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Music Students Given Opportunity to Play with Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Meadows Musicians Fill Out Brass Section in Shostakovich Symphony No. 7

by Chris Calloway (B.M. Performance, '12)

For the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s recent concert featuring Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad,” SMU horn players Evan Mino (M.M. ’10) and Nathan Ukens (M.M. ’10) and trombone players Michael Adams (M.M. ’10) and Brad Churchwell (B.M. ’11), along with former SMU student Daniel Brady, were sitting alongside their teachers – Greg Hustis, principal horn of the DSO, and John Kitzman, principal trombone – in performance for the large-scaled work for orchestra.

Filling in the Parts

Shostakovich’s monumental symphonic composition depicting German forces raiding Leningrad in WWII was composed with scenes of war in mind. To help convey the fighting Shostakovich witnessed while being temporarily caught in Leningrad during the siege, he wrote out parts for eight French horns and six trombones to help create loud violent sections of the music, doubling the normal number of instrumentalists needed for these brass sections. SMU students were given the opportunity to serve as the additional performers, somewhat like minor leaguers given a chance to play with the professionals for a weekend. Kitzman, principal trombone player of the DSO for the last 38 years as well as adjunct trombone teacher at SMU, helps get top students involved in performing with the DSO. “I like to give every trombone student who is ready the opportunity to put on their resumes that they performed with the Dallas Symphony,” he said. “Of course, that usually means the most talented, hardest working student.”

How often do SMU students get to play with the DSO? “Honestly, not as often as I would like,” said Kitzman. “It’s usually not more than once or twice a year during the regular concert season. Sometimes there is an opportunity during the summer or at Vail, the summer home of the DSO.”

Kitzman said that playing with the DSO offers multiple benefits for SMU students. “The opportunity to play with the DSO shows a student the level of preparation and control of their instruments that they need to attain to advance to the next level,” he said. “Hopefully, they can see how the things their teachers have been telling them actually work in a professional environment.”

One of the two current SMU trombonists to play with the DSO, Brad Churchwell, shared what he learned from rehearsing and performing with the DSO for a week. “It has made me realize that when the chips are down, it is knowing how to do the simple things well that will keep you from being thrown into the fire,” he said. “I believe that if I have a good foundation to my playing, then there will be no unpleasant surprises when I get out on stage in front of hundreds of people. It helped me to see that the development of a musician’s skills does not stop when he/she wins a job in a full time orchestra. Once they are on the job, they are constantly under pressure to deliver exceptional performances.”

Working with Maestro Jaap van Zweden

In addition to performing with a brass section totaling 166 years of experience with the DSO, these SMU students were able to play under world-renowned conductor Jaap van Zweden. In his second season as the orchestra’s conductor, van Zweden has been taking the Dallas Symphony to a world class level of playing. SMU horn player Nate Ukens said, “Van Zweden is a man who is quite passionate about his music. He knew exactly what he wanted and never settled for less. It was an inspiration for my own playing, seeing the attention to the littlest detail. He knew the music by heart and settled for nothing less than pure brilliance.”

Evan Mino, who will receive his M.M. from SMU in May and just won the highly competitive position of assistant principal horn for the DSO, said, “In rehearsal, he’s still intense, but pleasantly so. I think the reason the winds and brass like him is because he simply lets them play. The brass section is usually allowed to play out and the wind soloists are typically left alone, with the occasional suggestion or two. Any suggestions he makes are always polite and well-founded musically. A missed note here or there is never a big deal. The only thing that really sets him off is not having your part prepared, and it doesn’t take him long to find out if you don’t.”

Difference between Meadows Symphony Orchestra and DSO

Comparing his experiences rehearsing and performing with the SMU Meadows Symphony Orchestra and the DSO, Mino said, “The biggest difference between playing with the two ensembles is the length of preparation time. At SMU, even with the new schedule, we have two weeks of preparation, four rehearsals a week. DSO starts rehearsing a program on Tuesday and performs it Thursday night. The most they’ll ever have for a program is five rehearsals: two on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, and one on Thursday morning. For the Shostakovich, I think we had four. With that time frame in mind, the whole orchestra obviously had to know their parts cold by the first rehearsal, which is probably the second biggest difference. In school, there will always be a few people who think they can sight-read their part in the first rehearsal. You’ll last about five minutes in a professional setting with that mentality. Rehearsals for an orchestra like the DSO aren’t about learning notes. Sure, there might be a passage or two that takes some attention to get perfectly in sync, or a chord here or there that needs to be tuned, but most of the rehearsals are spent on musical details: phrasing, slight tempo shifts, etc.”

Getting Better all the Time

Playing with the Dallas Symphony provided these SMU students with a huge learning advantage that musicians cannot get any other way than rehearsing and performing with a professional orchestra . Nate Ukens said, “This has helped my playing most because it put me in a position where there were no excuses for anything less than perfection. In school concerts we play to an audience that understands we are students and are still learning... but at the DSO the highest level of performance and concentration is expected. That is why they make the big bucks. Also, sitting in a section and hearing everyone performing their own part to service the final orchestral project was very beneficial. No one was a hero, they all just did their part and things went great.”

Evan Mino said, “I’ve had the fortune of subbing with the orchestra a few times as a student, but this was the first time playing with them since being offered the assistant principal horn position there, so it was more of a colleague mentality throughout the week, which was much different. The first few times I focused on how they play, etc., the obvious things. This time, however, I paid more attention to just how the longtime members conducted themselves. Most of the orchestra members are backstage at least 25-30 minutes before rehearsal starts. Many of the principals (especially brass) are there 45 minutes to an hour early warming up, chatting, etc. It’s not like the mentality so many students have about their school’s ensemble. It’s not, ‘I have rehearsal in 5 minutes, I better warm up a little so I sound ok enough for this rehearsal.’ This is their job, and they act like it. I have a sneaking suspicion that they acted like that in school, too. That kind of mentality isn’t one you get after you win a job, it’s the kind that you have beforehand that gets you the job.”

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