Hi, I am a 17 year old harp student and I have been playing for quite
a few years, but have never joined an orchestra until this year.
Remember that there is only one of you, vs. 20 or so violinists. If they get lost, they can just look at each other. Since there is only one of you, you will have to take more responsibility to make sure you don’t get lost during measures rest. A great way to do that is by looking at the score to the piece your playing. Study the score as you listen to a recording of the piece, and make notes of really obvious “cues” by other instruments. If the flute, or trumpet, or oboe, etc. has a really exposed or obvious part, make a note in your part of where it happens to help you follow along. You can also make note of any tempo changes or key changes to help you keep track of where you are. These can be very obvious and good reference points. If you see how the music lines up in the score, you’ll have an easier time recognizing things as you hear them.
Above all, don’t be embarassed! If you are consistantly having trouble in a particular place, approach the conductor after the rehearsal and ask him to help you figure out what’s going wrong. Maybe you just don’t understand what his beat pattern is and he can help by clarifying that to you. It is not at all uncommon to go up to the conductor and ask questions or ask for help. Be honest and tell him you are having trouble knowing when to come in, and ask him to give you a “cue.” He will most likely respect you for taking charge of the situation and trying to fix it, rather than letting your mistake happen again and again.
You can also make friends with someone near you and ask for their help. Are you sitting next to a friendly clarinet, tuba, or bass player? Find out what they are playing just before your entrance and write that “cue” into your part. You could even ask them to look at you or poke you at a certain spot (although you should probably limit the poking to rehearsals only!).
You may also want to have some lessons with a teacher who specializes in orchestra playing. They can help you analyze your part and give you hints about counting all those rests. If you are having trouble distinguishing the conductor’s beat, go to some orchestra concerts where you’re not playing and watch the conductor carefully; try to discern what meter the piece is in by watching the conductor, and try to focus on where the “1” or the “downbeat” is at all times, even as the meter changes.
At 17 it’s OK to admit that you are just learning how to play in orchestra. It is not really that hard once you figure it out, and if you approach it with that in mind, you’ll do well in no time. You could also think about going to a summer program that specializes in orchestra, such as Brevard or Interlochen, to get some more experience.
i’m 17 years old and have been playing with an orchestra for only a year… all i can say is *stick with it*! it was so hard for me the first few weeks of playing, but after awaile you just get a natural rhythm in your head. plus, songs with harp or other arcane accompaniment usually have a similar format to them, so fear not! good luck!
My experience playing with an orchestra is that I’m always overwhelmed when I first get the piece. Whenever I’m lost at the practices and don’t know where I am in the music, I feel terrible. BUT what you have to do is dissect that piece to it’s fundamental parts and really get to know it. Borrow a few different recordings and follow along with the music, or try to play with it. Get so that you always know exactly what comes next. Hear what the other instruments are playing and how it fits with the harp part. I’m probably crazy, but for me, the one hour concert that comes at the end is worth all that work and more.
I think most Harpists who play in orchestras can identify with your problem, and I know I can. Harp students are in a rather unique position in that we don’t often get the same opportunities to play in ensembles as other instrumentalists do, and consequently, when we are called upon to play in an Orchestra for example, we often feel overwhelmed. Of course, it doesn’t help to remember the fact that you the only harpist in the whole ensemble, and you can’t turn to one of your colleagues and give an icy glare when you make a mistake. When you are first handed your part, it seems very daunting, but in my experience, it will LOOK a thousand times more threatening than it actually is ? things that look very complicated, are probably quite simple, but conversely, something that looks perfectly innocent might be hard, and quite exposed. As many others have recommended, try and obtain a recording of the work you are playing in (or ask to look at the full score) in advance. This will allow you to identify the most prominent and exposed harp parts, so that you can pay particular attention to them, and look for cues. If you can, you may wish to ask to get your part in advance, so that you have a chance to practise it, and to write pedal changes in (preparing them in advance will mean you have one less thing to worry about while you are sight reading). The first time you rehearse the piece, you might screw up and get lost, but don’t let that discourage you, everyone else in the ensemble is learning the piece at the same time too. Always remember: don?t panic if you get lost. Also, when you are learning your part, look for patterns in the music that will help you learn and remember your part. If you have any concerns, don’t be afraid to talk to your conductor – her/his job is to help you. For example, if you always miss an entry, you may like to ask the conductor to cue you. After the first rehearsal, you will probably have a good idea of the cues you can follow, the most exposed harp parts, and the most difficult sections. And one last thing, if you feel like you have done badly as you are leaving the rehearsal, always remember that the chances are no one will have noticed any of your mistakes, and they think anything on the harp sounds great. Also remember that you are the only person in that whole group of people who could have done what you just did, so be proud – then you can lift your head up high and say, ?I?m a harpist dammit!? and look at the violists with a dirty great big smirk on your face.
Well, i recently joined an amateur orchestra as a harpist and this are just some of my… findings. (read: culture shock)
1. Counting of hundreds of bars of rests, either that or count tens followed by tens, followed by another tens, all with changes of key with time signatures in the middle of it. Initially, I frequently got lost counting and then i’d give up and give a puppy look at the conductor, and he’s usually nice enough to cue me in. (Well, when i give my puppy look, and he wants his harp to sound out, then he jolly well cue me in) But of course, i’m not a prima donna and i do try to find my own cues, and the conductor’s usually nice and helpful in assisting me in that.
2. After playing a passage, i would have programmed pedals for the next passage after an interjection of bars and bars of rests, then the conductor decided to “ok, back to bar xxx…” which has an absolutely different key, and he doesn’t wait…
he would just wave and off we go!
worse, starting with the harp entrance… so there was poor me, making a hell of racket, flipping and crashing down pedals to the right key –WHILE– his first beat is going down… usually i manage to do it in the nick of time *phew* but it’s still not a nice experience. with this conductor i try to come in even though my pedals are not in their right positions (ie playing in the wrong key and adjusting as i start) because he would otherwise look at me with this are-you-trying-to-go-on-strike kind of look.
sometimes pedals don’t get locked properly and i’d be playing in some unidentified key signature when the pedal snaps out of the notch… *sigh*
3. The worse score for the harp that i have ever received was… for the harp to come in the last 3 bars of the whole piece… playing some nonsense.
Could do without a harp in the first place…
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