Side-by-side, note-for-note

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By: Tim Chai <>

Fingers flying across the fingerboard, junior Kevin Kirk intently practices the violin in the orchestra room for upcoming competitions.

“I’ve been competing for a while, since I was in middle school. I’ve made it to the finals most of the time, but I have never won. I’m a competitive person, so I’ll continue to compete until I get the opportunity to play with the orchestra in a side-by-side capacity,” Kirk said.

Professional orchestras throughout the state support some of the competitions. Prizes include money and an opportunity to play with those orchestras.

“There are quite a few Young Artist competitions around the state. (For example), Muncie, Fishers and Carmel all have their own competitions,” Kirk said.

According to orchestra director Soo Han, these competitions are a good way for orchestra students to work on solo repertoire.

“All the music we work on in class is orchestral,” Han said. “You not only have to play differently, but you also have to think about the music in different ways.”

Kirk said he agrees that playing in an orchestral setting is worlds apart from playing solo repertoire.

“Playing in an orchestra, if you make a mistake, other people around you might notice it, but the audience probably won’t. The audience is not judging you, maybe critiquing in their heads. The judges listen to every detail in concerto competitions,” Kirk said.

Kirk said the biggest draw to such competitions is the chance to play with professional instrumentalists.

“The prizes change year by year. For the Carmel Symphony Orchestra’s, at least this year, I know that they had a pretty large sump of money given as prizes,” Kirk said. “The first place winner also gets the chance to play with the orchestra. However, it’s that chance to play with the orchestra that keeps me competing every year.

“In a side-by-side situation, just being around adults who act mature about the orchestra, treating it like a job. Also, playing with professional orchestras is like stepping it up to another level. For our school orchestra, we have rehearsal every other day and on Tuesday and Thursday after school, and we can pull off something amazing. These community-oriented orchestras have two rehearsals, a dress rehearsal and a concert. You have to know the music, and you’re surrounded by people who already do.”

However, according to Han, most students here do not participate in these competitions. He said that very few orchestra students compete in those competitions.

Kirk said he attributes the small numbers of students from here in competitions to students simply not knowing about them.

He said, “I think that most people don’t know about it. Also, a lot of instrumentalists in Carmel High School may be just more orchestra-oriented. It’s hard enough to get the confidence to get in front of stage in judges. It takes a special type of person to compete.”

Kirk said he was raised under that type of pressure and said that he has learned to deal with it better.

Another program that allows students to play with professionals is the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s (ISO) Side-by-Side Program. Senior Yue Jiang said that he has participated in the program.

“It’s an audition-only thing. The ISO sent over information to the various teachers in schools all across Indiana at the beginning of the year. Students have the choice of applying or not. It’s basically playing a set of excerpts and sending over a tape of the playing,” Jiang said.

Jiang said the students who are chosen by a panel from ISO will have an opportunity to play with a group of professional players later in the year.

“The people who are chosen get new music to learn for later in the year. We’ll get paired with a player for the concert—thus, playing side-by-side. We can get tips from the person we’re paired up with and get their opinions on the music.”

Han said, “I definitely would like to see more students go to contest in future years. I’ve been a judge at competitions like ISSMA for several years, but I rarely see Carmel students. This is something I’m trying to change this year by encouraging students to participate.”

As for Kirk, although he didn’t win this year, he said that he will try again next year.

“Practicing and competing in the Young Artist competitions has become a habit for me. I like competing, and I’m a competitive person. Because of that, I will keep try again next year.”