Starting a Full Orchestra Program

Lesley Schultz • October 2022String Section • October 13, 2022

Starting a full orchestra program may seem like a daunting task, but it can be done with cooperation. A full orchestra can enrich the education experience for both band students and your own string students. It forces everyone to listen differently and enriches their experiences in all ensembles. Many states have all-state full orchestra groups, but why should students have to make an all-state ensemble to experience this? With some cooperation and diligence, you can get this started at your school.

First, you need to sit down and figure out what might be barriers to this. Maybe the band rehearses a different bell than your orchestra, so this would need to be after school. Maybe you don’t have the greatest working relationship with the band director so you would need to work on that. These are things that can be fixed with a willingness to be flexible. Having the wind students play in a more solo-like style that full orchestra demands should be something that everyone wants to see for their students. It can also be a great way for Tri-M students to gain service hours.

After sitting down and working through the barriers that might prevent you forming a full orchestra, think about where/when they could perform. Many schools have a holiday concert in December that features all the “top” groups, as an all-school holiday concert. This would be the perfect time to put together a full orchestra as some of the wind students should already be there. If not, maybe then the full orchestra could alternate years, one year on the band concert, one year on the orchestra concert. Perhaps a full orchestra might work better in the spring for your program. Figure out when the best time of year will be for you and your program.

Last, brainstorm literature. The easy way to get a full orchestra going at your school is with either holiday and/or pop tunes. There is a long list of grade 3 to 4 pops tunes that are available. For the holiday, A Christmas Festival is always popular along with Sleigh Ride, but there are Nutcracker excerpts arranged by Merle J. Isaac that might already be in your library. If you want a more classical flair, many single movements are accessible to school orchestras from the early Beethoven symphonies to movements from Dvorak’s New World. If the originals are just out of reach, there are many arrangements available for you to choose from. 

Exposing students to the full orchestra experience can enrich the education of all the students involved. It just takes a little extra planning, but the result will be well worth it. 

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education). cats.

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