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Spotlight: A season of education and music

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Submitted Photo Maestro John Farrer has been conductor of the Roswell Symphony Orchestra for 47 years. The Labor Day concert at Spring River Park and Zoo kicks off RSOs 60th season..

Roswell Symphony Orchestra reaches out to youth with an educational program and is preparing for its new season

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

The Roswell Symphony Orchestra (RSO) celebrates its 60th season of world-class live entertainment in town and introducing an innovative new program: The RSO Educational Enrichment Program reaches out to the youth of the Pecos Valley, including all regional school districts in Roswell, Artesia, Dexter, Hagerman, Lake Arthur and the New Mexico Military Institute, where RSO performances are held at its Pearson Auditorium.

National research indicates that students engaged in musical education will, on average, score 40-60 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which includes verbal tests and math. While there have been very few research projects done in the last decades, this has changed. According to a study of more than 100,000 students, which was published by the American Psychological Association in the Journal of Educational Psychology in June, music students score better than their nonmusical peers. “In public education systems in North America, arts courses, including music courses, are commonly underfunded in comparison with what are often referred to as academic courses, including math, science and English,” said Peter Gouzouasis, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, one of the authors of the study. “It is believed that students who spend school time in music classes, rather than in further developing their skills in math, science and English classes, will underperform in those disciplines. Our research suggests that, in fact, the more they study music, the better they do in those subjects.”

Music is indeed a universal language, the structure of which teaches logic, hand-eye coordination, cognitive skills and creativity. RSO’s educational outreach is part of an emerging national educational drive that integrates science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with the arts (STEAM). Roswell is on the vanguard of this drive in New Mexico.

Spearheaded by Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy, superintendent of the Roswell Independent School District, and Eddie David, a prominent Roswell civic leader, oilman, banker and philanthropist — including past service on the RISD Board — the RSO Educational Enrichment Program offers a $120 annual scholarship to every student in the Pecos Valley on a first-come, first-served basis and a free season pass to the five RSO concerts. Parents attending with their students are offered a seat at the same concerts for half price.

RSO program spokesperson Jim Manatt said that the RSO Educational Enrichment Program scholarships are financially supported by Roswell and Artesia energy companies, Honeywell, Pioneer Bank, First American Bank, the Krumland Auto Dealerships and benefactors living in the Roswell and Artesia region. McIlroy and David expressed their great appreciation for the communities’ RSO Educational Enrichment Program sponsors. “We couldn’t do this without you,” McIlroy said. “You are benefitting every young child in your towns with an interest in music, and developing new interests in music among them.”

“Who knows what young child here may become the next Bach, Beethoven or Lennon and McCartney?” David said. “You are helping cultivate this opportunity and you are helping preserve the master works.”

The RSO scholarship program is open to all students. The RSO coordinates with the regional schools’ music directors and teachers, but any student desiring a season pass may obtain one by simply contacting a music teacher at their school or by calling the RSO office at 575-623-5882.

Some teachers are encouraging student participation by offering an extra grade or credit for attendance.

“For 47 of the 60 years of RSO performances, the orchestra has been conducted by Dr. John Farrer,” Manatt said. “Farrer is the immediate past president of the American Conductors Guild, held in international esteem by his peers. He is world-famous, having conducted in Europe, South America and many world-class orchestras in the U.S. and Canada. The RSO is his full-time symphony orchestra. When asked why we have classical symphony in this day and age, Maestro’s answer was, ‘We are preserving the master works and giving them back, performing them for our communities, kids and future to enjoy forever. True works of historical, world-class cultural art right here in our town. A classical symphony orchestra is a distinguishing cultural asset for growing, appealing communities with a vision.’”

The RSO under guidance of Farrer presents an opportunity each spring for high school students to shadow the orchestra and perform at the annual RSO Young Person’s Concert. The students have the opportunity to sit next to professional musicians and receive guidance on their instruments and general information about the life of a musician and how music can be part of their lives outside of high school band and orchestra. They also participate in a rehearsal and a concert with a world-famous conductor. This season, the coordinator of the RSO Educational Enrichment Program will be working with school districts to plan student recitals, coaching sessions with orchestra musicians and other collaborative educational efforts in the area school districts.

The upcoming 2019-20 RSO concert season starts with the annual free Labor Day RSO Concert at the Spring River Park & Zoo, 1306 E. College Blvd., on Sept. 2 at 5:30 p.m. The concert includes music from “Carmen,” “The Sound Of Music,” “West Side Story” and songs such as “Moon River,” “Bugler’s Holiday,” “Live Or Let Die,” “Wonder Woman” and a salute to the United State Armed Forces.

“Orchestra musicians and local music educators will collaborate with the zoo, hosting an instrument petting zoo at 4:30 p.m. for young kids who have not had musical instrument exposure to grasp, listen to and kindle an interest,” Manatt said.

The RSO will perform on Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m., at the Pearson Auditorium, which will include Rossini’s “Overture to the Barber of Seville,” Ravel’s “Tzigane,” Saint-Saens’ “Introduction and Capriccioso” and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Fourth Symphony.” The RSO is sponsoring special guest solo violinist YooJin Jang for this concert.

The annual RSO Christmas Concert takes place Dec. 8 at 2:30 p.m. in the Pearson Auditorium on the NMMI grounds. The concert includes performances of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Polonaise” from Christmas Eve, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” Randal Alan Bass’ “The Night Before Christmas” narrated by a special guest, Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker,” Georg Friedrich Händel’s “Selections from the Messiah” and a Christmas sing-a-long. The Messiah performance will include 40 vocalists, the Roswell Symphony Chorale, under the leadership of conductor John Fuss, totaling more than 100 performers for this concert.

Next year, the RSO and the Roswell Jazz Festival are jointly sponsoring the American Classical Jazz performance on Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in NMMI’s Pearson Auditorium. The concert includes works from Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide,” “West Side Story” and George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture.”

“Special guest performers are the RJF musical director Michael Francis and his quartet,” Manatt said. “We will all be kept in suspense until the concert to learn what great jazz Michael and his group will be performing. This concert is sure to sell out, so buy your seats early. There will be a special after-party jam session following the concert.”

“RSO’s 60th-year finale will be a special tribute to our greatest benefactor Donald Anderson, with a star-studded performance of Beethoven’s ‘9th Symphony,’ again with the 40 vocalists of the Roswell Symphony Chorale, more than 100 performers in all,” Manatt said. It will be April 18 at 7:30 p.m. in NMMI’s Pearson Auditorium.

“The 2019-2020 RSO season schedule brings to Southeast New Mexico an unparalleled classical cultural experience for our educational enrichment program and students, our sponsors, our season ticket holders, the Roswell Jazz Festival aficionados, world-class live music for the young and young at heart throughout the Pecos Valley region,” Manatt said.

Season seats and single concert tickets are available at the Roswell Symphony office, Executive West Office Plaza, 1717 W. Second St., Ste. 205.

For more information visit roswellsymphony.org or call 575-623-5882.