Playing in the band – Part 2: The orchestra
If your image of a classical guitar player is of someone sitting alone in a room, guitar in hand, practicing scales or working on repertoire, then that image must crack a little bit when placed against the small ensembles. It will probably shatter when you put that guitarist on stage with 60 other guitarists. Yet, that is exactly what we did every afternoon as our last group exercise of the day.
Our guitar orchestra was arranged on the stage in four general groups, corresponding roughly to the four sections of a traditional orchestra. The first challenge was simply getting seated on the stage. Many of the guitarists were self-contained, that is, they used guitar supports that allowed them to sit with their feet flat on the floor. An equal number, however, used the traditional footrest. This resulted in a lot of shuffling, adjusting chairs and getting ready to play. Tuning was an interesting exercise as we moved thru the strings. Using this method, a single guitar our of tune would project over the other 59. I found this fascinating.
We were assigned two pieces. The first was Marcello’s Oboe Concerto. This was a special and exciting project being done by the orchestra director, Janet Agostino. She is working on a doctorate in musical transcription and part of her research consists of doing actual transcriptions. The Marcello piece was originally written for orchestra and oboe but was now to be performed by guitar orchestra and cello. This was the only piece that was sent to everyone prior to arriving at Endicott.
One of the more interesting aspects of this was practicing one part of what would become the soundscape of the orchestra. The first “aha” came when we practiced our parts together and shared that moment when everyone realizes that everyone is playing the same piece and it sounds like music. The second “aha” was the first time we were joined on stage by Jacques Lee Wood and heard the cello part that we were supporting. It was pure magic.
We practiced the piece for five days, tightening the sound, working on dynamics, and learning how to play in a group that large, which for amateur players like myself, included learning how to keep track of several measures of rests.
The other piece was a much more playful piece called “Viva Jujuey” arranged by the Australian guitar composer Richard Charlton. This contains many fun parts, including one section that listeners will recognize as Paul Simon’s “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.” The piece also included percussion, which might cause the reader to ask, “how did you get percussion?”
In one section of the piece Guitar 2’s were asked to rap on the back of their guitars for the percussive effect. At another point, Raffaele Agostino used a guitar case to bang out the bass drum part. It was impossible not to smile at the end of this.
The orchestra served as one of the highlights of the week for many reasons. Not the least of which was that our recording of the Marcello piece will now become part of Janet’s doctoral portfolio.
Next (and last), a potpourri of brief items that have not made it into any of these posts.