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Community Outreach Adds Depth to Advanced Chamber Ensemble's Repertoire
This is an updated version of an article published in the 2016-2017 Annual Report.
The Upper School Advanced Chamber Ensemble (ACE) in March brought a judge at a regional competition to tears with their interpretation of the Mendelssohn Trio. But it's not just ACE's melodies that move people. Through community-outreach projects such as annual half-day visits to Primary Children's Hospital, lighthearted, often-smiling Music Teacher Sarah Yoon fosters compassion in her students that seems to transfer to ACE's evocative performances.
On a warm mid-October morning, ACE played for a few tiny hospital patients and their parents in the children's playroom, which was blanketed with toys and sunlight beaming through windows seasonally painted with bats, monsters, and spooky scenes. ACE's quick but gripping set of popular songs included "City of Stars" from La La Land, "When I Ruled the World" by Coldplay, and "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri. Then, the young musicians gathered in a crafting corner with patients and families to assemble and paint cardboard violins created with recycled Rowland Hall theater props. The entire visit, Ms. Yoon said, provided "a great breather to a child's daily hospital routine." Indeed, little patients escorted out to doctor's appointments promised they'd return to finish their violins.
This sort of outreach teaches students to use their talent to give back to their community without expectation, Ms. Yoon said. "My guys had a great time. It always warms my heart to see our high school students working with patients."
ACE is a seminar class—part of an Upper School program that gets better every year. Students may enroll in pre-selected seminar classes or they can pitch their specific interest to administration and form an accredited class with like-minded kids and a mentor.
Last year when then-sophomore and budding violinist Austin Topham decided he and a cadre of musicians—Atticus Hickman and Tobi Yoon '17—could expand their group and pursue a challenging repertoire, he decided to reach for the certified title of Advanced Chamber Ensemble. Upper School Principal Dave Samson reviewed the earnest seminar class application and gave it a thumbs-up. Middle School Orchestra and Chamber Music Teacher Ms. Yoon gladly agreed to mentor the group.
The ACE class roster quickly grew to seven members when Patrick McNally, Jake Bleil, Alex Benton, and Claire Sanderson joined in fall 2016. The new parties brought further sonic depth to the ensemble, which included violin, cello, bass, and piano. This school year, harpist Alison Puri and violinists Zach Benton, Augustus Hickman, and Tim Zeng joined the group.
In addition to their seminar class, ACE meets on weekends and before school as needed to prepare for regional and state competitions. Last year, Ms. Yoon divided the class into three ensembles: Dvorak Quintet in G major, Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D minor, and Vivaldi Cello Duet in G minor. This year, the group is tackling more: Dvorak American Quartet; Schubert Trout Quintet (students prepared for that piece with a fly-fishing trip to the Provo River); Holberg Suite (large chamber ensemble); Shostakovich Violin Duets; Handel Sonata for Two Violins; and Elegy for String and Harp. Members of ACE often participate in advanced music competitions and ensembles outside of school, such as Utah Youth Orchestras and Ensembles, the Gifted Music School, and the All-State Orchestra. The ACE curriculum prioritizes a college-level repertoire, within reason—Ms. Yoon ensures the young musicians can balance ACE with the rest of their course load.
In March, the three ensembles and four individual soloists successfully competed at the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) Region Solo and Ensemble Festival and advanced to the State festival. Onlookers at Regionals caught the judge wiping away tears at ACE's interpretation of the Mendelssohn Trio. At State, the Dvorak Quintet, Mendelssohn Trio, Vivaldi Duet, and three soloists received a superior rating, the highest possible. One comment on the judging sheet for the Dvorak performance read, "Wow! The best thing I heard all day! Congratulations on an outstanding performance! Bravo!"
A scan of the UHSAA website shows past Rowland Hall ensembles have achieved superior ratings, and more and more are qualifying for State—proof of the increasing success of all Rowland Hall music students due to excellent training by Ms. Yoon and Interfaith Chaplain and Choir and Orchestra Teacher Jeremy Innis. Megan Fenton, Cindy Shen, and Alicia Lu, all 2017 graduates, also advanced to state-level competitions last year.
Coming up with ACE
February 2 at 6 pm: Exploratory concert with dance, poetry, and chamber music
Late February (date to be determined): ACE will play with the Fry Street Quartet at Rowland Hall
March and April: Regional and State competitionsApril 26 at 7 pm: ACE concert