It recently came to my attention that many professional orchestras (of various ranks and sizes) have collectively decided to put on a Star Wars concert around this month. The New York Philharmonic just celebrated John Williams during their spring Gala and several other orchestras have a concert lined up exactly on May 4 (i.e. – May the Fourth be with you). For your own entertainment, this is not a complete list but.. https://www.starwarstickets.com/
I will also participate on May 4, with Binghamton Philharmonic, even though we just performed Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 two days ago… And I had the great honor to meet and briefly chat with the incredible violinist Stefan Jackiw after his unforgettable performance of Sibelius concerto!
So how does one learn all this Star Wars music with very limited time?
John Williams filled both violin parts with lots and LOTS of scales and arpeggios! Many of them very fast, and under a slur. Many thanks to all the years spent practicing Galamian, Gilels, and Carl Flesch scales…slowly and accelerated. This week, Star Wars is the substitute warmup. One trick to learning this kind of music quicker is by recognizing where all the themes and motifs repeat throughout the different numbers. I recommend to practice just one type of rhythmic, melodic, or scalar pattern at a time. Flip through the music to find all similar spots and work through each one. Chances are the same fingering pattern will repeat multiple times.
The Art of “Faking”
Sometimes in very quick scale runs it’s practically impossible to hit every single note at tempo, and we need to treat each slur like a musical gesture with direction. Most important is to start each group on time and with a little emphasis (or even an accent) on the first note of the slur. Also, listen for which harmony (ie – chord, sequence, function, etc…) is being outlined. When there is a fast run (especially if it has accidentals), it’s very helpful to write the name of the scale or mode above it. This saves a ton of time in preparation. If you have been practicing scales long enough, the fingers will most likely fall into place upon identifying the type of scale much quicker than if you simply learn each run note-by-note (the latter is counter-productive and takes forever).
Finally, we are lucky to have the internet and tools like YouTube and Spotify to find free recordings to practice with.
If you’re in a bind and need to learn your orchestra music faster in this busy season, here’s a handy step-by-step guide: