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Bowdoin Symphony Orchestra explores new facets of music

October 23, 2020

Mackey O'Keefe
A NEW PROGRAM: While the Bowdoin Orchestra cannot hold in-person rehearsals the same way it once did, Orchestra director George Lopez has worked to adapt the same musical community to virtual format.

Without the ability to gather for rehearsal on stage this semester, the Bowdoin Symphony Orchestra switched to a remote model. George Lopez, director of the Orchestra, has been working to develop new initiatives to keep members connected.

Lopez believes that despite the challenges remote music-learning presents, the experience of conducting the Orchestra remotely will enable the group to explore other facets of music.

“I began to get excited about the possibilities of expanding and filling out each orchestra member’s conception and understanding of what they were doing while sitting there playing their instrument,” Lopez said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Since the beginning of the semester, Lopez has worked on “musicianship classes” with the goal  of teaching Orchestra members how to interpret music rather than simply focusing on playing.

Besides sectionals, during which members of the Orchestra split up into smaller groups to practice with those who play the same instrument or an instrument in the same family as theirs, Lopez gives lessons to the full Orchestra each Sunday.

“I’ve chosen not to tell the Orchestra in advance the exact plan because I really want their minds to be fresh and open when we start,” Lopez said.

“I may make a different choice next semester, but I like the idea that each member of the Orchestra comes on Sundays a bit surprised at what they will be doing,” he added.

One of Lopez’s favorite lessons was a listening experience based on water and fire. The lesson contained three versions of pieces related to storms—one with the musical score of the piece, one of a live performance and one that displayed images alongside the music.

“The idea was that the members of the Orchestra would see which one they responded to most and why, said Lopez. “It became a very rich point of discussion and rich experience for everyone,” Lopez said.

Though Paris Wilson ’23, a member of the Orchestra, misses the experience of in-person rehearsals, she feels that the group’s new structure has been as engaging and interactive as possible under the circumstances.

“The upside is that we are exposed to a lot more music, and there’s more variety in the way we’ve been approaching music this semester,” said Wilson in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Sectionals are my favorite, just because a smaller group of people is more personable and allows [for] more interpersonal connections and discussion.”

Although Lopez’s new program has helped the orchestra adapt to a remote model, he still works to ensure that his lessons are captivating and educational.

“The greatest challenge is to maintain the motivation of each player when they are not in my presence,” Lopez said. “Students are dealing with their own situations, and some of them don’t yet have the experience of how healing the music can be and how music brings us together.”

“I’m heartbroken that we can’t be together,” Lopez added. “I know how difficult it is for many of the students not to be able to play, especially those who specifically came to Bowdoin to play in the orchestra.”

While Wilson has enjoyed the programming, she does not believe that it is an adequate replacement for in-person music-making.

“We’re just listening together, which is nice, but it’s not what Orchestra is,” said Wilson.

While Lopez is uncertain about the Orchestra’s plans for the spring semester, he hopes to work with the ensemble to create the most supportive musical environment possible, even if it remains impossible to meet in person.

“I plan to ask the Orchestra members themselves to help me create the curriculum for next spring,” said Lopez. “Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”


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