Class Syllabus

MUSO Board:
President:Maureen Hickey

Vice-President:Taylor Wallace

Secretary: Evan Duffey

Treasurer: Tristan Stegman

Marketing Chair: Lydia Jasper

Orchestra Staff:

Manager: TBA

Webmaster: Taylor Wallace

Librarian: Nathan Groot –

Set-up personnel: TBA

Part 1: The Basics

Objective: Develop high artistic standards for outstanding performances

The primary goal of playing in MUSO is to improve your orchestral skills.  As a university course, we will focus on overall concepts of self and ensemble expression, engagement, participation, and performance.  We will also address musical concepts of ensemble and individual balance, blend, intonation, phrasing, dynamics, articulation, tone, rhythmic precision, color, and ensemble clarity.  We are going to listen to ourselves, to each other and to the composer’s voice.  Our goals can be summarized in the following three categories:

I.  Critical Thinking related to abstract musical concepts

Analyzing the musical work

  • Identifying each phrase
  • Identifying pivotal compositional events in the work: musical form, cadences, transitions, recurring themes, etc.
  • aural training to identify key instrumental groups and their function throughout the work
  • contextualizing the role of each instrumental group within the orchestra

II. Physical Skills Training

Understanding of the basic physical movements and breathing that underline the individual’s performance and how they relate towards the section, its family group of instruments, and the orchestra as a whole

III. Group Performance Principles

Group thinking, the art of leading and following a section leader

  • developing aural and technical skills of blending one’s sound with the group
  • internalizing pulse and beat
  • understanding physical cues to lead a group


By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Perform with an adequate level of proficiency their parts in the repertoire chosen for the semester in question
  2. Demonstrate a deeper understanding of the compositions learned, in terms of structure, performance, and style
  3. Identify how their individual parts relate to the rest of the orchestra
  4. Identify their role according to the genre of the repertoire performed (symphony, concerto accompaniment, choral-symphonic performance, etc.)
  5. Discuss the historical and aesthetical context on the repertoire performed.

Expectations for the Students

  • Be punctual for every rehearsal
  • Be prepared to play the music scheduled for each rehearsal
  • Be open to criticism, realizing it is the primary way we improve
  • Be committed to the music and the ensemble
  • Be prepared to stop and start together during rehearsal
  • Take responsibility for learning your part – if that requires extra help from your teacher, the conductor or a principal, please be proactive and ask.  You are encouraged to listen to as many recordings as possible on YouTube or any other website.  We grow as musicians when listening to other interpretations.
  • Bring your music, a pencil and eraser, your instrument and any required accessories (mutes, reeds, strings, etc.) to every rehearsal
  • Be positive and focused during rehearsal and laugh at the conductor’s jokes, even if they are bad.

Diversity Statement

  • Openness to ideas/interpretations from another perspective.  Our orchestra should be totally free of prejudice; students should be free to experiment with solos, make musical mistakes, express comments, ideas and ask questions without fear of being ridiculed by others.
  • A safe environment in which everyone is respected and can express their own opinion.  We are a community of learners who give each other constructive feedback/criticism towards a common goal of the orchestra.  Questions and comments need to be made in a positive manner.  An environment of camaraderie and respect are a must for success.
  • There are fundamental differences of the orchestra work when compared to other types of classes such as lectures.  Orchestras have a certain protocol that allows them to function more efficiently.  This doesn’t mean that students are not free to express their ideas, it just means that this should be done in a different way, according to the standard protocol through which orchestras function.  In this way, we function and reflect the same type of attitude and work of professional orchestras.  Also – for new students – a college orchestra is substantially different from your high school experience!

Overstating the Obvious

The Miami University Symphony Orchestra is an organization in constant search for the highest possible level of artistic excellence.  Musicians are expected to reflect that attitude in their demeanor.  This is particularly important in terms of attendance, punctuality, level of preparation, as well as artistic and mature behavior.  It also includes taking care of the music and returning it on time.

Enrollment in the Orchestra

Each student should make sure that he/she is enrolled in the class.  If you need to force add, just ask.  If for any reason you are performing in the orchestra without being officially enrolled, it is your responsibility to contact me with your email address so that I can add you to the Canvas site.

The Role of the Orchestra Conductor in the Modern College Orchestra

The level of playing of orchestras evolved substantially.  Orchestras today play at a much higher level of proficiency, and achieve results much faster, something unthinkable in past years.  The level of competitiveness for positions in any professional orchestra is so high, that any minimal mistake in an audition results in prompt elimination of the candidate.  This creates a high amount of stress among the hundreds of candidates for one single opening that appears.

