Budding musicians learn what lies beyond the notes
By Sheri Trice
Sated sound reverberates off pillared walls from a quartet seated center stage in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium. Beams of light playfully bounce off the shimmering bells of trumpets, horns and trombones, as they simultaneously move with their players — musicians of all ages — who have come together for a week-long orchestra workshop hosted by the University’s McIntire Department of Music.
The biggest component of making music has always been the blending of harmonies to create a fine-tuned final product, but it is the “intangible musicianship skills” behind the notes, that are equally important in creating a masterpiece, said Constance Gee, founder and director of the University’s chamber music workshop.
Gee chose to name the workshop “Beyond the Notes” because she feels there is so much more to the creation of music than reading notes from a page. “We are working on showing the musicians the components of putting chamber music together,” said Gee, who is a classically trained violist. Her goal is to teach the musicians “to identify a rhythmic problem, what the various roles are in a chamber ensemble [and] how to work diplomatically with other people.”
Matthew Nelson, 47, who plays the cello, set a specific goal for participating in the workshop; to gain the confidence to be an active and influential member in a chamber ensemble. “One thing about chamber music is that you are completely responsible for your part … which has always been a problem for me, being a shy person,” said Nelson, who recently moved to Charlottesville and is now part of U.Va.’s faculty, as a research scientist in the astronomy department. Nelson was involved with orchestral and chamber ensembles in Arizona, where he lived before coming to the East Coast. “I really wanted to keep that going here,” he said.
“Beyond the Notes” is an intensive five-day program in which U.Va.’s professional musicians coach students in musicianship, and diplomacy and how to listen in order to produce quality chamber music.
Participating performance faculty members include violinist Hasse Borup, pianist Mimi Tung and flautist Alan Cox. This year, the first time since the workshop began in 2002, a non-community member has been recruited to participate; Gee chose Sergio Espinosa, musical director of the University of Austin at Arlington, to conduct the orchestra. In addition to the local professionals, there are 55 amateurs and 10 faculty musicians participating in the workshop this summer.
Gee’s interest in building a rapport between the Charlottesville and University musical communities, led her to found “Beyond the Notes.”
The performance faculty had a desire to give back to the Charlottesville community and share their expertise with local musicians of all ages — middle, high school and college students, as well as adult amateurs. “It was something we all wanted to do,” Gee said.
Rising high school senior Mary Cary Ward chose to participate in the workshop partially for fun and also to become more involved in the University’s music department. “My cello teacher approached me about it, and I thought it would be fun, a relaxed way to improve,” said Ward, a cellist of seven years. “I am also looking at U.Va. for college so I’m hoping this will be helpful,” she said.
Ward also added that interacting with the University’s music faculty has been one of the most enjoyable experiences for her since the workshop started. “Sometimes you get musician types that are kind of weird … but here, they are all relaxed and friendly,” which is hard to come by, Ward said.
Gee believes that this experience will enhance the musicians’ appreciation of music and hopes that the skills they learn during the workshop will be put to use in other aspects of their lives. “Just to see their growth … how far they’ve come in just a week, is astounding,” Gee said. “To see it all come together is wonderful.”
The workshop ran from June 20–24, and family members and friends came out to support the culmination of a week’s worth of hard work at the final performance held in Old Cabell Hall on June 24 at 7 p.m.