Grant brings workshop to W-F
By Angie Landsverk
A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts brought a Grammy-nominated composer and trombonist to Weyauwega last week to work with high school band students.
Five Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra (FVSO) musicians joined Chris Brubeck at the Gerold Opera House on Thursday, Feb. 1 for a workshop with the Weyauwega-Fremont High School Band.
The musicians sat with the students to play “Ghost Walk,” which Brubeck wrote as part of his BandQuest residency at a middle school in Connecticut.
“It is a rare treat to perform a piece for the composer, and then have them work with you and talk to you about the piece. Both Mr. Brubeck and the members of the FVSO were so easy to talk to and worked great with the students,” said Andrew Schmidt, W-F High School’s band instructor.
Kathy Fehl and Ian Teal, of Wega Arts, contacted Schmidt about the planned visit.
They arranged the time and use of the opera house and put Schmidt in contact with FVSO officials to work out details about what the band would play.
“Since Brubeck was going to be with them, it made sense to play one of his pieces,” Schmidt said. “They suggested ‘Ghost Walk.’ We’ve been working on it for about three weeks and the students have really been enjoying working on it.”
Schmidt plans to include the piece in the band’s March 6 concert.
When the students arrived at the opera house last week, the FVSO musicians were playing.
The students applauded after the brass quintet finished playing, and Brubeck took note of that.
Their actions and respectfulness impressed him.
“I don’t see that everywhere,” Brubeck said.
He looks for ways to connect with others through music and hoped to contribute to the creative spirit of the students.
“Basically, it’s a chance to meet with them and work with them,” Brubeck said of the workshop.
Even if they do not become professional musicians, participating in music as students teaches them about teamwork, he said.
“It was great getting to play ‘Ghost Walk’ for Mr. Brubeck and have him work with the kids,” Schmidt said. “He gave them insight on his thought process of composing the piece, as well as some specific details about what he was after in certain passages.”
He said the students enjoyed having members of FVSO play with them.
“It’s great for them to see adults play, showing that music is something you can do your whole life,” Schmidt said.
As professional musicians, the members of FVSO gave the students examples of musicianship.
“Their tone, technique, dynamics, articulations and attention to detail are all at an incredibly high level, and it was great for the students to see and hear that,” Schmidt said.
Students commented on the experience.
“That was really fun,” Lupe Hernandez said before they headed back to the high school.
He plays the trumpet.
Fatima Leon played the bass clarinet for “Ghost Walk” and described the experience as “amazingly interesting.”
Schmidt said the students had a great time working with Brubeck and members of FVSO, as well as listening to the music they played.
“They enjoyed the variety of styles they played and especially liked the improvised solos,” he said.
Brubeck and the brass quintet played “Unsquare Dance.”
Brubeck’s father, the late Dave Brubeck, was an American jazz composer.
He wrote that piece in 1961, and Brubeck told the students it is in 7/4 time and featured in a scene in the movie “Baby Driver.”
Schmidt said the workshop was also a great experience for him.
“You can tell that they absolutely love music and enjoy playing. I know the students picked up on that and it will benefit them in their musical careers.”
The $10,000 “Challenge America” grant underwrote the costs for Brubeck and the musicians to share music with the students and with area veterans as well.
After the approximately one-hour workshop in Weyauwega, the musicians headed to the Wisconsin Veteran Home at King for a lecture and performance.
The grant also supported Brubeck’s appearance at the symphony’s Feb. 3 concert, in Appleton.
Brubeck was the guest artist for the symphony’s “Modern American Legends” concert.
The NEA Challenge America grant program offers support for projects extending the reach of the arts to those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics or disability.
Oliver Zornow, FVSO’s community engagement manager, said outreach is incorporated into each of the sysmphony’s seasons.
“This is an example of that today,” he said.
Zornow said it was a good partnership with Wega Arts.
Reaching into areas without a symphony orchestra gives people the opportunity to see musicians up close, he said.
W-F High School students played “Ghost Walk” with faculty from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Lawrence University.
Zornow hopes the experience inspires students to pursue playing their instruments after they are done with high school.