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Copenhagen's Student Orchestra: »Many of us are no longer students, but we are still a part of it«

At the student orchestra SymfUni, Danish and international students from several universities in Copenhagen meet up to share their passion for classical music. The orchestra is more than just notes and melody however. The social part of it is the most important.

Twilight is descending upon rain-soaked streets. It is late, and people are hurrying home.

On Smallegade, a street in the Frederiksberg district of Copenhagen, a red sign lights up the darkness. It says »Musikhøjskolen Frederiksberg« and here there is no rush to get home. Young people with heavy instrument boxes on their backs pour in, as it is here that Denmark’s oldest music school, Copenhagen’s Student Orchestra SymfUni practices every Wednesday evening.

Copenhagen’s Student Orchestra

Who: For those who love classical music and who can play a symphony orchestra instrument. For several of the instruments there is no admissions test needed. You just show up and play to see whether your level is appropriate.

Where: Musikhøjskolen, Smallegade 12, 2000 Frederiksberg.

When: Wednesdays 19.00-21.30

Find out more here: http://symfuni.dk/

 

»Many of us are no longer students, but we are still a part of it,« says Rose Heiberg, who is a trained conductor and who has conducted the orchestra since 2018.

It is not all about music in the orchestra. A lot goes on outside the rehearsal room.

»I have been feeling ill all week. But I have done everything I could to get well before today,« proclaims a young cello player to one of his peers. Whether he has actually recovered is difficult to assess, because the chatting is soon overwhelmed by insistent instruments.

A trumpet is blasted, the basses are strummed, the flutes are whistled, and someone just has to make sure that the big drum at the back of the room still works. It does.

Easy to get in

Estelle Goonesekera is a former student, has been a part of the orchestra for several years, and is responsible for PR as a part of the Board. She explains that the orchestra currently has somewhere between 35 and 40 members, and that these include students from UCPH, DTU, KEA and Aalborg University as graduates. The association was founded by UCPH students, and consists mainly of students, but it is open for everyone who loves playing classical music.

»And we have many exchange students! That’s why most of it takes place in English.« Estelle puts up her hand to signal a break in the flow of speech so she can bend over her violin. The chairman of Symfuni, Nikolaj Cedenius, then has an opportunity to join in.

»It is because we are the only student orchestra to be conducted in English. And our musical projects are structured by semesters, so it’s easy to be a part of things if, for example, you are only on exchange for one semester.«

Music as a bouncy ball

Suddenly, out of the blue, the Frederiksberg City Hall bells sound in the distance. Seven deep chimes, and Estelle and Nikolaj hurry in to find a place between the many young people and their big instruments.

The string players are in a semicircle in front of the small podium, while the woodwinds section sits behind them. In the corner is a man behind a huge double-bass, and at the very back of the room is a lonely drum player.

Rose steps up on the podium. She makes a small movement with her baton, which is so tiny that it is almost invisible to the untrained eye. There is a wall of sound.

In the jungle of piled up chairs, Ikea cabinets, house plants and music sheets, 40 young people are transformed into a symphony orchestra, and you soon forget that you are sitting in an old music room one rainy Wednesday evening.

Sometimes, something sounds a bit off, and Rose is on it right away. The instructions are given out in English, but with all the Italian-inspired music phrases, it leaves you wondering. Luckily, Rose and the orchestra speak the same language.

The intensity of the music increases, and the trumpeters’ faces gradually take on a red hue. Rose firmly lets her baton dip, and all sound suddenly ceases. Changes are made, and the musicians write down notes on their music sheets with glowing fingers.

A couple of flute players ask a question, and Rose explains to her ensemble that the music should be played like a bouncy ball.

»Just bounce into it,« she says with a smile.

A world outside the rehearsal room

The piece that the orchestra is practicing right now is Amy Beach’s Symphony in E-minor, Rose explains during the break. She is conversing with a group who have gone out to smoke or take some fresh air.

»This year we are focussing on female composers. What we are playing right now is more difficult than usual, but even though it is challenging, it is also great to have a brand new composer that nobody knows.«

Rose likes conducting SymfUni, and for an amateur orchestra, the level is high. There are, naturally, differences between the members, but all of them have a basic level. She feels that the members really want to learn, practise, improve and work towards the concert that the orchestra plays at the end of each semester. »It always turns out really well,« she says.

Inside, the non-smokers are in the process of planning where to drink beer later. Nikolaj explains that most members go out and have drink when the week’s rehearsal session is over at 21.30.

»And we don’t just talk about music,« he laughs. »We also talk about the world situation, and about how we are.«

People nod around him. »We also do parties, organize trips abroad and do all sorts of other things. It becomes your circle of friends and a way to meet people from all kinds of different backgrounds. It’s much more than just an orchestra,« concludes Nikolaj, and Rose takes up her baton again.

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