Saturday, March 26, 2011

Life as a member of the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra

Jessica Dussault is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and also a member of the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra(LSO). While double majoring in Music and History, she still finds time to devote to being a member of the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. Last year, she had the honor of performing with her chamber music group, the Argyle Quartet, in a master class with the world-famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. Here are some of her thoughts and experiences about being a member of the LSO.

When did you first attend a Lincoln Symphony Orchestra concert?
The first time I saw the Lincoln Symphony was during a field trip to the Lied Center in elementary school. I remember watching all of the bows of the stringed musicians and wondering how the players knew which direction they were supposed to be going.

What instrument do you play?
I play the cello, an instrument that I picked in fourth grade because I was looking for an excuse to avoid standing up all the time. I was also a bit concerned that playing violin would cause me to get a permanent crick in my neck, and so cello presented itself as the ideal instrument. I rented a cello until sixth grade, when I got Chloe. My senior year of high school I decided I would be a music major and my grandma bought me my current cello, Kip Austin. It took months of searching violin shops as far away as Chicago, but I found him just as hope was beginning to fade.

Was it difficult to get into the LSO?
My teacher when I was growing up, Tracy Sands, holds the current record for the youngest LSO member on record at 16 years of age. I had a secret plan to steal her glory at the age of 15, but I didn't actually audition until I was a junior in college. I had been subbing for the Lincoln Symphony since I was 18 and knew that I could contribute to the orchestra, but I had to prove to a panel that I was a worthwhile member. I spent a few weeks working on the audition excerpts and polishing up a concerto and Bach suite, and then took the audition. The luck wasn't with me, and I had to wait another year to audition again. The second time, I listened to a number of recordings, including some with audition specific commentary, recorded and critiqued myself playing the excerpts, and performed them for other music majors. I was awarded a contract and have been playing in the symphony for two years now.

What is it like for you being a college student and a member of the symphony at the same time?
Being in college and symphony has rarely been a hindrance. Besides the symphony's uncanny ability to schedule concerts during midterms and finals weeks, I have never had a school conflict. The Lincoln Symphony schedules concerts and rehearsals months in advance, so I have always been able to plan other activities around LSO services. It's also fun working with faculty members on a peer level instead of on the normal teacher-student level during rehearsals.

How has your experience with LSO been and what have you learned from performing with the orchestra?My experience in the Symphony has been fantastic. Professional rehearsals move quickly and demand a lot from the performers, but they're often enjoyable because everyone in the room is prepared and attentive. At the university level, the rehearsal process can be frustrating because individual musicians do not yet know the music. At the professional level, musicians know the music, write down notes from the conductor constantly, and listen attentively to instructions in between. It's exhausting, but very rewarding because so little time is wasted. Any frustration comes from disagreements of musical interpretation or a sense of pressure because of the need to get through a large amount of repertoire in a short amount of time.

During my time in the symphony, I have learned a great deal about the amount of business that goes on behind the symphony. The musicians' union regulates the rehearsals, from the wages and time commitments of the musicians to the temperature range, humidity, and even the lighting of the hall. The Symphony's Board of Directors, Guild members, and Foundation members are constantly fundraising, planning events, and working on public relations. Without them, the Symphony would not exist.

I have also grown as a musician. Patience, attentiveness, and a good memory are marks of a strong orchestral player, and I have matured since becoming a part of the symphony.

What's your favorite piece that you performed with the orchestra?
I grew up listening to Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns, and so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to play it with the Lincoln Symphony. One of the more pleasant surprises I've had while playing in the LSO was when we played Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, the "Eroica" or "Heroic" Symphony. I do not normally enjoy playing Beethoven, and I wasn't expecting to enjoy working on the Eroica, but the LSO's conductor, Edward Polochick, made me change my mind. Polochick explained to us why he was making stylistic decisions, as he wanted to convey his own personal convictions that the 3rd symphony was the first Romantic era symphony. His admiration and love of the piece transferred to me, and I have since considered the Eroica to be my favorite of Beethoven's symphonies.

Monday, March 21, 2011

'Lights and Music:' Andy Strain brings musical magic to Lincoln children

Yesterday, March 20, 2011, Lincoln was treated to the performance of trombonist Andy Strain with the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. This concert was titled “Lights and Music,” and the audience was full of families with children. Beforehand, the Sheldon Museum of Art was open to children who wanted their face painted or visit the “musical petting zoo,” a few instruments that the children (and adults) were invited to try playing.
Andy Strain, a Lincoln native and UNL alumni, currently resides in California and has made it his mission to reach out to elementary school children with his music. According to Strain’s own program notes, “the trombonist: a roaming occasionally down-trodden, troubadour of sound. The trombonist especially enjoys playing music for young ears (which, unscientifically speaking, can be opener than older ears). More importantly, the trombonist believes in miracles, which are sort of like magic.” In his performance, Strain makes those “miracles” take place for his audience.

