The combined orchestra and band practice “Pomp and Circumstance,” which they will play at the high-school graduation. (Photo by Cissy Shi)

Future structure of music program unknown

The future of the band and orchestra is unclear next year.

This year the two groups tried something new, joining forces to perform as a combined group led by orchestra teacher Felecia Keys.

The two groups plan to combine again for the winter concert.

However, Keys said she and Ratcliff will discuss whether or not the two music groups will return to practicing separately next year.

Performing together caused a number of problems.

One was lack of practice time for the individual groups. The orchestra and band have practiced independently only once a week, as opposed to twice or three times.

“I think for the sake of improving ourselves, we need to meet more,” Keys said.

“We (need to) work on skills that are specific to string players.”

Junior Emma Williams, orchestra concertmaster, agrees.

“(This year) we didn’t have a chance to really perfect anything,” she said.

Freshman Anny Schmidt, second violin, said she would have liked more time to practice just as an orchestra to go over specific parts and discuss what each section should on.

In addition, the combined orchestra is comprised of players at a variety of levels of experience, which posed a problem as well, Keys said.

Some members have been playing for as many as 13 years, while others began just this year. Williams said learning to play together is hard enough even with years of practice.

Adapting to playing a different type of music was another challenge.

This year, “we had to be careful about the type of music and the level of music that we chose,” Keys said.

The two groups had to adjust to playing music that was written for combined orchestra and band instruments, not just the individual ensembles

Yet another problem is that string musicians are accustomed to playing in keys with sharps, while band musicians are used to playing in keys with flats.

“We’re playing different songs in different keys,” sophomore Colby Conner, second chair viola, said.

Volume was another problem. According to Conner, the orchestra has to play louder because the brass instruments are more naturally powerful.

“A lot of the judges commented on how there wasn’t a balance between the strings and the wind players,” he said.

[pullquote align=”left” speaker=”Felecia Keys, orchestra teacher”]We’ll just see what happens.[/pullquote]

These problems meant that the combined orchestra didn’t perform as well in competition.

For example, they took silver at the Forum Music Festival.

In April 2013 at the same festival, SCDS music groups won the Sweepstakes Trophy, awarded to the school with the highest combined scores of its band and orchestra.

“I was really proud then,” Williams said. “I was whooping and jumping along with the rest of us when they called our name from the stage.

So Williams wasn’t pleased with the group’s 2014 performance.

“I was honestly rather embarrassed,” she said.

Therefore, both Williams and Conner are happy the groups may be split again next year.

Nonetheless, Keys said that the orchestra enjoyed practicing with the band.

“It was fun, and I think all of us, including the kids, really enjoyed the sound we created together,” she said.

Williams said she learned more about what it takes to make a big group sound good.

As far as the school music program goes, she has been a part of only small groups: chamber groups and orchestra.

“Playing with such a big group was definitely a different experience,” she said.

However, not everyone is as happy that the two groups will return to the previous setup.

Band director Bob Ratcliff said he thought the combined orchestra sounded great.

“It was probably the best way to utilize the instrumentation we had and still allow ourselves to play quality music,” he said. And Schmidt said she really enjoyed the combined orchestra.

Schmidt plays in a combined orchestra at a music camp every summer and says she liked the setup.

Sophomore Serajh Esmail plays his cello during rehearsal for the high-school graduation. (Photo by Cissy Shi)
Sophomore Serajh Esmail plays his cello during rehearsal for the high-school graduation. (Photo by Cissy Shi)

Sophomore Brad Petchauer also liked the arrangement. He said he thought he got “all you could expect from a high-school full orchestra.”

He also said that listening to the orchestra more often was nice because the band usually hears the group play only at concerts.

No clear decisions have been made.

“We’ll just see what happens,” Keys said. “We really haven’t discussed yet about festivals (and) if we’re going to compete as a group.”

But Ratcliff knows what he has in mind for the band next year.

“I would like to see a group of interested kids that have some music goals of some kind,” he said.

His “number one goal” is to have the members get better at playing their instruments, he said.

While other goals may be different for each band member, he just wants them to pursue their goals.

“I want them to care about what they’re doing,” Ratcliff said. “The reason they’re in band is so they’re accomplishing something.”

Ratcliff said that many final decisions aren’t made until after September, once he knows whom he has.

First, Ratcliff must look at what instruments are there and figure out what he can do with that instrumentation.

Then he needs to listen to the ability level of each member and make decisions about the difficulty of music the band can play.

Finally, he must try to find music that will work for the instrumentation.

Ratcliff said he used to develop a curriculum for the next school year based on the information he had at the end of the school year.

“It rarely ever (worked) out the way I planned,” he said.

Ratcliff ’s ideal arrangement for next year would be to have the numbers to have a full band. However, the size of the group is an unknown.

“I can’t be certain who will be in the group next year,” he said.

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