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Non-music majors fit in with KU ensembles


The timbre of the flute cadenza at the end of Symphonic Sketches from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story warmed pre-pharmacy major Connor Bowman, when the solo notes captured his ears as the KU Symphonic Orchestra (KUSO) performed it at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Mo.

The cadenza captured the death of Tony, the Romeo-esque protagonist in the Shakespeare-inspired musical, after he was shot when realizing his love, Maria, was still alive. Bowman, a sophomore from Lenexa, listened to this sound not from the audience, but from the stage. The sound came from his flute; it came from the principal flutist.

“I’m the only one playing, and that feeling is really cool,” said Bowman, who is also working slowly toward a music minor. “There’s a moment when it resonated throughout the hall. I just stopped to take it in: embodying death in front of the audience.”

It’s not very common to have a non-music major play a solo or sit as the leader of an instrumental section in an audition ensemble at the University. In fact, less than 10 percent of the KU audition ensembles are non-music majors.

“The audition process is the same process during the first week of class,” said David Neely, the director of orchestral activities. “Music majors are required to be in one of the ensembles, but you don’t need to be a non-music major to be a part of it. It’s a matter of passing the audition.

Neely said KUSO is a heavy practice workload and that the music and class is geared toward music majors. But auditions are blind and seating is decided by the quality of the auditions. By achieving the principal seat, Bowman said the judges thought he played the best flute audition.

“It could mean that we don’t feel the same pressure as music majors,” Bowman said. “We’re doing it for enjoyment and we do it because it’s something that we love to do.”

Band for non-majors

Sharon Toulouse, the assistant director of bands, said some music students also play in multiple ensembles with primary and secondary instruments. Band has two ensembles that are auidition-only: Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band. Those two also have blind auditions.

“We don’t care if you are a music major or not,” Toulouse said. “Even if that doesn’t work, there’s the opportunity to be in University Band,” which is a no-audition, signup ensemble that performs once every semester. Music majors only fill five to 10 percent of the University Band seats. The Kansas Marching Band is also a non-audition group.

“It’s not about what your major is, it’s about do you love playing,” Toulouse said.

Holly Good, a sophomore in chemistry from Shawnee, missed playing flute and piccolo in high school, but now plays in University Band.

“I miss playing in a group,” Good said. “This is just an hour once a week, not a big time commitment. She took University Band for no credit because to her, it was fun and it relaxed her.

“Sometimes I’m stressed out when I come in, but it takes your mind off things,” Good said. Depending on her job status and time commitments, Good said she is willing to audition for the Wind Ensemble.

Parker Riley, a freshman in computer science plays saxophone in University Band.
“I’ve played for eight years, and I wanted to keep playing,” Riley said. “I knew it just wouldn’t overload my schedule. I haven’t had to practice too much for this music. I just enjoy it.”

Non-major orchestra on horizon

Nothing is official yet, but Neely said there might be more options for non-music majors who want to join orchestra.

“One of the things we’re looking at are options for some kinds of ensembles for non-major students,” Neely said. Right now, KUSO is the only departmental orchestra ensemble.

“It would probably be good,” Bowman said. “I don’t know if it would get people to go to more lessons and things like that. But I think it’s a good idea.”

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