For First-Year Musicians, Selecting the Right Orchestra May Be Confusing

On top of all the choices facing first-years, musically-inclined new students face an additional agonizing decision: which orchestra to join.

Harvard has five active orchestras: the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO), Mozart Society Orchestra (MSO), Bach Society Orchestra (BSO), Toscanini Chamber Orchestra (TCO) and the Pops Orchestra.

And while first-years can join multiple orchestras, given the time commitment involved most students find membership in one is enough.

As a result, first-years spend the first few weeks of school auditioning for a series of orchestras, then choosing one.

The auditions were "nerve-wracking," according to Erica R. Michelstein '02.

"We went into practice rooms [to audition], and even though it's your own room, you could hear the other people playing in other rooms around you," she says.

Michelstein says overhearing other musicians was somewhat intimidating, since "some of the musicians here are really amazing."

Group leaders say they found auditions chaotic as well.

"We were all auditioning freshman at the same time, and so everyone was seeing the same people coming through the halls," says Ben W. Rous '00, co-conductor of TCO.

Somehow, during the confusion of the audition process, musicians must also gather enough information to select among the groups to which they are admitted.

And for most musicians, the decision they make will remain with them for the rest of their Harvard careers, as students generally stick with the orchestras they first choose.

Distinct Identities

Group leaders say that each of the groups has a unique identity, and that while they often compete for performers, each group has a role on campus.

HRO President Alex S. Caram '00 says his group's identity derives in part from the group's size.

"We are the largest of the three orchestras, so we tell [first-years] that we play some of the grander pieces," he says.