When my students opened the boxes with the new Stringray Electric Violins inside, their eyes grew big, as smiles stretched across their faces. We were excited to grow our Electric Orchestra. We were able to purchase 5 more electric instruments and amps, which allowed us to create a small Electric Orchestra. This group of students auditioned by playing part of the song, "We Don't Talk About Bruno," and the top musicians earned a spot in the group.
These students committed to extra after school rehearsal time and more time spent learning a new piece of music, to be performed at our Spring Concert. During our acoustic string orchestra rehearsals, these students served as leaders, by setting the example of how to play with the proper style and hand technique. They excelled at performing the music with the orchestra and explored their own sound, using effects with the amps. After discovering different sound possibilities built in to the amps, each student created their own sound for the performance.
While the physical aspect of playing the electric instruments feels like playing our acoustic, the way the sound projects through the orchestra differs. Students had to adjust their playing so that the instruments and effects in the amp enhanced their sound, rather than hinder it. It's easy to produce less than desirable sounds with the electrics, if distortion, echo, gain, and treble settings are not exactly right. I worked with students individually and as a group to fine tune each amps settings, to fit with the musician's playing. Once the settings and volume were set, the students had to use their musical technique to produce the best sound. This involved changing how much bow weight and speed they used to produce varying dynamics. Students also had to control their right hand finger placement and movement to produce a vibrato that fit the style of the music. Students worked on maintaining the proper contact point so the sound stayed clear and focused, rather than scratchy, airy, or with too much feedback. Using the bow on the electric instrument allows every sound to be heard, from the placement of the bow on the string, to the changing of bow directions. Any extra weight or abrupt change in bow speed could produce a percussive type sound on the instrument, which would take away from the beautiful tone quality we try to produce.
Students are looking forward to auditioning for the Electric Orchestra again next year, and enjoying more performance opportunities. The group will remain small, until we add more electric instruments and equipment to our Orchestra. Our student leader musicians get to continue to grow as individual performers on their instrument, while working with the group. As a group they will lead our full string orchestra in performances, and will exclusively represent our school when performing in the community. We are so grateful for the opportunity to include 21st century equipment and techniques in our Orchestra, giving our students the chance to learn, grow, and create! -Tarvia Blackshear, Moorhead Junior High Orchestra