I’m fairly new to orchestral work. I’m self-taught and have no orchestral training other than what I’m getting as I play with the orchestra now and for the past three years. We are working on arias from various operas and I am having a terrible time following the conductor. The singers haven’t joined us, yet, and that is just going to be worse. When I practice at home, I can pretty much follow the tempo (I think), but last night at our first rehearsal, I was so lost most of the time. I spoke with the conductor after rehearsal and he said that he’ll come by and work with me which I think should help. I’ve had trouble before, but this is awful. I play in 10 pieces and I need to be able to follow him especially when we’re all following the singers. If anyone has some help for me, I’d sure appreciate it. I have no teacher. There is no trained harpist in town. I feel pretty alone. Thank you.
I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, playing well in orchestra takes practice so hang in there and don’t give up, it’s good he’s willing to work with you!
If you can, find recordings of the arias you are performing, you should be able to locate them on iTunes & listen to them along with your part (& score if possible), then try playing along with them. If you know what to listen for – approx. tempos, what & where the melody is doing/going, hear good cues from other instruments that tell you where you are in the piece etc. WITHOUT a conductor waving his stick in front of your face then you’re halfway there! Practice with a metronome making sure you don’t hesitate, slow down or stop & if you do -KEEP GOING, a lot of the time getting lost is a result of not being able to keep up with the rest of the orchestra & getting behind. Also make sure you are set up well when you are on stage, meaning that your harp, stand & conductor podium should all be within your peripheral vision, you want to avoid having to move your head excessively from music-strings-conductor while playing.
BTW, I realized you’re up in MT, I just flew up to Idaho Falls on Sunday & met up with another pilot who’d flown down from Lincoln, MT. Maybe I’ll make it all the way up to you one of these days or if you ever find yourself in SLC give me a call & I’d be happy to give you a lesson!
I agree with Louise. It will take some time. One thing that might help, when I get hired to play and I am not familir with the conductor. I find out what time he is conducting in. Even though I may have played a work before, I have found that not all conductors will lead a piece in the same time. So find out at each time signature, what the they are conducting in.
Anothing good thing to learn is what does their down beat look like and get use to it. One thing I have noticed is the beat 2, 3 or 4 can be all over the place, but the down beat always seems to be consistant.
When you are playing or rehearsing to a recording, listen for other instrument cues that will help you, who else is playing when you are playing? Learn to listen to that instrument and play along as almost playing as a duet.
Listening is so key to playing well in the orchestra. Do not rely on the conductor all the time and if you have any cues in your music for other instruments, don’t always rely on those either. Listen and mark your own cues.
I really hate the cues they give you in orch music, half the time you can’t hear that instrument and there will be a completely different instrument playing solo.
You are part of a wonderful ensemble and play as such, listen to eveything going on around you and know you music.
One note to be aware of, some players might be having trouble as well. Know when they are messing up. If you think they are right, that can screw you up big time. I had that happen with me recently and it really messed me up thinking they were right on when they were late coming in. The conductor never corrected it in the rehearsal.
That is great that the conductor is willing to work with you. Ask if he can make copies of the score where you play, studying those parts can help you understand what else is going on at that time.
All of the above advice is excellent and should help you make your way through orchestra playing.
One thing I would add for opera in particular which you said you’d be doing is to think of each beat as a point to coordinate with the singer. In other words, the singer is going to stretch the beats from time to time for the phrasing, expression, etc. The conductor is going to be following that, and so you have to know the vocal line very well and be able to stretch or shorten what you are playing so that your beats are in sync with the singer. An example of this is the big tenor aria from Caveleria Rusticana which occurs right in the middle of the overture. it’s for tenor and harp. Nothing else. Usually once it starts, the conductor stops conducting and lets the tenor and harp do their own thing. There are places in that aria that slow down drastically and abruptly and then speed up again, and you have to know where they are and know how to stretch what you are playing so you land on the beats with the tenor. Many opera parts are like this. Ballet too. So while it’s important to practice with a metronome, the most important part of that is to memorize the vocal line and know where your part fits into that line.
Thank you so much for your reply. I think I’m a little beyond my skill level, here. When there are fewer pieces, I can usually figure things out pretty well, but with 10 pieces and all of them opera with singers and lines I don’t really know, it’s going to be challenging. The conductor will be coming tomorrow morning to work with me. We’ll see how it goes. I think I may have to abridge some of the phrases – especially a section in Madama Butterfly.
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