Orchestra performs their winter concert

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Orchestra performs their winter concert

Sinfonia Orchestra proudly plays

Sinfonia Orchestra proudly plays "Hava Nagila" on stage. Their practice comes together in a blissful moment. (Image taken by Jessica Opsahl-Ong)

Sinfonia Orchestra proudly plays "Hava Nagila" on stage. Their practice comes together in a blissful moment. (Image taken by Jessica Opsahl-Ong)

Sinfonia Orchestra proudly plays "Hava Nagila" on stage. Their practice comes together in a blissful moment. (Image taken by Jessica Opsahl-Ong)

Jessica Opsahl-Ong, Opinions Editor

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The McLean Orchestra put on its annual winter concert on Dec. 18, and as usual, its mix of classical and holiday music meant a festive event for the McLean community. The Orchestra Conductor, Starlet Smith, carefully prepared the score for the evening, and made sure to choose a variety of songs that showcase the musical talent at McLean.

“I always try to find something lyrical; something loud, fast, exciting; and something holidayish. That’s how I pick,” Smith said.

One example of this is pieces for the Sinfonia Orchestra-a slower moving song of “Incantations,” a fast paced “Symphony No. 7 in D minor” by Dvořák, and a holiday favorite of “Hava Nagila.”

All of these different themes in one concert brought challenges specific to each piece when leading up to the concert.

“They were all hard in their own way… ‘Hava Nagila’ was the hardest in terms of being in tune, but the symphony was the hardest in terms of rhythm and fast notes,” said Leila Williams, violinist in the Sinfonia Orchestra.

However, lots of practice and hard work polished these songs and made the difficult rhythms entertaining to hear from the audience’s perspective.

One of the differentiating aspects of the winter concert is the vast amounts of audience support that comes from it.

“My favorite thing about the winter concert is that a lot of alumni come back from college to see us… There’s something about the holiday music that brings people together and makes everyone so happy,” Smith said.

There were also some surprises in store for the audience throughout the night. During “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night),” McLean’s new electric violin made its public debut.

Violinist Abby Powell shows off McLean’s new electric violin. This is the first, but hopefully not the last, concert the instrument will be played in. (Photo taken by Jessica Opsahl-Ong)

“We had a really good year of fundraising last year, so I decided it would be a really awesome thing for McLean High School to own their own electric violin,” Smith said. “And the electric violin has a lot of new styles that you’ll see on TV like pop songs and rock songs, and it’s really present on YouTube with like Lindsey Stirling and Two Cellos, it’s just becoming really on the forefront. And you know, with technology changing, we should really evolve with the instruments.”

Abby Powell was the one who played the brand new instrument; however, she wasn’t able to get much practice on the electric violin before performing in front of a large audience of spectators.

“We had ordered the electric violin about six months ago, but it actually came yesterday during the day, on concert day. And it’s because the luthier [instrument maker] had to actually make the instrument, it wasn’t just in stock,” Smith said.

And because of the short notice, there was not much planning on how to best utilize the electric instrument.

“I definitely want to use [the electric violin] in future concerts, I’m still planning out how, but the first thing I’d like to do is buy some effects pedals for it because it just sounds like a loud violin right now,” Smith said.

Once the violin is more well-established, it will add to McLean Orchestra’s ability to play pieces outside of the standard classical score.

The new instrument is part of a larger movement towards expanding the sound of the Orchestra Department. Smith hopes to bring in instructors who can help with more specialized sounds.

“There’s several different artists that can come to your school, like guest artists, that can kind of teach you alternative styles-like you don’t read music, you just play from the heart, or you memorize something like fiddle tunes and just play with them,” Smith said. “So I’m hoping to bring at least one person in either this year or next year to kind of create something new for the orchestra-branch out from classical music.”

Bringing in outside help has already been a tool used by Smith to teach new techniques to her students.

“When the Philharmonic Orchestra played the Star Spangled Banner at the School Board meeting in September, we actually had Ms. Martin, the chorus teacher, come in and she sang parts of it for us, and she gave some examples of what vocalists do to make music more connected,” Smith said. “She was talking about which words are important, therefore what note we’re playing should be emphasized or not, which was really really informative.”

These lessons on how to play lyrical music carried through to the Winter Concert, where “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” channeled Frank Sinatra’s voice in its deep and smooth sound.

Another feature of the Winter Concert were the two senior solos in the Philharmonic Orchestra portion of the concert. Every year, Orchestra highlights seniors from all different instruments in an orchestra-accompanied solo.

“I Iove featuring soloists, I think it’s a great way to showcase people and their hard work, and I think for all of the students in orchestra who aren’t the soloists, they can really grow and learn a lot from watching someone play a solo,” Smith said. 

This year, five soloists signed up instead of the usual two, meaning the soloists are split up across the various concerts, instead of just at the end of the year.

Violist Charlie Tucker preforms his senior solo on stage. He chose the first movement of “Viola Concerto in E-flat minor” by Carl Friedrick Zelter. (Photo taken by Jessica Opsahl-Ong)

The first solo of the year was senior Charlie Tucker playing the first movement of “Viola Concerto in E-flat minor” by Carl Friedrich Zelter, a standard solo for viola soloists of Tucker’s age. However, by no means does this make it an easy piece. 

“That type of style requires really crisp, articulation, and you had to be really deliberate with your bow and how you place it and the way you play with your bow,” Tucker said.

After having practiced the solo on his own for three to four months, Tucker matched the piece to the rest of the Orchestra.

“We probably spend a good three weeks without the soloist of just learning out part, and then we’ll add the soloist and we’ll have to adjust to what the soloist likes to do, like if they slow down or speed up or how loud they like to play,” Smith said.

All of the hard work put into the piece was apparent as Tucker’s solo parts and the accompanying Orchestra perfectly weaved together.

After a full orchestra song, “Five Ukrainians in a Bell Tower,” senior Tuna Turk preformed the prelude of “Cello Concerto in D minor” by Édouard Lalo.

Cellist Tuna Turk hits the high notes as his fingers climb the neck of his cello in his senior solo. He chose the prelude of “Cello Concerto in D minor” by Édouard Lalo. (Photo taken by Jessica Opsahl-Ong)

Despite issues with his rock-stop sliding, Turk was able to give a beautiful performance up on stage.

“I was trying not to think much at all the whole thing,” Turk said. “The moment I started thinking about how I was playing, that’s when doubt could take hold and decrease the quality of the while thing.”

The concert ended with the recurring favorite, “Sleigh Ride,” with orchestra members on percussion as the ringing bells closed out a night of beautiful music by the McLean Orchestra.

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