Sound of Charlotte Blog

Into the Park

Well, it certainly has been a great week and a half here at the CSO.  As the Symphony's newest intern, I have been busy learning as much as I can about how things work around here.

By far, the most exciting conclusion to my first week with the CSO was the Into the Park Spring Gala held this past Saturday at Symphony Park. After a bit of a crazy evening (my ride bailed and then I took a wrong turn on the way to SouthPark, oops!)  I finally arrived at my first event with the CSO.

As a college student from outside of Charlotte, I have never had the pleasure of attending an event in Symphony Park.  So I was thrilled to find the stage decorated beautifully with bright tables and gorgeous spring colors everywhere.  What better way to usher in the fall season!  And then the guests started to arrive.  The park burst into a frenzy of activity as people began to greet friends and settle in for an exciting evening.

As the evening went on it was a clear to see that this was a successful event.  The food was delicious.  The music was exciting.  Couples swirled across the dance floor in a brief interlude between the salad and the main course, swing dancing their way though what was turning out to be a phenomenal night.  From early in the evening, people were already excited about the auction items.  I was lucky enough to be able to be a spotter for the auction, watching for bids.  Later in the night, everyone got out on the dance floor to have a great time.

Events like this are so important to the CSO.  Not only is it an instrumental part of how we raise money to continue bringing music to the Charlotte community but it gives us the chance to interact with our patrons.
After my first CSO event, I am so excited for the upcoming Summer Pops concerts.  I can't wait to see the lawn at Symphony Park blanketed with people, all there to have a fabulous evening listening to our musicians play.  I can't imagine a better way to spend a summer night, surrounded by family and friends, listening to sounds of the Symphony fill the air.

Tagged as Dance, Fundraiser, Into the Park, SouthPark, summer pops, symphony park.

In Which I Did Not Cry: Reflecting on the CSYO

Originally Posted: July 2011

In the summer before seventh grade, I entered into a long and devoted alliance to a formidable but wonderfully giving master: the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras. My orchestral career, at that point, was still in its developmental stages, and I could barely read music. Thanks to my Suzuki training, I memorized everything, and learned notes through finger numbers. This would be the method to my madness in the "Sizzling Strings," small youth string orchestras in the Charlotte and Matthews community that would later expand to include the "Blazing Band."

Led by CMS teacher Bruce Becker, these groups truly nurtured my desire to perform in any sort of ensemble and introduced me to fellow musicians that I still frequently gig with today. Through his encouragement, I auditioned for the CMS Middle School Honors Orchestra, and it was there that I first understood what it meant to compete for a chair; more importantly, it was where I heard about the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras. From my stand partner and others, I came to the understanding that each of the principal players of the Honors Orchestras that year was in either the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra (CSYO) or the Junior Youth Orchestra (JYO). I heard tales of how these kids, orchestral warriors of their time, had won auditions that were legendary in their intensity. My mother spoke to other parents at the final Honors Orchestra concert, and then worried about what would clearly become a near-obsession for me. As I picked up the glossy brochure, one particularly snotty kid, and my biggest competition at that time, muttered "I heard they make you cry in the auditions," as he sauntered by. I was hooked.

Upon taking my JYO audition [in which I did not cry], I felt an excitement that I had not experienced up to that point in my "career." My Suzuki training had served me well. The night before the first rehearsal, my mother spent nearly three hours straightening my long unruly hair, and I polished my violin until I could see my reflection in the varnish. When I arrived the next morning, I was met with a surprise: the JYO was a full symphony with strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion something I had not anticipated.
From the back of the second violin section I barely hung on as the orchestra read down an arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Panicked, I realized that I would have to work harder than I ever had in order to keep up. More importantly, I was carnivorous in my desire for a better chair. Like most of the kids in Charlotte, placement trumped "musical experience," "cultural enrichment," or any other "reason for the season" the adults had thought up to justify the existence of these ensembles in the community. I had to know what it felt like to be first chair of THIS orchestra. Nothing else would suffice!

As I plotted my practicing moves from the back of the section, equally focused and distracted by flutes?! clarinets?! timpani?! I realized that this was the start of something very big. Though I spent the next six years trying to decide whether or not I would major in literature or fashion marketing, I now realize that thanks to the JYO, and later, the CSYO, my career path has been set since the seventh grade. And I don't regret a minute of it.

Jessica McJunkins was a Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra violinist from 1998-2004. She served as principal second violin for the CSYO Carnegie Hall debut in 2002 and Assistant Concertmaster for the 2003-04 season. For more about the youth orchestras, visit www.csyo.net.

Posted in Youth Orchestras. Tagged as CSYO, Education, Suzuki, Tchaikovsky.