College orchestras give the unique opportunity for students to make music together and grow as artists, hopefully without the same level of stress, if the college is not a competitive conservatory.  Yet, the standards of performance are high.  Students perform for audiences the same repertoire that competes with the collective memories of the performance of the same works by the greatest orchestras in the world.  A well rehearsed orchestra is one where the intervention of the conductor is minimal, where his/her gestures are economic.  Students should be trained for that.  Orchestras today are not so much an extension of the personality of the conductor as in the past.  A chamber music approach is most appropriate, where musicians listen to each other and the conductor simply monitors most of the time, intervening only in the most crucial moments.  By developing in the students some basic orchestra skills (how to make accelerandos and ritardandos as a group, how to make subito tempo changes, how to end phrases, how to blend, how to connect organically different sections, etc.), a large orchestra can start to function like a chamber ensemble.  In this case, the musicians start taking more ownership for the interpretation, instead of the conductor being responsible for everything.  In fact, it is best when the conductor is a discreet presence, more felt than actually seen.  This is different from past situations, where the greatest expectation of the students was for the conductor/teacher “to be clear.”

In order to achieve this goal, the conductor is expected to guide the students in terms of the technical challenges of the repertoire, the specificities of the style and the performance practices.  The conductor disassembles the music knowingly, distinguishing for the musicians who play the main lines, the secondary lines and the accompaniments.  After that, the parts will come together easily.  Otherwise, the music remains fractured and resists reintegration.  In this sense, the knowledge of the musical form on the part of the students will allow them to perform it as if they are telling a story: it is important to know if they are playing a sonata or a rondo, because the narrative changes accordingly.

In a college, students should be more concerned about learning the background of the compositions and the composers, the style and the times when the music was written.  This knowledge, as well as the aesthetics of the period will increase their appreciation for the work, and they will perform with more depth and understanding.

The above requires a shift in the thinking of the students.  In the same way that any college student should be a more independent thinker and responsible for his/her own learning, the same happens in a college orchestra.  While it is still the conductor who solves the majority of the complex interpretative problems for the orchestra, the students must start by realizing that the problems exist, and it is not simply a matter of performing according to what is written in the score.  In fact, students could benefit from their individual initiative to get acquainted with those interpretative problems, and realize that the beauty and elegance of their solution is what makes orchestra performance a unique art.

Part II: The Nuts and Bolts


Email and Canvas Announcements:

Timely communication is an important element of the music profession, and the professional world at large.  In the spirit of the language set forth in the Student Handbook (1.14), which states in part, “It is expected that students check their email account on a frequent and consistent basis.  Students are advised to respond to all official University communications as directed in each communication (e.g., responding in person, by surface mail, or by email).  Students should not assume an email response is a satisfactory substitution when directed otherwise.  Students are subject to this email policy beginning at summer orientation, during academic terms for which they are enrolled, during breaks between terms, during University holidays and vacations, and during periods of suspension.  Faculty members determine how they will use email in their classes [emphasis added].  Faculty may wish to include their email expectations in the course syllabus.”  Accordingly, I expect prompt responses to any email you may receive from me.  A response time of an hour or two (or less) should be the norm; no email should go unanswered for more than 24 hours except under very unusual circumstances.  At the discretion of the instructor, not responding to emails in a timely manner could be a factor in a student’s course grade.

Major announcements for the whole orchestra are given through Canvas.  When announcements are made, the system automatically sends the contents also under the form of email to all orchestra members.  You are equally responsible for those.

Rehearsal Schedule:

The rehearsal schedule for the week is posted on canvas and on a bulletin board in the basement of Presser Hall.  This is usually done on the Friday of the previous week

