This week the BBC National Orchestra of Wales was joined by a number of students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Similarly to many other colleges and orchestras, the college and orchestra co-operate on a student placement scheme.
The students win their places by competitive audition, in much the same manner that each of us have won our jobs. The successful students take part in rehearsals throughout the year, sitting beside members of the orchestra. The opportunity to work with the orchestra gives students an intimate insight into working life.
Firstly, it demonstrates how prepared your music must be before the first rehearsal. In my first year of Ulster Youth Orchestra, I thought it was good enough to give the music a cursory glance before rehearsals began. Surely rehearsals were the time when you learnt all the notes? Wrong! Lessons were quickly learnt on that course.
As all of the violas appeared to have the seem attitude as me, the conductor made us play, desk by desk, a particularly nasty viola passage in front of the whole orchestra. In a subsequent course the late Mike Cookson asked if I knew which instrument the violas played a particular passage alongside. I did not, and he kindly pointed out to me that, although I could play the notes, I did not know the music. He was right.
While it is seldom that a conductor will pick out individual string players to play passages in front of all their colleagues, the point is that you probably should be able to if you were asked to, and you should know where in the grand scheme of the music your line fits in. In order to lift the music to a high standard, you simply have to know the music thoroughly before you arrive for rehearsal.
In addition to this, the scheme gives students the opportunity to hone their awareness skills. In the orchestra a lot is done within sections without much being said. You are supposed to keep an eye on the music, an eye on your principal, an eye on the leader of the orchestra and an eye on the conductor. Now, I'm rubbish at maths, but that's too many eyes, but all the same, you have to get quick at doing it.
As the summer term wears on, with the summer break itself approaching (someone might like to remind the weather of that fact), the colleges will all be gearing up for final recitals. Students will be frantically practising their recital programmes, with the final year and postgraduate students hoping to demonstrate to the examining panels the culmination of what they have learnt during their studies. This is a stressful time for students; it can feel like the rest of your life is dependent upon you not messing up that shift, not splitting that note.
I would like to wish all the students who have worked with us all the very best for their recitals and for the future.
The orchestra presents a programme of Debussy and Shostakovich at Cardiff's St David's Hall on Friday 25 May, and Swansea's Brangwyn Hall on Saturday 26 May. For more information and tickets, call 0800 052 1812.