This semester has been packed with opportunities for students involved with our music department. Read through to see what we’ve been up to!
NHS students in the instrumental music program were practicing vigorously for their adjudication at Capital Region Music Fest. The Concert band and Wind Ensemble recorded the week of April 25th. Capital Region Music Fest is an opportunity for schools across Ottawa to perform, and receive feedback on their musicality. A professional musician watches each school’s performance and adjudicates them (gives them feedback), and gives a score. On Thursday, May 12th, Mr. Chris Lee came to give an in-person adjudication of the NHS Wind Ensemble, and Concert Band.
At NHS we are grateful to have five musical ensembles, three of which are bands. The wind ensemble is traditionally for grades eleven and twelve, and is directed by Mr. Szabo. Ms. Hunter conducts the concert band, which is for students in grades nine and ten. Music students are required to participate in one of these bands. We also have an optional jazz band for students who are keen on additional music opportunities, as well as learning about jazz and improvisation.
Twice a week, the wind ensemble and concert band meet to rehearse before school. NHS musicians have maintained safe COVID-19 measures while rehearsing as much as possible. We have come a long way: the concert band held their first rehearsal on Halloween, outdoors, with Ms. Hunter in a banana costume, and their final meet on Wednesday with the whole band together in the music room.
The concert band performed three songs: “Where the Mountains Touch the Sky”, “Drums of the Saamis”, and “Arabian Dances”.
The Wind Ensemble performed three as well: “A Mother of a Revolution” by Omar Thomas, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and honoring Marsh P. Johnson, “Swirling Prisms” by Brian Balmages, and ”Jupiter” by Gustav Holst, arranged by William Owens.
We also had the opportunity to receive a live adjudication. Mr. Lee: a part-time tuba professor at uOttawa, and the principal tuba player of the National Arts Center Orchestra. The two bands learned a lot from Mr. Chris Lee. He gave many tips to the band, and worked with individual sections on improving their musicality.
Both bands received gold medal status from their adjudicators online for their performance. The NHS music department also held their end of year performance, music night, on June 8th, where both bands played most of their Capital Region Music Fest repertoire.
On Friday, June 10th, NHS students taking instrumental music met Mr. Chris Lee again in our auditorium to watch his dress rehearsal of Wynton Marsalis’ tuba concerto, which will later be premiered in Canada on June 16th.
This concerto has four unique movements. It opens with a traditional movement called, “Up”, while it finishes with a fast-paced bebop movement. Throughout the performance, he was accompanied by Fred Lacroix on the piano.
The piece was commissioned by six different orchestras across North America (including the NAC), and was premiered by The Philidalphia Orchestra featuring their principal tubist, Carol Jantsch, who is the first female tuba player in a major symphony orchestra. He got the music for this piece in December.
At the end of the performance, students had the opportunity to ask Mr. Chris Lee questions.
Mr. Chris Lee joined the NAC orchestra in 2018, after serving fifteen seasons with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. He began playing the tuba at the age of twelve because of his teacher, even though he originally wanted to learn the French horn. Though the tuba wasn’t his first choice, he instantly fell in love with it. He first decided to pursue music professionally in grade twelve, but kept making that decision at different stages of his life when being a professional musician became more and more competitive.
When I asked him about what he hopes to achieve through his performances, he talked to us about his love for live performances, and how he wants to share his love for music with the audience, and his knowledge with young musicians. Throughout his career he has had positive and not so positive experiences performing (the latter he tries to forget). A favorable concert of his was his recent performance in Carnegie Hall with the NAC orchestra.
I talked to Ms. Hunter, the concert band (grade 9 & 10) director about what she hopes to accomplish through Mr. Lee’s visits. She wrote:
“I've worked with Chris before and he is very inspiring. He is also a kind and generous human being. In terms of his performance of the Wynton Marsalis Tuba Concerto, Wynton Marsalis was one of my trumpet role models growing up. I've seen him perform in person a number of times over the years and he is a dedicated performer and teacher. I think having Chris perform the Canadian premiere will be special because Chris is the first black member of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. For our adjudication I think Chris will coax some things out of the band that we perhaps haven't thought of. When I'm teaching new music (especially under COVID protocols) it's easy to get lost in the notes/rhythms and lose sight of the musicality. Different conductors/adjudicators hear different things, and trying them out is such a great opportunity to learn.”
The best part about taking music class is playing together as an ensemble, experiencing the pieces as a group, and improving as a whole. Throughout the disruptions of the pandemic, and the constant switch between online and in-person learning, students have missed out on a lot of what makes music class fun. This has caused a large decrease in students enrolled in music. Nonetheless the teachers at NHS have been working hard to give all kinds of opportunities to their students, and share music with the rest of the school.
This year, students in our chamber choir, or who took the vocal elective, sang with Austrian exchange students from the Graz Boys Choir. Students in the instrumental music program had the opportunity to attend the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards. At the end of the year, our jazz band will be performing at the Ottawa Jazz Festival!
“Covid has prevented in person guests at the school for the past couple of years. However, we have managed to have a number of virtual guests in the past two years, including Christine Jensen (Sax), Rebecca Hennessy (trumpet) and Virginia MacDonald (clarinet) who gave Jazz workshops last year. Maestro Alexander Shelley visited Mr. Szabo's online music class last spring, and this year we've had the opportunity to do virtual workshops through Ottawa U with Mr. Chris Lee, Karen Donnelly, Lawrence Vine and Douglas Burden, all members of NACO's brass section. These relationships are important because they provide fabulous role models for tone and technique, you learn a lot, but also you get an opportunity to demystify what it's like to be a professional musician and break down the barrier between performer and audience.” –Ms. Hunter
Next year, Ms. Hunter and Mr. Szabo have been looking into working with Cait Nishimura, the composer of one of the concert band’s music night pieces, “Into the Blue”.
This week, music students set up the music room to how it was before the pandemic. As the pandemic becomes less worrisome, and our music program grows, NHS students have a lot to look forward to in the future. The music program encourages beginners; if you’re interested in joining us, contact your guidance counselor to switch your elective!