Chairs are being shuffled into place in the orchestra room that is frigid from air conditioning. The seating chart is projected onto a screen at the front of the room. However, this is no ordinary seating chart: all of the seats are lined up in rows forming the letter “U.”
Everyone is nervously gazing at the hand-drawn chart, each student finds their own seat and looks to see who else they will be surrounded by. Of course, most of the students from the years before are pushed toward the front of the room by the incoming freshmen. It seems like just another year, but something has changed.
As the orchestra section leaders make their way into the room, one section faced an extreme change – something totally new, terrifying and exciting – an eight person viola section! It is the largest viola section that Sandra Shaw, the orchestra conductor and teacher, has seen at Loy Norrix High School.
“Central has always had more [violists], even now they have 11,” said Shaw. The growth taking place at Loy Norrix is profound and sudden.
Junior August Adams-Miller is the co-leader of the abnormally large viola section in the Loy Norrix orchestra. His life is often shaped by his role in the section and belonging to an active orchestra. The largest section that Adams-Miller has been a part of prior to this school year was “probably seven” violists, but he says that was back in elementary school so there wasn’t a section leader.
Adams-Miller decided to play the viola in fourth grade when he watched “Adventure Time” on Cartoon Network and saw the character Jake the Dog playing the viola, but if people ask, generally his response is, “Cello and violin just aren’t as interesting.”
Feeling that you belong to a group of similar people outweighs the sometimes invert opinions about playing the viola, for instance, searching the term “viola puns,” it will give way to many offensive jokes and not much else. Adams-Miller says that his life is greatly impacted by playing the viola and being a part of an orchestra.
“I made a lot of close friends here in the viola section. I have devoted a lot of my time outside school, coming to concerts and stuff,” said Adams-Miller.
Sections often become very tight-knit, which can create an unintentional system of support. He said that the viola section is often misunderstood, but this may become less prevalent with the new size.
“A lot of people don’t really understand what our section does, especially because there are so few of us.” Adams-Miller continued, “People take first violins more seriously because they always get the melody.”.
While in an unusually expansive orchestra, the other sections may not realize the importance of the viola section. They play an important part of the background music and often help to keep the beat.
“It [the music] wouldn’t sound as good without the other background parts,” said Adams-Miller.
Although the viola section is often seen as the group of outcasts in many orchestras, Adams-Miller says that he doesn’t feel like a misfit, and when asked if he is proud of his own place in the orchestra he said, “Yes. Period.”
August believes he is impacted by the other sections including his own, “It means more if my own section praises me because they understand my music more.”
August has a positive outlook on how the year will play out with the many new students to look after. He plans to be friends with all of them, but says that they should also take him and his section leader seriously.
“There is definitely a balance, because if they don’t like you they won’t listen to you, but if they like you too much then they won’t take you seriously,” Adams-Miller explained.
There should always be a difference between work time and friend time. That balance can be difficult to find, but very worth it.
The sharing of music brings people together, it is gratifying and therapeutic. It is an act of putting your soul into something and sharing that feeling with another group of people. When a person can put their emotions and aesthetic need into music, that is when it becomes something nearly other-worldly, and having an appreciation for everyone around you who is helping to make that a reality, is essential for a high level orchestra.