One recent Thursday morning, the stars finally aligned for us to hold a sectional rehearsal for the orchestra’s clarinetists. No other wind instruments and definitely no strings present! It was just Scott, the other clarinetist, our professor, Kelli O’Connor, and me running through orchestral music together. One of the pieces we’re playing in orchestra this semester is the impressionist composer Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite.” As is typical of his works, it features complex, mystifying and beautiful harmonies. Part of our job in a sectional is to learn to get these harmonies in tune, which helps the orchestra sound better.
We began to rehearse the final movement, entitled “The Fairy Garden.” It’s a strong and stunning finale that often calls for both clarinet players to play in the upper registers of the instrument, which are more challenging to tune. As we worked on tuning each interval, Kelli pointed out that matching our pitches would enable us to hear overtones, phantom pitches of other notes that are highlighted for the ear through the interaction of the sound waves of the two notes that we play. If you don’t listen for them, overtones can sometimes creep up on you, with the appearance of an aural hallucination.
As a first-year student, I was awed by how good the overtones sounded one evening in my first woodwind sectional after our flute professor commented on them. I’m now used to the presence of overtones; it’s a sign we have a woodwind section that tunes well together. However, for Scott, who’s in his first year here, this was the first time he was really paying attention to this phenomenon in rehearsal, and getting to remake this discovery with him made waking up early for this sectional worthwhile.
It’s moments like this that remind me how beautiful it is to engage in music, text, or whatever you care about at a high level, in new ways that you haven’t ever seen. College expands your mind and your point of view. Sometimes I’ll read or hear something that’s exciting and stimulating because it makes me think in a way I haven’t before. When something makes me think deeply, whether I have a positive or negative reaction to it, I discover more about who I am in our complex world. It’s a wonderful feeling of enlightenment that comes over me, and that’s what I believe college is about.