All over the world people enjoy making music together, whether alone, in a small informal group, or in a large formal symphony orchestra.
Symphony orchestras normally consist of professional musicians, but there are also a number of orchestras made up of amateurs of all ages who play just for the fun of it. And although they may be amateurs in the sense that they don't play for a living, their music certainly doesn't have to be 'amateuristic' and often is of high quality.
The following describes one of those amateur orchestras, but most of it will be valid for any of them.
The North Holland Youth Orchestra
The North Holland Youth Orchestra (or in the Dutch abbreviation NHJO) was established in 1962. It consists of about 90 enthusiastic youngsters between 13 and 23 years of age, who have already reached a high enough standard to pass the audition. They all have to be fully prepared to spend lots of their precious time studying their part. This is on top the time they need for normal school work or university studies.
With the professional approach of the conductor, Pieter-Jan Olthof, and his assistants, the orchestra reaches a high level of quality, but you can also still hear and see just how much fun the members have when playing!
The repertoire consists of the work of famous composers like Dvorak, Mahler, Shostakovich, Borodin, Beethoven, Rimsky Korsakov and many others. Sometimes they accompany well-known soloists such as Quirine Viersen or Wibi Soeriadi.
For almost 40 years the NHJO has attracted youngsters from all over the Dutch province of North Holland, mostly from the normal music schools you find in many cities and villages. In those schools they learn to play their instruments, and to perform solo or in small ensembles. It is, however, very seldom that they have to play more than a few minutes at a time.
This is where a real large orchestra differs fundamentally from the schools - they have to play during a complete concert, sometimes for more than two hours.
Twice a year, in March and September, the rehearsals culminate in a number of concerts which are given in several cities in North Holland, normally in churches.
Each new half-year cycle starts with the selection of the next pieces to play. After the last concert in a series there is a rest period of about a month, also used for auditions to replace leaving members.
Then it's back to work again. Every three weeks the members converge from all over the province on the little village of Heilo near Alkmaar, for a day of hard work. In small groups by instrument, with part of the orchestra or the whole orchestra, the intricacies of the new pieces are mastered.
The Real Thing
At last the time for rehearsals will pass, and the church will fill up with expectant people, mostly family and friends. The orchestra, now finely dressed in black and white, suddenly transforms itself from youngsters having fun to accomplished musicians. Group by group the instruments are tuned, and in the following silence the conductor enters. He bows to the audience, signals the orchestra and the music begins...