Orchestra takes Gold!
The crowd that welcomed the Skaneateles High School orchestra home after NYSSMA last week only knew part of the happy story.
The cheering fans gathered to meet the bus because they knew that the orchestra received Gold for its performance at the music festival. What they didn’t know is that the orchestra played a complete program of 20th century music while performing at Level 6 – the toughest level of music.
Orchestra teacher Karen Veverka said that to perform a complete program of 20th century music was challenging and risky. “You have to think much harder. It takes maturity to play this music,” she said. Presenting a complete program of 20th century music “is something that I have never tried before.” She knew that this was the year to do it. “This group is one of the most unique and talented I’ve seen in my 26 year career.”
The program included Portraits of Country Fiddlers by Pehr Henrik Nordgred (4. The Fiddler’s Favroite Tune); Tres Danzas de Vida by Conni Ellisor (2. Reflections and 3. Allegria); and Take Five by Paul Desmond, arr. Bob Cerulli.
It is more common for orchestras to play much “older” music. “Students play a lot of Bach and Corelli and Vivaldi because all of those composers wrote well for strings,” she said. “I wanted to try something different this year.”
She selected music others might shy away from. “I first heard the Nordgren ‘Portraits’ after seeing it in the NYSSMA Manual and listening to it – and I was hooked. This is an example of twelve tone music: it is composed in a particular manner which uses 12 tone rows, a series of notes in which chromaticism must be used, and the same note cannot be used more than once in a series of twelve notes,” she said.
“When we began working on this piece, we studied twelve tone composition, a concept probably not presented much in high school music classes. I was very passionate about this piece when I heard it, and I knew I had the group to do it. This particular movement demands precision in tempo and intonation--primarily intonation because it is filled with many chromatic half steps. There is also a middle section which demands almost each player to play a different line, and is completely atonal (this means that there is no harmonic structure for the ear to fall back on).”
Tres Danzas de Vida was written by a contemporary composer out of Nashville, TN, Conni Ellisor. Veverka said that Ellisor’s website gives a flavor of who she is and what she has written. Her works have been recorded by contemporary string quartets and ensembles.
“This piece is new to the NYSSMA Manual for the first time on the Level 6 list. When we perform at majors, we have to choose two selections from the list in the NYSSMA Manual, and one is our choice. This piece was commissioned for the Arlington HS Orchestra, and I believe it was premiered in Poughkeepsie, NY in 2012 or 2013. I am not aware that any other HS orchestra has played it besides Arlington and Skaneateles.”
Take Five is a very familiar jazz tune that features student improvisation; sort of a "string jazz band.” Those doing the improvisation were sophomore Sierra Sander, sophomore Nolan Meier, senior Jimmy Drancsak and senior Sam Smith. They were joined by drummer AJ Meyer from the Skaneateles HS Jazz Band. Veverka said one of the judges commented on how impressed he was with the 20th century programming and the orchestra’s efforts to perform it true to the composer's intent.
The NYSSA event was bittersweet for Veverka because she knows that some of those great musicians are seniors and will not be back next year. “I will miss this senior class very much. The class of 2016 has an ‘espirit’ that does not exist every day, or every year. They are special in many, many ways; most of all, they are able to work together as a team musically, and it has been my privilege to make music with them.”