Sunday, January 29, 2017

Weekend reflections

I am currently driving south on Route 501 towards my home of Durham, North Carolina. (I am dictating this post into my Samsung telephone on the Blogger app.) I am so glad that I have voice to text capabilities so that I can get a few of my thoughts on paper while I am driving by myself in the car.

As I drive home after a magnificent weekend of music-making with the PMEA District 2, 3, 5 Orchestra Festival in Indiana, Pennsylvania, I am reflecting on all of the complex systems that must come together in order to make a festival such as this so successful. Here are a few thoughts about the weekend.

First, I was thrilled to receive the invitation to conduct this Festival about 2 years ago. I grew up in Indiana, PA and graduated from Indiana High School in 1983. My older sister graduated in 1980 and eventually made her way back to our hometown to teach in the public schools and for the past several years has been the high school orchestra director in our hometown. She found out that she would be hosting this festival over 18 months ago and immediately asked me to serve as guest conductor. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and have been looking forward to this event for a couple of years.

Throughout the weekend, I was humbled to participate in this event in my hometown. It was so moving to be welcomed back by longtime friends, colleagues, former teachers, current administrators, and many others. Everyone really rolled out the red carpet for me. In return I truly wanted to give them as much as I possibly could and to serve the event in every way that I could. I was a member of PMEA for the first six years of my career. And, as many of you know, have been a active member of NAfME my entire career. I have served in leadership positions both while in PMEA and the Maryland Music Educators Association as well as  the North Carolina Music Educators Association for last 16 years. These are all subdivisions of NAfME.

Throughout the weekend, itwas such a pleasure to meet all of my sister's colleagues from around Western Pennsylvania. They welcomed me into their community and generously made me feel like part of the gang. They brought their students to the event so well-prepared, ready to go to work, and ready make some great music together.

I have to say a few words about my sister, Julianne Laird at this point. In all of my years in music education and guest conducting, I have never been part of a more organized event. I am so proud of Julianne's work. She seemed to think of everything before the event. She solicited donations of food and products from businesses across Indiana County to support the event. She organized every aspect of the event to the smallest detail and had the most loving, energetic crew of volunteers that I have ever encountered at an event such as this. Her energy seems to be boundless. I know she was tired when the event drew to a close, but she can certainly rest easy knowing that it was a job well done.  Everyone that was there to volunteer and help out remarked at how happy they were to participate in the event for Julianne. It was really nice to see her in action. I could not have been more impressed.

Now, a word about the students. Again, I could not have been more impressed. From the first down-beat of the first day, it was clear that the students were there to learn. We immediately developed a wonderful rapport and I could tell that they were going to be open to my ideas and suggestions throughout the weekend. It is not as if we didn't have a lot to do. The repertoire was extraordinarily challenging and we all knew that it would be a monumental task to prepare this music for our concert on Saturday morning. The repertoire for the weekend included the Finale of Dvorak's Symphony Number 8, In the Company of Angels by William Hofeldt, Star Wars Epic Suite #2 arranged by Robert W Smith, and the centerpiece of the repertoire was Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Those of you that know the work, know that Romeo and Juliet is an extreme technical and musical challenge. And, I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was a little concerned about programming the work. That said, throughout each hour of rehearsal the piece materialized and came together in wonderful ways.

On Saturday night, Julianne arranged for the Pittsburgh Rock Cello Trio, Cello Fury, to perform for the students and the public in the Indiana Junior High School Auditorium. They were fantastic. What an inspirational performance for this fine group of young musicians to witness! Also, I was stunned to see the number of folks who came out for the concert both to hear this great group and to support Julianne and the efforts of the local school district.

After the concert, we even had another hour of rehearsal to run the program before turning in on Friday night. I must admit, I was wondering how strong the attention of my ensemble would be for that last hour of the evening. It was magic!

A Saturday morning rolled around the energy among the students was really high. We had about an hour to run the program and I decided to only touch up a couple of musical areas and go over concert etiquette.  This ensemble was ready to play!

The concert couldn't have gone more splendidly. We opened with Romeo and Juliet and literally hit all of our musical marks throughout the piece. I told the students before the concert that I had never conducted the perfect performance and wasn't probably going to do so today either. Of course, it wasn't a perfect performance. But it was a perfect performance for this ensemble. I couldn't believe the amount of active musical energy that was present on stage that day! Our next work was In the Company of Angels and many audience members shared with me that they shed tears throughout that performance. It is such a beautiful tribute peace and everyone, performers and audience alike, understood the significance. Next was Star Wars. I felt The ensemble relax just a little bit as we began this piece. They knew that the hardest part of the program was over and they could simply allow their musicianship to shine through. This popular piece of music was perfect for the group. They played it with passion, energy, and commitment. We finished with the Finale of Dvorak's 8th and it, too, couldn't have gone any better. As an impromptu encore, we're reprised the final movement of the Star Wars Suite, the main theme.

I want to thank my sister, Julianne Laird, the administration, school board, and staff of Indiana School District, all of the members of PMEA who brought students to this event, and all of the magnificent volunteers and sponsors of the PMEA District 2, 3, 5, Orchestra Festival. You all made my homecoming so wonderful.

I was reminded as I walked into the Indiana Jr High School Auditorium that I had not been on that stage since June, 1983, at my commencement from high school. That evening, I was one of the students that gave some remarks and I had the opportunity to perform a violin solo. I recently went back and looked at the text of the speech that I gave that evening. That speech was about the importance of community. Community building has been a cornerstone of my life and philosophy as a conductor, pedagog, and teacher for the last 31 years. The example that I witnessed throughout the past weekend as I was home in Indiana, reminded me of why that concept is so important to me. The Indiana School District community is a magnificent example of a successful community. The care that they put into all the day do is so very clear. Thanks to all that were involved. I can't wait till the next time that I get to come home and make music with the folks in Indiana.



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