Jonathan Zhou looks over pages of sheet music and spends weeks perfecting his original pieces to be performed by Explorchestra, an ensemble composed exclusively of Binghamton University students.
Explorchestra was founded in 2009 by three former BU students, James Mayr, Manar Alherech and Maxim Pekarsky, with the goal of giving students an opportunity to explore music outside of the classroom. The group performs only original student compositions and embraces all genres ranging from rock to jazz to symphonic. Any student can join the organization; no auditions or experience are required and all instruments are welcome.
“Part of our goal is to make students feel comfortable playing music with us,” said Charles Miller, the head of public relations for Explorchestra and a senior majoring in computer engineering. “We do this by creating an environment that is more casual than your typical orchestra. Essentially, it is our peers who run the orchestra rather than the University.”
The 34-member orchestra meets every Saturday and practices for up to three hours. Students bring their own instruments and lead warm-ups, while conductors organize the ensemble and assign specific parts of a piece to each musician. Musical assignments are catered to the participant’s skill level, but all are encouraged to challenge themselves.
Throughout each semester, Explorchestra plays at numerous events across campus. This year, they performed at the CIW Woods Jam, Live Musical Chairs at Late Nite and the Equality Project’s Day of Silence. Explorchestra also collaborates with other BU organizations such as Chanbara, a Japanese performance group.
Zhou, the president of Explorchestra and a senior majoring in marketing, said that joining Explorchestra helped him develop his musical creativity.
“I chose to be part of Explorchestra because it was the only outlet I could find to compose and perform my music,” Zhou said. “Explorchestra was also very understanding of my then-limited experience in writing for orchestral instruments and would help me develop my composition skills more than any other organization I have ever been a part of.”
Zhou said that he and other composers usually refine, edit and add notations to their pieces through software such as Finale or Sibelius. Before submitting their work, they show their pieces to more experienced member composers or music professors to receive feedback.
Elizabeth Klippert, a violinist in the ensemble and a junior majoring in mathematics, said putting on the final performance is fun despite the time-consuming required practice.
“Although we only have rehearsal once a week, they can be intense since they generally run about 3 hours,” Klippert said. “But the most exciting part about performing with Explorchestra is getting to share the music that the people in the group have created with my friends and family.”
According to Michelle Li, a flutist and sophomore majoring in English, the most rewarding part of Explorchestra is sharing their work with the public.
“The most exciting part about performing is that brief moment of silence after a piece before an audience starts clapping,” Li said. “You get to reflect the slightest bit, then you get to take in the reward for your efforts.”
Zhou said that although it can be hard work, being in a completely student-run orchestra is a unique and beneficial experience.
“I consider leading and composing for the orchestra to be challenging work, but also immensely rewarding,” he said. “The feeling of hearing a composition you created and rehearsed for months with Explorchestra is unlike anything else I’ve ever felt, though, and has never been anything but incredible.”