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Experience and Exuberance

ONU students share the stage with the Lima Symphony Orchestra

A group of Ohio Northern University’s most talented orchestra students recently joined the Lima Symphony Orchestra for an innovative concert showcase. The concert, “Experience and Exuberance: A side-by-side with Ohio Northern University,” served as an opportunity for Lima Symphony Orchestra musicians to mentor their younger counterparts in the ONU Symphony Orchestra, allowing the students to learn directly from the professional musicians over a week of rehearsals for two works by the composer Antonín Dvořák.

ONU Symphony Music Director Travis Jürgens and Lima Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Crafton Beck chose 16 students based on their talent and ability to perform alongside professional musicians at the Nov. 7 concert. Students spent roughly three to four hours that week rehearsing on ONU’s campus. Additionally, they gave their time in the evenings and on weekends to prepare with the Lima Symphony Orchestra at rehearsals, and Jürgens witnessed a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from his students.

“They had the opportunity to be immersed in a professional orchestra atmosphere, where they could experience the rehearsal process firsthand,” says Jürgens.

Violist Elizabeth Steele, a freshman exercise physiology major from Tempe, Ariz., enjoyed rehearsing with the Lima Symphony Orchestra and practicing the Dvořák pieces in her free time — what little she had. As a cross country and track and field athlete, as well as member of the string ensemble and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Steele keeps to a busy schedule.

The timing could be difficult. I’d go to cross country and track practice and then rush to get to rehearsal. It made it hard to even eat dinner sometimes, but I enjoy playing my instrument with groups,” she says. “Music is part of me, and playing alongside the professionals was a great opportunity because it showed me what I can still strive for in my own abilities.

The two Dvořák pieces featured in the concert were the high-stepping “Slavonic Dance No. 7” and the powerful and complex Symphony No. 8. Although the music was challenging for the students, the pieces were still within their scope of abilities, and their practice paid off in the performance. Having the rare opportunity to rehearse with professionals in a professional setting was key to the students’ success. It also helped that some of Lima Symphony Orchestra musicians already knew some of the ONU students. For Lima, Ohio, native Ryan Briley, a senior music performance major and trombonist, playing alongside a professional musician meant playing alongside a friend.

“I already had a connection with the principal player beside me because he has given me trombone lessons for years. He knows my abilities and gave me some liberties as we performed side-by-side,” he says.

The principal musicians of the Lima Symphony served as mentors for the students, offering their expertise and instruction to their younger counterparts during rehearsals. This relationship helped intensify the learning opportunity for students. C.J. Brincefield, a senior music education major, found the instruction from his mentor so valuable that he now finds himself incorporating the new knowledge into his playing and practice for other performances.

“The sheer sound of everything was impressive. It’s obvious that exposing yourself to better players helps you become a better player. Playing alongside this group was by far the best performance opportunity I have ever had,” he says.

For Jürgens, playing music begins with enthusiasm. As someone who was in his students’ shoes not that long ago, he is able to relate to his students in a way that keeps them motivated to enhance their musical abilities. High-impact learning opportunities like this one are yet another way that he is challenging his students to be the best they can be. Jürgens is optimistic that this new collaboration with the Lima Symphony Orchestra can continue in the future. Beck was generous with his time during this collaborative effort and even invited Jürgens to conduct the first piece in the program.

“It’s rare to have two professional conductors in a single concert, so I was thrilled to share the podium with Beck,” says Jürgens.

As the concert’s title suggests, wonderful things happen when experience blends with exuberance. Onstage it was clear who was experienced and who was exuberant, although when it comes to providing students with meaningful, high-impact, educational experiences, ONU has been there and done that, and the Lima Symphony was thrilled to be part of it all.

Senior public relations student Hannah Peterson contributed to this story.