Symphony Syllabus

Cal Poly Symphony

MU 174/374-01
TR 4:40 - 6:30, 45-216


David Arrivée
45-128 (office)
45-129 (box)
Office hours: MW 12:00-1:30, F 12:00-1:00, plus questions via email

Why Symphony?

Making music together in a symphony orchestra is one of the most difficult and complex things we do. It is also one of the most deeply satisfying. To interpret and perform great music from the long symphonic tradition means to push oneself technically, personally and emotionally. It means expanding our horizons by connecting with other cultures and other times. It means focusing our minds, using our bodies and engaging our emotions to achieve something together.

Plus, playing in the Symphony is just fun!


Membership in the Symphony is open to all qualified Cal Poly students who have auditioned for the ensemble, and those with special consent of the conductor / music department chair.


Members of the Symphony should enroll as follows:

  • 1st and 2nd year: MU-0174-01
  • 3rd year and beyond: MU-0374-01

You may take each of these classes 6 times, which corresponds to 4 years signing up each quarter.

String players in chamber music should sign up for:

  • 1st and 2nd year: MU-0171-03
  • 3rd year and beyond: MU-0371-03

Wind players in chamber music should sign up for:

  • 1st and 2nd year: MU-0171-07
  • 3rd year and beyond: MU-0371-07


The Symphony rehearses on Tuesdays and Thursdays during each quarter, from 4:40 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. All rehearsals are in Building 45, Room 216 unless otherwise announced. Students with partial class conflicts will be seated lower in their respective sections, depending on the severity of the conflict.

Take a moment and transfer all rehearsals and concerts into your own schedule:

Please see our Rehearsal Schedule for a list of this quarter's rehearsals.
See our Current Season page for a list of all concerts.


The success of the Symphony and the musical experience of each member depend on regular attendance by every player. Obviously, missing a rehearsal hinders one’s own understanding of the repertoire, awareness of musical decisions made in rehearsal, and preparation in general. More importantly, an absence hurts the whole group: important material is missing; the person someone really needs to coordinate with, tune to, listen for, or breathe with isn’t there; the absent player doesn’t have updated phrasing, breath marks, bowings, markings, etc. the next time… The list is long.

Think of being present (physically and mentally) and ready to play. It’s what you expect of everyone else, so it’s what everyone should expect of you.


Unexcused absences, tardies and early departures from rehearsals all affect your grade – see Grading.
Unexcused absences from concerts may result in seating changes and/or a failing grade.

What to do in case of conflicts or unavoidable emergencies

Check for conflicts early and notify me by email as soon as possible when they arise. If you have an unforeseen, last-minute conflict, notify me as soon as you are able. Advance notification makes it much more likely that an absence will be excused. The University has a list of "Excusable" Reasons for Missing Class, and I will excuse anything that is found there. Missing a concert is only excused in extraordinary circumstances.


It is imperative that each and every member of the Symphony practice their music individually throughout the quarter. Not the week before the concert. Not five minutes during warm-up. Regularly and significantly.

Doing so ensures that rehearsal time is spent more on issues of coordination than on issues of individual rhythm, counting, incorrect notes, etc.

At the beginning of the quarter, spend adequate time parsing every bar of your part for rhythm. Listen to a recording of the piece several times with your part (active listening rather than as background). Identify sections that will require specific technical work (fingerings, bowings, getting tricky bits up to speed, fixing problematic notes for intonation) so that you can practice efficiently. Tackle them one by one. Miracles happen in music because of well conceived and consistent practice, and with every member of the ensemble putting in this effort, the group will reach its full potential.


As much as our budget allows (and as our teachers’ schedules allow), the Symphony can help subsidize lessons for members who are willing to commit to four lessons per quarter. These focus primarily on our repertoire but may also include other exercises/repertoire chosen to help you advance in specific areas. If you are interested in pursuing lessons, please contact the conductor for approval. For a list of our applied faculty, see our Private Instructors page.


Grades are based on attendance, attitude and musical preparation.


You have one freebie absence – in other words, you can miss one rehearsal once each quarter for whatever reason. Life does happen. After that, each unexcused absence lowers your grade by a category (for example A goes to B) and 3 unexcused tardies or early departures count as one absence.  Unexcused absences will be listed in PolyLearn at the end of each week.

Attitude and Musical Preparation

Having a positive attitude and putting in serious work make anything you do more rewarding. In the Symphony, these qualities also benefit everyone else’s experience directly. Your grade will reflect the attitude you bring to rehearsals, your cooperation in the rehearsal process, and the effort you put into mastering the repertoire (that is, practicing).

Concert Dress

Women: Long black dress or long black skirt with black blouse or black slacks with black blouse. Black shoes, and minimal jewelry. Shoulders and knees should be covered.

Men: Black Tuxedo, white shirt, black bow tie and cummerbund or vest, black socks and black dress shoes.


You are responsible for keeping your folder and sheet music in good condition and returning them after each concert. If your music is badly damaged or lost, it will have to be replaced at your cost. Please keep in mind that this may be expensive, especially with rental parts!

Concert Tickets

For select concerts, Symphony members will be expected to sell four tickets. Logistical details are announced in rehearsal near the middle of the quarter. The purpose of selling tickets is twofold: greater attendance helps us avoid losing money on our concerts and, more importantly, playing for a fuller house is far more satisfying for every member of the orchestra.

Student Officers

The Cal Poly Symphony is supported by a team of student officers, elected at the end of each academic year to serve the next season. Officers perform duties that are necessary to maintain a well-run ensemble, plan social events for members, promote the ensemble through media and at Cal Poly events, help organize tours, and facilitate many more aspects of the orchestra program.

Get to know your officers. If you have ideas, share them with an officer. If you have a question, ask an officer!

A list of officers and their specific areas of responsibility can be found on our Student Officer page.

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