On joining an orchestra

Joining an orchestra as an adult clarinet player

Last week on this blog I mentioned that I would talk about playing in an orchestra, and as promised, here are my thoughts…

Around July 2010, I decided to supplement my weekly one-to-one clarinet lessons with orchestral sessions.

I’d just taken my Grade 1 and Grade 2 clarinet exams (foolishly on the very same day!), and realised that if I wanted to avoid turning into the same nervous, sweaty wreck that I was during the exam, I had to do something – and fast.

And that something had to help me to overcome the fear and embarrassment of playing for anyone other than my clarinet teacher.

In search of a music orchestra

I combed online music orchestra listings and all were, without exception, welcoming and keen to have new members.  The only snag was that most had a minimum proficiency requirement of Grade 4, and some asked for proficiency levels of at least two to three grades higher than that.

I soldiered on and eventually unearthed a handful that had not stipulated any such requirements in their listings.

By the time I filtered out the ones that were too far away and had removed the ones that filtered me out (because they did have a minimum playing standard but had omitted to say so in their blurb), I was left with just a couple.

Woodwind or mixed instruments?

I tried a woodwind orchestra first, comprising flutes and clarinets only.

After I got over the stress of having to get my clarinet out of its case in a room full of players and actually playing it (I had tried to get away with watching only, but the conductor was having none of it), I discovered that it wasn’t that daunting, and that I quite enjoyed it.

The group was very welcoming, but in the end, it was just too far away from home, so I let them know that I would not be able to continue.

The next orchestra I tried was a mixture of clarinets, flutes, violins, cellos, trumpets etc.

It was just under an hours’ drive from home and – as it didn’t involve public transport or hanging around in town after work (as had been the case with the first orchestra I’d tried), it was a better option for me.  The group was very welcoming, and I enjoyed the first couple of sessions so much that I joined the group.

It was made all the more pleasant because as I had been taken under the wing of the main clarinettist.  She very patiently showed me what to do and what all the mysterious words like ‘DC al fine’ meant.  I also loved the variety of instruments.

Third clarinet

Unfortunately things don’t always stay the same, and over time, more clarinettists joined, and I was soon playing third clarinet, but with no fellow third clarinettists to play along with.

The weekly scrabble for music sheets was one thing.  But I was often (confusingly, to my mind) given what I saw as ‘other music’ – i.e. music for trumpets and other non-clarinet instruments to play from, and I was generally lost after a couple of bars (on a good day) or ended up playing the wrong piece altogether.

It wasn’t long before I was completely confused, and with a lump in my throat, left feeling generally inadequate.  With my nerves and confidence in tatters, I bowed out of the group after just three months and decided to go solo for a while.

Good news

I have since discovered another group.

It isn’t strickly speaking an orchestra.  It comprises clarinets only and takes the format of a weekly playing/instructional hybrid.

I attended a trial lesson recently and realised that I had at last ‘found my level’.  Because the group is for clarinets only and has an instructional element, it means that we are all playing the same notes and learning new notes or alternative fingering combinations together.  There is also an upper limit on the numbers, so it doesn’t become overwhelming.  It’s perfect.

I have decided to join the group once the new academic year begins so that I can start with everyone else from the beginning of the new syllabus.

I can’t wait!  And who knows, by then, I may even have taken and passed my Grade 3 clarinet exam!

 Vibrating Reed – for adult learners of the clarinet

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