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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Orchestra shines in community showcase

On Friday, Nov. 17, the UMass Boston Orchestra presented three pieces under the “For the Times” motto. 

The orchestra ensemble is composed of students, faculty and community members. However, when community musicians are scarce, the university hires professionals to cover the empty chairs. The performance this fall was special given that of the 44 musicians needed, students and community members covered 35 seats, the highest number in years. 

Nevertheless, students who are part of the orchestra don’t exclusively come from the Performing Arts Department. In the black seats behind a trombone or violin are students majoring in the sciences and humanities. Ciaran O’Reilly is double majoring in English & Anthropology and minoring in Spanish, while Sean Sweeney is majoring in environmental science. The two are in their second year and stand beside one another as they play the trombone. 

Shelby Craig is a fourth-year nursing student who plays the flute. This year is her first time playing in an ensemble since the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that, coming from playing individually for over two years, playing as a group brings about a whole new dimension. She said, “being immersed in the group setting […] when [it] finally all comes together, it sends a chill down your spine.” 

Fourth-year music student, Tony Cooper agreed. For him it had been several years since he was part of an orchestra. 

On the day of the performance, upon entering the recital hall, the audience found the musicians ready in their seats, checking their tuning and reviewing their music sheets one last time. The musicians were dressed in formal, all-black clothing.  

Once the audience settled into their seats, the lights went down and a spotlight focused on the stage door. Conductor Dr. Sommer Forrester entered the stage, and the crowd exploded in applause. When she raised her baton and gracefully motioned the first notes, the evening began. The first piece was “The Impresario Overture” by Mozart, a light and joyous piece that the conductor selected because of its celebratory nature. 

Dr. Forrester is deeply involved in the music department. Besides being the conductor, she is an associate professor of music and oversees the music teacher licensure program. Beyond this, she is a published researcher in many prominent peer reviewed journals such as the Journal of Research Music Education.

As Mozart’s Overture filled the room, it was stark how the composition not only complemented but played off itself. For instance, a melody the violins played would later be repeated by the flutes.

The players were keeping keen ear to each other ensuring the ensemble remained consistent. Third-year student, Mya-Jai Ackles explained, “You are always having a relationship with someone in the orchestra […] Your relationship to others is what brings community.” 

As a music major with a concentration in music education, Ackles has been involved with the orchestra for the past three years. During this time, she played second flute and consistently developed her skill. The stronger abilities she has now allow her to play more intricate compositions. For this performance she moved up to first flute and took on the solos. As Mozart piece continued Ackles shined, showing her expertise while making space for the rest of the performers to shine. 

Similarly, the coherency of the orchestra didn’t come out of chance but as a product of years of expertise. For a vast majority of the musicians, practice time has been a part of their life since elementary school. Now that they are in higher education and need to balance rehearsing with their busy schedules, they heavily rely on practice rooms located in University Hall. Caroline Wong, a second-year student majoring in biology, noted, “I often practice here [on campus] because I have roommates and I don’t want to wake them up in the morning.”  

A few days prior to the performance as the performers were diligently rehearsing, Dr. Forrester listened closely. It was impressive to see how efficiently she identified the discrepancies in the performers’ music. She would stop them and make comments such as, “Can we ensure that we are playing absolutely together” or “Have confidence and dryness in the sound.” Then the performers would play the section again, and the melody would flow coherently and beautifully. 

These instances showed that the conductor, beyond having the sharp hearing, also thoroughly understands value in the composition. All the while she remained spirited making comments like “no scoop, no scopdity scoop” when a flute player’s technique was getting in the way of their performance. 

Craig described Dr. Forrester by saying, “The way she conducts fosters confidence, not only in the whole group, but in every individual. She brings out the best in everyone.” 

As Mozart’s piece ended, the audience erupted in applause. Subsequently, the wind players stood up and exited the stage to make space for Concerto in G minor by Antonio Vivaldi, a piece only played by string instruments. This piece was highly anticipated by the audience, given that it was the soloist’s performance. 

Joelle Mae Dela Cruz and Soonbee Kwon, the two soloists, are involved undergraduate students and dedicated musicians. Dr. Forrester welcomed them to the stage by saying, “[Every] week they came to rehearsal enthusiastic and prepared. Their professionalism is remarkable, moreover they are the kindest soloists and musicians I’ve ever worked with.” Dr. Forrester followed by thanking the Professors and support systems that allowed them to prepare for that evening, ending with, “The performance tonight is an act of reciprocity for your love and patience.”   

Following this, Dela Cruz and Kwon entered the stage in shiny red and green dresses respectively. The two celloists’ chemistry was undeniable from the moment they stepped on stage; it was easy to see they were good friends. As they began Vivaldi’s piece, their connection was heightened. The composition had many sections that played in response to one another. The piece began with a conversation of sorts between the two cellos.  

It was perceivable that Dela Cruz and Kwon were celebrating all the hard work and sacrifice they had invested to prepare for that night’s performance. They glanced and smiled at each other mid song, allowing the notes to seamlessly flow through their fingers, projecting a deep enjoyment that filled the audience with warmth and vigor. 

Both pieces played that night were remarkable. The audience ate up every second. 

About the Contributors
Rena Weafer, Arts Editor
Valentina Valderrama Perez, Features Writer