Monday, December 8, 2008

NCSSM String Orchestra at Orange Grove Baptist

Hi all -
Today, I would like to tell you a bit about a cool performance that the NCSSM Orchestra did on Sunday, December 7 at Orange Grove Baptist Church in Durham. I have to say, it was one of the most appreciative audiences that I have ever performed for! I had a great time and it was a great experience for my whole group.

First, a little background. About 3 weeks ago, I received a phone call from
Marlon West, Minister of Music at Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church. He explained to me that the another orchestra had been planning on accompanying his choir for a December 7 performance, but the conductor had been having some physical problems and the group had to cancel. He wondered if my ensemble could accompany them on the Hallelujah Chorus (Handel), and the Vivaldi Gloria, as well as do a couple of featured pieces on the program.

As I looked at the calendar and contemplaed what this meant in terms of rehearsals and time, I thought that there could be a couple of real benefits to doing this. First, it would provide a concrete goal early in the 2nd trimester. We would learn some new music and perform it in a very short time frame. Second, it would most-likely be the only baroque era music that we would be doing this year. And, I do feel a responsibility to select music from a broad range of eras over the course of a school year. Third, and maybe most importantly, this would provide some great real-world experience for my students. They would have to prepare new literature, put it together with a different conductor and choral ensemble, and perform it in a space that they will have only heard on the day of the performance. There are many unknowns in that equasion and the only way to learn how it goes is to actually do it. As it turned out, there were many other benefits to the performance, and I will get to them later.

So, I said "yes" and we began our preparations right away. As I got to know Marlon via phone calls and e-mails, it became apparent to me right away that he is a man with a gentle spirit and I just loved all of our contact. We dedided that the orchestra would perform the Messiah Overture (a great baroque instrumental work that has a slow introduction and an Allegro Fugue. It isn't long, but it is powerful.) and the "Dargason" movement of the St. Paul Suite by Gustav Holst. (It is an allegro movement that features an English folksong that is eventually superimposed with "Greensleaves." I figured that the "Greensleaves" theme would be "Christmassy enough to make it viable for this performance.)

Marlon brought his choir over to NCSSM last Tuesday night for a brief rehearsal. It went great. I think the Orange Grove kids really enjoyed it and I know that the NCSSM kids did as well.

Which brings us to the performance yesterday. Phillip Riggs and I picked the kids up at NCSSM at 3:00 for a 3:30 reheasal at Orange Grove. we made it over there right on time and got into our places. The sanctuary is a nice size, but still we had to work around their set-up. It was a great experience to see the NCSSM students trying to figure out how to really make this work. He had a brief dress-rehearsal wth the choir and before we knew it, we were finished. We headed to our room for cases and coats and waited for the performance. the folks at the church provided us with bottled water and some finger food while we waited. During that time, I had a really nice conversation with one of my students regarding the way that art and creativity feed ones interest in academics and vice versa. I was mindful of what a great goup of kids I am working with. They hung out in the room, talked quietly, and enjoyed each others' company.

We headed dwonstairs for the performance and got ready to go. There were several introduction and many foks had an opportunity to speak. It was a really cool experience to watch and [participate in the service and to watch my students' reactions to all that was going on.

The orchestra played marvelously. I had asked the students to focus on "depth of sound" as they played the Overture and they certainly did that. I also had the opportunity to intoduce the piece and briefly discussed the concept of anticipation as it reales to the Overture of The Messiah. That seemed to resonate with my musicians and they really made the concept come to life. When I introduced the Dargason movement to the audience, I mentioned that they would be hearing the tune of "Greensleaves." As we performed it, the tune REALLY carried and sang. It was magnificent! I must admit, I don't think that I have ever performed for a more appreciative audience. The ovation seemed to go on forever as we finished. I am so glad that my student experienced it!

Interestingly, through all of the events of the day and the weeks leading up to it, I couldn't help but to think that, yet again, it all comes down to relationships. My new relationship with Marlon West is one that I know will last for many years. The relatioinships between my students were strengthened by the common experience. My relationship with them was strengthened as well. And, I feel like we all started new relationships through music with everyone that was in attendance that evening. How cool!

As we enter the holiday season, I wish for you a renewed appreciation for the relationships in your life. Remember that the folks that you encounter all through your day are important, too. And, I know that I will endeavor to show my appreciation for the folks around me the way that the folks at Orange Grove showed their appreciation for my orchestra. for some reason, this weekend I was reminded: Do unto others....


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