For Beginning String Orchestra
“Gentle Zephyrs” was composed as a final project for MUE 218, “Teaching Group Strings”, in my junior year at Eastman. It is designed to be a NYSSMA Grade 1.5 piece, written one sight-reading level above (2.5) based on the provided NYSSMA criteria.
As a whole, the piece is written in large scale ternary form. For the most part, it consists of regular 8-bar phrases. However, the two phrases comprising the A and A’ sections are elided, creating a 7+8 bar structure. This will require focus and careful counting from the violin section in order to enter correctly. As a whole, the piece features significant independence of parts, to a degree that is likely novel for younger players (particularly between the two violin parts and the cello/bass parts). The melody is passed to all parts at various times. Integral, achievable, autonomous parts will encourage confident playing among all orchestra members.
Per the provided NYSSMA guidelines, the piece makes exclusive use of the G, D, and A strings in first position and melodic intervals of only seconds and thirds. Slurs are only found between two notes and there are no slurs over string crossings. The new concepts that raise the rating to 1.5 are the introduction of piano and forte dynamics and the introduction of high 3 for violin and viola. Warm-ups should include finger drills building the new finger pattern (0-1-2-high 3-4) on all strings, which can also be an opportunity to discuss extensions for the cellos (although cello extensions are not required for this piece). The slow (but not too slow!) tempo and longer note values often call for careful bow conservation, which can be introduced/addressed by long bow warm-ups (e.g. sustaining notes as long as possible at a given dynamic).
For violins and violas, a common-sense approach has been taken to fourth finger/open string fingerings based on context, rather than advocating for all one or the other. Passages that switch between the two (e.g. mm. 20-21) should be looked at carefully, but assuming that both fingerings have been introduced and used, there should be no fundamental difficulties.
The primary challenge in the first violin part will come from the extended eighth note passages involving low C# (high 3), particularly when it follows a low 3 (e.g. m. 30). The two finger shapes should be clearly understood and differentiated, and students encouraged to consider which finger 3 will “be friends with” at any given time. Although the second part features significantly fewer technical passages, the relative independence of the part has the potential to cause difficulties. It is recommended that good players be placed throughout each section in order to provide confident models for all violinists. Likely, mm. 39-42 will give the violists the most trouble, although this should not be a fundamental issue assuming that two-note slurs have been previously introduced. Slow detaché work should clear up any issues. The greatest technical challenges for the celli and basses come from string crossings. Many times, frustration can be alleviated by the use of “tunnel fingers” (e.g. celli mm. 5-6, basses m. 21, etc.), which will likely have been introduced already by this point.