Music education and performance reached a crescendo the week of Nov. 5 when the College of Musical Arts was visited by two nationally known professionals plus the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.
Seated in a small room in the Moore Musical Arts Center on Nov. 7, a group of student composers and faculty sat listening to a recording of an orchestral composition, each intently following along on the large scores before them.
What was unusual about the day was that the compositions were those of four of the students, and they had been performed the previous day by 72 members of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra in Kobacker Hall.
For student composers, having their work recorded by a full orchestra is a “golden ticket” to auditions and interviews, said composition faculty member Chris Dietz, who organized the orchestra’s visit. “It can be used to advance their careers.”
Furthermore, critiquing the pieces was none other than Bill McGlaughlin, a conductor, composer, musician and national radio personality. Perhaps best known for his work in broadcasting, as host of Peabody Award-winning “St. Paul Sunday” and “Exploring Music” (heard daily on Toledo’s WGTE-FM), as well as programs from Wolf Trap and the Library of Congress, he spent 25 years as an orchestral conductor, receiving numerous awards for adventurous contemporary programming.
The fact that the McGlaughlin’s residency as part of the annual Hansen Series coincided with the visit from the symphony was a happy coincidence, said Dietz. “It’s made the learning experience even more profound.”
Now McGlaughlin was listening to portions of works by graduate students Evan Williams, Corey Keating, Mark Witmer and Zachary Seely, offering comments and advice from the most practical (from “Have them warm up the tamtam (gong) so when it comes in it’s not so harsh,” to adding additional notation to make “conductors’ lives easier” and not writing notes that are too difficult for the musicians to reach) to the most aesthetic (“I love the way that dissolves,” and “That’s a great line, reminiscent of Sibelius,” “That’s a slinky chromatic” and “Don’t feel you have to rush it; give people time to get to where you are and let them luxuriate in that.”)
Interspersed with his critiques and questions, McGlaughlin shared a lifetime’s worth of musical memories, from driving in a car with the pioneering composer John Cage through the mountains of California to his difficulty in getting composer William Bolcom to say anything about his work even when they were to appear on a program. Thus he was understanding when trying to draw out Seely about his composition “Work for Orchestra 1.b.”
A first-year graduate student from New York, Seely said that while his composition sounded quite close to how he had heard it in his head, listening to it performed by the symphony was “pretty surreal.
Having that experience plus the input from McGlaughlin was an “extraordinary opportunity and something students at our level don’t often get,” said Keating, a second-year graduate student from California.
In contrast to Seely and Keatings’ compositions, which called for textural variations and unusual percussion effects and rhythms, Williams’s “Prelude in Tempore Belli (Music in a Time of War)” took a more traditional approach and contained several musical “quotes” from American military ballads.
“Overall, (McGlaughlin’s input) was really helpful. I see now there are several parts that I have to go back and work more on,” he said.
Also in the room was the couple who made McGlaughlin’s visit to BGSU possible. DuWayne and Dorothy Hansen, who funded the annual series dedicated to bringing top-level musicians to the college and the community. This year’s series also brought well-known jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson to campus for intensive work with the University’s jazz lab bands and vocal groups. Both McGlaughlin and Allison also gave public performances during their campus stay, he conducting the Wind Symphony and she singing with Jazz Lab Band 1.
The Toledo Symphony visit was thanks to the generosity of longtime supporter Karol Spencer, combined with funding from several areas of the University.
Wrapping up the reading session, Dietz asked McGlaughlin his opinion about the prospects for orchestras. “There’s a tremendous future for orchestras and I think the country is ready to come back. You’ve got the future in your hands. You’ll do really well,” the veteran musician predicted.
By offering opportunities like this, the College of Musical Arts is doing its part to make sure that happens.