District orchestra performs in Forest City

WGSI_DistOrchBY PAT FARNELLI

Musicians from 27 public, private, and preparatory schools in Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association District 9 formed an all-star high school orchestra at Forest City Regional High School last week, and performed in a culminating concert Friday night.

The modest auditorium stage was packed with instrumentalists. There were 20 first violinists, 22 second violinists, 14 violas, 13 cellos, and 10 string bass.

There were 10 students playing woodwind instruments, and 17 in the brass section, as well as five percussionists. In the front row of the audience waited four saxophonists, who would be featured in a medley of songs from “West Side Story.”

“Traditionally, saxophones are not part of an orchestra, but West Side Story was written for Broadway,” guest conductor Jeffrey Tedford of Grove City College explained.

These saxophonists, according to Montrose band director Suzanne Bennici, were selected by virtue of their preaudition results in November, during selection for District Band, and were added to the orchestra to create an authentic sound for the “West Side Story” part of the program.

The orchestra performed an overture for the musical, followed by the vivacious “I Feel Pretty;” the hauntingly hopeful “There’s a Place for Us;” and the passionate “Maria,” with the saxophones taking the lead.

“Something’s Happening” and “Cool” were increasingly jazz-driven and syncopated, featuring the saxes and horn section. Then, “Tonight” was borne along with a swell of strings and horns, leading into the sweet, orchestral wedding prayer of “Make of Our Hands” featuring the violins and cellos on the melody.

“America” was a burst of Latin sound, then the whole orchestra joined in the glorious “Tonight.”

After thunderous applause, Tedford turned to the audience and said, “Now you are thinking, ‘Why didn’t you end with that?’ And the answer is, because it gets bigger, louder and better.”

He then told a brief tale of his own journey into music, starting with violin lessons at age four. “By high school I hated music, hated my instrument,” he said.

He spoke of his personal approach to directing this orchestra, and his hopes that the dynamic, challenging selections would spark a rekindled passion for the students involved.

Later, when he was in college, Tedford said he came to love music again.
He then remarked on how he introduced the subject matter of the next piece, which he said was about “an inappropriate party with dancing and carousing,” and the seductive story of Samson and Delilah.

The orchestra then launched into “Danse Bachanelle” by Camille Saint-Saens, which begins lightheartedly, with Delilah persistent on learning Samson’s weaknesses, then accelerates into an exotic rumpus, until the whole place collapses.

Adrianna Howden of North Pocono had a haunting, exotic oboe solo, which carried on Delilah’s theme throughout.

Earlier in the program, “Amadeus,” a portion of Mozart’s 25th symphony featured in the movie “Amadeus,” was written when Mozart was 17, about the age of most of the District Orchestra musicians.

“He had already written 24 symphonies by the time he was your age,” Tedford said to the students.

“Finlandia,” by Sibelius, is a stately, reverent piece in the classical tradition, and the hymn “Be Still My Soul” is its major melodic theme.

The concert concluded with some popular selections: “Journey’s Greatest Hits,” arranged by Victor Lopez.

“Have a great journey, from us to you,” Tedford concluded.

Students from Susquehanna County participating in District Orchestra included:
Elk Lake: LaAnna Farnelli, French horn; Christian Sprout, violin 1;
Forest City: Will Jonas, violin 2; Katie O’Neill, flute;
Montrose: Tony Bennici, trumpet; Samantha Bennici, Jessica Bulkley, Felicia Quinn, French horn.
Mountain View: Keegan Ficarro, bassoon.