Vikings, Metallica and Other Fine Details

“It sounds too ‘Wonderbread’.”

This is Mr. Peters’ description of our recent rehearsal rendition of Danse Boheme from Bizet’sapril-blog-shot-of-oboe Carmen. We were playing all of the notes correctly, but we weren’t dancing. His unique description made us laugh and loosen up. It got us to lean into the notes and play the piece with character. This became the tone for the entire rehearsal, which was our last regular meeting before the concert. Most of us had just enjoyed a week of school vacation so perhaps we were a less focused, making little mistakes. However, I am confident that the adrenaline of the concert will iron out these final details as long as we remember everything we’ve learned.

For the second half of our rehearsal, we were joined by the VYO Chorus to rehearse Brahms’ Shicksalsied and Fauré’s Pavane. This was our first joint rehearsal before we will perform these pieces together in the concert, as Suzanne mentioned in the last post. I’ll admit it: I was expecting a train wreck, but the two groups worked together surprisingly well. Of course, we all had to adjust to the sound of both groups working together and to the different conducting styles of Mr. Peters and Dr. Buettner, but by the end of the rehearsal, we were united.

Both conductors urged us to play and sing with expression. Mr. Peters told us that the first part of Shicksalsied represents “a vision of heaven”, and is the most powerful, heartbreakingly beautiful art in Western civilization. The middle section –  the toil of life on earth –  he likened to “beautiful Viking violence” and, if you can believe it,  Metallica! As we explored the contrast between those two sections, our playing/singing reflected deeper emotion. During the Pavane, Dr. Buettner encouraged us to think of the music as “brushstrokes” in a beautiful painting. Now that we have the chorus and the orchestra together, the painting feels complete. The holes in both pieces have been filled in and they sound great. I can’t wait for the concert!

–April Burbank     (Photo: April Burbank)

Double Life

I should tell you: I am a member of both the VYO and the VYO Chorus.

The VYO Chorus will be joisuzanne-blog-2ning the VYO to perform two pieces during the upcoming VYO concerts in May. Jeffrey Buettner, our choral conductor, will lead Fauré’s Pavane and Troy Peters, our VYO conductor, will conduct the Brahms Shicksalsied. Very exciting, this is the first time the two groups have performed together.

Being a member of both ensembles provides some interesting perspectives. When I’m rehearsing with the orchestra, there are occasional silences for a few bars where the chorus will be singing without accompaniment. Mr. Peters has been reminding us that when Dr. Buettner is conducting, he may be paying more attention to the chorus, which is a bit different from our usual rehearsals because we do not routinely rehearse with the chorus.

Dr. Buettner has been saying similar things in our chorus rehearsals. Because Mr. Peters is used to conducting an orchestra with many parts, he may not cue every entrance of every choral part. He has been trying to convince us to not rush or drag at all in the Brahms, because the orchestra has to play many more notes than we have to sing. For example, in one part of the piece, the strings in the orchestra are playing fast sixteenth notes while the chorus is singing loud dotted half notes; if the chorus rushes this particular part (as we’ve been prone to doing), we’ve been warned that the string players’ arms will probably fall off!

The Chorus just sang in two spring concerts this past Thursday and Friday. These concerts included the two pieces we will be also singing with the VYO in May. Sammy Angstman was our piano accompanist and she did an amazing job with a piece that normally features a full orchestra. During the final moments of the Brahms, which is purely orchestral, Sammy played the ending as a piano concerto. Kelly Herrmann played her flute along with Sammy on the Pavane to help fill out the accompaniment. The piece is flowing and beautiful; Kelly’s sound really enriched the orchestra-less rendition.

The concerts went well; one was at the VYOA’s home, the Elley-Long Music Center at Saint Michael’s College, and the other was in the Middlebury College Center for the Arts Concert Hall. It is always exciting for musicians to explore the acoustics of a new space, and the Middlebury hall is a great venue, especially for vocal music.

