No need to wait for a concert to hear the Bi-College Orchestra play music this fall. You can simply eat dinner on Lloyd Green on a Thursday and listen to rehearsals.
Practicing with wind instruments outdoors is one of many COVID safety precautions the Orchestra follows. They also rehearse in smaller groups for shorter periods of time, sitting farther apart.
Because of these restrictions, scheduling rehearsals are a puzzle. There are almost 70 students in the Bi-Co Orchestra and only 19 to 25 students can play together at once.
The length of those rehearsals is dependent on a number of factors, but they range from 25 minutes to 90. If there are wind instruments involved the times are shorter because students cannot wear a mask when they are playing, and like singing, playing an instrument may project aerosols into the air. The length also depends on the number of musicians and whether they are inside or out.
At one time, the percussionists might be Zooming in a director in Marshall Auditorium while the brass section rehearses with Orchestra Director Heidi Jacob on Lloyd Green and the string section practices in Founders Hall.
Some directors and students might have decided that rehearsing with all of the restrictions was too much of a hassle. The students in the Bi-Co Orchestra say that it has been worth it.
“It has been fantastic just to be able to make music with other people,” said Co-Concertmistress Meg Bowen ’23. “While it was rewarding to focus on my individual skills over quarantine, I desperately missed playing in ensembles and having that connection that only comes with seeing each other in person.”
Elena Bien ’24 said that in-person rehearsals this fall have helped her form new friendships during her first semester at Haverford.
“I think one of the most rewarding aspects of orchestra this year is being able to play together with other students who enjoy music in a fun and relaxed environment,” said Bien. “It has allowed me to form new friendships with students across different years from both Haverford and Bryn Mawr.”
Things haven’t been perfect. The group has been accidentally locked out of rehearsal spaces and played with background noises from crickets to construction. Playing outside also means that the weather can be a problem.
“The biggest challenge this semester has been fluctuating weather,” said Nina Mandel ’22, the Bi-Co Orchestra’s Principal Cellist. “For string players, the cold makes it quite hard to move your fingers, and the rain could ruin our instruments easily.”
Yet, the Bi-Co Orchestra has grown from these challenges.
“Last spring and this fall, we encountered frustration, learned to be flexible and resilient,” said Jacob. “It is important for our students to see that mistakes are made particularly when encountering a new situation and that we sometimes must try several or more different ways to try to solve the problem and that we must compromise to make things work.”
Orchestra students studying remotely this semester can still participate in remote small groups and work with the same repertoire the Bi-Co Orchestra is performing in remote classes.
The Bi-Orchestra already performed their first “concert” this semester on October 10. They played in a tent on Lloyd Green to both a handful of students who wandered by on their way to dinner and for a future audience who can listen to the concert’s recording on YouTube.
“I was so pleased with the concert!” said Jacob “The students played beautifully, musically, and with composure despite the wind and occasional airplane overhead while we were in the tent.”
Jacob chose a repertoire this semester that she says is comforting and uplifting, including Roberto Sierra’s “Fanfarria for Brass and Percussion,” Joan Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman,” and Handel’s “Faure” and “Satie.”
The Orchestra is hoping to livestream future performances for friends and family across campus and around the world. Links to performances will be posted on Haverford Music Department’s Instagram and Facebook pages.