The Blog @
Southern Virginia University
  1. 2014 Christmas Concert

    December 15, 2014

    Who doesn’t like Christmas music? Even King Herod listens to it. It was certainly a pleasure to participate last weekend in a concert devoted to Christmas music.

    The program brought a wide breadth of feelings, ranging from solemn, reverent and even worshipful to casual easy-going and fun. For example, Bella Voce sang about their monomaniac need for figgy pudding. Before playing Handel’s Messiah, members of the orchestra donned beards and elf-hats, and did other things so ridiculous as to make their description indescriptionable.

    The concert featured several great soloists. In my book Jennifer Woodruff earns the heavenly-happening award for tastefully sung recitatives. Josh Adams owned “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with his tuba solo. There were also several other vocal solos in both Bella Voce and Concert Chorale, as well as short lines for trumpet, violin and even snare drum.

    Possibly the most powerful part of the concert was when the audience stood for the duration of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. It’s an old tradition. It’s a joyful one. It brought something living to the performance that I’ve never felt listening to a recording of Messiah. Three cheers for Christmas music, and for what it’s about.

    (Post by Stephen Taylor ’15. Photos by Bronwyn Himes ’17.)

  2. Photos: A Celebration of Christmas

    December 12, 2014

    Last Friday, as on any other, hundreds of week-weary people flocked to the Stoddard Activities Center at 11 a.m. However, there were two key differences between last Friday and the 14 other Fridays this semester: Last Friday was the last day of classes for the Fall 2014 semester, and those shepherding themselves into the Stoddard Activities Center were in for a special treat: A Celebration of Christmas.

    Instead of a forum or devotional, we were graced with a number of diverse and entertaining musical numbers that varied from the hilarious to the holy. I was able to perform “The Little Drummer Boy” with the Concert Chorale before taking my seat among the crowd and sitting back for nearly an hour of wonderful Christmas music.

    Alex Marcum’s rendition of “Surabaya Santa” from “Songs for a New World” was perhaps my favorite of the numbers. Performed with such spunk and vivacity (and with a whole lot of talent, which is always great), the piece was absolutely hilarious and beautiful at the same time.

    It was also great to hear from the members of Southern Virginia’s new jazz class and hear the vocalists take on an entirely new genre of music, and it was even more splendid to hear some musicians showcase talents they hadn’t had the opportunity to before.

    (Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Photos by Jordan Wunderlich ’16.)

  3. Jazz at Southern Virginia

    December 9, 2014

    This fall marked the reinstitution of a band class at Southern Virginia. Jazz Ensemble, led by Professor Scott Dransfield with the help of student Patrick Summers, is the first band class available here in several semesters.

    Patrick Summers, a music major and a transfer student from Victor Valley Community College, sat down with me to discuss the importance of a jazz class here as well as the importance of offering musicians as many opportunities as possible to develop their talents. Patrick joined his school’s band when he was 12 “after two failed attempts at music in elementary school” and chose the saxophone “because Bill Clinton played the saxophone.”

    After this launch into the realm of musicianship, Patrick continued to delve deeper, later attending Victor Valley where he was taught by a professor who was a street-trained musician and who taught him “how to do jazz from a live or die standpoint.” With this new perspective and training, Patrick played professionally for years, including performances on the Discovery Channel, at Anaheim House of Blues in Disneyland, and at the jazz club Hip Kitty in Claremont. Now, Patrick helps lead the class alongside Professor Scott Dransfield, a jazz guitarist (and an awesome one at that, in my humble opinion).

    But why the sudden reemergence of saxophones on the Southern Virginia campus? (Aside from the obvious, of course, which is because “all [the students’] wildest dreams will come true,” according to Patrick’s estimation.)

    Last semester, Patrick submitted proposals about offering a jazz class to the Provost and several faculty members. He already had the full support of Dr. La Rae Carter, music program coordinator.

    “Dr. Carter and I both agree that because of jazz and our performance and experience in it, we’re both better musicians,” he said.

    With the support of Dr. Carter, the class was soon open for registration, and not without excitement. The jazz class is enabling students, both instrumentalists and vocalists, to flex their musical muscles. Students in the class begin by learning about the history of jazz, from 1880 to modern jazz, and then work to play and sing in those styles while also working on scales, modes, and forms of jazz improvisation. Last Friday, they showcased their skills in a performance of Christmas music for the entire school in a special Celebration of Christmas.

