Playing in an orchestra abroad – a whole new world of music….

I am Holly Hunt, the Chair of the UoB Linguist magazine. I am a fourth year Modern Languages and Music student and I spent my third year abroad in Grenoble, France. As a violinist, I was eager to use music as a way to make friends and experience something new while living abroad. I had taken my violin with me and heard word of a student orchestra within my first month at the university. Having played in the UoB orchestra for my first two years at university, I was used to going to rehearsals where I knew most faces, had lots of friends and understood directions given by the conductor. It soon became very clear that this was going to be a very different experience! I faced several challenges…

Firstly, I knew no one. After getting the tram to the evening rehearsal at a concert hall in the city centre, I walked into a room full of French people who all seemed to know each other. They were chatting and catching up after the summer break while getting their instruments out. Luckily, I recognised someone from my music history class at the university and she kindly helped me out. After a few weeks, I had spoken to my desk partner and I had found another non-French person who was also struggling with integrating. By bonding over our struggles to understand the conductor, we became good friends.

That brings me to my second hurdle. The language barrier. As this was a student orchestra for a group of French campuses, most members spoke the ‘langage de jeunes’ (young people’s French) which included a lot of slang and was spoken very quickly. As my French improved little by little as the weeks went by, it became easier to understand people and ask a few questions to my peers if I got lost. Although it was difficult at first, my progress was encouraging and I would say that being a part of a club or group is a great way to practise speaking and listening regularly while living abroad.

The most challenging part of being in an orchestra abroad was getting used to a completely different set of musical vocabulary. I was shocked initially as, perhaps naively, I didn’t expect to find it so hard to play music with French people as we didn’t have to talk! I could just read the music and that bit would be the same as in England, right? Unfortunately not. A whole new world of music terminology was revealed to me as I had to get used to different words for note names (using ‘Do, Ré, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si’ instead of ‘CDEFGAB’), different instrument names, and different technical names (‘bar,’ ‘sharp’ and ‘flat’ were among some words that confused me a lot). However, after a handful of rehearsals, I started to see that this challenge was not ‘unfortunate’ for me at all. This was a great opportunity to learn about a cultural difference between my country and the one into which I was trying to integrate; I had an insight into how the French learnt, read and talked about music. In fact, it was a fascinating aspect of language learning that I would be unlikely to encounter otherwise.

Connecting with musicians from a different part of the world and performing with a foreign orchestra in a city miles away from home was an experience I will never forget, despite its challenges!

Holly Hunt

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