Music Library

  • Every effort is made to have all music available before each new program or as soon as possible.  It is the responsibility of each musician to get his assigned parts.  IF FOR ANY REASON A MEMBER OF THE GROUP DOES NOT RECEIVED THE MUSIC (for example, the member was absent from the rehearsal when the music was distributed, or there were not enough parts for everybody) HE/SHE HAS TO FOLLOW UP WITH THE LIBRARIAN ABOUT GETTING A PART IMMEDIATELY.  THIS IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR NOT HAVING THE MUSIC AT A LATER REHEARSAL, OR NOT BEING ABLE TO PRACTICE DUE TO THE LACK OF MUSIC!
  • The music each musician is assigned is considered checked out.  Each musician is responsible for returning the parts in good condition and not later than the specified time.  The music should be kept in its folder at all times.
  • Parts are due at the end of the last performance at which the music is used.  The librarian specifies how the music should be returned and you are responsible for following the librarian’s instructions and not assume something else.
  • String players who are sharing music because they perform on the same stand should be particularly sensitive to the above.  If you are performing with the music of your stand partner, you need to return the music on time and avoid stress to the librarian of having to look for you to retrieve the music.
  • Lost or not returned music will be charge a replacement fee per part.  If the parts are originals and owned by MUSO or even if they are photocopies, we will determine the price according to the replacement cost, shipping, etc.  The cost of lost rental parts will depend on each specific company’s rental fee, which can be very expensive and more than $100 per part.  Therefore, it is very important to take good care of the music.  In addition to the replacement cost, returning music late might have an impact on the student’s grade.
  • If you are absent from a rehearsal where your music material might be necessary for someone else to play, you should make arrangements for your music to reach the other person.

Use of Electronic Equipment

IMPORTANT: No cell phones, texting or other devices are allowed during our rehearsals.  Even if you need to check the time, there is a large clock in the back of the room.  Texting will likely affect the final grade of the student – for example, you might earn a B instead of an A due to texting during a rehearsal.  It is very important for our orchestra to get used to a professional demeanor.

EXCEPTION: In case of extreme circumstances (ex: your mother is in the hospital) you may request permission to have your cell phone on.  However, you need to request it in advance, before the rehearsal starts.  It is not acceptable to be caught texting and then explain that you have an emergency.  Our rehearsal lasts for less than 90 minutes and I will try to include a short break between pieces in the middle of the rehearsal for relaxation, restroom trips, etc.  You should wait for the break (if the rehearsal has one) or for the end of the rehearsal to use cell phones and other devices.

Part III: Grading


This is not a standard class. This is an ensemble.  Grading is based on three items:

  1. Attendance
  2. Level of preparation for rehearsals and concerts
  3. Attitude

Short cut: The easy way to understand the grading policies is to simply attend all rehearsals, always come prepared and have a positive attitude.  If you do this, everybody will be happy and you will earn an A.

Grading Policies

Grading policies for attendance are given on the bottom of this part.  If a person has no attendance problems, grading is as follows:

  • A = excellent level of preparation and attitude
  • A- = almost excellent level of preparation and attitude
  • B = good (but not excellent) level a preparation and/or attitude
  • B- = slightly less than competence in the items above
  • C = satisfactory contribution to the group, but more preparation for rehearsal was definitely possibly and desirable and/or demonstration of some negative attitude as defined below
  • C- = the member is about to enter on probation due to problems with attendance, level of preparation or attitude
  • D = the member is on probation due to problems with attendance attitude or poor preparation for rehearsals.  Continuation in the group is compromised.  At the first neglect of one of the items above (attendance, level of preparation or attitude) the member will be dismissed from the group and fail the class
  • F = failing grade

Note: Probation means that the next mistake the person makes (missing a rehearsal, coming unprepared or displaying negative attitude) will imply in a failing grade.

Details: For those who need more specific information, here are details about the grading items (attendance criteria is given on the bottom of this document)

Level of Preparation

The quality of our rehearsals depends on the preparation level of the students for all rehearsals.  The rehearsal is not where the student learns to play his/her part – this is done outside of the rehearsals.  During rehearsals, we work on ensemble issues: synchronization of playing, balance, equalization of articulations, clarity, interpretation, etc.

We are all here because we love to make music and to perform.  Orchestra members have the privilege of playing the best music ever written.  Together we can create something unique, much bigger than the sum of the parts.  We want to have the best possible orchestra experience, and to achieve that you need to come prepared for rehearsals.

While a wonderful opportunity, our day-to-day work is not pure fun, but a result of much work and effort.  To play an instrument well and artistically is something very unique and very difficult.  Let’s cherish our moments together, value the work and effort of everyone and give our repertoire the time and energy it deserves.


Different from individually learning your instrument, orchestra is a combined effort of several people.  Nobody is perfect, and we need to value our differences instead of resisting the fact that other people might have different ideas and act differently from the way we might expect them to do.  This applies to the relationship with your colleagues in the orchestra, and with your director, who comes from a different country and might seem weird at times (though he loves you all).

