Friday, July 26, 2013

In the Company of Angels

On Friday, July 12, the Interlochen Intermediate Concert Orchestra gave their second concert of the summer season.  The repertoire for this concert included Overture to Don Quixote Suite (Telemann), Convergence (Nunez), and In the Company of Angels (William Hofeldt).  Now, my guess is that any music educators that are reading this have a pretty good feel for the Don Quixote Overture and possibly Convergence.  But you may be doing a double-take when you see the title In the Company of Angels.  So, I will focus most of my remarks today on the latter. 

Many of you know that over the past 4 or 5 years, I have been heavily involved in ASTA’s National Committee on School Orchestras and Strings (CSOS).  Each year we sponsor a pre-conference session on the Wednesday before the national ASTA conference.  During the two years that I chaired the committee, we hosted panel discussions, featuring noted string educators from each level of school teaching: elementary, middle, high, and higher ed.  In 2012 we had hoped to include my friend and mentor, Dorothy Straub, as the moderator of the panel. 

For those who don’t know Dorothy, she is former President of MENC and long-time leader in ASTA.  I first met Dorothy in 1988, when she was co-teaching a week long string pedagogy workshop at Central Connecticut State University with Marvin Rabin and Jim Kjelland. I attended that workshop and my life and teaching career were set on a new path as a result.  Dorothy was a big part of that.  I remember that she taught a string repertoire class that was very enlightening.  She also taught a class on traditional string pedagogy that I have applied to my teaching throughout my career.  But, most importantly, she encouraged me and gave me confidence that I was on the right track, that I had what it took to be a leader in my field, and that I was taking the right measures to eventually be successful and impact lives.  I can’t tell you how much that meant to me as a young educator.  Over the years, we have remained close.  I have conducted for her up in Fairfield Connecticut.  We have communicated following successes and surrounding big events.   She has been a steadfast friend and supporter.

Getting back to the story, sadly, Dorothy was not able to attend the 2012 conference because she was recovering from a recent illness.  Fast forward to 2013.  My friend, Chris Selby was now chair of the event and he invited our friend Bob Gillespie to be the primary presenter for the pre-conference session.  Bob decided to do a session on selecting great repertoire and invited William Hofeldt to participate.  As we discussed Dorothy and her inability to attend the previous year, Bob asked Bill if he could write something to dedicate to Dorothy for the immense influence she had on so many in our field.  Bill generously agreed and so we proceeded with the conference.  The resulting piece is called In the Company of Angels and a high school orchestra from Long Island that was serving as a demo orchestra for the session premiered it at the session.  Dorothy was in attendance and it was a magnificent afternoon. 

Following that session, I asked Bill Hofeldt if I might be able to give a public premier this summer at Interlochen and again, he generously agreed.  This is a beautiful work that is absolutely gorgeous.  It is unmistakably Hofeldt when you hear it. (Those of you that are familiar with his writing know exactly what I mean.) It is scored for string orchestra and harp.  The violin and viola lines all have significant divisi, providing for a very rich sound.  The top line of the first violins goes up to sixth position, but that is in octaves and the part could easily be done completely in third position and below.  The harp part is not difficult and can be mastered by a fairly inexperienced harpist.  The work begins in G minor and modulates to G major.  I would call it a technical grade 4, but a musical grade 5.  It will be published by Kjos in the coming months.  The score includes the dedication, “To Dorothy Straub, 2013.”

The piece begins with a plaintive, slow section in G minor.  I conducted this almost rubato in our performance.  It is in a slow “4” and features the cello section with arpeggiated melodic lines, in clear Hofeldt fashion.  Eventually the melody moves to the violins and the harmonies and lines get very lush, ending on a quiet dominant chord.  The piece then moves to G major and is in a calm, lyrical “3”.  The melody begins in the low resister for the violins and the celli are, again providing a lovely arpegiated accompaniment.  Eventually the melody moves to the upper register of the violins, providing a really nice direction for the piece.  The divisi violas have a beautiful counter melody.  The seconds are given ample melodic material and this section ends on a forte E Major chord.  There is a lovely quiet bridge section featuring the upper strings.  The low string return for the end of that section and then the piece moves into a brief coda that I conducted, again, quite rubato. 

I would encourage everyone to check this piece out when it is published.  I had so many folks asking me about it after our performance.  Several told me they were in tears during the performance.  My students absolutely loved it.  It is simply beautiful music.  I am so indebted to William Hofeldt for permitting me to do it this summer.  It was definitely the musical highlight of the summer for me. 

For those of you that don’t know Convergence, by Carold Nunez, it is definitely worth checking out.  I have done this piece several times over the years, but not very much in the last 10 years.  It features a beautiful chorale in the opening and then moves into a dancy section that features frequent shifts from 7/8 to 4/4.  In the end, the two sections “converge” and become one.  This is a powerful piece and is great for teaching rhythmic concepts and tone production. 

Of course, the Don Quixote Overture is a classic baroque overture, beginning with a largo subdivided section featuring double dotted eighth-notes, then moving into light and fun allegro section.  The piece ends with a return to the largo opening feel.  There is ample opportunity in this work to perfect terraced dynamics, rhythmic accuracy, interplay between sections, subdivision, and strong intonation. 

In all, I recommend all of these works and simply had a ball with this concert.  It is one that I will remember for years to come!



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