Even though the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center won’t be filled with the colorful sounds of the Gonzaga Symphony Orchestra (GSO) they are still playing and finding silver linings in a hard and confusing time.
Kevin Hekmatpanah, director of GSO and professor of music, has been working with the music department since spring break, when everyone got sent home, to figure out a way to bring orchestra back this semester.
“It was up in the air and then the ball was completely off as far as performances are concerned,” Hekmatpanah said. “We are able to rehearse but we aren’t able to perform. So, that presents a lot of hardships and some challenges but also some opportunities.”
The hardships put on the orchestra this semester have presented a lot of challenges. The biggest being that a majority of the members of GSO aren’t able to participate in the orchestra for the semester.
GSO is made up partially of people from all around the Spokane community and due to COVID-19 guidelines they will not be able to participate in orchestra. Along with them students who play brass, wind or percussion instruments will not be practicing with GSO either. That leaves just those who are GU students and play a string instrument.
Sarah Walters is a junior who plays the oboe in the orchestra and will not be able to participate this year. However, she does sit on the committee that helps increase community outreach for the orchestra and hopes that she will be able to continue that this semester.
“Orchestra does a lot of great things, especially with how involved we are with our community,” Walters said. “I don’t think the greater part of campus sees that and I think it would be really cool to get more involved with that.”
Hekmatpanah hopes to keep the connection with community members so when it is safe for everyone to return to the orchestra they will.
As for now he will be working with those who still can practice working on getting the fundamentals of playing down. He said he will be allowing students to practice conducting, give them opportunities to solo with the orchestra, improve their sight-reading abilities and expand their repertoire of classical music.
“It’s strings only,” Hekmatpanah said. “So just from that the size and the scope of the orchestra has been way cut down. That is limiting in some ways for the repertoire and also liberating in some ways because we couldn’t do an all string repertoire if it wasn’t for all of this.”
He said that students have shown how excited they are to just be back and playing — even if it is with a small fraction of people that they are used to playing with.
“We’re sight reading through a lot of repertoire,” said Ariah Mann, a senior violin player and the concert master this year for GSO. “We’re not learning it to the point of being able to perform it at a concert but getting through tons of music and exposing us to so much different music and styles and composers. I see that as a big silver lining. Even if we don’t work the pieces up to performance grade quality, we can say we’ve played so much and we know what the pieces are about. I am excited about those aspects of it.”
Both Mann and Hekmatpanah are looking forward to this new and unique opportunity that has presented itself out of what they said seemed like a bleak future for GSO.
“In a way we’re able to do things that we’ve never done before and probably will never do again,” Hekmatpanah said. “You just accept the reality that you can’t perform with a creative outlook on how to change the format of the class.”
Hekmatpanah said he might play cello on the side with the orchestra instead of conducting. This will allow for students to give more feedback and work more as a collective group without just one person directing the group.
Mann said she is excited about the option to conduct a piece. As a conducting minor having the opportunity to actually conduct an orchestra is really exciting to her.
As of now there are no plans to put on a performance this semester but it’s an option Hekmatpanah is not ruling out. He said they might live stream a concert or do a prerecorded concert.
Overall, both Hekmatpanah and Mann are excited that the orchestra is just able to be back together creating music.
“What I’m hoping is that instead of comparing it to what we’ve done or what it could have been if there weren’t a pandemic,” Hekmatpanah said. “We take this as an opportunity to learn new skill sets, be creative and be open and not judgmental of what it isn’t. In the end it’s not possible to do what we wanted to do so let’s get past that and really investigate a new style of rehearsal, a new style of techniques to learn and come to it with an open mind of how can we make the best of a situation that we’ve been put in.”