To have a positive attitude that reflects on a superior grade means, among other things:

Be Responsible: Be on time and work hard while at rehearsal.  Please do not be discourteous to those who have the respect to be prompt and focused.  Stop when the conductor asks you to stop and start playing when you are supposed to, paying attention to the indication of the place to start.  Do not make extraneous noises during rehearsal – they are bothersome (example: playing pizzacato when the conductor is giving instructions).

Listen: When the music has stopped, please be silent and listen to the next instructions, even if you think they are not for you.  The conductor will make all effort to be brief in his comments.  Pay attention to instructions (for example, from where to start the next section.  It is very disturbing for the orchestra to have to stop because someone started in the wrong place).

Mark the Music: The score is nothing but a blueprint; it will come alive for you only if you understand it.  Have your pencil and eraser ready in rehearsal at all times.  Mark sections you know you need to work on.  Mark changes made to the piece in rehearsal.  Make any markings that will help you play better (where to breathe, which part of the bow to use, which fingers to use, etc.).  Don’t forget to bring accessories, such as mutes.  Take good care of the music and return it on time.

Study: Make sure you do not make the same mistakes repeatedly.  After we have worked on a piece several times, you will know where your individual problems lie.  Don’t make the group suffer for them.  Contact your section leader, or listen to a recording.  Complete all assignments given (for example, listen to recordings following with your music and try to understand performance practices and stylistic matters- thoughtful theft is often as good as invention, and more reliable than divine inspiration.

Think: Orchestra performance can be one of the most exalting of human experiences, but it is also one of the most demanding and complex.  Don’t learn music mechanically.  Find the best way to practice, focus on the most difficult passages, and always try to make music with emotion, even if you are practicing a scale.

Take Initiatives: If you are having difficulties learning the music, speak with the conductor.  Take your solos to your teacher.  If you play a tricky passage in octaves or unison with another player, get together separately outside of the rehearsal.

Communicate: Several problems can be avoided simply by good communication.  If you don’t play well in a rehearsal because you didn’t practice enough (maybe you were sick or had a midterm), let the conductor know.  He is a reasonable guy and can understand your concerns.  If you have ideas on how to make the group better, or positive criticism to the conductor, by all means communicate, rather than becoming frustrated or miserable.  And don’t forget to laugh out loud at the conductor’s jokes!

Attendance Policy

A.  Absences

DO NOT MISS REHEARSALS.  Normally there are no excused absences from rehearsals or performances!!!!

Unexcused absences from regular rehearsals above one absence normally will reduce the final grade one letter grade per absence (A to B, B to C, etc.)

Unexcused absences from a dress/acoustic rehearsal or performance will likely result in a failing grade, and normally no absences are allowed during concert week.

The only types of excused absences are the ones from university-endorsed activities or extended illness; the instructor is the sole arbiter of what constitutes an excused absence.  In general, it has been my experience that excused absences are those for which students provide notification in advance.  Any absence will become unexcused if I don’t hear from you within 24 hours, except in the most extreme circumstances.

Absences for university related but not endorsed activities are unexcused.  Examples of those are: advising sessions, hearings, rehearsals with piano accompanist, session for another discipline scheduled outside of the regular class hours, etc.

B. Latenesses

Definition: Students arriving after the time scheduled for the rehearsal will be considered tardy (regular rehearsals start at 2:50 PM and at that time the student needs to be seated in place holding the instrument and ready to play in order not to be considered tardy).

Two tardies in regular rehearsals equal one absence.  One tardy in a dress or acoustic rehearsal equals 1 absence if the tardy is up to 5 minutes and does not compromise the performance of any composition.  Other tardy at dress/acoustic rehearsals are likely to have higher grade penalties.  Leaving a rehearsal before the end is equivalent to 1 tardy.

C.  Classes far away from Presser

In exceptional cases when in a particular day of the week a student has a class preceding or immediately after the orchestra that is far away from Presser, the student needs to communicate with the conductor and the orchestra manager in the beginning of the semester, requesting permission to potentially arrive late or leave early.  In this way, a record is kept and the student’s grade is not affected.

D.  Other Remarks

  • It is good practice for any member of the orchestra to communicate in advance a possible absence to the section, or the section leader.
  • Wind, brass or percussion players should try to find a substitute and make sure that the person replacing them has the part so as to be able to play.
  • String players should communicate with the section leader and when appropriate give the marked music to the stand partner.  Conversely, since all string players have a copy of the music, stand partners should have their parts available (even if it is not completely marked as the part used in rehearsals) in case the stand partner misses a particular rehearsal.

