Ruth Lilly Performance Hall will soon set the stage for not only the University of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, but also the Perry Meridian High School Symphony Orchestra. On Sept. 29, these two groups will be putting on a performance of dance music that they have prepared in a collaborative effort.
Assistant Professor of Music Education, Laurie Williams, has been teaching music for 32 years, and has been at UIndy since 2019. Although only an assistant professor, Williams has stepped into this leading role in the absence of the primary conductor. She has several times throughout her career had to fill in for other conductors for various reasons, and said that she has had a great time conducting this group at UIndy.
“I was looking at coming into an orchestra that I’ve not conducted before and tried to choose music that I thought would be really exciting to kick off an opening concert,” Williams said.
What started as an idea between Williams and the Perry Meridian Orchestra Director, Christina Crawford, is now coming to UIndy in a performance that they hope will be a wonderful time for the audience. Williams said that her dedication to choosing themes for her performances centers around creating a fun atmosphere and being able to use the theme as a teaching moment for her students.
“I wanted to choose something that would be really standard orchestral music that’s high-quality literature but would also be playable by their students,” Williams said.
From there, she selected Brahm’s Hungarian Dance as a starting point, and said that it exploded from there. Now, with repertoire from four different, distinguished composers, the orchestras have exactly what Williams was shooting for.
“I really want to push our students and I want to challenge them to become better players, and I also want to give them music that’s standard, what we call in the business, master works,” Williams said.
An additional challenge that both the UIndy Orchestra and the Perry Meridian High School Orchestra face is time. Both Williams and Crawford talked about the difficulty in being able to meet as frequently as possible.
“[Crawford] She’s been having her students come over to UIndy on some of the afternoons, but you know, they have busy work lives and school schedules, so they have to just kind of drop in our rehearsals whenever they can, so it’s been crazy,” Williams said.
While this creates a challenge when trying to put on a collaborative performance, it is also a testament to the dedication of the musicians and faculty involved.
Crawford said that the group she has right now in her orchestra is relatively young, which poses challenges in their abilities to juggle new activities as well as perform music that is at the level of the UIndy students that they are playing with. She said that it is hard for her students to play not only music for their upcoming fall concert, but also for the performance with UIndy.
“Instead of just doing four [pieces of music] we’re doing seven, so almost twice the amount of work, and it’s at a collegiate level,” Crawford said.
While these challenges are certainly some that the conductors and students have had to overcome, there are several benefits that come as a result of this combined performance. As Williams said, it’s all about community building. This performance offers an opportunity for students of UIndy and Perry Meridian High School to play with and learn from other musicians who they otherwise never would have met.
“I think it’s important to give them an opportunity—it can’t just be about ‘I’m going to come in the room, I’m going to get my instrument out, I’m going to play, I’m going to pack up, I’m going to leave,’” Williams said.
Williams also mentioned the struggle of accommodating space for two orchestras when normally there is only space for one. While this may seem a problem on the surface, Williams said that it’s a great problem to have. With the additional people, Williams emphasized the idea of strength in numbers.
Crawford said that this opportunity for her students builds a lot of trust in them to know that they can lean on the other people in their section, which includes their own peers as well as UIndy musicians, if they’re making a mistake.
For the UIndy students that are also performing, Williams has said that it is an enriching experience for them to get to play the role of mentor to the high schoolers that are joining them.
Williams said that one of the most important things for the students involved to take away from this experience is that putting in a lot of hard work in order to put on a performance can also be fun.
“It’s electric because everybody’s connecting in that moment and everybody’s feeling the same thing.”
One of the key takeaways that both Crawford and Williams mentioned was that hard work can be fun when it’s with a group of individuals that come together to make something incredible happen. Crawford said that her students were able to test their abilities and see if they can hang with college level players throughout rehearsals, as well as learning that they can play harder music than they think, which is something that has been Crawford said has been realized through working with the UIndy Orchestra.
“It’s kind of fun to watch our students sitting next to these random strangers that they’ve never met and how warm and inviting our students have been to these great high school kids who’re coming in to play with us,” Williams said.