Rhapsody in blue jeans

Regenerated every semester with fresh talent, the University’s Symphony Orchestra puts passion ahead of polish.

by Keri Carlson

It often seems that college sports are much more thrilling than professional sports. The professionals have the most skill – they’re the best of the best. On the other hand, college athletes range from the next sneaker ad star to those who dive for every loose ball and put their whole heart into the game because they love it, despite the fact they are not the most talented.

The University’s Symphony Orchestra exudes the same kind of energetic and youthful spirit as college sports. Some students strive to become professional orchestra musicians or conductors, while others are simply content to play and would be happy teaching elementary school after graduation.

Junior Emily Deppa said that after graduation she wants to work toward her master’s degree and eventually get a job in a symphony. Kristen Strandberg, a senior, would like to teach music at the college level. Second-year doctoral student Mira Frisch simply smiled and said she wants “to teach and play as much as possible.”

The various goals for the future and levels of talent within the orchestra make for an exciting atmosphere. A lot of passion goes into every note. The possibility that anything might happen always lingers in the air.

Participating in the orchestra is one of the options for fulfilling the mandatory ensemble requirement for undergraduates in the School of Music. Because it is only a one-semester requirement, conductor Akira Mori must assemble a new orchestra each semester. With every new batch of musicians, he must prepare the students for two orchestra concerts and one opera. And every semester he finds a completely different group of musicians.

Currently, the orchestra consists of 83 strings, 42 brass and woodwinds, and six people on percussion for a total of 131 musicians. A standard orchestra, such as the Minnesota Orchestra, keeps the number of musicians below 100.

“A little more and we could have almost two orchestras,” laughed Mori. Besides the large number of students in the symphony, Mori must also juggle the number of musicians in each section. This semester he has 15 basses, but no more than 10 can play at once.

“If I have too many that’s no problem, I can just relocate, but the students get mad when they don’t play,” Mori said. “But the real problem is with a small section, a section of only five. Luckily that’s not a problem this semester.”

The Symphony Orchestra has already played its first concert and an opera this semester. For the orchestra concert held at Ted Mann in October, Mori said the audience “was not as much as I expected, only 300 to 500 people. Mostly it is students’ parents and family that come, not particularly many students.”

However, Deppa noted that during the opera “the students watching were very enthusiastic.”

Mori hopes to gain a larger audience in the future to fill up Ted Mann’s 1,000 seats. But budget cuts have hurt many sectors of the School of Music, making it difficult to promote events. Despite those limitations, Mori is aiming for “more of an audience of people who go to the Minnesota Orchestra, or musical goers.”