Youth Orchestra


Until this summer, I had no idea that my daughter would have the opportunity to play a string instrument in a school orchestra. She is fairly small in stature and so naturally she chose the cello (I suppose she could have chosen the bass). It turns out that there’s a vibrant extracurricular youth orchestra scene in our area, and the other night, I took the kids to a concert.

There were five orchestras at varying skill levels and with varying instrumentation (the most advanced had full percussion and some brass and woodwinds too). It was remarkable how good the kids were. Even the beginners were passable, and the most advanced group played some stuff that seemed really difficult, and they played it astonishingly well.

Some of the song selections included pretty predictable classics, and with the concert running right up until bedtime, the kids were a little sleepy through some of the well-played but kind of lulling songs. The jury’s out on whether we’ll go to another concert.

I really enjoy live music, how it fills your chest and turns into an almost tactile experience rather than merely an aural one. I love the richness of tone you can hear when the musicians are right there in front of you. I like watching the conductor dance around, and when there are several orchestras with several conductors, as was the case here, I enjoy observing differences in how the conductors interact with their musicians and express the music physically.

One thing that really struck me, as we listened to a few songs I wasn’t familiar with, was what an amazing act of creativity the composition of music is. A person just makes up all these layered sounds with their harmonies and dissonances and counterpoints, with their changes in rhythm and volume and brightness. An orchestral composition seems just a dazzlingly complex thing, and it springs out of a person’s imagination. I suppose visual arts and writing can also be extraordinarily layered and complex, but whereas (having written by now millions of words in my lifetime) I can sort of vaguely imagine constructing something complex from words, this idea of turning silence into beautiful music as an act of creative will boggles my mind.

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