Eve Kennedy Completes MusXchange Placement in France

26.05.2015

In my day-to-day life, I regularly feel a great sense of gratitude to the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland, for the education I gained whilst playing with the various ensembles. Whether it is with regard to my working or social life, I frequently feel the benefit and reward of the experiences I had there.

In April 2015 I had the pleasure of working with l’Orchestre de Picardie, a chamber orchestra based in Amiens, the capital of the Picardie region in northern France. This opportunity arose as a result of having participated in youth orchestra exchange trips coordinated by the European Federation of National Youth Orchestras while I was an undergraduate student. During the two weeks I spent with l’Orchestre de Picardie, I gained an invaluable experience and insight into the profession of orchestral playing abroad and caught a rare glimpse of this wonderful and exceptional orchestra.

I say “rare” because almost all players have been in the orchestra since its formation in 1985 and I had the impression that vacancies in the orchestra seldom arise. It’s no wonder – why would one leave a job in this high-quality, compact chamber orchestra based in the pretty, warm, sunny, historically significant town of Amiens, performing two or three concerts a week of varied, interesting programmes to sold out audiences in various locations in rural northern France? I left reluctantly, with the overwhelming impression that one would have a very nice lifestyle as a musician with l’Orchestre de Picardie.

It is inevitable that I noticed some differences when playing with a foreign orchestra. Some differences are superficial: for example, the outside player of the desk turns the pages (a VERY difficult reflex to fight!) – while other differences are more deeply rooted and permeate how the orchestra works. L’Orchestre de Picardie is one of seven orchestras belonging to the organisation, “ONE” (Orchestra Network for Europe): a network of classical symphony orchestras, funded by the EU, whereby musicians can take part in exchanges with other member orchestras; combine forces for large scale performances; commission works; and tour.

It is very easy to presume, when going to work abroad, and not knowing any of your colleagues, that absolutely everything will be completely different. There is a natural assumption that every aspect will be alien. On the contrary, what was most surprising is how familiar and comfortable the experience was. The orchestra tune in the same way (if a little more carefully and consciously); information is passed back through the section in the same way, albeit in my second language; people make the same sort of witty jokes, and there is a very apparent shared sense of humour that I think is specific to classical musicians. The pace of the rehearsals was quick and fluent, the atmosphere simultaneously relaxed and friendly, with immediate focus and accuracy.

I feel certain that the reason for this unexpected feeling of familiarity with a foreign, professional orchestra – the first ever “proper” professional extra work I have undertaken in my career - came entirely as a result of the apprenticeship in orchestral playing I had throughout my teenage years with the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland. The all-encompassing training of listening, enjoyment, discipline, respect, etiquette, confidence, punctuality, socialising, all results in an incredibly thorough preparation for work both within and outwith the music profession. I consider myself very fortunate to have benefited from this education and cultivation.

The most significant realisation regarding this particular experience is that when one is dropped into an established environment which is foreign in all aspects, it is surprising how quickly one is able to adapt and how naturally one copes with the circumstances. There are undoubtedly many daunting aspects to exchange trips, quite apart from the work – not knowing anybody, negotiating public transport abroad, speaking and understanding the language, getting accustomed to a new place. The very fact that you are there and have to get on with it enables you to rise to the occasion. You find yourself capable of all kinds of challenges that you were unaware of and would have remained unaware of, had you not been tested. The result is an extremely rewarding feeling of confidence and achievement. These qualities often seem hard to find when studying instrumental music performance but youth orchestras are the breeding-ground and can generously supply these rewards, both in their projects at home and in the adventures that follow.

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