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Playing with the San Antonio Symphony by Blake Turner

As a music student, I’ve naturally found that much of my time is spent working in the practice room. In recent years, a large portion of my practice sessions have been focused on orchestral excerpts for orchestra repertoire class and either summer festivals or professional auditions.  Individual practice helps us as players to reach our goals, but it can’t teach or prepare us for everything. And for myself, I’ve found this holds true for orchestral playing. In the past, I’ve worked on excepts with the intention and hope of eventually joining a professional orchestra, and while practicing excerpts helps us to single out and perfect important portions of major works, nothing can replace the experience of playing with a professional symphony.

0402a SA symphony

Me, with the viola section of the San Antonio Symphony

One such opportunity for me occurred this past January, in which I got to play in the viola section of the San Antonio Symphony for winning the AVS Orchestral Excerpts Competition. Having been raised in the San Antonio area, I grew up attending concerts and watching the symphony, so it was very surreal for me to be on the same stage with musicians that I had idolized as a young violist. Apart from enjoying myself and soaking in the whole experience, I took notice of what a professional orchestra like the San Antonio Symphony did differently or better than the other orchestras that I had played in.

Something that really impressed me during rehearsals was everyone’s focus and attention to detail. The fact of the matter is that professional orchestras do not have the luxury of many rehearsals and the time to spend combing bit by bit through the music. This means that more of the responsibility falls on the musician, not the conductor, to bring out the subtleties within the music.

Again, something else I noticed that was tied to good musicianship and efficiency was how closely the symphony musicians listened to each other. If there was a section that didn’t go smoothly or was out of tune, everything was usually fixed the next time we ran the passage.

These are all aspects of orchestral playing that I understood were important, but they gained an extra degree of significance for me after that week. The whole experience was just another reminder to me that a large part of our growth and development as musicians comes not just while in the practice room, but from sharing and performing music in the real world.


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