The Civic Symphony is a unique ensemble of students, faculty and community members performing a concert with music that spans centuries and explores cultural boundaries. The group will take the stage on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 3:15 p.m. in Shafer Auditorium.
According to the roster provided by the music department, the group is comprised of 43 students, six members of the community and two faculty members. It encompasses a small wind section, a full group of strings and a guest faculty vocalist, making it a diverse group on campus.
Associate Professor and Brass Area Coordinator Jennifer Dearden is the conductor of the Civic Symphony, making this her third year leading the group.
The group will program eight pieces this fall, which Dearden selected following a strict criteria based on playability, instrumentation, and variety.
The ability of the individual players to play the pieces is Dearden’s first concern.
“There is a big spread of ability levels within the group. I have to account for new students and veteran community members at the same time,” said Dearden.
Dearden said that it is important to be welcoming to all. The group is always interested in new members and Dearden must be cognizant of that when picking the music that will be played each semester.
Keighley Harr, ’18, joined the Civic Symphony this semester, citing the fact that she had never played in a group with strings before.
“It’s a beautiful and unique sound, and I urge everyone to come to the concert,” said Harr.
Instrumentation is another important consideration. Dearden points out that the instruments used in a particular piece need to fit the needs of the unique group. For example, the group will be playing an aria from Mozart’s “Magic Flute”. Each year the group highlights a soloist, and the piece was selected with guest faculty vocal soloist Carol Niblock in mind.
Kelly Pohland, ’16, has been playing in the group for two years now. Pohland makes one of two clarinets in her section and she says that the group has a unique atmosphere compared to other ensembles. Pohland said that she loves the clarinet parts, they are always fun to play.
Variety is the last criteria given by Dearden. Variety is important for a good concert not just for the audience as listeners but also for the students as learners, says Dearden. Among the Mozart aria and other classical repertoire is “From San Domingo”, a piece that invokes a picturesque caribbean scene conjured by Australian composer Arthur Benjamin. Also included in the program is “Kamarinskaya” a traditional Russian folk tune by prominent Russian composer Mikhail Glinka; yet another example of the variety of music presented by the group.
Traci Balsamo is one of the community members involved in Civic Symphony that demonstrates the variety of performers in the group. Having performed with the group intermittently since high school at Meadville Area Senior High, Balsamo can claim a veteran status unlike most other members. Professional performer, music teacher, private teacher, and singer are just a few example of the many hats worn by Balsamo.
Besides the enjoyment of playing, Balsamo said that playing keeps her sharp and its great to be able to pass on her experience to students.
“I know all about the importance of music in the public schools and music with young children, but I think that people forget about the college-aged students. It’s important for them to keep music in their lives,” said Balsamo.
Dearden explained the challenges of classical music for both listeners and performers.
“Classical music requires work. It doesn’t provide instant gratification the way popular music today does,” said Dearden.
Despite its relative unpopularity, Dearden said that anyone can get into classical music and take advantage of free concerts.
The school and the community at large do a lot of outreach for the classical music community and there are a lot of opportunities available. There are music classes available to students of any major or minor, regardless of musical ability said Dearden. She believes it is never too late to pick your instrument back up or start playing an instrument for the first time.
“Most of the students in the musical ensembles aren’t music majors or even minors,” said Dearden.