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Pauline Lerner

March 24, 2005 at 8:20 AM


I’ve had some interesting conversations with people in my community orchestra about what is important to us. Our conductor has often thanked us for giving our time, and, for a long time, I didn’t understand why he said that. Now it’s beginning to make sense to me. We all play in the orchestra for love, not for money. We hear a call which can not be denied. Although we may have jobs, families, and other activities, including other music groups, we make time to come to the rehearsals and to practice because it’s something we can’t live without.

Just as the members of the orchestra benefit from the music we make, so do other people. Our audiences enjoy and appreciate us. We are giving back to the community some of our love. Other people benefit in a material sense, too. We give to charities a lot of the money we make by performing.

Playing in an orchestra is very different from playing solo or playing with a few other people in public or in private. In some ways, it’s less fun. Playing the score for a second violin, for example, is nothing like pouring your heart into a beautiful melody. An orchestral score doesn’t sound like much of anything when you play one part by yourself. It takes discipline and technique just to practice it. The real fun of playing in an orchestra is hearing the voices of many instruments come together into something far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s one of the miracles of life that I never tire of. Another thing I love about playing in an orchestra is learning about the music we play from the inside. I am lucky to have an orchestra conductor who is also a very good teacher. When we play a piece I love, I love it even more for the increased understanding of how it works. This understanding does not detract from the wonder of the music. Instead, it enhances it.

Playing in an orchestra can teach us a lot of good life skills, too. Learn how to work together to achieve a goal. Don’t be a prima donna. What’s best for the whole orchestra is more important than what’s best for any one individual. Listen to each other. Respect the leader and learn how to follow him. Help each other learn how to play well. Learn about other people’s roles and instruments, and appreciate what they do. Practice on your own so that you can be a better player in the group.

I once heard a very good country fiddler say, “You don’t get to be a good musician by being a prima donna. You get to be a good musician by sitting on the back porch, playing some, talking some, and playing some more.” So true, even for an orchestra.

Another benefit for me has been the friendships I have formed. I’ve been dealing with chronic unemployment for the last few years. It has been very hard on my ego. One evening I came to rehearsal dressed in a suit instead of my usual casual attire. I had been to a job interview and hadn’t had time to change my clothes. Several people in the orchestra said to me, “Did you have an interview today?” I realized that they were a support group for me. When I got a job, I bought chocolates and gave them out to the members of the orchestra. When I lost my job, one of the orchestra members bought some chocolates for me so that I wouldn’t be, in his words, “too despondent.”

One of the violinists in the orchestra showed me a fortune she got in a Chinese fortune cookie. She likes it so much that she carries it in her wallet. It says, “Talent isn’t talent unless it’s shared.” That could be the motto of the community orchestra.

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