Look At All the Little Black Dots (sight-reading with the Humboldt student orchestra)

Clarissa Grunwald
April 20, 2016

Friends, today I am going to geek out about music. Specifically, classical music. Specifically-specifically, playing classical music in an orchestra. If that’s not something you care about, you can check out a different blog post, like the one where I talk at length about buying peanut butter, or the one where I post a lot of travel pictures and go into detail about other people’s shoes.

(I realize that this blog is not always what you would call “quality.)

In the U.S.A., Germans have a stereotype of being sort of…intense, in a no-nonsense, hyper-intelligent, hyper-rational way. In my time here, I’ve discovered that that both can and cannot be a fair assessment: On one hand, their dogs are apparently so well-trained that most of the time they don’t need leashes; on the other hand, two random women once approached my friends and I in a restaurant to inform us that Hillary Clinton was a member of the Illuminati.

So I’ve learned to take that all with a grain of salt, but still. Germans can be intense and musicians can definitely be intense, so when I arrived for my first rehearsal, some very nervous part of me was expecting the following rehearsal to be like a scene out of Whiplash.

It became immediately clear that these concerns were unfounded. Instead, for maybe the first time since coming to Berlin, I felt at home.

The German educational system, German grocery stores, hell, even German showers can be disorientingly different from their American equivalents. But German college orchestras (minor details such as language aside) are exactly the same.

This is to say:

1.     There were not enough basses.

2.     There were far too many flutes.

3.     I was assured that I did not have to worry about my audition because I played the viola.

4.     Before sight-reading each song, we were treated to a ten-minute lecture on the historical background, influences, successes, failures, torrid love affairs, childhood embarrassments, etc. etc. of the composer.

5.     There was lots of spirited complaining regarding the typeface of the first song, and the random and unnecessary clef changes in the third.

6.     In the second song, our measure numbers did not line up with the conductor's. Also, the bass clarinet part was written in the wrong key.

7.     The facial expression/gesture for “What is this weird scribble thing supposed to mean?” is universal.

8.     Also, the facial expression for “Well, now everyone’s lost but the conductor’s still waving his arms around so…time to improvise…?”

9.     Also-also, the facial expression for “At this tempo I’m pretty sure these notes are just suggestions.”


It’s times like this that make me so glad that I play music. I’m not always the best at meeting new people. I can be pretty uncomfortable socializing. But I don’t think I’ve ever sat in an orchestra and felt lonely.

The Humboldt orchestra will be practicing again next Tuesday, and I can’t wait.  

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Clarissa Grunwald

<p>Writer, composer, musician. American student with a terrible sense of direction set loose on Germany. After years of telling people that I love to travel, this is my first time actually leaving the country.</p>

2016 Spring
Home University:
Franklin & Marshall College
Explore Blogs