Most people didn’t notice that I played the violin in high school, which is exactly what I wanted.
Most people guess that I played the clarinet instead and when I tell them what I actually played, it’s always “Do you know any Mozart?” or “Wow! You’re a fiddler!” Yes. I do know some Mozart. I know all 600 pieces of work he created… and technically fiddling is different from the violi— Orchestra members work too hard to perfect their performances of the standard orchestral repertoire in the musical side of society. They work hard to master the instrument, take lessons, practice, participate in extracurricular activities outside of school, and desperately need the recognition of how willing they are to sacrifice so much of their personal time.
“Sleep? Who needs it?”
For you to be a true musician, you will need to get at least six to seven hours of sleep per night. With acquiring such a time-consuming hobby as learning to play a stringed instrument, your schedule will look about the same every day. It will consist of waking up at seven am and getting back home by 10 pm. Just pop a melatonin gummy when you get back from a four-hour rehearsal and let nature take its course. You will feel so exhausted to the point where either coffee will be your best friend, or you wear the clothes you slept into school. It will eventually be both, but for now, you can think about which one will succumb to you first. It’s guaranteed that your conductor WILL comment on your incongruous choice of clothing for the day. They will most likely be especially chipper in the morning to keep the mood of the room from falling asleep like the people in it. Let’s not forget the loud SNAP of the instrument belonging to that one boy in the last stand after tuning his strings too tight. Picture this: It’s lunchtime and you’re in middle school. You’re minding your own business when all of a sudden, you hear a loud POP, and when you look over, it’s THAT ONE KID who popped a chip bag on the table for a laugh. I hate to break it to you, but that’s the same kid whose instrument would spontaneously combust once in a blue moon. We all know that he doesn’t belong in the orchestra, okay? His mom is forcing him to so we all have to deal with him until he gets the courage to say no to his mom. In some cases, you may be stuck with this kid until graduation. In this case, you may need more than just a lazy fashion sense and a coffee addiction. But little do you know, the snapping of that kid’s instrument is an orchestra’s wake-up call. Combined with your lack of rest, this turmoil fuels both your will to live and your motivation to play.
“Sorry, I have practice!”
Only play your instrument in school? This does not classify you as a musician. You will need to be a member of at least two outside music-related things or something that takes up your time after school to convince your parents that you’re doing something with your life and that you’re not just being a “lazy teenager.” As a string player, you will need to be in outside-of-school orchestra activities to flaunt how much you “need to practice.” Or in my case, to please my great-grandmother. Start with something simple like an overly competitive-teen philharmonic orchestra or everyone’s favorite, the quartet. I would rather nail my thumb to the wall than organize a quartet again. You need to prove you can handle the challenge. It will fill up your entire schedule to the point where there is no room for friends, a social life, pets, crushes, or family (except on concert night). But the satisfaction of acquiring a section leader role is a feeling all should want to feel. The intensity in the air as your conductor reads the 4 names from a post-it note. The jealousy in your classmates’ eyes when the concept breaks the fog and becomes clear. This is somehow more rewarding because not only can your parents see you easier from the audience during a concert, but you are considered the “star” in your section.
Aside from doing orchestra-related things outside of school, there’s also the one thing all musicians hate, which is private lessons. You may only have lessons once a week, but that one day, you will dread the most. Private lessons are individualized, meaning you play ALONE. Now you may be thinking, “What do you play in private lessons? Perhaps a book of some sorts.” You’re correct. String, piano, and some band instrumentalists share a familiar musical philosopher named Suzuki. “The Suzuki Method incorporates daily listening, daily practice, positive reinforcement, and parental involvement to foster the finest possible learning outcomes for string students.” Everyone hates Suzuki, and you will too. You will work on the same 1-page piece of music for over a month and rely on your ability to move to the next piece in the hands of a burnt-out middle-aged woman. You know, the type to brag about getting a degree from a fancy music school, but now only uses it for private lessons. And the treacherous smell combination of body odor and the assortment of scented candles they have lit in their practice space. Let’s not forget that your mom 100% found this person on Facebook. You should also hope that her reputation in the private lesson community is low enough so you can get out of having to perform a piece for the seasonal private lesson concerts. Even if your playing is equivalent to the ability of a complete idiot, this is a way for your private instructor to flaunt other students’ talents in pursuit of more investment from your parents. Get out while you still can.
We must discuss the unspoken rivalry between the band and orchestra kids. An incredibly crucial factor is that the environment of a band classroom is significantly different from an orchestra one, and that contributing factor is genuine goofiness. Band classes are just classrooms filled with class clowns and sarcastic queens. I’ll admit, an orchestra’s rooms’ mood is usually stiff. But stereotypes lead people to believe that the members inside these rooms are “snotty, know-it-alls with no business being so uptight.” This is completely false. We’re just not acting like complete and utter children and dedicate our focus to rehearsals in a more mature way. Band kids are a whole different breed of musicians. They, unlike orchestra kids, tend to enjoy playing their instrument more because of the one and only, marching band. Marching band is just another thing band kids can associate their personality with. It’s flashy and perfectly hyped for an average American high school football game, and also a way for society to recognize band kids at all. Band members accuse members of the orchestra of having it easy without having a marching band season. Other times, orchestra members turn this against them, pointing out that orchestra gets to play more sophisticated and immaculate pieces of music that require more cognitive thinking, to impress the general public. Not to mention, we at least get to play in air-conditioned rooms. On the other hand, those air-conditioned rooms host long and boring concerts. Which no one went to no matter how many times my conductor put our concert dates in the morning announcements. But band kids, answer me this: How does it feel to only be recognized by the piece of music they will play at your graduation? And the national anthem for this godforsaken country. That may have been too political, but the act of not continuing the longstanding rivalry between band and orchestra is against the musical contract. You know, the metaphorical one you sign once you identify as a musician.
Anyway, being in an orchestra is not as easy as it sounds. It’s time-consuming, challenging, and not always as glamorous as they portray it in the media. I think this is a collection of exaggerated opinions that I’ve solidified, and that everyone in the performing arts community can see eye to eye with. Even if it meant sitting on an incubator of a stage in all-black attire, playing music written by dead white men; with lights that shine so bright, you think you’re in heaven. Yet, it allowed so many opportunities into my life and shaped me in a way I could never be shaped again. So consider maybe picking up a fiddle at your local music shop the next time you’re feeling spontaneous. Don’t forget about your good pal, Suzuki.