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Inside Blair: Orchestra


Shing Ann Yeh

We are going to embark on a new series called “Inside Blair”, where you’ll find out all you need to know about the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University.  Let’s start off with the orchestra program.

The Vanderbilt Orchestra performs three or four concerts a semester, meaning that we rehearse for approximately two or three weeks for each program.  The conductor of the Vanderbilt Orchestra is Professor Robin Fountain, who hails from the UK, so during rehearsals, you’ll receive all necessary instructions in a British accent from the man waving his arms on the podium.  Professor Fountain leads the orchestra on tour over Winter Break every three or four years.

Professor Fountain leading the orchestra.

For the first and perhaps second concert of the semester, there will usually be a few famous full orchestra pieces, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” or Dvorak’s “New World Symphony”.  The next concert will consist of only string repertoire, such as a Haydn/Bach concert or Elgar’s “Introduction and Allegro”.  After this, it’s opera season!  In the past, we’ve played Mozart’s “Cose Fan Tutti”, but this last semester, we played two contemporary operas, “Three Decembers” and “Later the Same Evening”.

The Vanderbilt Orchestra on tour in China over Winter Break.

So how is the seating determined?  Auditions, of course!  At the beginning of each semester during the first week of class, blind auditions are held.  Each instrument has their own set of requirements but generally, there are standard orchestral excerpts.  Additionally, there might be excerpts from the upcoming semester’s repertoire, perhaps difficult passages of a symphony (so that you’ll become familiar with them), principal solo sections, or a movement of a concerto.  When your number is called to begin your seven-minute slot, you’ll walk into the room and sit down to face a large black screen, behind which a panel of faculty will be listening to your audition.  Oftentimes, there will be an excerpt for sightreading as well.

After the initial audition, the order of how we ranked as well as the actual seating for the orchestra rotation will be posted on OAK.   Personally, I like this rotating seating arrangement for each concert because we get to experience playing in both the front and the back of the orchestra.  And essentially, it doesn’t even matter too much unless there are solo passages.

A fancy picture, compliments of the Blair homepage.

Is it competitive?  The Blair School of Music is yes, competitive, but it is not cutthroat.  Each person does as well as he or she wants, and from what I’ve seen, people are rather encouraging of one another.  For instance, Laura, Liz, and I will perform mock auditions for each other to put ourselves in that nerve-wracking situation to determine where we fumble in order to better ourselves before the real audition.

That being said, orchestra is quite fun most of the time.  We meet three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 3:30-5:00 P.M.  What a wonderful way to end a day of classes, performing music together with your fellow musicians.  And what do you know, you already have your friends together to head on off to dinner!

Shenanigans before dinner.


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