The Blog @
Southern Virginia University

Posts with the tag: Music

  1. Debussy, Holst, Mozart and Final Fantasy

    May 26, 2015

    Last semester the Southern Virginia University Orchestra joined with a 50-voice women’s choir and with Sweet Briar College’s Chamber Orchestra for two concerts.

    This was a great experience for me — as a member of the orchestra, as a graduating senior and as someone who has watched the orchestra grow over the years. I was in the audience for the Orchestra’s first concert ever, in the fall of 2000. At that point it was a strings-only group that fit on the original stage in Chandler Hall. It’s three times that size now, and the addition of Sweet Briar musicians added a depth and dimension of sound that our group couldn’t get alone.

    This collaboration took root when Orchestra Director Mark Taylor and SBC’s Dr. Josh Harris met at church last fall. They talked about the challenges of staffing orchestras at small colleges, and they swapped ideas of orchestral repertoire they’d like to conduct if their ensembles were bigger. As it happened, they both wanted to perform Debussy’s Tres Nocturnes, which calls for not only a large orchestra but a women’s choir. The result was the collaboration of nearly a hundred musicians.

    Professor Taylor already tends to program challenging music, but this concert called for more stretch than usual. Khachaturian’s violin concerto pushed our expressive abilities, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” overture challenged us to play with finesse, Holst’s “Jupiter” was full of technical trouble-spots, and Debussy’s Tres Nocturnes divides into so many individual lines of music that playing it was something like unraveling a tangled ball of yarn. We also performed Rachmaninoff’s haunting “Vocalise” — which featured Audra Bertagnole as a soprano soloist — and an orchestral arrangement of music from the video game “Final Fantasy VII.”

    This particular concert was something akin to senior night for the orchestra. Shout out to orchestra members Tiffany Huch, Laura Schow, Kevin Prince, Patrick Summers, Sam Porter and myself, all who graduated! The week after our performance in Chandler Hall, we drove to Sweet Briar to perform on their campus as well, where Dr. Harris presented each of his seniors with a red rose, a nod to their college motto: “She who has earned the rose may bear it.”

    Special thanks are due to Dr. Clayne Robison, who has helped conduct rehearsals and performances for the past two years, and to Patrick Summers and Josh Kohl, who helped with conducting and logistical work this semester.

    It was kind of thrilling to play so many pieces that our orchestra couldn’t have done alone. It meant spending nearly twice the time preparing as we normally would, but all the practicing, the late night-rehearsals, the juggling chairs and music stands and practicing again were worth it in the end.

    (Post by Stephen Taylor ’15. Photos by Eva Sorensen ’18.)

  2. Graduate Creates New Arrangement of ‘Praise to the Man’

    May 20, 2015

    The Concert Chorale recently had the opportunity to perform an arrangement of the hymn, “Praise to the Man,” which blended the fast-paced, jubilant melody sung today with the original dirge written in honor of the life and death of the Latter-day Saint Prophet Joseph Smith. The piece was arranged by Glenn Williams, who received his degree in philosophy this month. Williams, who is currently staying in Buena Vista to play Inspector Barnes in the upcoming summer musical, “Bells Are Ringing,” hopes to go on to graduate school and to someday teach art history and cultural anthropology.

    “I could never have arranged that piece if it wasn’t for Southern Virginia,” said Williams. “Nowhere else would I have had the confidence to write something like that, let alone believe that it would be performed and recorded. … And my only hope with it is to share my testimony of Joseph Smith and help others feel something. If I touch one person, or help them, then I have done my job.”

    The piece was originally performed as part of the spring choral concert. For more information about and photos of the concert, check out the blog post.

    (Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Video by John Worthington ’13.)

  3. Spring Choral Concert

    May 4, 2015

    The Flute Choir, Bella Voce and Concert Chorale ended their performance seasons with a beautiful and perhaps unusual combined concert. Both the Flute Choir and Bella Voce performed a variety of spiritual, sacred, American folk and romantic music. Concert Chorale offered less variety but more depth than usual, as they performed a new arrangement of the Latter-day Saint hymn “Praise to the Man,” along with Faure’s “Requiem.”

