The Music Department Retunes: Chorus and Orchestra Structure Reformed
This school year, the music department has introduced two new changes to the choruses and orchestras.
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As part of this year’s administrative changes, music teacher Liliya Shamazov has assumed the position of music coordinator, undertaking former Assistant Principal of Art, Music, and Technology Dr. Raymond Wheeler’s responsibilities. With the consolidation of the World Languages, Music, and Art departments under Assistant Principal Francesca McAuliffe, Shamazov has taken on the administrative duties of the Music department and has overseen several significant changes to its classes.
Shamazov reduced the number of choruses from four to three, and moved many students who were formerly in the Madrigal Choir to the Oratorio Choir. Symphonic Orchestra, which is the most advanced orchestra out of the three (Intermediate, Advanced, and Symphonic) and has traditionally been comprised of solely string instruments, has seen the addition of a group of select woodwind and brass players.
This year, Shamazov decided to remove Madrigal Choir, which consisted of a small select group of singers, and instead to devote her time to the three other larger choruses: Men’s, Women’s, and Oratorio. This decision was made due to Shamazov’s ample responsibilities, which includes managing four choruses, hosting after-school rehearsals, programming music, and handling administrative work regarding the department. “Because of Dr. Wheeler’s retirement and the fact that I was asked to take on the position of music coordinator for the department, I couldn’t keep the same workload. The workload is extensive, running four choirs,” Shamazov said.
For Shamazov, dropping Madrigal Choir out of all four was a natural decision. “I didn’t want to drop the Oratorio because it’s the chorus that’s alongside the orchestra. [...] I didn’t want to let that one go, and I just ran the Men’s Chorus and the Women’s Chorus [for] one year. I didn’t want to suddenly not run them, but I ran [Madrigal Choir] for two years,” Shamazov said.
Additionally, Madrigal Choir was the most difficult one to program into students’ schedules. Certain classes, like foreign language ones, only have one section or are only taught during a certain period. The combination of relatively few students being selected for Madrigal Choir and general course conflicts contributed to Shamazov’s decision to stop teaching it. “[Madrigal Choir] is very selective. It’s small, and I can preselect the kids. But until programming, I don’t actually know who’s going to end up in that chorus, and because of conflicts with other classes and sections, it’s the hardest chorus to actually program,” Shamazov said.
This change was received positively by students. Senior Zeynep Bromberg was previously in Madrigal Choir and is now in Women’s Chorus. “It’s actually really cool to be in female choir because now, as an upperclassman, I get to meet a lot of underclassmen [who] I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Bromberg said. “I’m a section leader this year, so that’ll be exciting. I’ve always wanted to be one.”
Bromberg also noted the enlargement of Women’s Chorus and how it affected the atmosphere of the class. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming when there are 150 people in the room,” she said. “[But] it’s also nice because more people means more energy.”
Senior Alex Nobert was also in Madrigal Choir but switched to Oratorio Choir this year to better suit her interests. “I actually picked Oratorio because I wanted to sing an oratorio, which is a long musical piece. I realized that was why I joined Madrigal, but Madrigal [wasn’t] more of that, so I switched to Oratorio,” she said.
In addition to her reorganization of the chorus groups, Shamazov also decided to replace the Symphonic Orchestra with a new, more diverse orchestra that includes both strings and band instruments. By title, this new orchestra is still considered the Symphonic Orchestra. However, with the introduction of new woodwind, brass, and percussion players, the range of repertoire has expanded, allowing for symphonies and more concertos to be performed.
Music teacher Joseph Tamosaitis was optimistic about the change, despite there being some challenges in conducting the brass and woodwinds alongside the strings. “What we had before was a string orchestra. It was called Symphonic Orchestra, but that was really a misnomer. We had three different orchestras and played a lot of challenging music, but we were unable to delve into this huge area of music involving brass, woodwinds, and percussion,” Tamosaitis said.
Tamosaitis noted the potential challenges some musicians will face with this new setup. “For some it is a brand new experience, and it’s very different playing in an orchestra than in a band. You are the only person playing the part, so there is a lot of pressure on the individual player,” he said.
Despite this, he believes that the full Symphonic Orchestra is here to stay. “We are taking little steps toward achieving something really difficult and really ambitious, but we will get there,” Tamosaitis said.
Senior and clarinet player Derek Lao, who played for the All-City Orchestra as a sophomore and was in the concert and symphonic bands before this year, finds his experience playing alongside strings to be unique. “The difference is that in Symphonic Orchestra, it’s a lot less wind-dominated,” Lao said. “With the strings, you can play a whole different variety of music.”
Sophomore and member of Symphonic Orchestra Zoe Buff similarly enjoys being able to play with a wider range of musicians with the expansion of the orchestra. “We’ve been playing strings repertoire for a while, and right now we get to collaborate with new people [who] we haven’t seen so much of. It’s great to have that experience,” she said.
Shamazov noted that the changes to chorus and orchestra allow for better coordination when music groups rehearse pieces together. In previous years, when an orchestra played alongside chorus, students would be pulled out from their band and orchestra periods to rehearse separately. Since Symphonic Orchestra and chorus share the same period and the orchestra has been expanded to include band players, collaboration across the music groups has become facilitated.
The changes to chorus classes and the Symphonic Orchestra, though large, have been well-received by the affected students. “I've wanted to be part of an orchestra just in general as a wind, and I was very surprised when I joined Stuyvesant that they didn’t have winds or brass in the orchestra,” Lao said. “But now that [they’ve] finally added winds to the orchestra, I'm happy to be part of it.”