Symphony Musicians in Education

By Arthur Zadinsky

Symphony musicians often play a significant role in the educational and cultural development of the communities in which they live and work. Whether they teach privately or at local schools, symphony musicians offer a unique perspective of how music can improve and enrich the lives of students.

Soon after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in music, I attended the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood. I was fortunate to have chamber music coaching over the next two summers with Joseph Silverstein and Eugene Lehner, both members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The musical wisdom I absorbed from those sessions has remained with me and has sustained me ever since.

What makes the musical knowledge of a symphony musician unique? There are many reasons:

  • Symphony musicians have performed under many distinguished conductors during the course of their careers. Orchestral musicians must have the ability to quickly adapt to many very different styles of music making, depending on who is on the podium. This means tempi, articulations, dynamics, and phrasing styles may vary considerably from one maestro to the next. Usually there is very little time to make these changes! In the Seattle Symphony, performances typically begin after 2 ½ days of rehearsal, maximum.
  • Symphony musicians routinely hear and perform with numerous world-class soloists of the highest caliber. While rehearsing intensively with these soloists each season, symphony musicians recognize and identify their attributes. Although most are pianists, violinists, cellists, or vocalists, nearly every instrument of the orchestra has been featured as a soloist in front of the orchestra, countless times by our own members.
  • Symphony musicians must be able to perform in an ever-widening variety of styles: this includes every “classical” style, including Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and the many types of 20th and 21st century music. As music from around the world is readily accessible via the Internet and various digital media, we are performing a greater variety of world music than ever, and should continue to expand our repertoire. Seattle Symphony has performed a very wide range of styles outside the mainstream classical genres, including folk, jazz, country and rock; video game, cartoon, and motion picture soundtracks; and even live circus acts in front of the orchestra!
  • The musical diversity and talent within our orchestra is truly exceptional! Some members of our orchestra are also composers, arrangers, and conductors; many play instruments other than their primary instruments quite proficiently. Symphony musicians often perform solo recitals, solo concerti, and chamber music outside the symphony at local, national, and international venues. There are distinguished educators within the orchestra, whose knowledge and experience is invaluable to their students and community.

For the past two summers, I have been fortunate to have been asked to lead string master classes, chamber music coaching sessions, and solo recitals at the Summer Sounds Music Festival in Port Townsend and Coupeville, Washington. The students have been eager to learn and were hungry for information about how a symphony works. Specifically, they wanted to know details about the audition process for filling symphony vacancies, what it is like to play in the orchestra full-time, how much time musicians have to prepare for concerts, what the working hours and conditions are like, and the challenges of playing for different conductors and soloists.

I think they were so curious about my work because I was a living, breathing, full-time symphony musician with a successful career that they might like to emulate; I was a tangible presence that they could relate to and interact with, and could offer some practical yet crucial tools for them to use to achieve success in their own pursuits, whether in music or other competitive fields. Months later, I continued to hear how much Festival attendees enjoyed my classes and performances. It is extremely rewarding to know how much our work as musicians is respected and appreciated by so many in the community.

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