Learning More Than Music: New EMF Program Prepares Young String Musicians for Orchestral Roles | Music

GREENSBORO — If all goes as planned, Kate MacKenzie will one day play a lead role as a violist in a major professional orchestra.

The 19-year-old student and violist is learning to do much of that here in her hometown at the Eastern Music Festival.

MacKenzie joined more than 250 music students aged 15 to 25 who study and perform at the Summer Classical Festival for five weeks on the Guilford College campus.

Among them, 23 are from North Carolina; five hail from the Triad.

MacKenzie studied viola at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio during the college year. This summer, she is the only North Carolina student among 17 students in a new EMF initiative called the String Leadership Program.

Here they learn more about orchestral leadership roles. It can help them if they end up becoming concertmasters—the leaders of the first violin section—or lead players on violin, viola, cello, or double bass.

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“There’s no formal training to be concertmaster or principal viola,” MacKenzie said. “Some people have mentors to guide them, but it’s never formalized.”

“It really is a rare opportunity to have formal specific training on what it is to be a conductor,” MacKenzie said.

In recent years, EMF has added special programs for tuba and euphonium players, guitarists, and conducting students.

What about an orchestral leadership program for string players, EMF music director Gerard Schwarz and violin faculty member Scott Flavin wondered last summer.

“In winds, brass, percussion, it’s part of their basic training at conservatory or college,” Schwarz said. “For strings, it’s not.”

“What few schools teach is ‘I want to be a solo violin’ or ‘I want to be a solo viola in an orchestra’ or ‘I want to be a solo cello’,” he said.

“Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they teach a little about playing in an orchestra,” Schwarz said. “They have orchestras and they do string quartets and they do solo repertoire.”

“But they don’t do anything about leadership and what is the responsibility of the concertmaster, what is the responsibility of the first cello? What should they know? What should they do? How do you lead? What do you do to lead? How much do you speak? How much do you show? What about preparing the music and bowing? »

EMF chose to focus the program on college and conservatory students, rather than young people. Flavin, a longtime concertmaster with ensembles and orchestras, and Adelya Nartadjieva, new concertmaster of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra in Florida, are leading the effort.

MacKenzie grew up attending EMF concerts with her parents, Cory and Brian MacKenzie. Although neither parent played an instrument, Cory MacKenzie often played classical music for Kate and her two siblings growing up.

Last summer, Kate MacKenzie planned to study viola at the Brevard Music Center Summer Festival. But Brevard canceled his high school program due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So she successfully applied and auditioned for EMF. This summer, she saw the new String Leadership program on the EMF website and decided to apply again.

“I had a really positive experience last year,” MacKenzie said. “The repertoire here is truly amazing. We play major works, some of which are rarely scheduled even for professional symphonies, because they are such massive undertakings.

Among them: Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, which the student orchestra performed on 7 July.

Last summer, MacKenzie befriended fellow EMF students from states like Connecticut, Virginia, South Carolina, and Arkansas.

“Most of us came back this year,” she said. “We took this opportunity to spend another five weeks together.”

Like most students, she received a scholarship to help cover $5,786 tuition, room, board, and fees.

Since arriving on June 25, MacKenzie has participated in programs for all students – practice, rehearsals and performances for their orchestras and chamber ensembles, masterclasses and discussions.

Those who participate in the String Leadership program have also led orchestra sections, reviewed resumes, and sight-read musical scores, where they perform music they have never seen or learned before.

One session focused on creating effective bows. In a professional orchestra, string section leaders add markings to the score called “bowings”, which cause the bows to move in the same direction at the same time.

But most student musicians are probably already familiar with bows, MacKenzie said.

“We talked about movement, different ways to signal, effective communication, eye contact between sections, matching bows, matching strokes – all those things you do to create sound and energy as a whole,” MacKenzie said.

His most interesting experience came when David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, spoke to the students and had lunch with several.

“It was really nice to hear his perspective on the role of a conductor, especially in shaping the sound of an orchestra and shaping the community of an orchestra – their kind of social role in the navigating chapter relations and community outreach as well,” she said. said.

“That’s also been an important focus of this program — the importance of cultivating healthy, positive relationships with all members of the orchestra,” MacKenzie said.

EMF and the String Leadership program help prepare MacKenzie for the future.

“I would like to be above all an orchestral performer,” she says.

“But most musicians have a very flexible professional life. Some do concerts. Almost everyone who teaches at some point has students in a private studio. I pretty much expect to take whatever comes my way, opportunity-wise.

“I do this because I love playing music, and I don’t care where I can do this,” she added. “I will be happy as long as I do.”

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane

at 336-373-5204 and follow

@dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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