From my recent blogs, you might expect that the music you would hear in the mountains would be mostly country and bluegrass. We do have more variety than you might expect. Eastern Menonite University and local churches in Harrisonburg, VA, hosts a Bach Festival each June. The Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, in Oarkney Springs, VA, has an out-door stage with several weekends of classical music during the summer. And, now the Landes Arts Center, in Petersburg, WV, has a stage for music of all styles, including classical music.
The Landes Arts Center was constructed a few years ago with the intent of becoming a performance space for local, regional and guest artists in music, stage, and poetry. The schedule has been developing since their openning. This was our first classical performance there. From other performances that we have attended, I anticipated that the depth of the stage and the 300 seat auditorium would be best suited for a 6 to 8 piece country band. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the 14 members of the Fresta Valley Christian School Chamber Ensemble filled the stage and auditorium. You can check out their websites at www.landesartscenter.com and http://frestavalley.org/.
This Saturday (4/2/11), William Keller brought the String Ensemble and nine of the members of the Concert Choir from the Fresta Valley Christian School, in Marshall, VA. There is a local connection, in case you doubted. Mr. Keller went to school at Fresta Valley Christian School, but learned about music in the Potomac Valley Men’s Choir, a South Branch valley institution. After developing his musical experiences, he has returned to direct the school’s orchestra. Mr. Keller is the grandson of Charles and Alma Webster, who are our neighbors. Charles, Russell, and Walter built our garage and finished a dinning room to our cabin, when we moved out here full time. They are good neighbors and have taught us useful country skills. So, we attend for our enjoyment of classical music and for friendship.
The selections for the evening ranged from instrumental and vocal arrangements of spirituals to movements from symphonies. Where else could you hear “Deep River”, “Heart and Soul” and the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Sympony #7 in sequence. What impressed me was how they carried out the concept of ensemble. In an age when we admire soloists, reduce church choirs to praise bands (and thus members of the church to audiences of someone else’s talent), and host Idol (Idle?) TV shows where the hype is who gets canned every week, I was impressed with how these teenagers worked together.
In an ensemble, no one stands out. The strength is in the group. I’m not thinking about technical skills, such as a note off key or rhythm skipped, but timing. The instruments or music books go up at the same time. The bowing is kept in sequence. These make a performance pleasing to watch. I can put in a CD of St. Martin’s in the Field or Hillary Hahn if I want virtuosity. But, then I am alone in my cabin. No, I want to see the eye dart from the music to the conductor with precise attention. I want to see the bangs wave during an intense section, then settle as the piece glides into a long breath soaring across the stage. Then, with the last bow, the smile that come across a young person’s face and the eye glancing at each other, “We made it!”. Then silence. The music turned. The baton raised, and the next selection begun. This group fulfilled my desire.
As if that were not enough, several of the Chamber Ensemble are also part of the Concert Choir. They performed several songs from their repertoire. This is a small enough group that each voice can be heard as they blend together. I envision a crystal glass filling with a delicious libation, at one moment sweet with a light bouquet, at another an oaky taste from seasoning well.
Mr. Keller selected movements from two of my favorite symphonies that I associate with my youth: Saint-Saenes’s Organ Symphony, and Dvorak New World symphony (which coincidentally I have planned to mention in a blog in about a week’s time). He asked if anyone in the audience had suggestions for next year. I propose a movement from Mendelssonh’s Reformation Symphony. I’ll check back next year for classical music in the country.
P. S. As an added bonus, the evening started with a hilarious comic bit about how poorly we listen, and the resulting confusion this brings. I just happened to be watching Monty Python’s show about the Cycling Tour this afternoon. Sorry, I did not catch the names of the two young men who performed the half a dozen roles with wit and gesture, but they did remind me of some of the skits that Eric Schwartz and I did in high school. Thanks for the memories.