VICENZA, Italy - As the academic year drew to a close, Vicenza Middle and High School instrumentalists and singers pulled out all the stops in year-end performances highlighting their musical accomplishments.

The middle school choir and band, under the direction of music teacher Eldon Kirkhum, performed May 15 to an audience of more than 200. The choir led the way, singing pieces that ranged from Tomas Luis de Victoria's high Renaissance Mirabile Mysterium to Victor C. Johnson's contemporary Will You Teach Me? The 33 singers were accompanied on piano by Ciriaco Colella.

The instrumental performance, featuring an ensemble of 36 beginning and 33 advanced band members, ranged from the haunting Normandy Beach and Ancient Voices to upbeat renditions of American jazz classics.

"It seems like Ancient Voices has become or is becoming a tradition with our band," said Kirkhum. "That is not to say that we will perform it every year, but the students really like it and I like the fact that they like it. Even though the second part of the piece features a lot of percussion and exciting rhythms, the first part starts slowly and mysteriously, giving the students a chance to display their ability to perform with a good tone, with expression and in tune.

"They are aware of creating moods and that the piece awakens the imagination. I believe they realize this is a sophisticated piece for their age level, and they are proud of being able to perform it," he said.
His musicians also get a kick out of playing jazz, Kirkum said, probably for the same reasons the music became so popular nearly a century ago.

"The rhythms, the swing beat, the upbeat melodies, the chance for the individual sections to shine and the overall joyful spirit of the pieces make them fun to play as well as to listen to. Since jazz is new to most of the students, they are discovering a new genre of music that they enjoy," Kirkhum said.

The audience responded visibly to the rhythms of swing as the saxophone section and drummers moved to front stage for renditions of Duke Ellington's It Don't Mean a Thing and Luis Prima's Sing, Sing, Sing.
And while it all made for a fine hour's enjoyment for the audience, the concert performance and the many hours of practice and rehearsal leading up to it a deep, formative effect on his students had as well, said Kirkhum.

"I hope that my students come away with a better appreciation and understanding of serious music as opposed to music for entertainment," he said. "I hope that they learn, even at their young age, that the study of music is about being human. I hope that they learn that music is about life, expressing emotion and staying in touch with that part of ourselves that we call human.

"If I can get my students to respond to beauty then I feel that I have done my job as a music educator," he said.

The VHS Spring Concert took place May 29 under the direction of music director Gary Marvel.

The concert kicked off with the singing of the Italian and American national anthems, including an a capella rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The choir continued with moving renditions of a Kyrie, In Flanders Field and a trio of madrigals, wrapping up the first segment of the program with a version of the 1960's pop classic California Dreamin'.

The band half of the program had a distinctly patriotic flavor, Marvel said, featuring Hymn to the Fallen, Of Kindred Spirit and Armed Forces on Parade. Those pieces have left their mark on his students, who spent the past year learning them, as have the other pieces in the repertoire, he said.

"When you think about it, it makes sense. When you give somebody something new they either embrace it or they're not so sure about it. It's just human nature," said Marvel.

"When you challenge kids for something new, something quality; when you have to think, use the resources they're not used to using -- the articulation of words, sounds in a language you don't know, the rhythms and the notes -- and you have to blend it as group so it comes across as one voice, you have to make music out of it," he said.

"There's something about the mind. Everything has to fire at the same time," said Marvel.

He pointed out that musicianship, and studying music, demands an understanding, integration and application of a whole range of basic human skills: mathematics, language, science and more.

"We encompass it all. We do it all. The students I have this year came in here and have grown musically and maturity-wise tenfold," he said.

"I have never had access to so much talent in one community," said Kirkhum. "These young ladies and gentlemen never cease to amaze me."

Page last updated Mon June 10th, 2013 at 00:00