Two symphony directors visited with students in Elkin’s three schools Friday, sharing with them a love for music and the opportunities for youth wishing to perform as a musician.
Dr. Jessica Morel, director of the youth orchestras program and assistant director of the Winston-Salem Symphony, and Maestro Christopher Lees, music director of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Symphony Orchestra and associate professor of conducting, spent Friday morning traveling from class to class talking with students of Elkin City Schools.
The visit is a prelude to drum up interest in the Sept. 17 concert by the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra at Elkin High School’s Dixon Auditorium, a fundraiser for the school system’s music and arts programming. The free performance will be from 3 to 5 p.m. While admission is free, the school system will be taking donations and art work from the sixth- through 12th-graders will be on display in the lobby.
Morel explained that Dr. Richard Brinegar, chairman of the Elkin City Schools Board of Education, has a son who is a member of the youth orchestra program and “has been such a huge advocate for bringing youth cultural experience to Elkin.”
“He wants the kids to have more exposure. He feels like his own son gets so much from being in the youth orchestra that he wants others to experience that,” Morel said.
While the closest symphony programs for Elkin are in Winston-Salem, she said it’s just a 45-minute drive and for those who are really passionate about music, they will make that drive.
While the Winston-Salem Symphony is a professional program with paid musicians, it also features three Discovery concerts a year geared toward children ages 3 to 10. “They are not super serious concerts, they have full action on stage, and sometimes there is a puppet company. They get exposure to music but have a fun time too and we keep the pieces short,” said Morel. “The first Discovery concert is a Halloween show and there is a costume parade for the kids, and they get to go on stage to show off their costumes.”
The music at the Halloween performance on Oct. 28 is Lemony Snicket. Then Feb. 11 there will be a Star Wars 2.0 show, with characters and activities. The third Discovery performance will be The Great Outdoors on April 22 as an Earth Day celebration.
Morel said part of her trip Friday was to share information with the elementary-age students about the youth programming at the Winston-Salem Symphony. “We offer a lot of different programs for students, but the youth orchestra is the jewel of music education in Winston-Salem,” she said. “The top group is what kids aspire to be in, they are high-schoolers playing professional-level music. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them.”
While music and the arts in some school districts are taking a back seat or being eliminated, Morel said there are many studies which show when students are involved in music there is a correlation with success in their academics. “You learn to practice and get better and you are dedicated to learning something,” she said. “There is something you learn with playing an instrument, that discipline carries over, it engages the creative side too.
“A lot of kids may bot have a left side brain, but they are more creative thinkers, and if they have that chance to nurture that side of the brain,” she said it will carry over to other areas of their life. “Creativity is not just music and art, but it applies to creative writing, science, inventions.”
She added, “There are a lot of benefits to music education, and for the kids in Elkin, we want to make sure they have that not just in class, but there are outlying opportunities like in Winston-Salem with the symphony or youth chorus, and exposing them to the resources of neighboring communities.
“It’s great we have advocates like Dr. Brinegar who are passionate,” Morel said.
Another way to bring high-level music education to Elkin is through the now second annual performance of the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra, led by Lees, who visited with the students at Elkin Middle and High schools Friday. Morel said the concert is a way to “complete the whole package” of bringing music to the community.
The UNCSA programs are for high school and college students, so those who will be performing in Sunday’s concert will be the same age as some of Elkin’s students.
Lees said the performance will be a prelude to the orchestra’s Winston-Salem performance on Sept. 23, and will serve as an opportunity for his music students to play their pieces prior to the later concert.
“It’s called ‘American Influence,’” he said of the show to be performed Sunday.
The performance leads off with a piece written in 2015 by Alan Fletcher, “If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler.” “It is a tone poem of sorts inspired by a novel of the same title by Italo Calvino. It is thought provoking and groovy,” said Lees, who explained that in Winston-Salem the piece will be accompanied by a film by Bill Morrison.
The second piece in the performance will be the “Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra” by Paul Creston. The piece will feature a solo by Dr. Robert Young, new saxophone professor at UNCSA. “He invokes colors beyond what you thought the pallet could do,” said Lees, who frequently uses colors to reflect the emotions and thoughts musical pieces portray.
Following an intermission, the third and final piece of the performance will be Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World,” which was created in 1894, Lees said. “If anybody hasn’t heard the music, they will recognize it because pieces have been used in many ways,” he said.
“It was commissioned to show what American music is and could be,” said Lees. “It took influence from Native American, African American and the working poor, and out of it, [Dvorák] spun one of the most easily recognizable pieces ever written.”
Lees was enjoying his visit to Elkin Friday, which included spending time with students “to share our love and passion for music with them.”
He said, “Everybody can be moved by it.”
The UNCSA Symphony Orchestra is a group of about 90 to 100 students ranging in age from 14 to 26. “I’m enthusiastic about coming back to Elkin, so we can continue to bloom and grow what we started here last year,” Lees said.
Morel said, “I think in general too a community that has a strong arts culture is more well balanced. The arts bring a lot of character to an area. It is not just a source of entertainment, but it’s about appreciating the beauty of the arts. It provides a richness for those who choose to involve themselves in that.”
For more information about Sunday’s performance at Dixon Auditorium, call Allison Moxley at 336-835-3135.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.