WKU Symphony presents surprises at first concert of the year

Dr. Brian St. John conducts the WKU Symphony at their Fall Concert at Van Meter Hall on Sept. 25, 2020. St. John, in discussion afterwards, said he told the performers that they should aim to play with the kind of sound they would want to hear if they were in the audience.

Gabrielle Bunton

WKU Symphony hosted its first concert of the semester Friday in Van Meter Hall that included a world premiere of a new piece.

Dr. Brian St. John, an endowed associate professor in music, said a highlight of the concert was the premiere piece, a double concerto written for the mandola and the mandolin. St. John both created the piece and played the mandola part in the concerto, and a guest artist from Colorado, Steve Mullins, played the mandolin.

During rehearsals, St. John and the symphony discussed that they are probably the only orchestra in the world who will perform a double concerto written for those instruments. 

“It will truly be a unique experience for the audience and orchestra,” St. John said before the performance.

The piece also provided a number of firsts for graduate student Kristen Hicks. This was her first time conducting a concerto piece, this specific type of piece and a world premiere piece. 

“It’s definitely been something new that I’ve gotten to learn and I really appreciate that,” Hicks said. “There is a healthy dose of nerves with performing and being in front of everyone, but overall it’s been a really great experience.”

Hicks is familiar with conducting with her job as a graduate assistant to the orchestra where she conducts one to two pieces every concert.

Social distancing guidelines during the concert has provided Hicks with some challenges. 

“I’m farther away from the orchestra and I also have to wear a mask,” Hicks said. “The orchestra looks at the conductor to give them cues to play and how to play what they are playing. I try to work hard to give the expressions with my eyes and the rest of my body since my face will be covered by the mask.”

The music department discussed how to best utilize their space for rehearsals and concerts. They had smaller groups of students in at one time and then taking more breaks to let air in the room. 

“The students with health concerns were on the top of our minds and picking the music that the students would perform,” St. John said. 

The department also limited the amount of musicians who played with no more than 35 musicians on stage at a time compared to the normal 70 to 75. 

“The orchestra is assigned different pieces so that they can come and go for rehearsal and from the concert,” St. John said. “That is our way to address social distancing. We also rehearse and perform wearing masks.”

Throughout the concert, St. John introduced and explained each song selection for those who tuned into the live stream on Facebook and Youtube.

Despite the challenging conditions, St. John still relies on the love of music to bring everyone together. 

“One of the great things about an orchestra is about all the teamwork, and the spirit of teamwork is in play when we are trying to keep each other healthy,” St. John said. 

Hicks said with the experience brought by the pandemic, she learned that it’s more than just making sure they get things right but checking on everyone and making sure people are okay.

“During the pandemic and during the rehearsals, I really see how important it is to put the relationships of the people you are making music with above the performance of the music itself,” Hicks said. 

Gabrielle Bunton can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @gabriellebunton.