WORTHINGTON — With strings tuned and bows at the ready, over 200 young musicians involved in the ISD 518 orchestra program are set to perform at 7 p.m. Monday in the Worthington High School (WHS) gymnasium.
“There is a bubble of anticipation surrounding the chance to play before a full live audience once again,” said Melanie Loy, director of the two orchestral ensembles at WHS.
The Varsity Strings, with 20 students, and the WHS Orchestra, numbering 52, join forces to open the concert with “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the Varsity Strings proceed to entertain with the stately “Sinfonia in G” by Domenico Gallo, arranged by Douglas Wagner.
“They’re working on tone production, intonation and ensemble playing,” said Loy of the Varsity Strings.
A second selection for the younger group is a Lloyd Conley arrangement of the ever-popular “Edelweiss;” they plan to close their concert section with the contemporary “Game of Thrones” arranged by Larry Moore.
“It’s rhythmic and accented, great contrast of repertoire style,” said Loy, who introduced the Varsity Strings ninth graders to their violins, violas and cellos when they were Prairie Elementary fourth graders. “They’ve been working hard and I’ve enjoyed getting reacquainted with them a few years further into their orchestra experience.”
The upper-class WHS Orchestra will lead off with the dramatic “Russian Sailor’s Dance,” arranged for strings by Jamin Hoffman.
“I wanted to give them something to sink their teeth into,” said Loy, mentioning the varied bowing styles the piece requires, plus its fast-moving sections and practice with advanced techniques such as double-stops, tremolo and pizzicato.
“‘Russian Sailor’s Dance’ has given them a lot of bow work and it rises with a flourishing crescendo,” she added.
The dynamically contrasting “Reverie” by James Corigliano offers the chance for the students to shine with vibrato and full use of their bows, she added.
Capping the WHS Orchestra’s set is “Turning Point” by Robert Longfield, a number that begins solemnly before progressing to a faster section. With its patriotic flair, local audiences will have another chance to hear it soon.
“The WHS Orchestra will also play ‘Turning Point’ at the WHS Veterans Day ceremony (at 10:30 a.m. Thursday),” said Loy.
Zac Paulsen has directed the Worthington Middle School (WMS) sixth- through eighth-grade orchestras since 2016, and he’s also eager to present his students this fall.
“It’s exciting to be back with live, in-person concerts,” said Paulsen. “I’m glad parents can come to see their kids and not just have to watch them play on a livestream.”
The WMS sixth grade orchestra, 49 students strong, will kick things off with “Can-Can,” followed by “King’s Court,” an upbeat piece Paulsen says the sixth graders are enjoying.
For the 41 seventh graders, the British folk song “O Waly Waly” is on tap, along with “Dark Dreams” by Sean O’Loughlin.
“It’s a spooky kind of piece that has some fun sound effects at the beginning for the kids to explore and a faster upbeat section as well,” said Paulsen, describing “Dark Dreams.”
It’s Paulsen’s 52 eighth graders who are in the spotlight this year.
Impressed with their musicianship and can-do attitudes, Paulsen submitted recordings of them he’d made last spring to the Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA). The recordings served as a virtual audition and gained the WMS eighth graders an elite invitation to the MMEA mid-winter conference in Minneapolis.
Thus, on Feb. 18, they’ll perform an hour-long concert at the Minneapolis Convention Center for current, future and retired music teachers from across the state. It’s the first time a District 518 music ensemble has been chosen for an appearance at the conference.
“Most of the time they select Twin Cities-area schools that have auditioned groups,” said Paulsen. “I didn’t dare to hope they’d be selected, but this is an extremely musical group that goes after every piece of music I put before them.”
At Monday’s concert, the eighth graders will perform “Blazing Bows of the West,” arranged by Michael Story, which includes motifs from “The Magnificent Seven,” “How the West was Won” and “Blazing Saddles.”
Their second number is Elliot Del Borgo’s arrangement of “Korean Folk Song Variants,” which Paulsen said is a favorite that the current WHS orchestra juniors played as eighth graders, too.
And the eighth graders also tackle “Struggle in the Shadows” by Brian Balmages, a number that addresses the issue of bullying.
In the composer’s notes, Balmages writes, “But I also believe that this can serve as a beautiful reminder about the power of music in our lives. Our ensembles can continue to be a place where students make music together … where students feel safe and can let everything out through music.”
Both Loy and Paulsen are committed to helping their string students express themselves through their music.
“Their attitudes are wonderful, really, and the kids have been very focused and ready to go in class most days,” said Paulsen, who sees each grade level once every three days.
Said Loy, “It’s been pleasant to regain in-person learning, and the students have been diligent.
They have a commitment and a passion to play, and it’s a privilege to teach them.”
The WMS/WHS fall orchestra concert begins at 7 p.m. Monday, in the WHS gymnasium, 1211 Clary St. The concert is open to the public; there is an admission fee, ISD 518 activity passes are honored and students are admitted free with ISD 518 student IDs.