers on the audition circuit gain experience by playing the pieces they encounter on audition lists.  Ultimately, these experiences bring insight and awareness to the performer and hopefully greater success at future auditions.

Some in the audience still want to hear more, even with this large contingent of winds and brass (see the man behind the cymbals).

It’s very common for orchestral players to go where they can find the opportunities to play and that typically means commuting.  Some commute through large suburban areas that can encompass hours of driving.  Others commute over entire states and plan their personal calendars a year in advance to cobble together memberships and subbing opportunities for numerous organizations.  All of this comes at a sacrifice, since most orchestral performing opportunities pay a small per service stipend.  Requirements are a reliable car, fair weather and helpful friends that can alternate driving in a car pool.  Performing in multiple ensembles can be complicated.  Through this frenzied lifestyle, some make a living.  Many are content merely having the chance to play a week’s rehearsals and concerts of repertoire they’ve practiced for years but have never performed.  This lifestyle is represented in all orchestras and the Quincy Symphony Orchestra is no exception.  Our personnel reflects not only local players but performers that come from regional colleges and universities such as Truman University, Culver-Stockton College, Western Illinois University, the University of Iowa and the University of Missouri.  Our orchestra utilizes performers who travel up to 2 hours to get to rehearsals and concerts.

The question still remains, what keeps us coming back?  It’s the thrill of the moment performing music when all the components align and the expressive power is felt onstage and in the audience.  For some, it can be once a concert and for others,  once a year.  But still those special moments. . . keep us coming back.  Listen to this brief excerpt and experience not only the inspirational sound but the interaction of the players.   Take it all in:  the cymbal crash (0:23’), and the audience behind the cymbals!, the heroic, expanded horn section,  the passion and commitment of the violin section (0:45’+),  and the inspired, enraptured Andris Nelsons’ (2:08’) leadership of the entire experience.

I’m starting to get excited about another year!