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Orchestra, student musicians go for Baroque

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John O'Brian conducts Eastern Youth Orchestra during a special practice with North Carolina Baroque Orchestra at A.J. Fletcher Music Hall Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.


By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Old sounds met young ears on Monday as the N.C. Baroque Orchestra performed for and rehearsed with the Eastern Youth Orchestra in the A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall on ECU’s campus.

Though Greenville locals will have a chance to hear the Baroque orchestra tonight at 7:30 for a free show in the recital hall, local youths got a sneak preview of the performance, as well as a chance to become immersed in the unique music style.

Members of the professional orchestra played a mini-concert for the students which featured the sounds of the Baroque era of Western classical music, from 1600-1750, on era-specific instruments.

The dated instruments are sometimes authentic and other times replicated, with the goal of recreating the exact sounds and playing styles of the past even if it means playing with strings made out of a sheep’s gut.

“What the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra does is it plays Baroque music in a Baroque way,” Heidi Zinke, Eastern Youth Orchestra board member said. “They’re playing the music in a way that it would have been played when the music was written and in a style that people would’ve made the music.”

The Eastern Youth Orchestra, which has three orchestras broken up into sub-groups based on skill level, took in the sights and sounds of the sneak-peak, where old instruments bellowed up tunes from yesteryear. Then they go an even more personalized experience.

After the short performance, Baroque musicians broke off into groups to bestow some knowledge during rehearsals with their younger counterparts, who have a Baroque concert upcoming themselves.

“It’s inspiring to hear them play and then work with them,” said Eastern Youth Orchestra conductor John O’Brien, who also is chairman of the department of keyboard studies at ECU. “That excitement is always a wonderful thing. They love what they hear. I know that because everyone is always so taken when they hear the music played in this way.”

While the trip to Greenville is a part of the orchestra’s tour around the state, coordinating the learning experience for the Eastern Youth Orchestra took a little more work.

O’Brien, who helped arrange the visit from the orchestra, said that a fellow professor at ECU — Dr. Amy Carr-Richardson — wrote a grant to get the orchestra to interact and teach the Eastern Youth Orchestra, which includes about 100 children, ranging in age 7 to 18 years.

For some, the experience was their first time hearing a live Baroque orchestra, which Zinke equated to going to a museum, because of its historical relevance.

“It gives new life to this music,” Zinke said.

Though the Eastern Youth Orchestra is an audition-based program, the advanced students still are not necessarily immersed in Baroque music during primary school.

Most colleges, however, offer graduate degrees in Baroque music, which has only gotten more relevant in recent years, according to O’Brien.

It does not just stop at the sound of the music, either. He said time-era specifics are taking the experience a step further.

“In recent years there have been enormous discoveries and advancements from when I was in school,” O’Brien said. “It’s becoming much more the norm for audiences to expect Baroque to be played by Baroque specialists on antique instruments. or more often on reproduction instruments.”

For the students, some of whom may become Baroque musicians themselves, the experience was more than just a learning opportunity.

“It’s a chance for them to set their sights higher on the music that they get to hear,” Zinke said. “It’s also a chance to hear authentic Baroque music.”

Eastern Youth Orchestra's interaction with the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra was funded by grant monies received from the Mildred Sheffield Wells Charitable Trust and the Pitt County Arts Council.

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.