Establishing an Identity for Your Orchestra, Part 1

In schools where there are strong band and jazz band programs, string teachers often find it difficult for their students to achieve the recognition they deserve for their unique performing groups. Sometimes string students feel that they do not have an identity because they lack a glitzy uniform, and often they feel that groups such as jazz bands have music that is more attractive to an audience because it is often upbeat and familiar. As string educators, it is our job to point out that the unique aspects of each music group will combine to make a strong and diverse music program. How can you establish the Orchestra’s identity? If you are not a string player, but have been given the responsibility of a string program, make it a point to take lessons on at least one stringed instrument as soon as you can, because demonstration is a key part of achieving success in the Orchestra.

Part 1

Respect will be given to a group if they show respect for other music groups. While pointing out the distinctive qualities of a string program, it should never be done by undermining another group. Be positive about each performing group’s attributes. Every group will benefit from the respect that students, administrators, faculty and audience have for quality performances.

The Room in which you work should include the Orchestra in name as well as in visual aspects. What is the room called? If you share with a band, it should be called the “Instrumental Room,” not “The Band Room,” otherwise it is sending the wrong message that one group is more important than another. If the room is shared by all performing groups, then insist that it be called “The Music Rehearsal Room.” As small as this may seem, students receive an important message from how others refer to their rehearsal area. This may be difficult to change if it has been called “The Band Room” for years, but the effort to change it will be worthwhile. Ask administrators and other music faculty to help in this regard. Have an Orchestra Bulletin Board, and change it frequently. Make it a place that students want to look to see important messages about the school Orchestra as well as opportunities that they may find outside of the school to enhance their string playing.

Demonstrate the many moods and emotions that can be achieved on stringed instruments, and how important good bow technique is in accomplishing a varied repertoire. Make bow technique a part of each rehearsal away from the music. Exercises on open strings will do a great deal to expedite complex technique. Soon students will realize that stringed instruments are unique in their versatility, and they can do what no other instruments can do!

Playing in an Orchestra is a lifelong activity, so point out to your students that in all stages in life, Orchestra opportunities can be found through community organizations or by establishing chamber groups. The wealth of literature makes any combination of strings to form an ensemble possible. They may think that they will be young forever right now, but remind them that later in life they will still be able to appreciate their instruments and the joy they receive in playing them as well as the joy they give others in hearing them.

One in five schools in America has an Orchestra, and your students are lucky if their community and school have recognized the need for a string program. Sometimes when they hear statistics such as these, students will realize how fortunate they are to play a stringed instrument.
by MENC member Joyce Prichard, String Clinician, Director of Music and Fine Arts Chair, Villa Maria Academy High School, Malvern, PA

Coming Next Week…Establishing an Identity for Your Orchestra, Part 2

–, April 30, 2008. © MENC:  The National Association for Music Education