In my first blog, I described who we are. So now the musicians are in place, representing all levels, ages, and from careers that encompass most walks of life. So now, what do we play?

The music is what we look forward to. Just like in our choices of food, tv shows, books, and sports teams, there are pieces of music that all of us love, and would love to play. Our director listens to us, but ultimately, like the wise father, decides what’s best for the children. Choosing music for a community orchestra is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle – all the pieces must fit to create the total picture. So here’s what has to be considered:

Cost: Fortunately, in groups like ours, we have been around for 50 years and have accumulated much music. The cost of music has skyrocketed; so depending on your group’s budget, you may only be able to purchase a piece or two a year. Renting music is astronomical; and often you can only rent it for four weeks; our orchestra has a six week rehearsal schedule for each concert so we have to pay more for rental. But there is a bright note on this: many earlier classical works, particularly Haydn and Mozart, can be downloaded for free on music websites – you’re just paying for the copier printer and paper!

Availability: This goes with cost. Some music is simply unavailable, or so costly that it is beyond most community groups budget. This brings up the philosophical question as to why write music if it becomes inaccessible to the player??????

Program design: Concert programs have a flow to them. They are not always the same but there is some schema in mind when the director plans programs. It may slowly rise to the finish, or start with a bang, become reflective and finish with a bang. The compilation of pieces on a program is critical to the enjoyment of the audience. And keep in mind that most community orchestras are not premiering new works. That’s not the main role of a community music ensemble.

Playability: Here’s the biggest challenge. Finding a work that’s challenging enough for your professional sounding first trumpet player but that can be tackled by the second violins (not using our orchestra as an example….). Music must always challenge but not defeat the players. And remember, we are a motley crew brought together with a shared love of making music. So when a member suggests Beethoven’s 9th, the director must help the musicians understand why we just can’t tackle that this year. But never underestimate the ability of a community orchestra – we tackled and scored playing Rachmaninoff 2nd last year!

We love anticipating what the director will program. The “reveal” involves a lot of happy sighs and a few grimaces… but it’s all good.

Amy Dennison is an oboist for the Cincinnati Community Orchestra. You can find her blog at