The next big thing has arrived...
2015-16 was the first year in 6 years that there has been a Chamber Orchestra at RHS. It went very well and we will continue it in the years to come.
Here's how it works:
- Chamber Orchestra is mostly student directed rather than run by a conductor. I only step in towards the end of the concert cycle. Students even select the repertoire (to be approved by the director). As director, I participate mostly as a coach. I may or may not conduct a performance depending on whether it is required.
- Students must audition for membership. Auditions are typically towards the end of September.
- Students are expected to individually learn the music entirely on their own and not at rehearsal. This is very different from the middle school model, and I know because I directed it for years. Players can not count on a teacher to teach them the music in a rehearsal setting at this level. The individual player must be strong enough to play it independently, and rehearsals are used to shape the artistry of the piece.
- Rehearsals will take place during class time for approximately one period every other week. Members of Chamber Orchestra will be pulled from class to go and work on the material.
- There are minimal extra-curricular rehearsals run by Mr. Mac in the weeks before the concert (so as not to conflict with crunch time for the regular orchestra). These rehearsals are determined on an as needed basis about half way through the concert cycle. In other words, we can't nail down just how many or when they will be held...how many we need will be determined by the group's progress.
- Chamber Orchestra will be considered an official club/activity that you can list on your resumé when applying to college.
DIFFERENCES FROM MIDDLE SCHOOL
Chamber Orchestra takes on a different meaning at the high school than at the middle school for a number of reasons. I have designed this page to explain the difference to middle school kids and parents who might be expecting a different experience. To understand how it runs, I must first provide you with a little history.
At RHS, Chamber Orchestra was once offered as a class rather than an extra curricular activity like in middle school. At that time, RHS had just two orchestras...Chamber Orchestra, and String Orchestra. Over time and for various reasons, the orchestra program began to lose students. The entire string program at the time Chamber Orchestra was eliminated (including both groups) was under 35 students. Chamber Orchestra took the more skilled players, stripping the String Orchestra of its leadership and thus impeding its progress. In time, there weren't enough players left to feed the Chamber Orchestra, and the class was eliminated. There were barely enough string players to have an orchestra class at all...while the middle school orchestras were huge and outplaying the high school.
I started off as orchestra director in the middle schools in 2006, and began the Symphonic Orchestra program in 2009 at the middle schools, also switching the Chamber Orchestra to an all-town format rather than have separate Chamber Orchestras at each school. When I came to the high school in 2012, I elected to learn from history and ensure that it didn't repeat itself. The middle school program had become successful, and it made sense to extend the format of that program's success to the high school. The first thing we did was to convert the high school string orchestra to a Symphonic Orchestra program that included winds, thus vastly enriching the repertoire the orchestra program could perform and allowing the middle schools to have a continuation rather than a regression of their education (97% of students in the high school program were in Symphonic Orchestra in middle school).
Because high school students are very busy, it was difficult to offer Chamber Orchestra as an extra-curricular activity because of time commitments. Not enough students signed up, all citing sports and other activities as the cause. I also can't fit it in my schedule as another class, nor do I think that format worked well for the program as a whole in the past. I met with our student Leadership Council, and we determined the best way to go forward was to have the Chamber Orchestra be an off-shoot of Symphonic Orchestra and use class time as much as possible. There were just a few extra-curricular rehearsals. Doing that, we were able to get it off the ground, and it was very successful.
The RHS Symphonic Orchestra is entering its fifth season and is the only orchestra class. Unlike the middle school, no audition is required. We currently have no class for just string orchestra at RHS. However, the orchestra program now boasts 90 students and we are still growing, projected to have 110 students in 2017-18, so we may be restructuring the program within 2 years. Having that many strings in one orchestra lessens the quality of the experience for many reasons. We will likely be moving towards 2 orchestras in the next year or two, and one will be strings only.