The joys of community music


On Sunday October 3, 2021, I took to the stage at Bailey Hall with the rest of the Cornell Symphony Orchestra. It was my first real orchestral performance in over a year and a half, so needless to say I was nervous – very nervous. As I sat and watched the waiting audience, full of proud parents and excited peers, my heart started racing and my palms started to sweat. I knew I was prepared – the whole orchestra was – but I still felt an anxious desire to get it over with.

Then the concert began, and as the mellow tones of the clarinet solo filled the auditorium, I forgot all my anxieties. I forgot how many people were watching us, and the computer prelim I still had to study for no longer concerned me – it was just music. Once the concert was over and the audience applauding our efforts, I smiled broadly, knowing that all of the work we had done over the past month was ultimately worth it.

At times like these, I remember how grateful I am that music remains such an important part of my life. So why is the joy I get from performing so strong when I perform in an ensemble? Why can’t I extract these same emotions when playing alone?

There may be a personal reason for this. I associate solo practice with work – the work is challenging and the work frustrating. My enjoyment of a piece is muffled when I need to correct my bow, or when my intonation is too flat, or when my dynamics are not clear enough, or when I accidentally play in the wrong style. Especially when I’m first learning a piece and have to struggle through a passage full of sixteenth notes and alterations that the composer wrote, I’m sure, just to torture us (nobody even cares violas anyway!) it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture; when I try to analyze a tricky measure all by myself inside a Lincoln Hall practice room, it’s easy to think, “Why am I playing this?” What’s the point?”

Playing in an orchestra helps me answer these discouraged questions. In an ensemble, I can listen to the other instruments and hear how my part fits; I can feel the energy of other players and harness that excitement to improve my own playing. When I’m playing alone, when I can only hear my own sound echoing off the walls of the rehearsal room, I miss the rest of that. that the composer had to offer.

Perhaps there is also a social reason for this emotional disconnection. In general, when people come together to form a community (it can be as small as your group of friends or as large as an entire nation), there is a shared sense of camaraderie that stems from having something in. common ; in the case of a musical ensemble, this common point is the love of music. Sharing a passion with a group of people also promotes teamwork and friendship. Everyone in the orchestra enjoys spending time together, and even on days when we are tired of classes and exams, we can find a little respite in each other’s company.

I don’t have the opportunity to experience this sense of community when I practice on my own. Maybe that’s why I prefer to play in any type of ensemble – orchestra, chamber strings, even a string quartet – rather than playing alone. There is something more rewarding, I think, about uniting with other musicians to create something beautiful rather than being the main attraction; by acting as an ensemble, you share the responsibility for the performance, but by extension, you also share the music and the experience of its creation.

I don’t think these feelings apply only to community music ensembles; rather, they are indicative of a natural human phenomenon: the desire to spend our time with like-minded people and to form a community. This is why so many of us join clubs and professional organizations on campus: we can say that it is only for our CV or our professional development (and it is probably true for some people), but we want to all of us feel connected to others who share our interests. So, although this is not a universal example, I believe that the joys of music in common exemplify the desire for camaraderie in each of us. I’m glad I discovered such a passionate music community during my college days, and look forward to making more music with them during the rest of my time at Cornell.

Dylan McIntyre is a second year student at the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be contacted at [email protected]


Corina C. Butler

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