Joint concert is music to everyone’s ear (Published in Pioneer Press: Lake Forester, April 8)
April 9, 2010
A noteworthy orchestra concert took place in Raymond Moore Auditorium at Lake Forest High School on March 21. Promoted as a “Diverse Generations” concert, the event partnered the North Suburban Symphony, a community orchestra of 35 volunteer musicians based at Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest, with members of the Lake Forest High School Orchestras.
A seed planted
A seed planted It was last year that the Music Director and Conductor of the North Suburban Symphony, Ron Arden, approached Robert Bassill, Director of Orchestras and Theory at Lake Forest High School, about the possibility of presently a joint orchestra concert. Stressed to me was that the intent of the combined concert was not to pit one orchestra against another. As Robert Bassill related to me, the March 21 concert was the first time his orchestra members had been able to perform a full symphony because of its pairing with the NSS. In the case of the North Suburban Symphony, its membership is made up of doctors, lawyers, a retired and a current physics professor at Lake Forest College, businessmen, housewives, retired music teachers, and high school and college students who wish to perform repertoire they might not be able to perform in their own school settings. Orchestra program
Orchestra Program in School District 67 – Elementary and Middle School
It is a credit to the Lake Forest School District 67 that a string program is supported and promoted in all three Lake Forest elementary schools and in the Middle School. Three teachers are responsible for starting and then encouraging string players to continue in the orchestra program from one grade level to the next until they reach Robert Bassill at the high school level. They are Janine Bohlman, Sheridan Music and Orchestra Director; Diane Rener, District 67 Orchestra Director; and Sarah Truding, District 67 Orchestra Director. Sarah Truding is also a member of the NSS viola section. Stringed instruments are introduced in the fourth grade.
I was informed by Sarah Truding, an Orchestra Director at Deer Path Middle School with Diane Rener, that 90 fourth graders were started at the beginning of the school year in Lake Forest’s three elementary schools: Everett, Sheridan, and Cherokee. Each school varies in the number of fourth grade beginning students because of differences in enrollment. In Sheridan School, however, 75 percent of its fourth graders are in the orchestra program. This is an amazing accomplishment for Janie Bohlman who teaches music and orchestra at the Sheridan School. It is estimated that between fourth and fifth grade 65 percent of fourth grade beginning string students will continue on with orchestra.
Although fourth grade beginners meet only once a week in a large group setting, there are fifth through eighth grade level orchestras, small group lessons, a once-a-week Pops orchestra that gives performances throughout the community and which is open to all sixth – eighth graders through audition, required participation in a chamber group once a year as part of the six/seven/eight orchestra curriculum, and an Annual Disney Trip in the Spring, although students must pay their own way. There are 200 string students in the orchestra program at the Middle School, with the expectation that 85 percent of eighth graders will continue with orchestra when they enter high school. This is a record to be proud of. Sarah Truding also informed me that since 2002 the string program in the Lake Forest School District 67 has tripled.
High School Level
The Lake Forest High School Orchestra program has two orchestras under the direction of Robert Bassill — the Concert and the Symphony Orchestra. The smaller 25-member Concert Orchestra is mostly freshmen and sophomores. The Symphony Orchestra is mostly juniors and seniors; however, there are freshmen through seniors in both orchestras. Students in the 38-member Symphony Orchestra must pass an audition to prove they are of a certain technical and musical level.
For the March 21 concert, Mr. Bassill was able to add roughly 33 violins, 10 violas, 11 cellos and five bassists to the NSS string Section. Students in both orchestras must have one year of playing experience on their instrument before being permitted to join Mr. Bassill’s orchestra program. By the time Middle School orchestra students reach Robert Bassill at the high school level, they are motivated and eager to do well on their instruments. In Robert Bassil’s own words, “I believe that anyone who works hard and intelligently while learning a musical instrument can be a top musician at the high school level.”
Mr. Bassill is proud of his two orchestras after every concert. Robert Bassill feels he is lucky to work with his orchestra students because they are among the best in the school. Further, that the students who play in band and orchestra are often the same students who excel in other areas of endeavor. This is not unusual, for learning to play a musical instrument involves dedication, commitment, practice and the wise allocation of time. These same attributes are necessary in other fields of student endeavor. And how lucky Robert is!
