Faculty-student orchestra allows for side-by-side learning

The orchestra program is bursting with new energy after solving an unlikely challenge: the rising popularity of off-campus courses. Finding his orchestra short a few musicians in key areas last spring, director Martin Hearne filled the gaps with members of the Cornell instrumental studio faculty.

String Quartet
The new orchestra mentoring program has enhanced music opportuities in a number of ways, including the development of two string quartets.

“The results were stunning,” Hearne says. “We had students in leading roles supplemented by professional musicians with a great deal of confidence. It created a relaxed atmosphere and raised the whole level of our performances.”

The relationship has also deepened mentoring relationships. The professionals now join the group for their final two rehearsals and for all performances, providing opportunities for detailed instruction and side-by-side learning.

“Working with professional musicians has been one of the performance highlights of my time at Cornell because it has been the best of both worlds,” says cellist Anna Yeagle. “Bringing in the additional professional musicians has given me a performance experience like that at a large school, while maintaining the advantage of personal attention at a small school.”

Violist Tess Smith concurs. “With the professional that I usually sit with, I pick up ways to enhance my playing musically and technically, such as advice on different fingerings and bowings I hadn’t thought of. This kind of advice has helped me develop as a musician.”

These enhanced relationships have also spawned new ventures. Two string quartets have developed under the guidance of instructor James Ellis, and three of Cornell’s brass instructors have formed their own trio that now rehearses at Cornell. Hearne says that students learn about performance from a whole new angle by watching the trio’s interactions as they rehearse, rather than simply seeing them in performance mode.

“Cornell is a true liberal arts school,” Hearne says, noting that he’s a strong supporter of his students’ off-campus excursions. “But we need high-quality music opportunities as well, and we are absolutely thrilled with the results of this new orchestra mentoring program.”