Spectrum Concert 2021: Instrumental Music’s Triumphant Return

By Lexi Weaver | | Copy Editor

Photo Courtesy of fandm.edu.

After nearly two years of virtual rehearsals and online concerts, instrumental music made its return last weekend with the Spectrum concert. The concert featured performances from instrumental music ensembles across campus, including the orchestra, Philharmonia, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, jazz ensemble, West African drumming ensemble, as well as highlighting several soloists and small chamber groups. The concert boasted an impressive turnout from family, friends, and others on campus, who came out to support these talented musicians at their first major performance of the year. With upbeat, fast-paced repertoire and a more laid-back ambiance (certainly aided by the fact that nearly everyone was dressed in a Halloween costume), Spectrum has set a high standard for a year that’s sure to be an impressive one for music.

As someone who played in the concert, I was thrilled to be back on stage, performing for a live audience. Though I only played for two pieces, it was incredible being able to hear every other ensemble perform. The orchestra performed the first movement of Jose Elizondo’s Estampas Mexicanas and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave, opening and closing the evening’s program. Though both pieces were complex, with the challenge of constant meter changes and fast tempos, the performances brought a refreshing burst of energy to Barshinger.

The time off from having in-person, large scale concerts has shown many the unexpected parts of performing they had taken for granted. “Orchestra has been amazing,” sophomore Mary Schutt, who plays viola in orchestra and Philharmonia, told me when she was asked about the return to live performances. “I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed the little things, like playing with a stand partner, until I couldn’t last year.”

Last year, instrumental music had to adapt to operating during a pandemic, including having small “pods” with one person on each part, as well as many students participating in virtual ensembles. Having done both over the course of last year, I can attest to the challenges those situations brought after being so used to playing in 100-plus person ensembles throughout high school. Despite this, there were some silver linings to be found, and an equally strong selection of repertoire. 

In speaking to Dr. Brian Norcross, he remarked upon the challenges and surprising upsides experienced so far this year in returning to in-person orchestra. He expressed great enthusiasm for the return of instrumental music at Spectrum, and this even influenced his selection of repertoire. “I was looking for things that were triumphant, upbeat, fast, and with a lot of rhythmic intrigue,” Norcross explained. This joy and excitement was certainly felt by both the musicians and the audience in attendance last Saturday night. “It was magical, walking on stage and hearing an audience reaction. There was a profound sense of we’re back.”

Norcross describes his happiness at hearing laughter and applause from the audience after stepping on to the stage dressed as Super Mario. This is a marked difference from last year’s concert recording sessions in front of empty rows of seats. However, the return to in-person performances wasn’t all smooth sailing. As a large majority of the musicians had never performed in Spectrum, there were bound to be some bumps along the way. “Spectrum is so unique,” Norcross explains. “I had to be working a lot backstage; there was a lot of maneuvering that had to be done. There were not many upperclassmen and students that had done this [concert] before.” Despite this, the concert went on rather smoothly, even with all the transitions between ensembles.  

While there seems to be an overall consensus of positivity for the return of live instrumental music, Dr. Norcross still found parts of last year’s experience to have been constructive as well. “I got to know people better in a musical sense because there were no sections.” With typically one person on a part in each “pod,” Norcross could better hear each musician’s individual talents, which can sometimes be overshadowed in a larger ensemble. He also expressed how virtual orchestra exposed musicians to repertoire they may never have experienced. “For the saxophone players, for example, this might have been the only time they would play a piece by Beethoven.”

The Symphonic Wind Ensemble performed John Mackey’s Xerxes and Rossano Galante’s Transcendent Journey. Both pieces fit stylistically with Norcross’s hopes for upbeat repertoire, with a bombastic use of percussion and strong dynamics. Sophomore Aaron Puerzer, who plays alto saxophone in SWE, shared with me his reflection on the concert. “It was really amazing to see Barshinger full, especially after a year of recording ourselves. Spectrum in particular was a great performance, and I loved sharing what we’ve been working on in SWE with friends and family.” He also expressed how great it was to hear the performances of many groups across campus, such as the jazz ensembles and the West African drumming ensemble. 

From the opening notes of Elizondo’s Estampas Mexicanas to the standing ovation at the program’s close, last weekend’s Spectrum concert proved that instrumental music would not let the challenges from last year hold it back. Despite the difficulties of moving from in-person, to virtual, back to in-person, the musicians delivered impressive performances, both as individuals and as an ensemble. Instrumental music has made its return, and it fits the repertoire perfectly: triumphant.

Sophomore Lexi Weaver is a Copy Editor. Her email is aweaver5@fandm.edu.

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