Heart Strings

Originally Posted: July 2010
When rising 6th-grader Maria stood proudly in front of an audience of some 25 people last Thursday (July 22) to perform "I'm a Little Teapot" on her bright pink violin, it signaled a triumph a triumph not just for this quiet, thin, intelligent young girl, but for teacher Courtney Hollenbeck and the children of Winterfield Elementary School.

It has been more than three years since Courtney Hollenbeck, a young second grade teacher at Winterfield Elementary, first brought her violin to school to teach her class about sound. Winterfield is a high-poverty school about 90% of the students are economically disadvantaged and most of the 7 and 8-year olds in Ms. Hollenbeck's class had never seen or heard a violin. They were all fascinated, but one little girl showed unusual interest. That little girl was Maria.

After class, Maria, who is shy and undemanding, walked boldly up to her teacher and asked for violin lessons. Courtney Hollenbeck is not a violinist; she played as a teenager, but did not study music seriously. But she recognized in that moment what the violin might do in the lives of her students. So, not only did she agree to teach Maria, but she founded a violin program at Winterfield a program open to all interested students, free of charge. She began to scour Ebay in search of affordable violins, spending her own money to purchase instruments for the growing number of children in her Friday afternoon violin class.

Without even knowing it, Ms. Hollenbeck became part of a movement in the United States an ever-expanding effort to help children become smarter students and better citizens through music. While the concept is not new, it has received a booster shot with the recent appointment of Gustavo Dudamel as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel is a graduate of arguably the most successful youth music program in the world, Venezuela's "El Sistema." Since he began receiving widespread media attention two years ago, programs all over the country have taken root, serving children from Baltimore to Los Angeles to Juno, Alaska. Learn more at http://elsistemausa.org/.

This past December, Courtney Hollenbeck called the Charlotte Symphony looking for help. Her program now served 25 children, grades 2 through 5, and with so many kids at so many different levels, it had exceeded her ability to teach them. The Symphony's Education Programs Manager, Chris Stonnell, and I met with Ms. Hollenbeck and began to brainstorm ways to support the program.

A three-week summer violin camp was one of the fruits of our efforts. Children in the Winterfield program were invited to attend the camp, where they received general music instruction, instrument demonstrations, and violin lessons with Sa-Idah Harley, a local violinist and violin teacher. The camp culminated in the performance last Thursday, July 22, in which Maria, her 8-year-old sister Julia, and their friend Leslie played for their families, Winterfield staff, and other campers.

The Charlotte Symphony has applied for grants from the N.C. Arts Council and the Foundation for the Carolinas to help strengthen and improve the program at Winterfield this academic year. Everywhere you look, funding for arts education is tight if not downright obliterated. Arts organizations all over Charlotte, all over North Carolina, all over the United States, are struggling to find ways to bring music or drama or dance or painting into the lives of children. School systems, counties, states have cut arts education budgets. Brave and passionate individuals, like Courtney Hollenbeck, and organizations like the Charlotte Symphony are bridging the gap. But we need help.

The CSO is happy to announce that the NC Arts Council has granted the Symphony money in support of the Winterfield Strings Program for 2010-2011.

Meg Freeman Whalen is CSO Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement

Tagged as CMS, Courtney Hollenbeck, Education, El Sistema, Foundation for the Carolinas, Gustavo Dudamel, Innovation, NC Arts Council, winterfield elementary.

A Concert to Remember

Originally Posted: October 2010
By Mary Catherine Rendleman Edwards

I will never forget the first time I heard a Charlotte Symphony concert.  My parents had Charlotte Symphony season tickets, and on this particular evening my mother was ill.

 I was a fifth grade violin student in the Eastover Elementary string class taught by Dominco Scappucci.  There was a guest violinist slated to play, so my Daddy took me to the concert.  I felt very special all dressed up and was introduced to grownups as we took our seats.

I remember that I was feeling sleepy towards the end of the first selection, but then Sidney Harth walked out on stage with his violin.  He played the Beethoven Violin Concerto. His long bow strokes producing silky sounds were mesmerizing.  I was engaged not just for the moment, but for the rest of my life. 
No longer was being the first chair in the Eastover Elementary String Orchestra enough.  It was just the beginning.  There was music to learn and places to go.  I went on to be a Charlotte Symphony Young Artist Winner in 1968 and joined the youth orchestra as a violinist while in ninth grade, going on to play in the Charlotte Symphony my senior year.  Being a violinist was a ticket for me to see the world.  I have played under conductors Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, Leonard Slatkin, George Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and many more.

That night many years ago I was lucky enough to have parents who loved music, a violin given to me to play, and opportunities provided to me by the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra and the Charlotte Symphony.  I sure hope they keep up the good work!  I am now back in the Charlotte area teaching orchestra at Eastway and McClintock Middle Schools, hoping like the musicians of the Charlotte Symphony to pass on the wonderful lifelong gift of music.

