Before the classical sounds of Berlioz’ “The Hungarian Marc h” and Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet Suite” flowed across the Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne on Saturday, Jan. 16, Penn High School students Chelsea Chen (violin), Jewon Oh (violin) and Mitchell Spangler (English horn) spent 20 hours in a two-day span preparing to turn Indiana’s All-State Orchestra into a cohesive symphonic unit.
Chen, a freshman, and seniors Oh and Spangler were performed with top orchestra students from around the state as part of the annual Indiana Music Educator's Association 2016 Professional Development Conference. The students earned elite All-State selection through an audition process that involved hundreds of students across Indiana.
“Chelsea is a very advanced freshman,” Penn orchestra instructor Lavon Oke said. “I don't think we have ever had a freshman make the All-State Orchestra before. She is an expressive player and also plays piano very well.
“Mitchell is a very fine oboe player who also plays English Horn,” Oke said. “He is a very fine student and a swim team member as well.
“Jewon is in his second year in the All-State orchestra,” Oke said. “He is working on very difficult literature and last year was a soloist with the Elkhart Symphony as their concerto competition winner.”
Participating in the All-State Orchestra was a whirlwind experience for Spangler, but a worthwhile experience.
“It was really exciting to work with a lot of high-caliber musicians,” Spangler said. “There was definitely a lot of rehearsing. We probably rehearsed about 20 hours the whole weekend. It was really fun to get to meet a lot of talented people who are serious about music.
“We had to prepare the music beforehand, so we weren’t just learning it when we got there. A lot of the rehearsing was to get us used to playing together. The rehearsal was the glue that put together the performance.”
Musicians selected for the All-State Orchestra are among the state’s elite high school musicians, and they deal with a very challenging literature that is at a professional level.
“It's a fantastic and unforgettable experience,” Oke said of All-State Orchestra. “The students not only play great music to a very high level with other gifted and hard-working musicians, but they also have a great deal of fun and network with other students they might even be in music school with in a very short time.
“They also meet musicians (who coach sectionals and break out rehearsals) from professional orchestras and teachers from Indiana colleges and universities,” Oke continued. “It's an all-around amazing time of growth and celebration.”
Spangler enjoyed a Skype opportunity with the composer of one of the pieces that the All-State Orchestra performed, Stephen Andrew Taylor, who composed, “In the Balance”.
“I really appreciated the opportunity to be able to talk to (Taylor),” Spangler said. “I learned a lot about how a composer is able to create a piece like that, especially the inspiration and the planning process.”
Spangler said that he appreciated the learning opportunity through Penn’s Fine Arts Academy.
“For me, music is a way to express myself,” Spangler said. “I can express myself through music that I can’t in words. The Fine Arts also teaches you to express yourself creatively, and how to communicate with others. Being in an orchestra, it’s not an individual thing. You have to play with other people around you. You have to watch the conductor. It teaches you so many valuable skills.”
Oke said that the select of three students for the All-State Orchestra demonstrates Penn’s solid commitment to allowing students opportunities to grow and achieve.
“It's by no means all perfect, but we have an environment where growth is encouraged and nourished,” Oke said. “We see successes at individual levels, and at many program levels as well - the two go together.”