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Acclaimed composer conducts Dartmouth’s school orchestras

By Sean Flannelly, editor@dartmouthweek.net, Feb 10, 2024

For the past three days, Dartmouth Public Schools’ orchestras have practiced constantly. The night before Friday’s concert, the young musicians strummed their strings into the late evening, past 9 p.m., said low strings coordinator Michael Daniels. And yet, “they were working as hard as they would at any other time,” he said. 

That enthusiasm stemmed from the visit of Soon Hee Newbold to Dartmouth’s orchestra program. Soon Hee Newbold is a world-renowned composer whose works are often used in scholastic settings. Alongside composing, Newbold travels as a guest clinician, helping school orchestras around the country and world. 

The California-based composer came to Dartmouth Tuesday night and worked constantly with the student musicians on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, throughout the day and evening. 

“It’s usually pretty packed,” Newbold said. “There’s a lot of people and there’s a lot of music to get through, so it’s usually pretty much all day, evening rehearsals.”

Her stay was celebrated with two special performances in the Dartmouth High School auditorium on Feb. 9. The concert comprised the Grade 6, Grades 7 and 8, and High School orchestras, along with the high school chamber orchestra. 

Students primarily played works written by Newbold. Orchestra Director Heather Church introduced each piece, and explained some of the context behind Newbold’s work with the students. 

“The amount of growth that all these students have made in a short three days with her presence has been outstanding, and quite frankly, jaw dropping,” Daniels said. 

Newbold is not an unfamiliar face in Dartmouth — she visited the district in 2017 for the first time, then assisted again with some lessons during the pandemic. 

After her second in-person visit, Newbold said Dartmouth’s educators stood out the most: “They’re really good at connecting with them, just on a personal level, but also they’re very good technicians — they’re very good at their craft as well,” she said. 

Her favorite part of conducting the orchestras was seeing Dartmouth students have some fun with the music — nowhere was that more apparent than during the final composition, called “Battle,” which featured several soloists playing back and forth with each other. 

Because of the extended timeline with Newbold, Daniels said students got to know her and learn more about her work, which made them want to work harder. 

“I feel the students got to, first of all, get somebody else’s opinion on their plane and feedback out leading them as an ensemble,” Daniels said. “To have a new voice in the room is really a nice breath of fresh air.”

After Friday’s performance, student musicians came to the cafeteria to ask for Newbold’s autograph, say goodbye and take selfies with her — so many students came to do so that a line formed around her. 

“She was really understanding of everybody and I feel like she was good at communicating with us,” said tenth grader Valerie Carreira. “Throughout the three days she was here, she really helped us.”

Carreira said Newbold specifically helped the group learn what each piece of music was about, both textually and musically: “Like when we get quieter and louder, I feel like it was way easier for us to understand it more, because she made sure that we knew the piece.”

Dartmouth’s school orchestras will next ready themselves for the Massachusetts Instrumental & Choral Conductor’s Association in April.

Originally posted by Dartmouth Weekly, please click here for the original article


Power of Music in the Emerald Isle, Irelandby Emily Brown   August 14, 2014On 21 April 2014, more than 50 members of the Dartmouth High School (DHS) Strings Orchestra embarked on an eight-day trip of a lifetime experience around the Emerald Isle. Under the direction of the DHS orchestra directors, Ms. Heather Church and Mrs. Charlene Monte, the orchestra toured southwestern Ireland and stopped along the way to perform in some of the country’s most breathtaking areas.

The past two years have been spent preparing for the trip, with various fundraising efforts, many rehearsals, and careful planning of the itinerary. This year, the orchestra worked diligently on preparing a repertoire that highlighted Irish and American pieces, from Celtic Butterfly to American Sketches.

For many students, this was their first opportunity to perform at venues outside of Dartmouth, Massachusetts. While planning the trip, Ms. Church expressed her “hope that this experience will encourage a greater sense of pride and accomplishment, especially since many students have never played outside the Dartmouth Public School’s auditoriums.” She added, “They will realize the immense power of music in a way they have never known.”

Undoubtedly, this trip has left a positive mark on students. While in Ireland, the orchestra was able to perform four concerts, three of them at historic churches and one at the Cork School of Music. Senior Lauren Hart, was awed by Kylemore Abbey’s Gothic Church in the Connemara Mountains. “It’s really humbling to play in beautiful places like that,” she explained.

Bandon Church in County Cork and St. Mary’s Church in Killarney also impressed the students. “Playing in the old churches was awe-inspiring,” said Senior Corryn Ratcliffe. “We are very fortunate to have these opportunities.”

For many others, the opportunity to play with Irish musicians their own age was the highlight of the trip. The orchestra performed with the Kerry School of Music, the Cork Arts Studio Stageworks Youth Choir, and another ensemble from Cork. “It’s always amazing to play with such talented people and see how American and Irish teaching and playing methods compare,” said Senior Alexander Chesney.

A small group of students in the orchestra also played traditional Irish music. The group, known as the “Dartmouth Fiddleheads”, met every Monday for the past year learning Irish fiddle tunes by ear. The Fiddleheads performed for the Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor Catherine Clancy, as well as with local musicians at pubs. “When we were playing in the pubs, it wasn’t a touristy thing to do,” said Hart. “It gave us a taste of their culture.”

Aside from performing, the orchestra was able to see Ireland and all of the history and natural wonders that dot the landscape. The students visited ancient castles, such as the famous Blarney Castle, and a 7-mile hike through the Gap of Dunloe. They also had the opportunity to visit the Cliffs of Moher and participate in an Irish Céilí.

“For me, the highlight of the trip to Ireland was the hike through the Gap of Dunloe and the boat ride back through the mountains,” said Senior Hannah Cook. “I think this is where it hit me, that this was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, and that I was there, in a gorgeous country, with amazing people doing something I love. I doubt I will ever lose the memories we made in Ireland on that day.”