Mary Catherine Rendleman Edwards has enjoyed a carreer as a professional violinist for over forty years. She holds a Bachelor of Music from Boston University and a Master of Music from University of Michigan/Ann Arbor.  A Salisbury resident, she drives to Charlotte daily to teach orchestra at Eastway and McClintock Middle Schools.
 

Tagged as Beethoven, CSO Musicians, CSYO, Education.

Singing worlds into being. A view from an Oratorio Singer

Originally Posted: July 2010

My mother is a church organist, accompanist and piano teacher; my father a retired choir director and vocal soloist.  So I grew up in a home filled with music. Dad, raised in a home where singing was not smiled upon, except perhaps in church but certainly not during a meal, encouraged his children to sing early and often. And so we did. Especially at the dinner table. We would often sing the blessing. We would frequently launch into a tune if someone uttered a phrase that reminded us of a song or inadvertently spoke a few actual words from a song. And we would sometimes create impromptu operas based on the conversation or what happened to be sitting on the dinner table. ("The Seasonings," based on a salad dressing bottle, had a particularly successful run.) It was often silly, and perhaps we didn't sing particularly well, but we sang.

I joined the Oratorio Singers last year, and I am glad beyond words to be singing the great works of music with such a wonderful group of like-minded people who are dedicated to the pursuit of excellence. And to making great music. This November, for example, I am pretty sure that we won't be singing about salad dressing. Alongside the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, however, we will be singing Franz Joseph Haydn's oratorio, Die Schöpfung (The Creation), considered by many to be Haydn's (known as the "Father of the Symphony") masterpiece.

Someone asked me the other day, "Why do you sing?" My response, of course, was that I sing because I cannot play an instrument. But the question got me thinking. Why do we sing? The human race has created music and sung songs for over 3,000 years. We know from archeological discoveries that music was a vital part of virtually all known ancient cultures, from Greece to Persia to Egypt to India to China to Africa and beyond. Australia's indigenous Aborigines believe that the world was sung into creation, and they can still navigate vast distances across the land via ancient paths known as songlines. It's a beautifully poetic notion that C.S. Lewis employed in his fictional work, The Magician's Nephew, as Aslan the lion's powerful singing calls the world of Narnia into existence.

I have come up with three reasons why we sing (well, four, if you count the inability to play an instrument). Alas, none of them include the possibility of appearing on American Idol.

We sing because making music is an intrinsic and essential part of the human spirit. It's part of what we do, and of who and what we are. We sing not because we can, but because we must. Sure, let's not get too carried away. After all, the ability to sing doesn't separate us from the animals. (That's what opposable thumbs, and instruments, are for.) But music is part of the human DNA. We aren't human because we sing; we sing because we are human.

We also sing because there are songs that need to be sung. The Oratorio Singers have performed a remarkable repertoire of the great music of our time. If you cannot be moved by the musical genius and the soaring optimism of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, or by the depth of emotion and rich tapestry of folk and liturgical harmonies in Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil, then you cannot be moved.

Finally, we sing because someone is listening. Sure, you can sing along with the radio in the car without an audience (and may even be glad for the lack of one!). Singing for an audience, though, is a rich and rewarding experience for both the singer and the listener. It's a form of communication. I used to enjoy the applause at the end of a performance because I thought of it primarily as a reward for a collective job well done. Standing on the stage of the Blumenthal PAC at the conclusion of Beethoven's Ninth this past April, I realized that I had got it somewhat wrong. The enthusiastic applause at the end of a performance is indeed thrilling to hear. But not so much for what it says about the performers or the performance. It's thrilling to hear for what it says about you, the listener. And what it says is that the impact of the live performance of a great musical work has moved you to respond. In a way that no other art form (and no CD or radio or MP3 file) can, a live performance has elevated your spirit, and maybe even raised your body out of its seat. You have participated in a shared, uniquely human experience and absorbed the beauty and emotional power of live music into your very being. You have fed your soul.
Music affords us the opportunity to celebrate the most essential form of human expression and the highest reach of the human spirit.

That's a good reason to sing.

Born and raised in Aurora, Illinois, Tim Parolini grew up listening to a wide range of music, but mostly classical, jazz and blues. A graduate of Aurora University, he studied voice with Mr. Sten Halfvarson and performed with the Fine Arts Chorale under the direction of Dr. Elwood Smith. His fond memories of attending concerts as a youth include many Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances under the direction of the late, great Sir Georg Solti. Tim runs a brand marketing and design business that specializes in helping niche-oriented businesses and nonprofit organizations identify and effectively communicate their brand value. He is excited to be participating with the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte and currently serves on its board.

Tagged as Beethoven, Beethoven's Ninth, Haydn, History, Live Performance, Oratorio, Rachmaninoff, Sing, The Creation.

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