Musical connections

DATE: Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Relationship between HCC and symphony dates back 50 years

HCC music professor Ellen Cogen conducts the HCC College Chorale in preparation for the 50th anniversary concert of the Holyoke Civic Symphony Sunday, May 7.


Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor is also called "the Choral" because of its unprecedented use of singers.

Some 100 of them, including 30 from Holyoke Community College, will join the Holyoke Civic Symphony on Sunday, May 7, as they perform that iconic work for the group's 50th anniversary, season-ending concert.

When those singers file out onto risers, the Holyoke Community College Chorale will be among them, just as several HCC alumni and current music students will be among those seated with the symphony.

The concert, called "50 Years of Joy," is a fundraiser for the orchestra. It begins Sunday at 3 p.m. at Holyoke High School, 500 Beech St.

The close relationship with HCC dates back to the symphony's founding in 1967.

The symphony started that year as part of Holyoke Community College and was then called the Holyoke Community College Civic Orchestra. The name was changed in the late ‘80s s as a lead-up to incorporating as a separate non-profit for the 1991-1992 season.

The 60-member symphony is composed primarily of non-professional musicians, with professionals performing as guest soloists and contributing original compositions.

The symphony practices every Monday night in one of the first floor rehearsal rooms in HCC's Fine & Performing Arts Building and holds its regular fall, winter and spring concerts in HCC's Leslie Phillips Theater.

Though no longer part of the name, HCC has played a vital role in the orchestra's longevity, says historian (and flutist) Jane Rausch, co-author of a manuscript, "The Sound Choice: The Holyoke Civil symphony, Holyoke Massachusetts: A History, 1967-2017."

"HCC has consistently provided rehearsal and performance space without cost," she said. "The orchestra uses HCC's percussion instruments. HCS has played compositions written by HCC faculty and members of the music faculty have performed as soloists with the orchestra."

HCC music students can also join the symphony for college credit. Over the years many of them have done so, sometimes continuing to play as alumni.

Although he doesn't teach a class, symphony music director and conductor David Kidwell is considered a member of the HCC adjunct faculty. To earn credit, students must attend the 2 ½-hour Monday night rehearsals, two concerts a semester, six rehearsals and a dress rehearsal. There is no textbook, no text, said Kidwell, who is also minister of music at Edwards Church in Northampton.

"The students bring a nice energy and youthfulness to the orchestra," he explained during a recent rehearsal break. "It's a good opportunity for them. It's something a lot of colleges don't have."

He said it's also an opportunity for musicians from the area to be involved with students.

Zach Sears, '11, a 28-year-old cello player from Longmeadow, performed with the symphony as an HCC liberal arts major and is doing so again this year through a cooperative exchange with Westfield State University, where he is a senior.

"It's exciting to go through the process of working on the major pieces of the orchestral repertoire," he said.

During a recent rehearsal, about two weeks before the anniversary show, Kidwell said he was pleased with the way his musicians played the second movement.

"Really good job, guys," he said. "I wanted to get through as much as possible and we only had to stop one time ... Transitions, there are so many transitions. I just want to go back and pick out a few spots but I don't want to wear us out."

At a break in the symphony's weekly Monday night rehearsal at HCC, over snacks laid out on a table, one musician from the 60-member group said to him, "That's quite the piece."

Kidwell replied, "I hope you'll listen to it at home."

The concert, a fundraiser for the orchestra, is scheduled for May 7 at 3 p.m. at Holyoke High School, 500 Beech Street. Admission is $10 adults; $5 for children under 12.

Singing with HCC Chorale and the symphony will be the Edwards Church Choir of Northampton, the Holyoke High School Choir, and others. The featured soloists are soprano Erin Nafziger, mezzo soprano Eileen Ruby, tenor Mark Todd, and bass John Thomas.

Also on the program will be the premiere performance of Adrienne Albert's Homeward Bound, commissioned by the symphony for its 50th Anniversary season.

PHOTO by CHRIS YURKO: HCC music professor Ellen Cogen conducts the Holyoke Community College Chorale as they prepare to play with the Holyoke Civic Symphony on Sunday, May 7.