Indiana University quartet helps teach Danville music students
DANVILLE — Danville High School strings students got some help preparing for their upcoming fall concert from an award-winning musical ensemble from Indiana University.
The Wasmuth String Quartet, the student-in-resident string quartet at the IU Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, performed and held master classes for strings students at the high school and North Ridge Middle School on Wednesday and Thursday.
That's just the first part of the quartet's visit to Danville. It will return in February or March to perform for elementary school students and give two concerts — one for the public, and another for Danville Symphony Orchestra patrons.
The entire visit is being sponsored by Danville business owners Lou and Sybil Mervis. The couple, longtime supporters of education and the arts, wanted to expose students to orchestral music, spark their interest in playing an instrument and encourage current students in their musical endeavors.
"This has been an amazing opportunity for the kids to have professional musicians come in and perform for them, and then offer their perspective on how they can improve their technique," high school orchestra instructor Andrea Tarquini said. "It's also been great for me. I feel like I've gotten my own little clinic and the opportunity to learn new things thanks to the Mervises."
The Wasmuth String Quartet is made up of violinists Brendan Shea and Jonathan Ong, violist Abigail Rojansky and cellist Warren Hagerty, all IU graduate students with extensive solo performance experience. Shea is working on his doctorate.
The quartet formed earlier this year after participating in a seminar in Bonn, Germany, that combined scholarly research and intensive coaching, according to the university's Inside IU publication. All of the members were hand-picked by the music school of music.
Since forming, the quartet has performed in a master class with world-reknown cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble and has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington as part of the Conservatory Project, among other events.
Staci Disney-Walker, the Danville Symphony Orchestra's executive director, said she, orchestra conductor Jeremy Swerling and the Mervises are all IU graduates, and the couple, who still have strong ties to the university, were able to bring the group to Danville.
Early Thursday afternoon, the musicians sat in the high school's orchestra room listening to Tarquini's symphony students, all of whom auditioned for the class, practice three pieces they will play at their school concert on Tuesday — the theme from "The Godfather," Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," and Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G Minor. After assessing the performance, they worked with instrument sections in break-out sessions.
Senior Anna Lerner, a double bass player at school and with the Danville Symphony Orchestra, said she appreciated the advice from Hagerty, who worked with her on one of the songs.
"He suggested I attack the notes and then let up instead of attacking them all to give it more character," she said. "It really helped us clean it up."
Junior Isaiah Sollars said Ong showed him and other violinists how to better place their bow. It not only improved their tone quality, "it also made it easier to prepare for the next note," Sollars said.
Afterward, the quartet members and students came together to play all three pieces.
"That was awesome!" Tarquini cheered, as the final notes of the Grieg piece faded away. "The timing was great."
“They're not only amazing musicians,” she continued later. “They all have such great personalities, and you can see how they complement each other so well. And they related so well with the kids. Outside of our local symphony, this was an opportunity for kids in Danville to really see what musicians can do and how far they can take their music.”
Quartet members said this is the first time they, as a group, have worked with students. Based on the experience, they are eager to return to Danville in a few months to see how far these students have come.
"It's been really wonderful to see how excited the students are playing an instrument," Rojansky said. "I asked a few of the younger students, in seventh and eighth grade, if they want to continue playing, and they all said 'yes' with enthusiasm. They already have the passion, and it's great to see they're also getting the support of the community. That's how you go far."
The public can see performances by all of the Danville High's instrumental bands and choirs at the fall concert, at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Dick Van Dyke Auditorium, 202 E. Fairchild St.