Jesse Liu ’14 arrives 15 minutes early to his orchestra rehearsal at The Colburn School, warming up on his French horn and practicing sections of Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
This was Liu’s routine before rehearsal every Sunday afternoon during the 2012-2013 school year at Colburn, a performing arts school that contains various musical ensembles.
Liu is one of many students who participate in orchestras outside of school and is one of four Harvard-Westlake participants at Colburn.
Every June, students audition to be placed in an orchestra, regardless of their participation in previous years.
They must perform a solo and sight-read a few excerpts for a panel of Colburn teachers.
Liu joined because he knew he could improve many aspects of his playing, such as sight reading, intonation, rhythm and tone. He then auditioned last year for the Colburn Youth Orchestra, consisting of students who play both string and wind instruments.
Heather Wattles ’15 began her journey at Colburn much earlier than Liu at the age of 9. She began in the Violin Ensemble and will be participating this year in the Colburn Chamber Orchestra, consisting only of string musicians.
She spends time outside of school playing in the Colburn Orchestra, but she is also a member of the upper school symphony. She chose to participate in orchestras outside of school to be exposed to different styles of music and methods of teaching. She attributes her development as a performer to the conductors and the other musicians she is paired with.
“Playing violin is my favorite thing to do, so Colburn is really fun, not something that I do for a grade,” Wattles said.
While Liu and Wattles have both participated in Colburn orchestras in the past, Diana Kim ’15, a violinist, and Paul Suh ’14, a cellist, attended their first rehearsal this past Sunday.
Both Kim and Suh have taken private lessons at Colburn, but they decided to audition for the Colburn Youth Orchestra this summer and will join Liu this year.
Both orchestras at Colburn have three concerts this year and will be performing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Colburn is not the only out-of-school orchestra that attracts Harvard-Westlake students. A few students are members of Junior Chamber Music, in which they are divided into approximately 20 small ensembles to play chamber music.
Applicants must first audition with two pieces for a panel of JCM faculty and also mention what period of music or composer they would be interested in playing. Then based on these factors and the applicant’s age, small ensembles are formed.
During the year, students are encouraged to participate in master classes and workshops hosted by JCM. Each group has self-run rehearsals and meets with a coach six times during the season. In March, the ensembles all gather for a final concert.
Matthew Lucas ’14, who plays the piano and the violin, started at JCM during his sophomore year. He decided to join after seeing some groups from JCM perform at Harvard-Westlake.
Last year, Lucas performed in four concerts with his piano trio. He noted the coaching sessions as his favorite part of JCM.
Alexia Le ’14 joined JCM as a freshman, a year before Lucas. She was first exposed to JCM when Sydney Cheong ’14 asked Le to play in her ensemble. Since then, Le has performed in many JCM recitals, through which she was awarded scholarships to the Idyllwild Chamber Music Program and Montecito International Music Festival.
Le said that the teamwork involved in these small ensembles has made her a better musician.
“Chamber music has all the benefits of orchestra in that it blends different instruments together in a harmonious fashion to your ears, yet more challenging because you are held accountable for every sound,” Le said. “‘Air-bowing’ or fake playing does not fly here.”
Sydney Cheong ’14, Justin Yoo ’15 and Sam Lee ’16 are also members of JCM.
Enya Huang ’15, a violist, joined the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra six years ago.
Applicants must prepare a scale, a solo, four given excerpts, and sight-read during their audition.
Every year, CYMO hosts three concerts at its home venue and performs a concert at Disneyland. Huang traveled with CYMO to Germany, Austria and Italy this past summer and performed at various historically acclaimed locations.
Cheong, Huang, Le, Lucas and Yoo are all members of the upper school symphony and therefore have experience with both small chamber music ensembles and larger orchestras.
Le found that chamber music in a small setting could bring out an individual’s style more than an orchestra could.
“Chamber music ensembles are much smaller than an orchestra and democratic in that the pieces leave a lot of room for interpretation to each player, whereas in orchestra the interpretation is entirely up to the conductor and players must follow suit,” Le said.
Because these ensembles can take up a lot of time, Liu found it difficult to manage practicing his French horn with other extracurricular activities and school work.
“As a wind player, you have to practice every day,” Liu said. “If I don’t practice for one day, my level of playing the next day is significantly lower.”
Le explained that being in an out-of-school orchestra allowed her to enjoy and learn more about music than she normally would have.
“We have found so much meaning in the pieces that otherwise wouldn’t be found individually to make for a more interesting and entertaining performance,” Le said.