Strain combines his musical efforts with the technological and visual work of Jerry Smith and Yotam Mann. Together, they create a stunning visual and musical picture. The most fascinating part of the concert was the performance of Pablo de Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen” or “Gypsy Airs.” Originally written for a violin solo, Strain performs this virtuosic piece with his trombone. Upon his trombone, he has tied a ping-pong ball with infrared lights in it—this is where the work of Smith and Mann come into play. Suddenly, instead of just hearing the music, we are treated to see images projected on a screen that help visualize the music. Strain’s program notes enlighten us:

“We took a video game camera that watches for infrared light (something our eyes can’t even see!) and turned its lens onto a trombonist, who not a lot of people can see either. Then, we took a ping-pong ball filled with infrared light and attached it to the trombonist’s trombone slide. Then, we got these really cool guys named Jerry and Yotam to write a computer program that uses that camera to track the ping-pong ball of light…Together, they figured out how to do cool things with infrared tracking. For example, the trombonist can play a lullaby for a digital butterfly, serenade dancing leaves, or offer a bouquet of sound to that girl on a hill.”

The effect held the audience, young and old alike, quite spellbound. “Gypsy Airs” was certainly the most fascinating part of the concert as Strain’s trombone/ping-pong ball concoction controlled a moon as it danced across the night sky, growing larger or smaller as the volume of the music swelled or diminished.

Best of all, Strain encouraged the children in the audience to go home and listen to classical music themselves, and to imagine or draw pictures according to what they feel or hear in the music. It’s never to soon to experience the magic of music!
Lincoln children can thank Andy Strain for bringing this magic a little closer to them this weekend.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Enjoy live, Classical music with Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra

“An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments,” so says the “Orchestra” Wikipedia page, which goes on to detail the history and development of the orchestra from ancient Egypt to today. Orchestras have a long, distinguished history as part of Western Civilization and Lincoln, Nebraska can be broad to boast of its own Symphony Orchestra.
The Lincoln Symphony Orchestra (LSO) was founded in 1927 by a small group of musicians who were proud of the education and culture to be found in this small midwestern city. Throughout the years, they have offered Lincolnites the opportunity to hear great Classical music in live performances. Not only have audiences been delighted with the works of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and others, but they have also been treated to guest performances of such virtuosos as violinist Isaac Stern, soprano Renee Fleming, and pianist Van Cliburn.

Edward Polochick, who resides in Baltimore, Maryland, has been the conductor of the LSO since 1998. Besides his frequent trips to Lincoln to conduct the LSO in rehearsals and performances, he also serves on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music and is the founder and artistic director of the Concert Artists of Baltimore. He contributes a great deal to the LSO with his time and talent.
Other ways that the LSO promotes and keeps alive Classical music in Lincoln are by offering “Young People’s Concerts,” family events, and by giving college Music majors opportunities to perform with them and sometimes offering jobs with the LSO. The Young People’s Concerts are engaging, interactive, and educative, in this way, the LSO attracts the next generation of concertgoers and musicians—insuring that the legacy of the LSO will continue!

If you are interested in attending concerts given by the LSO, keep an eye on their Season Schedule and “like” the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra Facebook page.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Preparing young people for a future in music

Why are young people choosing to be Music majors? There are roughly 300 undergraduate students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, School of Music and Dance, who are studying various aspects of music. There are people majoring in instruments such as piano, voice, violin, cello, clarinet, percussion, or trumpet or studying Music Education, Music Theory, or Music History. Choral directors are busy directing full choirs of young musicians, and there are numerous ensembles such as Jazz Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble, and, of course, the Symphony Orchestra.
Music majors need to have a love for music, but this should not be the only reason for choosing to be Music majors. In choosing to study music at a higher level, a young musician must want to develop a better understanding of music and to prepare himself or herself for a future in music.

Some Music majors are drawn to the fact that music can touch the lives of so many people. Also, because music is a joy to those who love it and because majoring in music provides the opportunity to share joy through performance or teaching, it should be no surprise that people are drawn to this field of study.

Through music history, students find amazement at the development of music and learn how to better their performances of pieces from various stages in history. Learning new things about music is always like an exciting discovery. Great discoveries in Music Theory occur when students learn the background and science that goes into making beautiful music. It is easy to be in awe of Bach’s music when they learn the intricacies of his compositions. Besides the excitement and amazement to be had from studying history and theory, each aspect of what the students learn in music will be useful for their futures.

As Music majors, students improve as musicians and become better prepared to use music after graduation. Whether their interest lies in being able to perform or to teach, they will be able to share their love of music.

