MUSICAL MUSINGS: The yearly dreaded Honor Orchestra wasn’t so bad after all

I first participated in the Honor Orchestra when I was in sixth grade. I spent the first night rehearsing with the high-school orchestra and the next day in the middle-school orchestra. I spent the rest of the year dreading the next Honor Orchestra.

But I was lucky. The next session came at the same time as my first experience with the flu.

And my good fortune held when the next year’s program was cancelled.

For the next three years, though, I was resigned to attend what then appeared to be nothing more than musical torture.

On Friday and Saturday, I endured the latest session of Honor Orchestra.

Here’s the general schedule for the event:

Friday, 6 to 9 p.m.—a three-hour rehearsal featuring the talents of Sacramento’s best and brightest high-school students, most of whom started preparing the pieces at 5:45. After an hour-long rush-hour drive to Placer High School, I arrived at about 5:55 to find that the only available seat in the first violin section was at the very back.

I wasn’t worried about these circumstances even though I wanted to be closer to the front. Every previous year, each section had been re-seated based on the players’ performance on the first night of rehearsals.

Saturday, 9 to 10 a.m.—after waking up at 6 to get to rehearsal on time, it soon became apparent that there wasn’t going to be any re-seating. I’ll admit I was rather peeved. I had spent the previous night putting all I had into my playing in the hopes that I would be moved up in the section.

10 to 11 a.m.—possibly the most enjoyable part of Honor Orchestra (excluding the lunch break) was spent in sectionals during this time. After the instructor listened to us (the first violins) run through all the pieces and realized there wasn’t much to fix, we spent the remaining 30 minutes practicing and talking.

I passed the time by sight-reading Mozart’s “Concerto in D Major” on violin with the sectional leader on piano. It was the most fun I had during any of the rehearsals.

11 a.m. to noon—all the sections convened on the stage to have yet another group rehearsal.

Noon to 12:45 p.m.—this time was spent in a different band room with sophomores Serajh Esmail (cello) and Madison Judd (violin), eating lunch and listening to some over-enthusiastic middle-schoolers serenade us on the piano.

None of our lunch-time entertainers were particularly impressive, but certainly not for lack of trying—there was a continuous line of hopefuls wishing to wow us all.

12:45 to 3 p.m.—this last rehearsal and run-through were perhaps the hardest I endured that day. My blood sugar was at an all-time low despite the recent lunch break, and I kept having to remind myself to keep my eyes open.

3 to 3:45 p.m.—at last the time came to change into concert clothes. Even though the program itinerary specifically stated that students should wear formal black-and-white concert attire, a good portion of the orchestra was clad in all black or black and red.

My displeasure at these rule breakers came mainly from envy; I had brought my only formal white shirt (which I had gotten in seventh grade). It was rather small and uncomfortable, but my closet at home was filled with recently purchased black tops that I wear for Sacramento Youth Symphony performances.

3:45 to 4:20 p.m.—after being shepherded into the audience, we listened to an equal portion of speeches/announcements and middle-school orchestra performance.

At 4:20 p.m., it finally came time for the high-school orchestra to perform. It turned out being a pretty good concert despite the limited amount of rehearsal time.

During the performance, I began to realize the real value of what I had spent the last two days doing. True, the music wasn’t anywhere near challenging and the participating students certainly weren’t going to be spending their college years at Juilliard, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that Honor Orchestra offered a learning and growing experience for young musicians who probably only played in their school orchestras.

It was a chance to broaden horizons and encourage those who found passion in music. Those are all worthy goals and ones that shouldn’t be slighted.

Yes, I find the rehearsals to be the epitome of boring, and I’m still a tad resentful about not getting the first chair, but Honor Orchestra is bigger than that.

Don’t get me wrong, I will still be dreading next year’s event, but not because I don’t find any value in it. There are certainly worse ways to spend your weekend and sitting in the back is really quite relaxing.

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