Observe Long Beach Symphony Rehearsal : Students Given a Close Look at Day in Life of Working Orchestra

Times Staff Writer

Corinne Sewell, a 15-year-old cellist in Long Beach’s Poly High School orchestra, was not planning a career in music.

“I couldn’t make it as a pro because I don’t have the will power,” she was saying at 6:30 on a recent evening. “It takes too much practice.”

By 9:15 she had changed her tune.

“I feel alive and tingling like I’ve been in cold water or something,” she said. “This is the sort of stuff that would make a person want to become a professional.”


Between 6:30 and 9:15, Sewell had been introduced--along with six other high school students--to a new educational program sponsored by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra. The program allows high school instrumental students the luxury of sitting onstage with their respective orchestral sections during a professional rehearsal.

“You can feel the music through your feet,” Sewell said.

Although the students leave their own instruments at home and act only as observers, they are later invited back to witness in concert the polished product of the toil they had observed. Even if the new program does not cultivate future musicians, organizers say, it will at least produce better educated listeners.

“We want them to get a sense of the real professional world that they don’t get in school because they’re too busy playing the right notes,” said Murry Sidlin, the orchestra’s conductor. “We want them to know what it’s like to work under pressure with a conductor breathing down your neck and to appreciate the amount of concentration and precision necessary . . . to get it right.”


Two factors made this gathering particularly significant. First, this was the initial crop of students to experience the new program. Second, it was the next-to-the-last rehearsal for a concert three days later that was to mark the official return of the orchestra after more than a year of silence.

“The more an orchestra plays together, the more sensitive the musicians become to each other,” Sidlin told the students during an informal talk in a hallway of the Terrace Theater before the rehearsal. “When you don’t play for a year, all that falls apart. We are working hard to re-acquire our relationship and it is beginning to come back.”

The orchestra had not performed publicly under Sidlin’s baton since last November when it was forced to cancel the remainder of its season due to a financial crisis. Since then, according to symphony general manager Mary Newkirk, the Long Beach Symphony Assn., which manages the musical ensemble, has been reorganized and an initial debt of close to $700,000 has been reduced to about $480,000. The debt has been rescheduled to be paid over the next two years.

Earlier this season, the symphony--whose 80-plus membership has not changed significantly from last year--announced a pared-down 1985-86 season consisting of three classics concerts, two pops concerts and two December performances of Handel’s “Messiah” at the First Congregational Church.


Although the orchestra has long put on special performances for elementary school-age children, said Karen Suri, educational vice president of the Long Beach Symphony Guild which is administering the new high school program, this is the first time it has opened its arms to teen-agers.

“At this age it’s very easy to lose them to other kinds of music,” Suri said. “If they don’t become professional musicians, at least they will become educated listeners. After what the symphony has been through, there really needs to be supporters in the community.”

“This builds our audience,” Newkirk said. “It shows that we are committed to the community and not just a traveling band that comes through.”

15 Openings Available


Program participants were selected by the music directors of their respective high schools on a first-come, first-served basis, said Robert Dill, a consultant in music education for the Long Beach Unified School District. Although 15 slots were available, according to Suri, only seven were filled this time--a ratio she hopes will improve during the next scheduled high school rehearsal program in February.

Most of the students who participated found the experience invigorating.

“This is a lot more sophisticated than the high school orchestra,” said Jim Toucey, a 16-year-old percussionist from Lakewood High School who had just spent more than an hour staring intently over the shoulders of fellow drummers struggling with the diverse rhythmic patterns of such pieces as Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.”

“It’s motivated me to talk my fellow (student) musicians into being more disciplined,” Toucey said.