By Sean Scott (Reporter ‘25)
The Upper School Orchestra meets during Block 7 on A-days and D-days on the second floor of Shallcross Hall under the direction of Mr. Carl Bradley. At these times, anyone near Mr. Bradley’s room can hear melodies bouncing around the hallways. The orchestra is constructed of about 20 students playing various instruments like the cello, clarinet, harpsichord, percussion, piano, saxophone, trumpet, and violin, and it is currently working on three pieces to play at the concert in December.
A typical rehearsal starts with students coming into Mr. Bradley's room with the chairs and music stands already set up for practice. Once everyone has arrived, students tune their instruments and begin to practice. The orchestra usually plays through two or three songs during each rehearsal, working on each song section by section. Most of the time, everyone plays together. Sometimes, however, Mr. Bradley wants to hone in and improve the parts of certain instruments before having the rest of the orchestra rejoin the playing.
When a new piece of music is given out, orchestra members are asked to sight-read through the music. Sight-reading is when a piece of music is played for the first time. Students play only by looking at the music without having any prior knowledge of the piece. It requires concentration and awareness of the music as well as the instrument. When a new piece of music is handed out, Mr. Bradley lets the orchestra listen to a recording of the piece so the students can familiarize themselves with it. Sometimes this happens before a
sight-reading, but sometimes it happens afterward. Either way, the recording serves as an inspiration and a goal for the orchestra to reach. Practice outside of school is essential for students to excel at practice in school because, if orchestra members become comfortable with their parts at home, practice at school can most effectively be used for focusing on putting all of the parts together.
Like most things, the orchestra had to be modified last school year because of the pandemic. “Orchestra last year was disembodied,” Mr. Bradley said. “Everyone existed in small boxes on the screen, and it was very difficult to imagine playing together.” Mr. Bradley is very glad that the orchestra is back in person: “It’s wonderful!” he exclaimed, “a part of playing music is being in the presence of sound.”
As the concert draws nearer, the orchestra members will eventually need to adjust to practicing on the stage, as the orchestra has been practicing in Mr. Bradley's room thus far. The carpet in the room absorbs some of the volume of the instruments, so the true sound is not heard. When the orchestra starts to practice on the stage, the songs will become louder and clearer. When talking about practicing on the stage, Mr. Bradley explained, “The first thing I notice is that the strings resonate and come alive because of the acoustics. It’s really special.” Mr. Bradley also spoke about what he thinks of the orchestra’s progress this year: “I’m very happy,” he said. “I like the pieces that we are playing. We are playing Mozart and Lully and, at this point, we are able to play most of the music with a great deal of feeling and expression.” Mr. Bradley’s main goal for the orchestra is to focus on playing together with joy. He wants students to get comfortable playing again with all of the different parts of the orchestra and play pieces that emphasize the different parts of listening to the music.
It is also a special year for the orchestra because it is Mr. Bradley’s 30th year of teaching at FCS! To commemorate this occasion, he is going to play a piece at the spring concert. “I’m going to play a short, beautiful piece in the next concert by a great African-American composer named Florence B. Price,” he confided. “The piece is going to be a surprise.” In 1933, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave the first-ever performance of Price’s Symphony No. 1. This was the first time that a major symphony orchestra performed the work of an African-American woman. Price’s work is a unique blend of African-American spirituals and traditional European music. She wrote a total of four symphonies.
During the upcoming concert in December, the orchestra is scheduled to play first. For now, though, practice will continue as usual in Mr. Bradley's room. The orchestra members are looking forward to being able to showcase all of their dedication and hard work at the concert!