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Blair Life: ft. orchestra

Posted by on Thursday, January 31, 2019 in Academics, Blair School of Music, Music.

A big part of the music major life is participating in one of Blair’s large ensembles, orchestra and wind symphony. As a cello performance major, I am required to play in orchestra every semester and it has been such a wonderful experience to perform masterpieces written by the greatest composers of all time. Tonight, the orchestra just performed Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony. For those of you not familiar with classical composers, Gustav Mahler was one of the leading late-Romantic composers of his time, known for his ten massive symphonies. His symphonies are immense works and require many more musicians than a regular symphony does and are also much longer than an average symphony. For example, a typical symphony usually calls for 4 French horns, but a Mahler symphony calls for 7 horns. A typical symphony would usually last anywhere from 20-40 minutes, but even Mahler’s shorter symphonies (like his first symphony we played) are a little over an hour. His longer symphonies (such as the second and third symphonies) are almost 2 hours long!

Here is a little more background information on this symphony, since I took a music literature class on Mahler and wrote a paper comparing this symphony to a Romantic novel. Mahler’s first symphony was based off of the soundscapes in his life. It draws from his previous lieder (pieces), most notably his orchestral works of the collection of German folk songs and poems: Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Each movement of the symphony is a snippet of German culture and Mahler’s life. The first movement is about spring and nature; the harmonic note that all the string musicians sustain for a long period of time represent the peaceful awakening of nature in the spring. The brass and clarinets that interrupt this serenity mimic cuckoo and bird calls. Mahler used to take walks outside in the garden and admire the sounds of nature such as birds chirping, which are evident in this movement. The second movement draws from the German peasant dance, the ländler. As a young boy, Mahler heard the music of the ländler, a peasant country dance, at the tavern that his father played at. He incorporated what he heard into this movement and combined it with his own Jewish culture klezmer music. The third movement is based off of the folksong Frère Jacques, except it is in a dark and sad manner. The fourth movement is what brings the entire work “home” back to nature and back to the home key of D Major. Through this piece, the audience is taken on a journey of Mahler’s life, and I think that’s incredible.

Of course, many rehearsals went into perfecting this piece. Both the orchestra and wind symphony rehearse three times a week (MWF) for 1.5 hours and there are additional 2 hour evening rehearsals during concert weeks. If you would like to know more about Blair or have any questions about the audition process, send me an email at: Thanks for reading!


P.S. Go see the wind symphony perform tomorrow night 8 pm in Ingram Hall at Blair!

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