On the 4th & 5th March 2016 the Ulster Youth Orchestra, supported by the Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland continued its series of outreach events, working this time in collaboration with the Education Authority, Western Region to bring the UYO’s team of string tutors to around 100 young string players aged between 12 and 18 for two days of coaching, rehearsal and performance at the Strabane Academy Junior Campus.
The coaching began on the evening of Friday 4th March at 6:45pm with three of UYO’s highly experienced tutors; Joanne Quigley- lecturer in violin at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Steve Tees – Professor of Viola at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Benedict Rogerson – cellist with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the London Mozart Players, giving a trio performance to the young string players .
The tutors played two string trios by Mozart and Dohnyani to inspire the players. They each talked a little bit about the pieces, the composers and the style of the music while the young players looked on. Having the students standing around the trio gave them a much better experience; they were able to watch how the trio interacted and how they decided on tuning, tempo and the beginning and ending of phrases. This is what some of the students had to say:
“I enjoyed the interactivity / chat beforehand. Very enjoyable!” “Incredible the sound they have and the confidence they show” “Very skilful and engaging, a pleasure to listen to” “I really enjoyed it and it made me want to reach that level of playing and performing” “It was helpful to see how they play and communicate with each other” “It was awe-inspiring!” “I thought it was brilliant and it showed me how good one day I could become.” “Stunning. The room was silenced.”
By way of introduction the Intermediate Strings, conducted by EA music teacher and viola player Janet Cooke, played three short pieces to warm up and to welcome us to Strabane. The intermediate level students were then given the opportunity to receive intense coaching and tuition from the trio studying repertoire chosen to challenge and develop the skills of the young musicians.
The tutors focussed on the importance of good posture, how to place an instrument in the correct position before starting to play, understanding the point of contact of the bow on the string and how bow location, combined with pressure and speed of the bow, enables the string player to achieve variety in dynamic and quality of sound.
This is what the Intermediate String Group thought: “I learnt to play closer to the bridge and use short bows” “…how to keep the beat, play faster and more effective ways of practising” “Very educational (as it is a chance for younger players to get tips from professionals)” “They were amazing musicians and really friendly” “I thought it was outstanding!” The Intermediate Strings re-grouped later in the evening, this time conducted by our violinist Joanne Quigley. The difference in the confidence of the players was evident and the result was a strong performance by the group. The young people were fully engaged throughout – they were a credit to the tutors from the Education Authority as they committed their attention and enthusiasm from the very outset.
The following day, Saturday the 5th March saw a much larger group of the Western area string players receive coaching and direction from the UYO team of tutors. The day started with a trio performance from Joanne, Steve and Ben for the whole orchestra followed by string sectional work throughout the morning before the Youth Orchestra players were brought together to rehearse a programme concentrating on the first movement of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. The day ended with a performance of the repertoire directed and conducted by Steve Tees.
During the sectionals the young string players developed their understanding of complex technical playing such as playing closer to the bridge, control and placing of the bow, positioning of their left arm to reach higher notes, using second, third and fourth positions, harmonics and fine tuning notes further up their instruments. Other skills that were discussed were ensemble playing, the importance of dynamics, listening and responding to others and general posture.
The day was extremely well received by the students and they left armed with a host of new techniques and a renewed send of enthusiasm. The Senior Youth Orchestra had this to say: “I learned how to handle my bow and play on the upper register” “Helpful. Inspirational.” “I developed the way I actually hold the instrument making it more playable” “The tutors were absolutely amazing!!! So funny and make it very interesting.” Joanne Quigley (violin tutor) and Rebecca Doherty (EA, Western Region Senior Orchestra) both gave an interview on Radio Foyle, broadcast on Friday 4th March on the Breakfast Show. The article featured an audio clip of the UYO from a previous concert recording and a very positive chat with our musicians. At the time of writing, an article is expected in the Strabane Chronicle on Thursday 10th March, 2016. The Ulster Youth Orchestra is very proud to be supported by the Halifax Foundation who helped to make these workshops possible.