It is easy to forget, when watching an orchestra play their ornate cadenzas and symphonic gestures, that the wall of humans and instruments producing luscious sounds are all individuals reading very specific parts of music, contributing to something much greater than themselves. As someone who’s musical communications skills subsided in high school (the last time I wrote music with a band), I grew curious as to how members of an orchestra communicate with one another.
I met up with the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra (NOVO) on the second floor of Loyola’s music building to solve this inquiry. The atmosphere was much more laid back than I had anticipated on arrival; NOVO is unique in that regard, though it is not the only aspect that makes the orchestra special. Not only is NOVO a volunteer orchestra, but the orchestra is also noted for hosting only free concerts, allowing classical music to be within reach of the everyday listener. Being the largest community orchestra in the region, NOVO holds thrilling performances of classical symphonies as well as movie and video game soundtracks, a treat considering the high cost of performances.
There in the practice room, on a gray Sunday, I met Chris Bergeron, Music Director for the orchestra. I only had correspondence with Chris up until this point, though after we formerly met, we both became excited about what the results of my project would be through the rehearsal. I snapped a photo of Chris when he wasn’t conducting, in which Chris described what it is like to be a conductor for an orchestra.
“Conducting is the most ‘freeing’ thing a person can do. It allows you to be completely free, just like skydiving, riding a motorcycle, or playing a musical instrument. It provides the human soul to be completely free, unattached from human limitations. There is never a happier time I have than making music with an orchestra.”
The orchestra began with Joseph Cieslak, co-conductor of the orchestra, conducting a piece by Debussy. Throughout the practice session, I attempted to discretely take photos of the members of the orchestra without interrupting in any way. The musicians were professional, ignoring the tremendous flash in their face and the Polaroid’s spitting sound that it makes when expelling film.
After the practice, I asked the subjects whose photos I had taken to sit down with me to doodle. The last remaining members of the orchestra twiddled on piano and blew lightly on their horns in the background as the musicians in the photos used music stands to set up their pages and began to share what pens, pencils and Sharpies I had to offer. Then, I posed my question: “How do you communicate?”
A moment of contemplation arose as they began processing the idea while maintaining their doodling. One of the musicians noted, “We forget we’re communicating because we’re so absolved in the technicalities and learning the notes, but once we get all of that behind us, once we know what to say, then we can effectively say it. It’s just like learning a language. It’s hard to speak it if you don’t have the vocabulary.”
It makes sense, but I wondered how ones personality plays out in the piece. Does one get lost in the song? Where does your personality go?
“Your personality is amplified,” another chimed in. “When you all have the same mindset and you’re all trying to play the same piece and get the same thing across to the audience, then what you are trying to say is amplified by the other people trying to say it.”
“I like to think of it as a puzzle. There are a thousand pieces, and all of those pieces are different, but when they all come together we just get this awesome picture.”
Check out the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra perform this Sunday, December 7th at 7:30 pm in Loyola’s Roussel Hall. Bring a date, it’s a night of love and Christmas, “Under the Mistletoe” can’t be missed