By STEVEN NALLEY
The American Wind Symphony Orchestra brings together young musicians from across America and the world.
Jackie Royce, one of AWSO’s bassoon players, said AWSO includes musicians from Taiwan, Columbia, Vietnam and many other countries, but the language barrier can’t stop the performers from making music together.
“Music is the universal language,” Royce said. “We might not be able to understand each other’s English all the same, but we can play together as a community.”
Five members of AWSO came to Starkville Thursday for a chamber concert presented by the Central Station Grill, Starkville Area Arts Council and the Starkville Main Street Association.
Terry Long, Central Station Grill manager, said guest musicians typically perform in the Grill’s downstairs area, but interest in the AWSO grew so large, he chose to move them to the upstairs area where more people would be able to see them. He said 21 reservations for more than 60 seats near the music came in during the days leading up to the performance.
“It went fantastic,” Long said. “Everybody that came in upstairs loved it. I had one gentleman tell me that in 40 years it was the most world-class luncheon he’d ever had in Starkville. Band (performance) paid for my college, so I’m really close to the music world, (and) they were world class.”
Long said the musicians also had great personalities, talking to guests before and after the performance. In the future, he said he is considering hosting local musical guests at lunchtime; the restaurant currently hosts them at night.
Clarinet player Tim Graf, from Woodstock, Ill., said each year, the AWSO assembles a team of promising young musicians for a tour of varying regions of the U.S. and the world, including the American East Coast, the Caribbean and, this year, the rivers of southeast and northeast America. Their stage is a 195-foot sailing vessel called the Point Counterpoint II, and audiences are able to view concerts from local shorelines.
“We had no idea what to expect (when we joined AWSO),” Graf said. “Everything was a surprise, a pleasant surprise. The people are fantastic, especially this quintet. Even in college, I’ve never had this kind of (international) variety.”
Matt Butterfield, an AWSO oboe player from Philadelphia, Penn., was one of several people in the group who said he had never been to Mississippi before.
“I’m enjoying it a lot,” Butterfield said. “I expected it to be hot and humid, and it is, but it’s like that everywhere. Everyone’s been very nice and hospitable. It’s been a pleasure so far. This is kind of like a big summer adventure for me.”
Graf said if AWSO returns to Columbus and Starkville again, it is likely to happen years from now because the tour locations change each year, and the orchestra will not have the same members. Ashley Mendeke, an AWSO flute player from Denton, Texas, said the band’s roster changes each year, because one of its key goals is to prepare members for other career opportunities in music.
“Most of the musicians in the AWSO want to be professional musicians,” Mendeke said. “There are many music festivals, but AWS is not only a festival that travels and gets to see different parts of the community. There’s also this element of outreach, which is very rare.”
Jill Borgognoni, one of the organizers for AWSO’s visit to the Columbus area, said several members of the band have spent the week giving seminars to students at area high schools, including New Hope High School, Caledonia High School, Columbus High School and West Point High School. Benjamin Bacni, an AWSO French horn player from Sandusky, Ohio said these seminars focused on the fundamentals, including breathing, tonguing, slurs, and holding the instrument in a way that improves performance.
“They’re just learning the instruments,” Bacni said, “so we broke it down to the basics so they could understand little things that will make you improve in the long run.”