If you know a young person who loves music or who is thinking of majoring in Music, encourage them to look into the UNL School of Music for a great education, wonderful teachers, a multitude of opportunities to perform, many friends, and a future of sharing the music that they love.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Classical music for everyone: Why you should listen to the '1812 Overture'

A performance of the 1812 Overture by the US Army Band by the Washington Monument.
Have you or anyone you know ever called Classical music “boring?” While some pieces of Classical music may be just right for a quiet and reflective mood, others are rousing and inspiring. What other genre of music has a piece that requires cannon fire?
Another of the “Top 100” Most Popular Classical pieces, the 1812 Overture was written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1880 to honor and celebrate the year 1812 when the Russians turned back the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte from invading Moscow. It was premiered at a church, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was built by order of the Tsar to thank God for the Russian victory. This piece became a huge hit even in Tchaikovsky’s lifetime because it celebrated a victory that was very important to the Russians.
Part of the fascination of this piece is the dramatic way in which it calls to mind the glories of war for a patriotic nation. The French and Russian National Anthems are used in ways to describe their respective armies in 1812 so that the melodies are meaningful to the Russian listeners of the piece. But the cannon fire and ringing of bells excites hearers of any nationality.
Although it was written for the Russian’s celebration, the 1812 Overture has become a popular patriotic piece even here in America. Take a moment to listen to it—listen for the boom of the cannons and see whether you can’t help but be drawn into the music and find it exciting and inspiring.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lied Center for Performing Arts: Your venue in Lincoln to hear great music

The Lied Center for Performing Arts opened in Lincoln 21 years ago due to the gift of the Lied Foundation. Since it’s beginning, the Lied Center has provided Lincolnites with a venue for local and national entertainment.
The main hall seats 2210 people, so there’s usually a seat available for the last minute concert goers. You may see it fill up when the UNL Marching Band, “The Pride of All Nebraska,” performs there, or when the community puts on their annual showing of Tchaikovsky’s, “Nutcracker Ballet.”

During the Lied Center’s season, you can hear local artists like the Chiara String Quartet and the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. However, visiting artists are not to be missed. In the past, artists such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Joshua Bell, famous pianists, orchestras, and ballets from around the world.

The directors of the Lied Center work hard each year to plan and provide a stimulating, well-rounded, and rewarding season. Anyone in Lincoln who is looking for an evening of culture, should look no further than the Lied Center. Keeping an eye on the upcoming events, or even purchasing season tickets to the events of the Lied Center is well worth the time and investment.

Whether you visit the Lied Center to hear and see a performance by a local artist or group, or if you are interested in the professional ballet from Moscow, or the orchestra from Prague, you know you’re in for a treat when you visit Lincoln’s Lied Center for Performing Arts.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Most popular Classical music of all time

A simple web search reveals lists of the “Top 100” pieces of Classical music. Many of these pieces would sound familiar to even those who are not familiar with Classical music. They are pieces such as Beethoven’s “Symphony no. 5,” Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” People who want to listen to Classical music in Lincoln, can enjoy these pieces as well on radio or via the web.
Whether or not you recognize the names of those pieces, you have probably heard them many times whether at a wedding, in a movie, or even as a part of pop music.
The first on the list of most popular Classical pieces is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Beethoven wrote this piece in the years 1804-1808. Why is this piece from 200 years ago still so loved and used today? The reason is most likely the rhythm and four-note motif that recurs throughout the piece. “Da-da-da, dum”—even by writing those syllables, the four notes and descending minor third can almost be heard.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has taken this piece and given it their own unique touch as did Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band in “A Fifth of Beethoven.” Given a touch of Salsa style in “Beethoven meets Salsa,” these are only a few examples of the dominance of a famous Classical piece of music on many aspects of pop culture.
You don’t have to know anything about Classical music to be moved by the original Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Give it a listen and don’t worry about understanding the rhythms, motives, structure, orchestration, or progressions—simply listen, and be moved.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Chiara String Quartet: ‘Chamber music in any chamber’

The members of the Chiara String Quartet all studied at Juilliard individually, but also as an ensemble when they were recipients of the Lisa Arnhold Quartet Residency from 2003-2005. Since 2005, they have been artists-in-residence at Lincoln’s own University of Nebraska, School of Music. As artists-in-residence, the Chiara has the opportunity to work with the college students at UNL, coaching string players as well as chamber groups.

The students who have the privilege of working with the Chiara one on one are inspired by the passion Becca, Julie, Greg, and Jonah have for Classical music. By sharing their talent and passion for chamber music, these dedicated musicians are helping to ensure that Classical music’s life continues to flourish in the next generation.
Another way that the quartet helps Classical music find its niche and life in today’s world is by bringing chamber music into any chamber. In the past year, they’ve played at the Red 9, here in Lincoln,and other bars around the country. Classical music is not only for the sophisticated or elite taste of concert-goers, but can be enjoyed by all. Find the passion and beauty of music wherever you are comfortable.
Keep an eye on the upcoming events when the Chiara String Quartet will be playing by following them at their website, their facebook page.