Sharing and Celebrating Music at WHS in the Granite State Invitational Music Festival

January 16, 2015

by Jillian DiPersio, Windham High School Intern

The beauty of music is found in the expressive and collaborative nature of the art form.  Windham High School works continually to keep music alive and well, augmenting their efforts by hosting the 11th Annual Granite State Invitational Music Festival on Friday, Jan. 9.

Six high schools from around New Hampshire took part in the festival:  Belmont, Gilford, Goffstown, John Stark Regional, Raymond, and Windham high schools.  A group of students selected by director nomination was invited to participate in either the G.S.I.M.F. Chorus or Band.  Each group rehearsed all day with the festival culminating in a concert that night.

Windham High School was chosen to host the festival at last year’s G.S.I.M.F. “It’s the perfect size festival:  it’s not overwhelming, the school can still function as a school during the day, and at the same time, the music students are all contained in an area that’s not suffocating or cramped,” commented Jared Cassedy, director of Fine Arts K-12 for the Windham School District and director of WHS bands.  Although WHS has attended this festival for a few years, this was the first one they hosted.

The G.S.I.M.F. Chorus was directed by Dr. Chris Shepard, an internationally recognized conductor and keyboard continuist, founder of the Sydneian Bach Choir and Orchestra, director of the Dessoff Choirs in New York City and the Worcester Chorus in Worcester, Mass.  Dr. Shepard is also the conductor of the Great Waters Festival Choir of Wolfeboro.

WHS Choir Director Sheila Cuneo explained that Shepard offered the students a unique opportunity due to his extensive musical experience.  Shepard personally knows Amy F. Bernon, composer of a song performed by the chorus entitled “Sky Full of Snow.”  During rehearsal, Shepard called Bernon, put her on speakerphone, and had the chorus sing the song to her.  Bernon proceeded to give the chorus rehearsal notes over the phone call.

Professor Nicholas Orovich, professor of Music and chair of the Department of Music at the University of New Hampshire, conducted the G.S.I.M.F. Band.  Orovich is primarily a low brass teacher and trombone player and transitioned from a career as strictly a trombone performer in the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra to a professor at UNH, where he has been for 35 years.  Orovich explained to his group that he has not conducted an ensemble in the three years since he became chair of the Department of Music.

He described working with the ensemble as simply “wonderful.  It was fun.”  He explained that a festival such as the G.S.I.M.F. is unique because of “the time element.  This ensemble will never exist again as compromised today.  And it’s live and the performance is live, so it exists for a moment in time and then it’s gone except in everybody’s memory.”  Orovich portrayed the experience as what “some of us call ‘the sacrament of ensemble.’  I kind of like that, ‘cause you’re sharing the experience of making music together.”

Cassedy echoed Orovich’s passion for the communicative aspect of ensemble playing.  “What I love most about this festival is that you can put away your schoolbooks, you can put away your studying, you can put away worrying about the SATs, and college applications,” said Cassedy.  He continued, “This is what music truly is:  where you come together, you make music together, you share music, and you celebrate it with people that have a common understanding of what it is to make music and perform as well as respect the art form in itself.”

According to WHS sophomore and flute player Sarah Monahan, the festival was “a really different experience than the normal band rehearsals because you’re working with people who you don’t really know their strengths and weaknesses.”  Likewise, Monahan explained that Orovich “definitely brings a different approach to this than Mr. Cassedy.”

The high school students playing in the festival were not the only ones to obtain a unique musical experience.  Cuneo, who spends four days of the week teaching the third grade “Junior Jags” that have become part of the WHS community, brought her young musicians in to see the band and choir rehearsals.  “I thought it would be a great exposure for them, not only from the choral side but also the band side, for them to see an accomplished choir in a rehearsal setting,” said Cuneo.  Dr. Shepard even included the third graders and “made them feel like they were part of the group.  It was very cute,” added Cuneo.

With the cooperation of the Windham community and WHS faculty and staff, the G.S.I.M.F. “went off very, very well … I think that it was such a good experience that I could see us doing it again at some point,” said Cuneo.  Furthermore, Orovich concluded, “I hope that the people who are on stage with me today remember doing this, having done it, and remember it being a positive experience ‘cause that’s the way I’ll look at it.”