    The requiem especially took this concert deep into what the Old Testament calls “the valley of the shadow of death.” This concert was more reserved, more reverent, more somber than usual. Ultimately, the reserve and the depth of the requiem led to a greater feeling of triumph. That alone made this performance meaningful to me. I hope that others, both in the audience and on the stage, got to feel what I felt.


    (Post by Stephen Taylor ’15. Photos by Jordan Wunderlich ’16.)

  4. Flute Choir Finale

    May 1, 2015

    The Southern Virginia University Flute Choir performed its “Finale Concert” this semester.

    Begun in 2005 by Professor Launa Whitehead, the flute choir has been a fixture at Southern Virginia for ten years. It’s always remained a quaint ensemble of piccolo, alto, bass and C flutes, never including more than ten members. Whitehead said that she hoped the presence of a flute choir provided Southern Virginia with “the opportunity to appreciate small ensembles.”

    “I know that large ensembles are very important to a university, and there’s excellence in there, but I think in some ways that [the flute choir has] shined a bit of a light on excellence in small ensembles,” she said.

    And though the choir certainly has left its mark on the university, it has particularly done so on the students involved. Christina Seegmiller, Southern Virginia’s events and operations coordinator, first became involved in the flute choir in 2007 and has been playing the flute since the sixth grade.

    Whitehead said that as she prepared for the final concert, she “picked pieces that would show [the ensemble] at [its] best.” She chose a number of diverse pieces, including Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides Overture” and Burnette’s “Three Crotchety Cats,” which was narrated by Dr. Clayne Robison. Seegmiller listed “Hebrides” as her favorite piece.

    “I’ve done it before with Launa [Whitehead],” Seegmiller said. “I was actually the one who pushed her to do it this year. I love the musicality of that piece, the pianos the fortes, the strength that it has just with flutes. It shows [everything] that flutes can do.”

    Whitehead discussed her desire to not only show off the choir at its best, but also to please the audience. At her husband’s advice, she said she tries “to play at least one number that everyone will know and can go out whistling.”

    With decades of experience, Whitehead has taught at Dixie State University in St. George and has performed with the Southwest Symphony Orchestra as part of the Temple Square Concert Series and with the Rockbridge Symphony, among others. Despite her extensive experience, she said that working at Southern Virginia has been exceptional.

    “It’s the caliber of students, the caliber of the kind of people they are,” Whitehead said. “It’s the wanting, the desire for excellence, and wanting to do their best that really has been a main factor [of my enjoyment here].”

    And, according to Seegmiller, Whitehead has proven herself to be a professor of high caliber.

    “She’s amazing, she’s wonderful – she’s a great friend to all the girls,” said Seegmiller. “She’s always willing to help you through whatever you’re going through. She always has advice on guys, and she’s always curious about what’s going on in your lives. She’s not just a teacher. She’s a friend.”

    Ultimately, it seems that the flute choir’s legacy is not only one of outstanding musicianship and dedication but one of comradery and friendship. Small ensembles, intimate friendships, great experiences. It’s the genius of small.

    (Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Photos by Eva Sorensen ’18.)

  5. Opera Gems

    April 27, 2015


    In an unusually busy semester for fine and performing arts events, the Puccini Opera Gems made a distinguished splash. These two nights of performances were well-executed, expressive, fun, heart-rending and accessible to opera-veterans and newcomers alike.

    Speaking of veterans and newcomers, the Opera Gems cast featured a few obvious veterans, but it was also refreshing to see several new faces in the La bohème men’s ensemble and among the sisters in Suor Angelica. Regardless of any differences in experience, the cast performed with polish and musical cohesion.

    All music was performed in English translation, rather than in Puccini’s original Italian. Having the music sung in the vernacular really opened some audience doors and helped link the narrative to the music. For example, no one in the audience had any question what was going on in the finale to Suor Angelica, and what would have been emotional in any language became overwhelming. Adjunct Instructor of Music Taerra Pence—who was once a student performer on the same stage—gave an especially memorable performance as the title character, sister Angelica.

    Senior Audra Bertagnole staged both productions, and Dr. Clayne Robison directed them. These performances were particularly meaningful because they were the last to be directed by Robison, who, with his wife Viven, just completed his fifth year as a volunteer member of the Southern Virginia faculty. The quality of these opera performances are a witness to their work and service.

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