When you take auditions for any orchestra, you will need to know the standard orchestral excerpts. An excerpt is a small section within a larger orchestral work which usually has some sort of challenge( fast notes or troublesome intonation). Listed below are some of my favorite ways to learn orchestral excerpts.
1. Get a good fingering. When starting out learning an excerpt or any piece of music, it is important to experiment with fingerings to find the one that works best for YOU. Fingerings are very personal and what works for you may not work well for someone else. A good fingering can solve many technical problems.
2. Figure out why this particular excerpt is chosen. If it has hard intonation, you know that the intonation is the one thing you need to be flawless. If you find the skill the jury is looking for within the excerpt and make it perfect, you have a much higher chance of getting the audition.
3. This trick is obvious, but slow practice is a must. For anything to be consistantly good, it takes slow repitition.
4. You should be familiar with the work as a whole so that you can know the context of the excerpt and the character you should use to play it. You should also be aware of what the other instruments are doing during the measures of the excerpts.
5. You should know if your part is important or not. Sometimes the judges give you experts that are secondary to the main theme and they want to hear the excerpt played like an accompaniment. If you are playing the theme, bring it out and play it like a concerto.
These are my favorite tips for learning orchestral excerpts. These tricks really speed up the learning process and should make the audition process easier.
At Curtis this summer, I played the Dvorak Piano Quintet. This piece is so special and it is important to play it well.
The first movement begins with a cello solo, acting as an introduction to the whole piece. This remeinds me of someone floating down a river. The solo is interrupted by the contrasting minor melody brought by the second violin. The movement switches between major and minor, ultimately ending in A major. I think of these switches as multiple people having an argument. This movement has many different melodies that come in sequences or change keys. The melodies alternate between the instruments and feature odd instrument duets. The first and second violins are often in octaves. The second violin played the lower octave and should play much louder because the register of the first violin is higher. The second violin can also guide the first violin when he or she is playing very high on the violin. This movement has a rhythmic motif of dotted quarter note eigth note. The eigth note should be placed later and made very short when this rhythym is played. Near the end of the movement, you can feel the tension building and all of the instruments hold a whole note before moving to a dotted half note. This is the climax of the entire peice and this is when the key is settled in A major. Then the movement comes to a crashing end in A major.
The second movement is a dumka, which means thought or melancholy. This movement is written in an ABACABA form (the letters refer to different themes that return). The first entrance is like a funeral march and is based around the beat. Then comes the B theme which is very different. This theme, featuring a violin duet, is in major and reminds me of dancing. Then the A theme reutrns but this time, it is expanded on. The C theme is the A theme pieced together. Dvorak uses a small part of the first theme to create this folky, and new theme. Then the A theme returns again almost to show the similarities between the rhythmic structures in the C theme at that of the original theme. Then the B theme returns, this time in a differnt key. After this, the A theme comes back for the final time, and ends with another development on the very first part of the A theme.
This quintet has so many small details that if noticed, really bring out the true intentions of the piece. Dvorak had many cultural influences from European, to folk music, to Asian culture, and African American cultures.These influences are what makes Dvorak’s music so unique and colorful.
I spent three weeks this summer at Curtis for a summer festival for instrumentalists. The program included orchestra, chamber music, choir, and theory. The faculty included Curtis teachers, and Curtis alumni, as well as some other professional musicians from the area. Their were about 100 program participants.
The day began with choir at 8:45 am. I have never sang in a choir before and am not the most willling singer. But because everyone in the program is required to participate, I grudgingly sang in the soprano section of the choir. Everyone took a theory class, which covered all of the compositional era’s very broadly. During the day, we had about three hours of private practice which I used to learn orchestra and chamber music, and also to practice solo repertoire for lessons. Chamber music was a two hour block in which I played the second violin part in a Dvorak piano quintet. Three times a week coaches came to help the group make decsions and to give advice. Setionals were also part of the daily routine. One of the faculty would lead a specific instrument and help them to learn their orchestra music before the rehersal that evening. We had two hours of orchestra rehersal every night with our conductor, who changed every week.
I thought this program was well organized and needed very few changes to the schedule throught the weeks. The teachers were also very helpful and I feel they imparted their knowledge very well, although I would have liked more than three private lessons. The orchestra was so much fun to be apart of because the music was a joy, and the conductors were so great to work with. Each conductor had a different style in which they ran their rehersals, but each yielded great results. The chamber music was amazing because most of the time the group rehersed alone, which taught me how to run a rehearsal and critique the group without a teacher. Another wonderful aspect of the program is that you can ask any questions of the school or the program, which as a curious young musician, was very helpful. I live in a world where classical music is a thing of the past. That is difficult because classsical music is something so intrical to my way of life. Being apart of the Curtis Summerfest let me be around other young musicians with the same way of life. This program gave a great insight into conservatory life and was overall such a positive experience for me as a musician.
Often times when I am on vacation during the summer or have started a new piece but want to keep the old piece in my fingers, trouble ensues. I believe that family always comes first and if you are on a vacation with your family doing something special, you need that time to take a break and enjoy the company. The only trouble with that is that when you get home, practicing is even more of a drag.
Even though this may be a hassle, it is worth is to bring your instrument with you on your vacation so that it will be in the back of your mind. Even if you can’t play or bring the instrument, listen to your reputoire everyday. Bring the scores and continue to study the scores if you have your instrument or not. Everyday remind yourself of the hard parts of your concerto and how you have learned to play them well. In short, remember the certain tricks you (probably) have learened that help you play the hard parts better. Visualize yourself playing the piece for just 5-10 minutes everyday.
If you have your instrument, just take it out for maybe 10 minutes everyday and just go over one or two common problem areas with slow practice, a drone, or a metronome (or any practice method that you think would be benefical) just to keep the hard parts still in your fingers. If you have time, jsut play the whole piece through at the end of the day to make sure it stays in your memory so that you will stay ready to perform it for when you return home.