“You are all artists,” says teacher Nick Kadjaski to his jazz students. “Visual Artists use a palate of a mix of colors. Musicians make use of sound and silence from their palate to make music emotional and relevant for the listener.” Those in attendance at the Winter Instrumental Concert heard first hand the artistry that Mr. Kadjaski inspires in his students.
Students study instrumental music along two tracks - jazz and classical. The Winter Concert features groups from both tracks and is the first part of a year-long series of concerts. The first semester performance is kind of a race – so much has to happen to get ready for the first concert. In the second, they will be looking for the group to gel more and become tighter, so they can make music that is a little more challenging and has more depth.
One of two new ensembles this year, the Jazz Lab is a small group of students designed to feed into the Jazz Ensemble. The Jazz Lab is an introduction to playing jazz and students learn the basic elements like how to swing and what a funk groove is.
Much attention is paid to improvisation. Students experiment with how to play scales over certain keys and how the rhythm and horns sections need to interact with each other to create a unified sound. In the Winter Concert, the Jazz Lab played tunes by Miles Davis, Joe Zelanol and Charlie Parker.
Also new this year, the Wind Ensemble is the second-level group in the classical track and is the introduction to concert band. The Wind Ensemble has been working on creating balance between sections and working together. The group spent much of the first semester focusing on how a section “speaks” more clearly by emphasizing rhythm and intonation. In the concert, the ensemble played an arrangement of Amazing Grace and piece called Counterbalance.
The top tier group along the jazz track, the Jazz Ensemble, has had the busiest semester. Along with rehearsing for the winter concert, the 19 students in the group are preparing to travel to Boston to an adjudicated competition in April. The group’s work has focused on reading time signatures and how to decipher between Latin versus swing and swing vs funk.
The Jazz Ensemble played several pieces including, “My Favorite Things,” “The Chicken” and “Night in Tunisia.”
Two string ensembles, under the direction of music teacher Yvonne Hicks, also performed at the Winter Instrumental Concert. Concert Strings, the second-tier string ensemble, is small and intimate, and prepares students for the larger, top-tier Chamber Strings ensemble.
While the experience and skills varies between the two groups, Ms. Hicks takes a similar approach to their work. “I treat them like fellow musicians. I treat them like professional colleagues and talk to them that way. Then they understand my expectations and live up to them.”
That the approach is working was obvious from the outstanding performances in the Winter Concert. Both groups played a variety of pieces from different time periods, incorporating different styles and tempos and arranged in major and minor keys. Ms. Hicks is trying to expose them as much as possible to original music, rather than recent arrangements of pieces.
Notably, Chamber Strings played “Ancient Aires and Dances,” which shows strings at their absolute best. For the first time at GCS two violins were featured on, “Queen of Sheba” by Handel, and “Ava verum corpus” by Mozart, which is usually sung, was played on strings because that’s what strings do so well – sing.
The music department is considering creating a string quartet (advanced chamber strings) next year. “We have very high expectations, and I want to keep creating opportunities for students to look in the mirror and say, ‘Wow. Look what I’ve accomplished. Look what we’ve accomplished as an ensemble,” said Ms. Hicks.
Across all of the instrumental music ensembles, faculty are teaching technical skills while emphasizing artistic expression. Students are instructed to first figure out what they want to say with a piece, and second, use the tools they have - dynamics and articulation – to say it. “If you approach music as you would poetry or painting,” says Mr. Kadjaski, “It has the potential and ability to move people in ways that other mediums don’t.”