Every band director is aware of the usual concerns when refining a wind band performance. Likewise, every string teacher is familiar with the stumbling blocks of producing a polished performance for their string orchestra. Often though, issues arise when we work toward performances with a full orchestra. Band specialists are sometimes less familiar with string pedagogy and rehearsal needs, while string specialists are sometimes less versed in the issues of rehearsing and performing with winds and percussion. And though we can all agree that the sound of a full orchestra can be absolutely gorgeous, the above-stated problem can result in concerts with often-heard inconsistencies. Here are a couple of thoughts about those issues that are inherent problems when combining winds and percussion with strings.

Articulation/Bowing. When one thinks of brass and woodwind articulation markings, it becomes relatively obvious that there is often a lack of clarity and specificity when compared to bowing/articulation markings for string players. Often, markings that clearly and emphatically mean something to string players are much more nuanced or ambiguous to wind players. Take, for example, four staccato quarter notes under the arc of a phrase or slur marking. Or that same measure with the quarter notes marked with legato or tenuto markings under that phrase or slur. To a string player, the meaning and technique of achieving those measures are crystal clear. To a wind player, they are hazy at best. When wind and string forces play together, it is essential that this discrepancy is overcome by listening to, and unifying, the “sound” of the articulation/bowing, and compensating for those differences, irrespective of how that sound is technically or mechanically achieved.

Key Centers. One of the most glaring worries for full orchestra is the key in which the ensemble is playing. Simply put, band students are clearly more comfortable in flat keys, while string students are more comfortable in sharp keys. While that is certainly a stereotype, it is no less true. When adjudicating full orchestras, I often hear how very able the strings are as they navigate sharp keys with beautiful intonation, and how inaccurate they are when playing in flat keys. And vice versa for the winds. To help with this, try having the full orchestra slowly play unison scales in sharp and flat keys, with a tonic drone, truly concentrating on stabilizing and focusing the intonation of each pitch. I have also found that one of the best ways to remedy this problem is to have the full orchestra practice playing a chorale in a sharp key. Then, have them play the same chorale that you have transposed to a flat key. Identifying and focusing on this common problem will certainly improve performances irrespective of the key in which the orchestra is playing.

To be continued…

Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education
KHS America

About the Author

Dr. Boonshaft, Director of Education for KHS America, is the author of the critically acclaimed best-selling books Teaching Music with Passion, Teaching Music with Purpose, and Teaching Music with Promise. He was honored by the National Association for Music Education and Music For All as the first recipient of the “George M. Parks Award for Leadership in Music Education.” Dr. Boonshaft was selected for the Center for Scholarly Research and Academic Excellence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, where he is Professor Emeritus of Music.