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Dissenter in the Back

July 30, 2009


This post is going to sound very random, but I’ve spent some time thinking about it today while I was listening to the two pieces I talked about earlier, the Schuman and the Barber.

Now, I’m not sure if anyone even actually listened to them or not, so you may have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m going to talk for just a second about one of my most memorable experiences in the OSU Symphony Orchestra.

When we were preparing for the performance where we would play the Barber we spent LOTS of time on it. When we had a performance we normally performed 3 pieces, two with the full orchestra, and one that was either featuring a special soloist or that was only for the string orchestra. Normally most of our time was spent preparing the more difficult full orchestra pieces.

Not so with the Barber. Not only is it a very beautiful piece, but it is almost obnoxiously simple…so why practice it so much? Well, because 1) we sounded awful and 2) normally the string orchestra is the weaker part of the full orchestra. (I really haven’t made up my mind to why this is, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that there simply need to be so many more members in the strings, wind, brass and percussion instruments can just produce so much more sound.)

Anyway, if you’ve listened to the Barber, you’ll notice there are places where the playing sounds wrong, out of tune even. This is one of my least favorite, and yet favorite, parts of playing an instrument. This terrible clashing of notes is called dissonance. (I remember my mother telling me that parts sounded wrong and then getting to make the following explanation to her.)

I hated dissonance when I was younger. Why, you might ask? Because when you are trained from the time you begin playing to have everything in tune, or in the right key, it will make you go crazy to know that you are playing notes that sound wrong on purpose.

At the peak of the piece where everything builds up very strongly, notes are climbing higher and higher and it seems like there needs to be some kind of resolution, is where your dissonance kicks in. It is there so that when all sections are finally playing parts that mesh you feel the sense of release from the climax of the piece.

It’s all a part of a composer’s brilliant plan to make you “get into” the music; to make you feel something. In this case, he builds tension and then lets it all release in harmony.

Anyway, when practicing this piece, our section could never get the “wrong” notes right because we were trying to play the note that was in harmony with the rest of the orchestra; so, like any musician will do in that situation we simply played more softly hoping that the rest of the orchestra would cove rit up. It drove our conductor crazy, I can remember him yelling, “Strong, this needs to be strong! Just because it is slow doesn’t mean to play quietly! Put some emotion into it…this has been performed at the funerals of American Presidents!!!!!!”

I loved playing under Director Droste.

I’m sure none of that made sense to anyone, I just really felt like I needed to get that out of my system because I’ve been thinking about it all day. I miss playing in an ensemble; especially when I think back on moments like that. Was our performance good? I have no idea, but I always think the worst and will say it was probably ok; I’m sure lots of people cringed when we got to the dissonant section. I know I did. But I do wish sometimes that I could go back though, just for the experiences like that that make me smile.

Here’s a link to Droste’s home page at the OSU Symphony site:

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