    Not only is this an opportunity for student musicians here to embrace what they love, but it’s an opportunity for growth and development in a field that has an enormous influence on our society. This is one of the focuses of the class.

    “I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on going into the world to be examples of the believers in professional settings,” Patrick said. “We need more capable individuals to be a positive influence outside the church. [The] prophets are saying ‘hastening the work,’ [but] that won’t happen if we stay inside the chapel.”

    I asked Patrick what it is he thinks makes classes like this possible at Southern Virginia.

    “Since the university is liberal arts, and it is a small-scale university with high-quality education, it really does provide opportunity to be innovators, contributors, and creators,” he said.

    As a student myself, hearing about classes like Jazz Ensemble and the motivations behind offering them makes me all the more glad that I’ve chosen to attend this university. One of the primary reasons I love Southern Virginia is its size. Not because I’m shy or socially awkward, but because I believe in the genius of small. I believe the genius of small breeds opportunities for students and faculty alike that would not be so readily available at a larger university. The institution of this jazz class is just one example of the university doing all it can to propel students forward in whatever field they chose so that they may use their talents to benefit the world at large — so we may innovate, contribute, and create.

    (Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Photos by Jordan Wunderlich ’16.)

  4. Composition Concert: ‘Traversing the Fog’ with ‘Mysterious Mika (and His Goat)’

    December 9, 2014

    As a music major who emphasizes in composition, it’s not often that I get to sit back and enjoy a performance from the audience’s side. But listening to the masterpieces of so many of my classmates at last week’s composition concert, I admit, it’s nice to kick back and soak in the symphonic splendor sometimes.

    However, I was thoroughly surprised when Mark Milberger, our professor of music composition, revealed that most of the students who showcased their pieces were not music majors at all. I guess that’s just another perk of the genius of small; you can get your hands in to so many disciplines of your choosing, even if they’re outside your major (the best being musical mischief, of course). In fact, that’s one of the things that sold me on Southern Virginia way back when in me olde youth.

    From “Traversing the Fog,” a la Morgan Blackwelder, to meandering with Tiffany Huch and “Mysterious Mika (and his Goat),” to the equally mysterious “E 5” by Sarah Holgerson, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the creative concoctions of my peers and the fabulously important volunteer musicians.

    In fact, I think I’ll go write a song about it right now!

    (Post and Photos by Delaney Taylor ’15.)

  5. Piano Recital

    December 8, 2014

    A few days ago, a friend suggested that I read a famous speech about music delivered by Karl Paulnack at the Boston Conservatory in 2004. In it, he argues that music is a sort of therapy or chiropractic for the soul. “Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us.”

    I read this just before attending the piano recital the other night and it kindled a far profounder appreciation for what I was to hear. Lucy Taylor, Eva Sorensen, Megan Reynolds, William Taylor, and Patrick Summers — all of whom I consider good friends — played and their performances were excellent. After all the challenges of a semester, the pieces they had perfected served as the ideal antidote to the stress within myself, the contrasting interplay between dissonance and consonance kneading the emotions of the soul back into harmony.

    My favorite piece was one by Brahms. The music was sometimes serene, sometimes anguished, sometimes a serene anguish that seems manifestly contradictory when I put it into words, but which Brahms managed to communicate perfectly at Reynolds’ fingertips. As Paulnack puts it: “Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.”

    We could hardly recover from one piece before another had enthralled us. When Taylor approached the piano, I wondered if whatever he played could surpass the artistic taste of his bowtie, but his domination of the keyboard quickly put the bowtie to shame. He began playing a work by Sibelius calmly, but I was quickly shocked out of my reveries by a sudden shout of dissonance that receded intermittently into calm melodies that continued between crashing cacophonies and free-falling plummets.

    Before beginning one of the last performances, Summers explained that it was a composition of his own. It was called “The Wild Huntsman” and consisted of three movements based on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Patrick did not begin with any pretense of tranquility. His fingers flashed over the keys. I’ve never encountered a better retelling of that story — with all its unsettling emotion — than Patrick’s composition.

    I left the recital content and self-aware. The music did its work. I felt as if I’d been relieved of a burden; as if my soul really had been brought back into better harmony. I love the musical performances at the end of the semester and I’m grateful for all the practice and preparation of my friends who performed.

    (Post by Alec Johnson ’14.)