Students perform music with social bent

  • Composer Alex Shapiro speaks in a FaceTime session with John Stark music teacher Dan Williams and his students. Courtesy of JSRHS

Monitor staff
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Music teachers at John Stark Regional High School have planned a spring concert around its “connect” competency as part of its social and cultural curriculum called “Through the Artist’s Lens.” The concert will be held Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the school cafeteria.

The first half of the performance will feature the band playing music written by women and the chorus will sing about issues such as mental illness, body image and friendship. The second half will feature audition-only ensembles performing an eclectic mix of modern music in multiple genres.

The band will focus on pieces written by female composers.

“We decided to focus on all female composers after realizing that almost all the music we’ve ever played has been by male composers,” said Dan Williams. “This is just one more profession where women aren’t very well represented.” After doing some digging, he managed to find a short list of female band composers who are rather prolific.

The band’s set includes “Paper Cut” by Alex Shapiro, “An American Celebration” by Anne McGinty, “What’s Your Story Morning Glory?” by Mary Lou Williams and “Warrior Legacy” by Soon Hee Newbold.

Senior Julia Meisser is being featured with band, as she’s playing the improvised flute solo in “What’s Your Story Morning Glory?” along with freshman Nathan Chasse on piano.

In addition, two senior girls from Henniker – Elizabeth Poehlman and McKinley Smith – are playing a movement from a suite for violin and piano written by Henniker’s own Amy Beach, Williams said.

“Beach is one of the composers who frequently comes up when you search for ‘top female composers’ and we wanted to showcase her music because of the local connection to our theme,” Williams said.

As a part of the rehearsing, students had a video chat with Alex Shapiro; they will be performing her composition, “Paper Cut.” They performed for her, got feedback and were able to question her on technical aspects of the piece. “Paper Cut” is a unique work, which involves manipulation of sheets of paper as well as instrument playing with the use of blacklight effects. Williams said the class discussed the importance of recycling, which is especially important when you’re doing a piece where each band member goes through four sheets of 8½-inch by 11-inch paper for one performance.

The class was also able to discuss with her what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated field.

Williams said that Shapiro stressed the importance of networking.

“You can stay in your home studio and create lots of great music by yourself using today’s technology, but unless you share it with other people, you’re not really involved in the field of music was something she told us,” Williams said. She stressed the importance of these things no matter what your passion or your field of interest is. “For her, it’s all about connecting with other people. I think that’s one of the reasons she offers to video conference with school groups that are performing her pieces.”

The chorus is focusing their performance on songs that related to mental illness, individuality, friendship and body image struggles. Songs include “This is Me,” “You Will Be Found,” “Scars to Your Beautiful,” “Count on Me,” and “You’re Not Alone.”

Their last piece was composed and arranged by Meisser who participates in both chorus and band, Williams said. She wrote the piece in response to the chorus’ goal of singing a song that addresses issues of mental illness. After having difficulty finding a relevant song available for a chorus, Meisser decided to solve the problem by writing an original song that addressed this issue.

Featured soloists for the chorus repertoire are Meisser, Sydney Talbert, Victoria Bulcock, Abigail Burke, Tabatha Garkow, Alyssa Sargent and Jillian LaBrecque.

Tickets are by a suggested donation of $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors.