Is it Time for a Symphony?

Could Friends band and orchestra combine the way professional symphonies do? Music teachers discuss.


Chandler Grace Abernathy

A rack of orchestra instruments sits in the Friends Upper School music room.

If you have ever seen a professional symphony play, or heard famous musical pieces that included both band and orchestral instruments, you might have wondered:  Why don’t the Friends band and orchestra combine?

Kirsten Walsh, head of Friends School’s string orchestra, says she often gets asked this question.  And she likes the idea.  But combining the band and orchestra would not be an easy task. 

“The logistics are going to be an interesting part,” says Ms. Walsh. 

There are major questions that need to be addressed before the two ensembles could join forces. 

“The band learns in flats first, while the orchestra learns in sharps first,” she points out. “[It’s a] difference [that] could make it considerably harder to coordinate with less experienced students.”

“We were also thinking about bringing in the chorus too,” adds Wade Zagurski, head of the school band. “Chorus and string orchestra have done something in the past, but not in recent years.” 

The same question comes up again—would this even be possible? 

Covid-19 is one of the reasons why the band-orchestra combination hasn’t been considered in recent years. Early on, the band and chorus had different Covid restrictions compared to the orchestra, so the whole group would have needed a big enough venue to stay within regulations.  

“Before we can even start the project, we will have to get this to be approved by CORE” – the team responsible for deciding the school’s Covid policies – notes Walsh. She says she imagines that a project this big “will have to happen in the gym.” 

“We need enough players that are capable of playing like this. It isn’t the easiest thing to do,” says Walsh. “Balance, interests, and capable players are the biggest components of making this happen. It takes a lot more string players to balance a few band players because the band players have louder instruments.”

While Walsh and Mr. Zagurski have talked about the idea of combining the band and orchestra, they have yet to make any firm ideas. 

“We plan to eventually come together and talk about the plans we have to keep this idea moving forward,” says Walsh. 

It’s true, with the way things are now, this won’t be an easy task, but Walsh assures us that it’s all in the process of learning.

So look forward to it! Nothing is set in stone, but if this becomes a reality, we’ll be looking at a very different performing arts ensemble in the years to come.