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COMMENTARY: UMW will continue to bring great musicians to town

COMMENTARY: UMW will continue to bring great musicians to town

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PHOTO: UMW Philharmonic

A RECENT opinion piece

in The Free Lance–Star

asked well-meaning questions about a beloved Fredericksburg institution, the UMW Philharmonic Orchestra, and its future direction. As the director of the university’s music program for the past two and a half years, I realize the importance of answering those questions and addressing any lingering concerns.

To be clear, the University of Mary Washington’s unwavering commitment to the fine and performing arts, as an integral part of the liberal arts experience for which we are known, is outlined in the University’s 2017 Strategic Vision.

That same document prioritizes the development of “a diverse and inclusive community as an essential requirement for academic excellence and academic success.” In this respect, the UMW Department of Music has led the institution: For half a century and more, our ensembles have warmly welcomed community musicians to stand alongside our students in making music together.

We know from years of experience the value of bringing people of diverse backgrounds together week after week to rehearse and perform. Our largest ensemble— the UMW Philharmonic Orchestra (originally named the Mary Washington College and Community Orchestra), the Fredericksburg Singers and the UMW Jazz Ensemble—work outside the normal rhythm of academic scheduling, for example, to provide the flexibility required by their many community participants. Our students benefit greatly from being in a location with so many highly-skilled musicians.

While the community is regularly involved in the university’s offerings—whether as spectators, audience members, guest speakers, and even as registered students—there is nothing quite like the synergy created with musical groups that combine community, students and faculty.

For a relatively small department, our offerings are varied: three choral ensembles, the Philharmonic, the Concert Band, the Jazz Ensemble, and a host of smaller groups. These include the Flute Ensemble, Guitar Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble, Brass Ensemble, and the Indian Music Ensemble, as well as the Eagle Pipe Band, whose Sunday afternoon rehearsal schedule has enabled significant community participation. Music lovers and performers would be challenged to find as robust a program at other schools our size.

In the Music Department, we measure the success of our educational endeavor, in large part, by what happens in rehearsals. For the public at large, though, success can be viewed in other ways.

Last weekend, many in the community enjoyed two significant community collaborations that culminated our fall semester: the Philharmonic’s Holiday Pops concert, which featured both student and community instrumental soloists; and the performance of Handel’s Messiah, combining the three UMW choral ensembles with the Fredericksburg Community Chorus, forming a choir with nearly 225 singers.

Similarly, last month, the UMW Jazz Ensemble presented its annual Jazz4Justice benefit concert for LegalAidWorks of Fredericksburg, partnering with the Fredericksburg Area Young Musicians Chorus and the Mount Hope Gospel Choir.

Such collaborations benefit everyone, and the university is fully committed to supporting and further enhancing our community member and student-based musical groups, including the Philharmonic, jazz and other ensembles.

One prominent element of the Fredericksburg music scene in the last decade has been the Celebrity Series of the UMW Philharmonic Orchestra, which has been possible through both donor and university underwriting. UMW will continue to bring in notable scholars and artists in all fields to present to, and engage with, the community, and it will place renewed emphasis on providing opportunities for students to learn from and interact with great musicians.

Further, it is clear to me that there is broad-based interest and desire in Fredericksburg for good music, and the university will continue to deliver just that, while also striving to make performances affordable.

In society’s past, arts were the bastions of exclusivity and privilege; we seek precisely the opposite—presenting an inclusive musical menu for anyone who hungers for it. As a public liberal arts and sciences university, UMW is committed to the whole community flourishing together. I am thrilled to be part of a vibrant department positioned to play such a dynamic role in that mission.

Dr. Brooks Kuykendall is an organist and musicologist who serves as professor and chair of the Department of Music at University of Mary Washington.

Dr. Brooks Kuykendall is an organist and musicologist who serves as professor and chair of the Department of Music at University of Mary Washington.

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