Orchestrating Instrumental Music at The Academy

Albert Niu `23 interviews Director of Instrumental Music, Barbara Friend

Albert Niu, Editor

In a corner of Govs stands the Wilkie Building, the home of young artists (and slightly more aged ones, too). Walking to morning meetings, attending the theater tech program, or just chilling on the couches on the second floor, one can always appreciate the (hopefully) melodious music floating out from practice rooms and into the corridors, be they vocal or instrumental. It is an honor to invite Ms. Barbara Friend, the Director of Instrumental Music, to introduce Govs’ incredible instrumental music program.

Albert Niu: Hello Ms. Friend! Would you please briefly describe the Govs instrumental music programs? What are they? How many people are in them? When are the rehearsals? When are the performances?

Barbara Friend: We have two large ensembles, the Academy Orchestra and the Jazz Band. There are about 36 members in the orchestra and 20 in the jazz band. During a typical year, the groups meet twice a week during the PA block. There are two large ensemble concerts during the academic year, one in December and one in May. We also have small ensembles that meet once a week either after dinner or during a free block: brass ensemble, percussion ensemble, string ensemble, classical trios and quartets, and jazz combo.

AN: What three words would you use to describe our music programs?

BF: Inclusive, student-centered, engaging.

AN: What kind of music are the groups doing? Why do we choose these kinds of music? 

BF: I always ask for feedback from the students to see what music they would be interested in working on. It is important to make sure that different styles, genres, and composers are represented. Currently the orchestra is learning Bacchanale by Saint Saens. This is a real challenge, but the students really wanted to work on it. The jazz band is currently working on Out of the Doghouse which is a brisk shuffle chart by Erik Morales. The woodwind quartet worked with composer Toshi Nagata on his Sonatine for Woodwind Quartet this year which was a great experience. From the feedback I hear from students, it seems that the members of the orchestra and chamber groups prefer classical music. There are quite a few who enjoy the movie themes as well.

AN: How is the environment and atmosphere in the music programs? 

BF: I think that our rehearsals have a positive and supportive feel to them. All are welcome to be in the orchestra or jazz band regardless of past experience or ability, and members of the groups are kind and helpful. We focus on the team and community approach where students are working together toward a common goal. The conductor simply serves as a facilitator and guides the students to help them experience the joy of making music together.

AN: How does COVID -19 impact our music programs? How do we cope with it?

BF: This has been a very challenging year for ensembles. Academic classes could continue successfully on Zoom, but there really is no substitute for in-person rehearsals. We met twice a week online to discuss the music and players submitted recordings in Google Classroom for peer and teacher feedback. I am proud of the players for working individually to learn and record their parts for the winter concert. The thing that everyone was missing was the joy of making music TOGETHER. 

AN: Is there a performance that was specifically memorable to you? Why?

BF: One performance that was especially memorable was last year’s Winter Concert. Opening the program with a combined performance with the choirs of the piece by John Williams, Dry Your Tears, Afrika, was just beautiful. The orchestra performed Folk Dances by Shostakovich, which was a piece they never thought they would be able to perform. It was really exciting. 

AN: What is your vision of the music groups a year from now?

BF: Well, my hope is that students will continue to develop a lifelong love of music and performing. We have experienced some really magical moments in rehearsals and performances on the Bergmann stage, and I hope the magic will continue. Making music with the music students at Govs is truly one of the greatest joys in my life. I am so fortunate to have been able to work with these amazing young musicians.

AN: Thank you so much, Ms.Friend! It has been a pleasure. I’m sure Govs students have learned more about our awesome music program.

BF: No problem!