The cross-over of Robert’s string players to excellence in other activities and pursuits at LFHS are numerous. Off the top of his head Robert Bassill listed students, although he was somewhat hesitant to do so as “all his sting players do so much,” that sophomore Amanda Zhou is a star swimmer and Principal cellist in the Symphony Orchestra; Grace Kohlmaier, violin, is the concertmaster of the Concert Orchestra and a member the high school’s Varsity Gymnastics team that won eighth place in the state; violinist Bonamico Jacobs wrestles; football players include Ralph Claveria (violin), Jason Fleisner (violin), Jack Wassmer (bass), Tyson Dethlefson (cello) and Matt Harrison (bass).
Besides cross-overs in sports, Violist Hayley Kock is involved in Drama; Violinist Meghana Moodabagil is Yearbook editor; and Math competition winners include Anna Zhou (violin), Amanda Zhou (cello) and Tylee LIn (violin). One of Mr. Bassill’s outstanding string players is Tylee Lin. In his senior year at LFHS, Tylee has been concertmaster since his Sophomore year. He has also won the Honors Competition at LFHS for the past four years and is concertmaster of the Midwest Young Artists Orchestra where he won the Walgreen’s Concerto Competition hosted by the MYA.
Robert Bassill started rehearsing the music for the March 21 concert in the beginning of January. Upon inquiring whether Mr. Bassill’s students were excited over playing the concert with the North Suburban Symphony, Robert replied: “Yes, they are a little nervous about not being good enough, but they are excited.” As a participating North Suburban Symphony cellist, the LFHS string players had nothing to be nervous about. Paired with senior Assistant Principal cellist, Angela Shin, I was both pleased and amazed with her playing technique, as were my fellow NSS members about their student stand partners. For the concert, whenever possible, each LF high school musician was paired with a NSS player. Mr. Bassill’s string students were enthusiastic, well prepared, extremely talented, and pleasant to “old folk” like me.
Two combined orchestra rehearsal were held on the nights of Thursday, March 18 and Friday, March 19, in the Raymond Moore Auditorium to work on balance and ensemble playing. A spirit of a cooperation was apparent not only among orchestra members, but by Maestros Aden and Bassill who shared the podium. Ron Arden sat in the orchestra to play viola while Robert Bassill was conducting. Mr. Bassill did the same but played the violin during Arden’s time on the podium.
The first selection on the March 21 program was conducted by Robert Bassill, Concerto Grosso for String Orchestra in five movements by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This selection allowed Mr. Bassill to give string players in both of his orchestras the opportunity to work with the NSS string section. This resulted in an impressive-sounding assembly of eighty five string players on stage.
Following Bassill’s String Orchestra selection, Ron Arden led a small chamber work scored for wind, brass and percussion by Reynaldo Hahn, Le Bal de Beatrice D’este. Hahn is not a well known composer, but the music was delightful to listen to and very much in the French style. With the exception of Christian Schmidt, percussionist, performers were primarily the first chair players of the NSS. It was felt by Robert Bassill that his kids would be maxed out if also asked to prepare the Hahn piece.
With excitement in the air, the highlight of the concert arrived when members of Robert Bassll’s Symphony Orchestra, supplemented by Lake Forest High School brass, woodwind and percussion players, combined with the full North Suburban Symphony Orchestra in a performance, numbering more than 100 musicians, of Beethoven’s glorious Symphony No.5, Opus 67. Mr. Bassill conducted movements one and two of the Beethoven. Ron Arden took over the podium to conduct movements three and four. As Robert Bassill related to me, never before had his orchestra members been able to perform a full symphony at a high school orchestra concert.
Given the way the audience responded to the combined Lake Forest High School Orchestras and the community-based North Suburban Symphony, there is every expectation that more partnerships will take place in the future, and that the nurturing relationship between the Lake Forest High School Orchestras and the North Suburban Symphony will flourish in a community that values music in the life of its children and recognizes the value of being the home to a non-professional, community orchestra.