Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with Daniel Southerland, conductor of the Urbana Pops Orchestra. In the Jan. 15 newspaper, a visit with dance teacher Kate Kuper.
Q: What brings you to Champaign on this snowy day?
A: The Community Foundation of East Central Illinois gave the Urbana Pops Orchestra a $5,000 grant. I came over to work on the details of using the money to purchase music folders and to probably double the size of our music library.
Orchestral music is expensive. It's kind of fun when somebody gives you $5,000 and says, "Go spend this."
Q: Do you have a job outside of being principal conductor of the Urbana Pops Orchestra?
A: Yes, I work for an outsourcing firm in Decatur. They handle different business solutions for clients. It's not a musical job, but it pays well.
Q: How's the Urbana Pops Orchestra doing?
A: It's doing well. We just finished our holiday concert. We did it at Grace United Methodist Church. It was interesting. It was our first brass concert, so there were 25 brass players — and we rattled the windows. It was a very big sound. It was sort of a defining sound for the Urbana Pops.
Q: I heard there was a piece for tuba and harp.
A: Yes, for Doug Olenik, or principal tuba, and Katherine Denler, our principal harpist. She performed Bach's Prelude in B-flat minor from his "Well-Tempered Clavier," which Doug had transcribed for harp from piano, while Doug played "Ave Maria" by Gounod over it. It was neat because you rarely hear tuba and harp together.
It was probably the performance of the evening. It just captivated everyone. It was one of those landmark pieces for pops players. It was out there. And Doug and Katherine are such beautiful players.
Q: What's in store for the Urbana Pops for 2012?
A: We just announced our summer season. We're doing a "Magic" concert in June, and we'll reprise our American composers "Made in the U.S.A." concert in July at Lincoln Square Village. Something we're venturing into is getting local composers to write original pieces for the concerts at Lincoln Square.
In our first season, we commissioned a piece from a film-score composer in Los Angeles who's a good friend of mine, and last year we commissioned Benjamin Montalbano, who studies composition at the University of Illinois. He's also a piano player.
We're looking at different talent from the area, especially at Illinois. We'd like to give young composers a chance to have their music played.
Q: You also compose music. What kind?
A: Mostly orchestral. I went through a wind-band phase in college but kind of moved away from that. I think there are fewer role models now in the wind-band repertoire. I think it's become more commercial. I think the orchestral repertoire is a little more rich and time-honored. There were no Mahlers or Tchaikovskys writing for wind-band — the guys we hold onto as our own in the orchestral world. That's certainly no sting against wind-band music. There's some great wind-band music.
Q: How did you get into conducting?
A: I wanted to teach music at the high school level. To be a school band director, you're required to conduct. I think going into college, I had this naive, narrow-minded view of what a conductor is. It wasn't until I was a junior in college that I was asked to conduct the Decatur Youth Symphony Orchestra.
I found it was a lot different, conducting an orchestra, than a band program. It's less about what you do with your arms and more about what you know about the music. In the Urbana Pops Orchestra, there are hundreds of years of combined experience.
As a conductor, it's about intimately knowing the music and the people you're making the music with.