All this musical  activity has me anticipating our joint concert to perform the Brahms and the Fauré… You should definitely try to see one of our concerts!
–Suzanne Calhoun     (Photo: Lisamarie Charlesworth)

Passing It On

This week, the VYO visited the Saint Albans Town elementary and middle school. During theschool-tour-photo-by-aprilse visits that we call school tours, our primary goal is to share music with the students; specifically, to inspire as many students as possible to play instruments and to participate in their school’s music programs. At the St. Albans school, we taught the students about our instruments and gave music lessons. The day ended with a full VYO concert.

During the morning, we visited first to seventh grade classrooms in small groups, arranged to demonstrate the various instrument “families”. My group included clarinet, oboe, bassoon and flute.  These sessions were especially fun for me because many of the kids hadn’t seen or heard an oboe before. As I entered one of the classrooms, a first-grade boy looked up at me and exclaimed, “Boy, that sure is a funny looking instrument.” I showed the class how this “funny” instrument could produce beautiful sounds… the excited chattering in the room when I played an excerpt of a Hindemith sonata was great! Taking questions from the students at the end of the session was the most fun with younger students. The questions ranged from logical (“How long have you played your instruments?”) to slightly offbeat (“Which of your instruments is oldest?”) to completely obscure (“Do you have your driver’s license?”). I love the unpredictability of these classroom visits!

In the afternoon, the entire school gathered in the gym to hear the VYO present a preview of music from our Spring Concert; we played Gershwin’s An American in Paris and the Carmen Suite by Bizet. This was great practice for our upcoming concert and it helped place a fresh perspective on our music. Mr. Peters explained many musical concepts to the students, including the role of the conductor, composition techniques, and dynamics. As I listened to him describe the story behind An American in Paris, I was reminded to play with emotion rather than being overly concerned with correct notes and rhythms. I wanted the students to feel the weight and beauty of each note we played.

The day consistently reflected my own journey in music. Although I can’t remember if my elementary school ever hosted a youth music ensemble, I distinctly remember being inspired by older oboists. When I was in fourth grade, I played in my private instructor’s annual recital for the first time. I remember being awestruck by the skill with which the high school musicians played. I thought they played at a level I could never achieve. After the recital, some of these older musicians made a point to compliment my playing. They told me that I could become an amazing oboist someday. I’m not sure that I believed them at the time, but I have never forgotten those kind words. There’s just something special and terribly important about older musicians mentoring younger musicians.
I hope that our school visit will have a lasting effect on the students we met on Wednesday. This visit gave us all a valuable opportunity to share our passion for music. I hope the kids enjoyed it as much as we did.

–April Burbank     (Photo: April Burbank)

Playing Like We Mean It

suzanne-blog-shot-of-horn1 I’m very excited for the spring VYO concerts.

This week’s VYO rehearsal went well; the orchestra is gradually sounding better as everyone practices their part and grows more comfortable with how the pieces sound. As part of the upcoming May concerts we are playing An American in Paris by George Gershwin; we will also play this piece when we are actually all Americans in Paris during our concert tour in France in July. This is an awesome piece, with great melodies, intertwining counter melodies, and an incredible enthusiasm inherent to the music.

Like the Ravel Piano Concerto we played with Sammy (Angstman) in the fall, the Gershwin is definitely influenced by jazz. One trumpet solo in particular has a cool groove. Gershwin also admired contemporary French classical composers. When the younger Gershwin asked Maurice Ravel for some composition lessons, the story goes that Ravel replied, “Maybe I should be taking lessons from you.

This piece has difficult spots for everyone in the orchestra, but this week everything started to flow together into a cohesive work, becoming cleaner and clearer. Mr. Peters always tells us to play like we mean it… We often hear, “I’d rather have you be wrong and strong, than right but inaudible.” It’s great advice. Following it is really important to making a great sound, but also to having a good energy in the orchestra. This Sunday I could hear that people were paying attention and playing with conviction, and it had a big effect on the music we were making together. If we keep this up, we will have superb concerts in May.

–Suzanne Calhoun     (Photo: Stina Plant)