Coaching Orchestral Students on the Eastside

One of the more recent passions in my life has been coaching orchestras on the Eastside. Over the past two years I have been coaching the Bellevue High School Orchestra, Odle Middle School Orchestra, Interlake High School Orchestra and the Bellevue Youth Orchestras. Many of them plan on pursuing studying music in college but most are just eager to have a good high school orchestral experience.

My assignments range from putting bowings into the music, often before their first rehearsals with their orchestra conductors, to giving group lessons on various techniques required for playing the music with greater accuracy. Because many of the students I work with in the high schools do not study privately, often this is their only chance for them to get some guidance on how to play the violin more skillfully.

My passion for working with high school students stems from the inspiration and motivation I received from my high school orchestra in Storrs, Connecticut. Although I had a musical background from two parents who were musicians and music educators I was not inspired to continue playing the violin past 8th grade. I played in the school orchestra and practiced the bare minimum which wasn’t much. My parents promised me I could quit altogether once I started high school but I needed to try the school orchestra for one more semester. I very reluctantly agreed already planning how I was going to spend my time once I quit!!

The first rehearsal of my orchestra class in 9th grade changed the path of my life forever. That may sound dramatic but it was a pivotal moment. The woman conducting the class was a 22 year old graduate violin student at University of Connecticut who had just finished a degree at New England Conservatory. She was full of energy, motivation and good humor. After playing horrible arrangements of movie tunes and waltzes in Middle School , I was struggling through Bach Brandenburg #3 and loving every note!! She agreed to take me on as a private student if I practiced a minimum of 2 hours a day. I agreed and began my musical journey which involved many hours of practice, music camps, music schools and eventually my orchestral career.

This is one of the main reasons why it is important for me to work with the students, hoping that maybe I can inspire some of them to enjoy the violin and orchestral playing like she had inspired me years ago.

Recently, I did a class at Interlake working on different types of pizzicato (plucking the string) to be used in Benjamin Britten’s "Simple Symphony". Working on pizzicato is probably a technique that most would not work on in a private violin lesson but is used often in orchestral repertoire. I was elated when I heard their improvements!

Sometimes at the end of coaching sessions I leave some time for the students to ask me about what it is like to play in a professional symphony orchestra. Recently I was asked how much rehearsal time is put into a Seattle Symphony concert series. There were looks of shock and awe as I told them that we began rehearsals on Tuesdays to perform on Thursday evenings and through the week-ends. Four rehearsals are needed to prepare for our subscription performances.

They were stunned by the idea that after one week we move onto another set of music and concerts. Students are used to rehearsing for two months or more before one performance. What was even more shocking to them was the idea that we often have more than one set of concerts in a single week! The other night I asked them why it was important for them to attend Seattle Symphony concerts, or any orchestra concerts for that matter. One violinist knew the answer. "We are the future audience".

Music education is so vital to the survival of our industry. We need to make it accessible for them musically and financially. I am honored to be an advocate for the Seattle Symphony. The students I work with all know who they can call if they need help with getting symphony tickets!

Cecilia Poellein Buss
Seattle Symphony - First violinist
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