From orchestra member
to alumni intern
“Part of why I love music -- part of what makes the musical community such a beautiful thing -- is the passing on of knowledge and of care."
June 2020…Grace Busser, a violinist and rising senior at Germantown Friends School, joined the Musicopia String Orchestra (MSO) when she was 12 years old. She had just moved to Philadelphia and was looking for an orchestra to join. She did her due diligence, and eventually landed on the Musicopia String Orchestra. “It seemed like the perfect fit,” Grace said. “I did a lot of research, and I auditioned and got in. I was really happy there. It was the right level for me musically, and it was a place where I could really grow,” she said. Over her three years in the orchestra, she started in the last stand of the 2nd violins, worked her way up to section leader, and also made it into the Chamber Orchestra, the orchestra’s highest level ensemble. “MSO did a really good job of helping each individual student, and made sure that everybody was doing well and improving each and every rehearsal.”
This past fall, Grace was searching for a way to make a positive difference in the community during her free time. She loves working with children, and it was actually her younger sister, a current member of MSO, who suggested that Grace offer her time and talents to help with the students of Musicopia Young String Players (MYSP), the orchestra’s entry-level ensemble.
During in-person, and then online rehearsals due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Grace worked primarily with three MYSP bass players. Working in this small-group setting, Grace was able to not only improve her own teaching skills, but also instill in the students what she has learned throughout her own experience as a musician playing in orchestras and other ensembles. “I’ve been playing violin since I was in kindergarten, and have also played in various orchestras, so I can teach the kids how playing in an orchestra is different than playing as a soloist,” she said. “In an orchestra, you need to learn how to listen to different people.”
Though Grace was a bit nervous when she first started working with the bass players since she’s never played double-bass herself, she quickly settled into a routine. “When I first asked if I could come help out, I was not expecting to be working primarily with double bass players! I had never played the instrument before but I was so pleasantly surprised with how open and eager the kids were to learn,” she said. “Working with MYSP and the bass players has been a lot of fun! They helped me learn to teach them as much as I helped them to learn. They’ve all been really open and happy to be playing, and that’s been really nice. I love seeing the joy and pride light up on their faces when they hear how their hard work has paid off to make beautiful music.”
As for most students across the country, things quickly changed in mid-March when schools and organizations had to shut-down in-person gatherings due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, Grace jumped right in to the orchestra’s Tuesday afternoon online rehearsals and used the small-group virtual rehearsals as an opportunity to work on music theory, note reading, and tuning. Daniela Pierson, MSO’s Artistic Director said of Grace and another alumni intern who was also helping out, “They are familiar with MSO, have known the faculty for years, understand the culture, and they’ve been reliable and cheerful through the whole process. There have been a few weeks that I’m not really sure how we would have done it without them.”
After moving to online rehearsals, Grace quickly realized that the students were having difficulties turning their pegs just enough to get the strings in tune. So, she would often open up her Zoom room early so that she could teach the students to tune their instruments without using valuable rehearsal time.
“It was important for me to teach the students how to recognize whether or not they were playing the right notes since it was much more difficult for me to hear what was right and what was wrong since we weren’t together in the same room. I used tools available on Zoom such as the whiteboard function and breakout rooms, and I also did a lot of call and response playing and had each student play while the rest of the class was muted but playing along. This allowed me to more easily work with individual students while still making sure that everybody else was engaged.”
After working with MYSP for several months, Grace feels more comfortable thinking on her feet, has learned how to plan lessons, and has pushed herself past her own boundaries.
“I looked forward to Tuesday afternoon all week,” Grace said. “Part of why I love music -- part of what makes the musical community such a beautiful thing -- is the passing on of knowledge and of care. Instilled in each of the MYSP students that I have worked with is a piece of my musical identity. That includes pieces from my music teachers and conductors and those pieces are made up of their teachers and so on and so on. I hope that these students are able to pass on their own musical legacy someday. Working with the bass players and all of the other kids has been an amazing experience and I am so grateful to Musicopia for allowing me to be a part of the program.”
By Talia Yellin Fisher