CHAUTAUQUA - Amid thunderstorms and torrential downpours, the 64th Chautauqua All County Concert was held at the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater on June 1. This concert featured more than 750 student musicians from among the 19 public and private schools in Chautauqua County, each in one of five musical ensembles: Elementary Chorus, Junior and Senior High Bands and Choruses.
Each group performs three or four selections, led by a guest conductor who is hand-selected by the group's chairperson. The conductors this year, as in most years, are brought in from colleges and universities all over the northeast, as well as public school teachers known for their talent and innovation in directing young people.
Erin Scudder, who conducted the 220 member Elementary Chorus, is a graduate of Fredonia High School. She studied music with Edwin Gordon, a widely known researcher, teacher, author, editor and lecturer in the field of music education. Scudder's group opened the concert with John Rutter's "For The Beauty of the Earth" and closed their portion with a Swahili song arranged by Jim Papoulis. Titled "Kusimama (Standing Tall)," it is about standing tall on the earth with hope, strength, acceptance and a positive spirit. The students sang and performed with hand claps and stomps to create an exciting end to their All County debut.
Dr. Jason Bishop came from his home in New Jersey, where he is the Director of Choral & Vocal Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at Drew University, to conduct the Junior High Chorus. Their selections included "I Hear Music In Me," by David Sprunger, and Papoulis's inspiring "I Can Hear."
Another Chautauqua County native, Dr. John Coggiola, directed the Junior High Band. Coggiola quipped that as a teenager he sat in a seat now held by the talented musicians playing that evening. To a chuckle from the audience, Coggiola remarked that as he performed, his parents sat in the "same, comfortable seats" adorning the amphitheater. A favorite piece among many of the band members and the audience was their opening number, "Moscow 1941" by Brian Balmages.
Brenda Nitsch came from Webster Thomas High School in Monroe County to lead the Senior High Chorus. In a twist of irony that was not lost on the audience, another of several downpours and a rumble of not-so-distant-thunder joined the chorus as they concluded their set with Larry Nickel's "The Storm is Passing Over."
The final group to perform was the Senior High Band under the Direction of Dr. Steven Gage. They performed Bach's "Prelude and Fugue in Bb minor," "The Navy Hymn," and the rousing "Arabesque," written by Pittsburgh native Samuel Hazo.
Retired Jamestown music educator Nina Karbacka conducted all four Junior and Senior High Bands and Choruses. The time-honored Chautauqua All County tradition of performing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" rounded out the two-hour concert. Each group received standing ovations for their superb efforts. In a heart-warming show of support and camaraderie, the members of the other performing groups were usually the first to initiate the applause for their fellow musicians.
Much of the music purchasing and other overhead for this event was made possible by a major grant from the Festival Sponsor, the Thomas H. Brown Fund at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, as well as donations from other generous sponsors.
Members of the Senior High Chorus were under the direction of Ms. Brenda Nitsch.