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Love for Dvorak's New World Symphony

I asked our orchestra members why they love to play Dvorak's New World Symphony, the featured piece on our November 6 program - some responses are below:

Chris Ten Eyck (Principal Trumpet):

The other day I tried to figure out when I joined the Wellesley Symphony (WSO), and it turns out I first substituted for the marvelous Franck Symphony in February 2005. I joined for the next season, which makes this my 17th full season. How time flies! One great thing about this orchestra is that we get to learn and perform a lot of music in not a lot of time as we sail through each season.

Our November concert will be the fourth time I've played Dvořák's "From the New World" with the WSO. Playing this music invites learning more about its creation and playing it more than once invites the discovery of ever more great moments. The history of this piece, and Dvořák's trip to America, inevitably leads to examining the central narrative for this symphony -- his incorporation of "Negro melodies." I do have to note that the idea of incorporating 'native' music has a tremendous amount of acculturation history which is well worth examining.

Some of the influences are obvious, such as the quote from the spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" first played by the flute in the first movement. I daresay for most listeners, the favorite moment is the wonderful English Horn solo in the second movement, a tune later coined as "Goin Home" by Dvořák student William Arms Fisher. For me, it's four measures near the very end of the first movement -- which took longer to uncover.

In rehearsing this piece several years ago (the 3rd time for me), with his knack for finding easily missed details, Max Hobart pushed the trumpets to blare out a very brief, four measure, syncopated unison figure near the very end of the first movement, heard at 12:25 in this performance Also note that a traditional fanfare rhythm just precedes it (also only in the trumpets - it's true, fanfares are our business, come to think of it!)

In earlier readings of this piece, this snippet didn't make any sense, but playing it at that rehearsal sure sounded like ragtime, a great example of which is Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag". Certainly, ragtime would have been a large part of the music scene in Dvořák's New York in the 1890s, when 'New World' was written. Such large works as this symphony can't help but be built upon the world at the time. In several recordings I sampled, this little section is barely audible - maybe it wouldn't be missed if it wasn't there. But how great a detail it has turned out to be for me.

Meagan Whelihan (Second Violin):

Here is my favorite memory regarding Dvorak's 9th symphony.

The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I toured Italy with NEC's Youth Symphony. I started dating a trombone player during the trip. We were playing the New World symphony during the tour. Every time the English horn played her solo, we would peek at each other -- because he was directly past her in my line of sight -- and we would wink or make funny faces. Ah, young love!

Kelly Farewell (Percussion):

I grew up in a suburb of New York City, and music was always part of our lives at home. I loved seeing how much joy music brought to both my parents and older siblings. Our field trips from elementary through high school were often to see Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, broadway shows, and the New York City ballet. I was blessed to have amazing music teachers and a family that fully supported our musical education. I always loved music, particularly Beethoven symphonies, but thoroughly fell in love with other orchestral music in my high school music literature class. I remember my teacher introducing us to Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World," why the composer wrote it, and the beautiful melodies within it. Whenever I hear it, particularly the "going home" section, I'm transported right back to that high school music classroom where I was absolutely mesmerized and energized. I couldn't get enough of it, particularly orchestral music of the romantic period. Although I've studied and played other types of music, my heart always longs to play orchestral music like this.

Pat Diamond (First Violin):

I joined WSO in 2000 when we moved to Massachusetts. WSO means many things to me: beautiful music, friendship, serving the community. I have played in WSO for 22 years.

There are many reasons that I love to play my violin. I love the sound, the way it physically feels to play it, and that it may be played alone or with others. It feels like a friend that is always part of your life. Over the years, my violin has represented different things to me, depending on the stage of life I am in.

The reason I enjoy practicing is because it provides me with a sense of accomplishment. I may not always be able to play everything perfectly, but I always improve.

WSO rehearsals are my favorite part of playing my violin. Rehearsals provide a routine, provide a highlight activity to my week, and are the most enjoyable, relaxing aspect of playing violin for me.

All my life, my conductors were more knowledgeable than I am in music performance and music history. I enjoy hearing them discuss those aspects of music. It is a comforting feeling to me. I like to play my violin in concerts, but I am usually nervous. I do not want to make a big mistake and ruin everything. The best part of performing in concerts is looking at the audience. My goal is to make audience members feel happy and relaxed for the two hours they spend with us.

Dvorak’s 9th Symphony is a beautiful piece. The spot that is special to me is the English horn solo after the introduction of movement two. When I taught elementary general music, I put the poem “Who Has Seen the Wind?”, stanza two, by Christina Rossetti, together with Dvorak’s movement two, musical theme. If you know the theme, give it a try!

“Who Has Seen the Wind?”

By Christina Rossetti

Who has seen the wind - -?

Neither you nor I:

But when the trees bow down their heads,

The wind is passing by.

(I cannot guarantee this is an original idea, but I never heard the poem and music combined this way before.)


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