Creating A Sumptuous Orchestra Sound Clinic – A Reflection

Eric Di Florio

On the September 15 at Mentone Grammar, esteemed composer, educator and performer Loreta Fin presented her workshop, ‘Tips for Working with Strings’. Loreta provided valuable insight into her own teaching philosophy and shared her own experience, techniques and solutions for issues string teachers encounter on a regular basis.

The topics explored included:

·         Strategies for conducting string students, including basic conducting patterns, the conductor’s space, the correct posture needed to conduct, as well as visual clarity, delivering clear upbeats, enhancing one’s coordination when simultaneously using the right and left hands, and the use of the baton to coordinate a group of players

·         Practical approaches when teaching stringed instruments, such as learning rest and playing positions, posture, bow hold, bow distribution, and left hand shapes to assist in learning key signatures

·         Concepts for teaching tuning, note-reading, scales, spiccato and vibrato in an ensemble setting

The concept of treating ‘students as musicians from the start’ was an idea that Loreta focused on during her workshop. This prompted me to reflect on my own teaching practice and valuing my students as young musicians. With this mindset, we must always remember we are teaching students to be life-long musicians – we are not merely teaching just the skills to play at the next up-coming recital.

Loreta described the role of the conductor (using the Italian term “maestro” meaning teacher), placing importance on the role of the conductor, and asked us to think about our own musical experiences and journeys. We reflected on conductors we have worked with in the past, who demonstrated clear conducting methods, as well as those whose conducting was less than ideal. By reflecting on these positive and negative experiences, we are better able to inform our own practices and shape our own skills in the area of conducting ensembles.

A valuable concept I took from the workshop was Loreta’s ideas on the teaching of intonation and how tuning can be difficult in an ensemble setting. Loreta spoke about how she has her students play the note D (fingered, not open D), then, on her signal, the students either shift upwards or downwards to purposely change the pitch the first time a little then other times far away from the note. Then, again on her signal, students immediately return to the original fingered D. This exercise, when given to my students, showed them that their pitch is easily changeable. It in turn promoted more acute and critical listening skills resulting in a more accurate intonation.

Another concept Loreta explored was the idea that ‘unison pizzicato’ can be quite problematic in an ensemble setting, resulting in individual players easily rushing pizzicato sections and sometimes causing the entire ensemble to follow. Loreta spoke about the way she encourages her students to pay particular attention to the conductor and the ictus (or musical or metrical stress). Loreta achieves this by asking her students to say “there” at the precise moment when the beat lands. After several attempts, students then transfer the vocalisation of “there” onto their instruments. This approach encourages students to not only pay attention to the role of the conductor, but also to create a deeper awareness of the sound of the ensemble, and how their part should ‘fit in’ with the others in the group.

This valued presentation not only provided me with a myriad of tips and approaches, but it really encouraged me to reflect on my own conducting skills and teaching practices as a strings educator.

Eric Di Florio