Virtual performances by Fredonia string musicians connecting with students, seniors

Roger Coda
virtual workshop with string players

String musicians at Fredonia have created an ever-growing series of community outreach initiatives that are connecting with aspiring musicians in the Fredonia Central School district as well as members of the community’s elderly population.

The impetus behind these virtual engagements were presentations that Project: Music Heals Us, an organization that brings live music performances to marginalized communities, gave at the Fredonia School of Music’s annual Fall String Festival.

Project: Music Heals Us, the festival’s guest artist, presented two interactive workshops, a concert, a chamber music master class and student outreach concert designed to help the Fredonia students curate and program music for their own virtual presentations. The September festival was presented virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that format shift inspired students to connect with new audiences in different ways.

“The PMHU (Project: Music Heals Us) artists led a series of workshops about how to develop interactive outreach performances, and that inspired our students to start thinking about creating their own music programs that could benefit some aspect of our society or the surrounding community,” explained School of Music Assistant Professor Jessica Tong.

Learning to engage audiences

“Part of their training at the Fall String Festival was learning how to engage audiences in dialogue, and how to program music so that there is an arc that audiences can easily follow,” Ms. Tong explained.

As part of the grand finale of the festival, the students performed live in a virtually streamed outreach concert in Rosch Recital Hall for orchestra students at the Fredonia middle school and high school. Emily Greetham, a graduate student of Ms. Tong who is also the middle school orchestra director, helped organize these outreach performances.

Audrey Potter, a senior from Webster majoring in Music Education, with a concentration in Instrumental, and Music Performance, introduced two fiddle selections – “Running in the Rain,” which she composed last summer, and “The Night We Had Bears,” by Lakewood, N.Y., native Jenna Moynihan, a young Scottish fiddler and Celtic fiddler who Ms. Potter says performs all over the world. Not a traditional piece, it features fiddle “ornaments,” chopping and foot percussion.

Ryan O’Shea, a senior from West Islip majoring in Computer Science and Music Performance, with a concentration in Strings, presented “The 3 G’s,” a piece by Portland, Ore., composer Kenji Bunch that Mr. O’Shea says “embodies a lot of what I love about the viola. It is a much more versatile instrument than I would have expected.”

Other students who performed at the festival’s outreach performance included cellist Katherine Wynn, violinist Emily Erb, bassist Jonathan Kobrinsky and cellist Scott Sguelglia.

In these live-streamed performances, students talked about their Fredonia experience, what it’s like to study their string instrument and to become a professional musician. They also furnished information about the musical selection and answered questions posed by the young students on LifeChat.

Excerpts from the festival student outreach performances by Audrey Potter and Ryan O'Shea can be viewed online.

Tong is pleased to report the virtual performances went very well at both schools and generated lots of positive feedback from students and orchestra directors.

“We are also planning a few additional ‘virtual’ classroom trips with Fredonia Middle School Orchestra classes in the future, as the first few that have happened since the Fall String Festival were a huge hit with their students,” Tong said.

“What was unique about this festival was that we also created partnerships with the middle school and high school so that our students could practice their newfound outreach skills in performance and serve as mentors to these younger students as well,” Tong explained.

“What was unique about this festival was that we also created partnerships with the middle school and high school so that our students could practice their newfound outreach skills in performance and serve as mentors to these younger students as well.” - Assistant Professor Jessica Tong

Inspired by the activities from the festival, students also assembled an almost 48-minute concert, featuring short performance videos of a brass quintet, violinists, a cellist and violist that were recorded in King Concert Hall, Rosch Recital Hall and Mason Hall practice rooms. The concert was shown at Fredonia Place and WCA Home in October. Each musician introduced him or herself and provided background about the music.

Buffalo String Works affiliation underway

Another group of students is collaborating with the non-profit Buffalo String Works on a series of virtual concerts and interactive classes, to be presented in the spring semester, for refugee students in Buffalo and other marginalized populations there. The Fredonia students, as volunteers, will commit each month to watching a Buffalo String Works class for one week and then giving an introductory performance/presentation, based on that observation, in a second week.

“Our students have taken the initiative to develop their own musical projects targeted to different underserved communities or communities in need,” Tong said.

Tong believes the fall festival’s seminars on developing outreach programs for community organizations took on more meaning and urgency when the coronavirus pandemic began.

“What’s wonderful is the idea of community engagement at a time when there’s so much isolation with the pandemic going on,” Tong said. “We wanted to provide the tools for our students to be connecting and interacting with the world around them. What they learned from the festival provided a catalyst for these new collaborations and projects.”

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