The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Maestro Jim Smith to retire from the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras after 30 years

August 5, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received that following announcement to share from Bridget Fraser, the executive director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO)

Dear WYSO Members and Families:

For the past 30 years, WYSO’s Music Director James Smith (below) has served as an exemplary conductor and music educator for thousands of students who have played in the ranks of WYSO’s Youth Orchestra.

At the end of the 2016-2017 season, Mr. Smith – who also directs the conducting program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — will bring his inspiring career with WYSO to a close.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

(NOTE: Smith will conduct WYSO’s eighth annual FREE Concert in the Park this coming Wednesday night. Here is a link with details about that event:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/classical-music-education-the-annual-free-concert-in-the-park-by-the-wisconsin-youth-symphony-orchestras-wyso-marks-its-15th-anniversary-this-coming-wednesday-night/

In addition to his 30 seasons conducting WYSO’s Youth Orchestra, Mr. Smith has overseen the tremendous growth in the WYSO organization.  During his tenure, the Philharmonia (below), Concert, Sinfonietta and Opus One orchestras were added to the program and outstanding leadership was chosen to lead each ensemble.

Tom Buchhauser Conducting Philharmonia Jon Harlow

WYSO Board of Director’s President John Walker confirmed this legacy stating: “During the course of his tenure with WYSO, Mr. Smith had a positive impact on the musical education of a mind-boggling number of students, both directly through their experiences in the Youth Orchestra, and indirectly through his influence on the other WYSO orchestras.

“While numerous students have gone on to successful musical careers, a large portion of the students have become leaders in their professions and communities. Mr. Smith has instilled an innate love of music and the arts in his students, recognizing that the arts transcend language, unifying us all and lifting the human spirit.”

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

Upon announcing his decision to retire, Mr. Smith shared:  “Please know that I will always cherish the memories of outstanding students, wonderful colleagues and a first class administration.  I have enjoyed every moment with the members of the WYSO family — students, faculty, staff and members of the Board of Directors.”

It has been an honor for me and for the entire WYSO staff to work with Jim Smith on behalf of this great organization. We will forever be grateful for his musical gifts and for his passion and dedication to the WYSO organization. We will treasure this final season with Mr. Smith and celebrate his unwavering efforts to embody the WYSO mission of enriching lives by providing transformational music experiences and opportunities.

The WYSO leadership is engaged in planning a search for the next WYSO Music Director and will share details as they become available.

 

 


Classical music education: Here is a shout-out for Susan Cook, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, who defended music education and music performance as part of the Wisconsin Idea that is now under attack by state Republicans.

February 20, 2015
17 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you attended the recent concert by the winners of the UW-Madison School of Music Concerto Competition, you heard something extraordinary besides terrific music by Johann Strauss, Francois Borne, Ernest Chausson, Charles Gounod, Sergei Rachmaninoff and UW-Madison graduate student in composition Adam Betz from the four soloists, two conductors and the UW Symphony Orchestra.

At the beginning of the concert Susan Cook (below), who is a respected musicologist and the relatively new director of the School of Music, stood before the large house and defended music education and music performance as part of the Wisconsin Idea.

Susan Cook 1  at Concerto 2015

That long-celebrated idea that was formulated in the Progressive Era – that the publicly funded university exists to serve all the citizens of the state –- is under attack from anti-intellectual, budget-cutting Republicans who are being led by presidential wannabe Gov. Scott Walker.

Clearly, Walker and the conservative Republicans are once again picking on public workers — this time university professors — as overpaid and underworked scapegoats.

In addition, they are insisting that the university has to do more to foster economic development with the implication that the arts and humanities are not doing their fair share compared to the sciences, the professions and engineering. Why not turn the UW-Madison into a trade school or vocational school?

So they seem determined to dismantle the great University of Wisconsin or reduce it to a second-rate institution. And they are annoyed and disapproving that UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank is playing politics right back at them by marshalling alumni and faculty, staff and students, to fight back against the record $300 million budget cut.

Too bad the state legislators don’t rank as high among state legislatures as the UW-Madison does among public universities. They should be taking lessons – not giving them.

Anyway, Susan Cook (below) eloquently defended music education and music performance. She pointed out the diversity of the students in the School of Music. She pointed out the national distinctions that the school and its faculty have earned. And she pointed out how many of the school’s teachers and performers tour the state, and even the country and world, to share their art and knowledge. Surely all of that fulfills the ideals of the Wisconsin Idea.

DSusan Cook 2 at Concerto 2015

In addition, the growing body of research studies show that music education plays a vital role in all education and in successful careers in other fields. But one doubts whether the Republicans will consider that as central to economic development -– even though businesses lament the lack of a prepared workforce.

Cook got loud and sustained applause for her remarks.

She deserved it.

Cook stood up and, as the Quakers say, spoke truth to power.

So The Ear sends a big shout-out to Susan Cook and hopes that all music fans will second her views and protest and resist what the governor and state legislature want to do to gut the UW-Madison.

Brava, Susan Cook!

The Ear says leave a Comment and show both the politicians and the School of Music that you stand with Cook and want to preserve the quality of the UW-Madison, in the arts and humanities as well as in the sciences and technology, to be maintained.

 


Classical music: Is there better graduation music than the old stand-by, “Pomp and Circumstance” No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar? The Ear doubts it.

May 17, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This is graduation weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This year, the biggest ceremonies will be held outdoors in Camp Randall Stadium, as in the photo below.

It started last night, Friday night, with doctoral students, MFA‘s and professional degree students including doctors, lawyers, business people and veterinarians who had their ceremony indoors at the Kohl Center.

Today, Saturday, May 17, 2014, is devoted to the largest number of graduates -– the undergraduates as well as master’s students.

UWcommencement

The Ear wants to honor all UW students who are graduating, but especially the students — both undergraduate and graduate — at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who have brought him so many hours of pleasure and memorable listening.

But what to choose to play?

Believe me, I have thought long and hard about it.

And for the life of me, I still do not think there exists anything better than the old stand-by: The “Pomp and Circumstance’ March No. 1, originally written by Sir Edward Elgar (below) for the coronation of a King of England. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Edward Elgar

Of course, there are other fine marches by Elgar in the same set.

But none surpasses the really famous one, the omnipresent one at this time of year, THE Pomp and Circumstance March that captures the vitality and rush, yet also the dignity and hope of the event — and yes, all the bittersweet sadness of leaving behind close friends and mentors.

If you know of a better musical offering for graduation or commence, please leave a reply or comment with a YouTube link is possible and certainly the composer’s name and work’s title.

In the meantime, here it is again. You have no doubt heard it before probably many times. But no matter that it is a cliché or that is banal. It never fails to give me both goosebumps and tears, and it always makes me wish that I too were among those students processing through commencement.

Are you ready?

Graduates: Please line up, adjust your robe and mortar board, and smile.

Maestro, a downbeat please!

Best wishes and congratulations to all.

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