E. The most crucial!

  • Absences do not justify the quality of the playing and should not compromise the performance.  It is the responsibility of the musician to learn what was rehearsed, to get any communications given to the ensemble, and to make up for the music rehearsed.
  • Absences or latenesses from a rehearsal or performance happening in a time other than our regular rehearsal time are also unexcused (for example, concerts and dress rehearsals in Hall Auditorium).
  • Whenever we have a rehearsal in Hall Auditorium you should take into account the difficulties of parking, and allow yourself enough time to arrive there and be ready to play in the specified time.
  • Members are asked to schedule auditions, competitions, interviews and special professional opportunities so as not to conflict with rehearsals.  In case this is not possible, requests for excused absences are to be submitted to the conductor via e-mail at least two weeks prior to the absence’s date.

If a student has an academic conflict with a concert or dress rehearsal (due to a class or even an exam), this has to be discussed far in advance, so we can together find an adequate solution.  Leaving those issues for the last moment and coming with the excuse “there is nothing I could do” will affect the standing of the student in the ensemble.  Furthermore, if on a certain occasion as tudent was excused from the orchestra rehearsal or event, this doesn’t mean that the student is automatically excused if the same conflict or issue happens again.  Each circumstance needs to be addressed separately.

Part IV: The Orchestra Board

The Miami University Symphony Orchestra is at the same time a student organization under Student Affairs, and a class under the Department of Music.  As such, it must comply with the policies of both organizations.

Role of the Orchestra Board

You are encouraged to participate in the orchestra board.  The board serves many purposes, and among them it serves as liaison between the students and the conductor.  Sometimes students might feel intimidated about talking directly to the conductor and might feel more comfortable talking to their peers.  You are encouraged first to speak about any issues with the board, ranging from challenges, concerns, praise, etc.

Orchestra dues

The role of the orchestra board within ASG affects mostly undergraduate students.  The board promotes social events that include canoe trips, concerts of the Cincinnati Symphony, ice cream parties, etc.  Sometimes the board decides to produce T-shirts for the orchestra members.  Most of the events are subsidized, and like many student organizations we rely on dues to defray the costs of food and other general costs for our events.  The orchestra board decides the amount of dues, and they apply only to undergraduate students.

Recordings of Our Concerts

All the concerts of the Miami Orchestra are recorded for archival purposes.  Students may purchase recordings of our concerts for a low cost, usually only $5.

Part V: Final Considerations

Concert Attire

Women: Long black skirt or black dress pants, long-sleeve black blouse, black/off-black hose, elegant black shoes.  If a one-piece dress is worn, it must conform to the above requirements.

Men: Black tuxedo, white shirt, black (or elegant) bow tie, elegant black shoes and socks

Special Cases Concerning Specific Instruments (Piano, Harp, Percussion, etc.)

Certain instrumentalists are not required to come to every rehearsal due to the nature of the program and of their instruments.  For example, piano, harp, and certain percussion instruments.

The program for each upcoming rehearsal is made in advance.  It is the responsibility of these instrumentalists to follow their rehearsal attendance requirement in the posted weekly schedule.  In case of doubts, the musician should confirm the attendance in advance with the conductor and not wait for someone to call them.

Any musician who is not present at rehearsals for any reason is responsible for:

  • Making up the music rehearsed
  • Getting all information that is given to the other members, like changes in rehearsal times, locations, program, interpretation of the music rehearsed, etc.


As stated on the Miami University Student Disability Services website:

“I Am Miami” is the code of Love and Honor that fosters the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion at Miami.  Students, faculty, and staff embrace this message, and Student Disability Services (SDS) staff are passionate about advancing and sustaining an environment of equal access, diversity and inclusiveness for all members of the University community.  If you are a student with a disability, you are not alone at Miami.  More than 800 students with a wide range of disabilities are registered for services through SDS.  To learn more about the services we offer, feel free to contact our office by phone 513-529-1541 (V/TTY), via email at, or stop by our office in 19 CAB.

Aspects not Covered in these Policies

It is possible that certain issues were not covered by these policies and procedures.  In any case, members of our ensembles are expected to take the initiative to deal with all pertinent matters.  If there are any doubts, talk to the conductor or a member of the board.  Take a problem solving approach and avoid by all means a passive attitude (i.e. I was not informed that there was a rehearsal…I was not given the music…nobody told me that I was supposed to come…etc.)