WORTHINGTON - More than 350 fourth- through 12th-grade ISD 518 string students will perform at 7 p.m. Monday in the annual All-School Orchestra Concert.
With dozens of young violinists, violists, cellists and bassists packing the Worthington High School gymnasium, the rafters will ring with the sound of their music under the direction of orchestra directors Melanie Loy and Zac Paulsen.
“This will be the last fourth- through 12th-grade orchestra concert - at least for a while,” said Paulsen, director of the fifth- through eighth-grade student orchestras.
“Next year, the sixth- through eighth graders will split off for a separate spring concert at Memorial Auditorium, similar to what the Worthington Middle School bands and choirs do,” he added.
“We’ve gotten so big and there’s so much happening that it’s becoming more challenging to have all the grade levels perform in one space at the same time.”
That means community members who have grown to relish the spring concert-ending tradition - a mass performance of the “Hummel Concertante” - should be sure to get their final fix on Monday.
“We’ll have the 13th year of the Hummel on the 13th,” said Loy, who directs the 81 fourth-grade string students at Prairie Elementary and the two WHS string ensembles (the 22-member Varsity Strings and the 56-member WHS Orchestra).
“This tradition will close, but we’ll bring one back in a different format. The Hummel has been a real favorite, but we just can’t fit any more students in the gym than what we’re already doing.”
Under Loy’s leadership since 2006, the ISD 518 orchestra program has expanded to such an extent that a third orchestra instructor has been hired for the 2019-20 school year. The new instructor will shepherd the fifth-grade string students, as well as teach general music classes at WMS.
On Monday evening, the audience will hear Loy’s 81 beginning string students share a few pieces from their method book, including the familiar “Buckeye Salute,” “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore,” “Ode to Joy” and “Mozart Melody.”
“They’ve been earning ribbons as they master these,” said Loy.
“And with 12 school days missed due to poor weather conditions, we had a Saturday practice from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. last weekend - ‘Practice and Pizza at Prairie’ - and 50 of 81 students attended,” continued Loy.
“They did great, and it was such a successful day that the kids were asking to do it again next year.”
Paulsen, meanwhile, has busily prepared the four WMS grade-level orchestras, with his 68 fifth-graders slated to play “Entry of the Tumblers” by Elliot del Borgo and “Rhythms of Africa.”
“Mr. [Mike] Andersen wrote some percussion parts to go with ‘Rhythms of Africa,’” said Paulsen, noting that seventh- and eighth-grade percussionists will cover those.
“It involves a lot of syncopation and some new bowing techniques for the kids, and they’re doing a great job with it.”
The sixth-grade string students will perform two numbers by Soon Hee Newbold, the first a “young fiddle tune” called “Gaelic Castle” and the second an exotic Asian-flavored piece based on the pentatonic scale entitled “Dragon Dances.”
“The sixth-graders are sounding good,” endorsed Paulsen. “They work so hard, and want to stick with their instruments and keep improving.”
Paulsen’s 41 seventh-graders have three selections - “Forever Joyful” by Brad Balmages, “Appalachian Sunrise” by Doris Gazda and finally, Doug Spata’s “Agincourt.”
“’Agincourt’ is in the 7/8 time signature so it presented new challenges, different bowings and independent parts,” said Paulsen.
“They found it very difficult at first, but they’re starting to like it and I’m very proud of how far they’ve come with it.”
The 34 eighth-graders have prepared del Borgo’s “Korean Folk Song Variants,” the lyrical “Lullaby to the Moon” by Brian Balmages and “Lion City,” another Newbold composition.
“It’s a crazy difficult piece,” laughed Paulsen, “and I’m blown away by how they’ve tackled it and by how much individual practice they’ve put into it.”
At the high school level, the Varsity Strings (comprised of freshmen and sophomores) will play the musical theme from “Game of Thrones,” plus the main theme from the original movie “The Incredibles.”
“These are two very fun pop arrangements,” said Loy. “And the current popularity of the ‘Game of Thrones’ series is, well, incredible.”
Loy’s 56-member WHS Orchestra is set to perform Newbold’s “Perseus,” a piece her seniors played as freshmen and requested as a reprise.
“It’s a great piece, with contrasting meters, pizzicatos and tremolos - a really fun one for them,” she said.
They will also play “A Million Dreams” from “The Greatest Showman.”
“That’s a popular choice in the ISD 518 music departments this spring,” chuckled Loy, noting that variations of it have already been sung at the WMS and WHS spring choral concerts, and another will appear at the WHS band concert on May 17.
“We have a good string arrangement of it, and it’s an effective contrasting number for ‘Perseus” with its lyrical pacing and dynamic rise and fall,” she added.
A Queen medley will cap the WHS Orchestra’s program, with the strings serenading audience members with “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You.”
Before the Hummel Concertante - played by all 350-plus of the student musicians - closes the night, Loy will recognize the 19 Class of ’19 orchestra seniors. Year-end honors include presentation of the National School Choral Award, the Beth Habicht Orchestra Award and the Directors Award for Orchestra, among others.
“And we’ll acknowledge those who participated in the solo/ensemble contest,” said Loy. “Many earned superior ratings, and we also had several with excellent ratings.”
Although Loy is losing 19 musicians to graduation, she is inheriting 30-plus eighth-graders for 2019-20 and will move up most of the 22 Varsity String players to the WHS Orchestra.
“Every year it’s harder to say goodbye to my eighth-graders,” said Paulsen, who is now concluding his third year with ISD 518, “but I know they’re advancing to extremely capable hands.”
The ISD 518 All-School Orchestra Concerts takes place at 7 p.m. Monday at the WHS gymnasium. The concert is free and open to the public.