The Honor of Honors Orchestras (or Lack Thereof…)

Sweaty hands.  Shaking knees. Bow perfectly rosined.  Stan is ready for his audition.  He has worked countless hours, practicing, listening, practicing, listening, refining, and listening again.

honor in orchestras

He has no private teacher but wants to make it more than anything.  He would definitely have a private teacher if his parents would let him, but they can’t afford it.  So he watches every youtube video he can find of the audition excerpt.  If he made it, he might be the first kid in his entire school to make this orchestra.  Just a few minutes ago, he was sitting on a metrobus.  Watching the minutes on his phone go by as slow as snail mail…. Watching the Lexus and BMW’s pull into the school parking lot with other kids begrudgingly getting out of their parents’ cars carrying their own instruments.  Their rosin probably cost twice as much as his.  They probably own their violin.  And as they warm up, he notices the heady air of confidence bouncing between the privileged and dissipating just before it gets to him.  Stan doesn’t make it.  He spends night after night regretting his choice to spend so much time working for nothing.  He didn’t make it… Not this year.  Maybe next year. Meanwhile…

honor orch

Jessica is rushing to get her soccer cleats off while her mom zooms to Edsall High School for the audition.  She peels off the shin guards, throws a dressy blouse on over her soccer jersey, and throws the door open the minute her mom pulls into the parking lot.  Exhausted, but determined, she gets out of the van, grabs her violin, and flies into the audition.  She knows these excerpts like the back of her well-trained hand.  She doesn’t really care whether or not she makes it, she just has to fill the requirement her teacher set.  And so, she gives up an entire evening to audition.  She is going to have to stay up so late to finish all of the homework she has from bio.  Oh, and how could she forget that she has that Governors School interview on Thursday.  This week is going to be mad!  She sees a student practicing next to her and immediately feels bad for him.  He clearly wants to make it, but he just doesn’t have the refined tone of a trained musician.  He is working so hard in the warm up but he doesn’t seem to fully understand the excerpt.  She smiles at him as her number is called.  On to the audition.  Jessica makes it.  She gives up an entire weekend for this honors orchestra that she didn’t even want to do…. She notices, with little surprise, that the unrefined violinist wasn’t there.  Too bad… He would probably enjoy it more than her…

Economic segregation

I realize that I may be offending, like, most high school orchestra directors with this post… But seriously, WHY do we continue to require our students to audition for things they don’t even want to participate in?  I have a few ideas about why, but I really truly believe it comes down to one primary reason:

The EGO of the teacher is such that they count how many students come from each school. … They force students to audition for a “voluntary” auditioned orchestra… And then they sit around bragging about how many students made it.   They take great pride in having more students make it into the honors orchestra than the other teachers.  You probably know one of these teachers.  Perhaps you are one.  Either way, I still see it as an issue…. For so many reasons:

  1. By forcing your students to all audition, you are taking away opportunities from other students who GENUINELY wanted to participate in the group…
  2. By requiring all students audition, the attitudes of these “honors” groups are not actually honorable at all… They end up being only a measure of money.  Those with the most expensive instruments, with private teachers, and with the resources are the ones who make it…
  3. The musicality suffers significantly when you have a group that doesn’t really want to be there.  And then, the entire group suffers regardless of which student cares.

Wouldn’t it be better to have an honors orchestra full of honorable students?  Students who are auditioning  for intrinsic reasons.  Students who love music and love music making.  Wouldn’t it be better if we teachers could display greater honor than ego?

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