Easton Middle School to Host University of Maryland’s Potomac Winds Woodwind Quintet

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A summer-long collaborative effort has resulted in an ambitious new Artists-in-Residence Program featuring the University of Maryland’s Potomac Winds Woodwind Quintet at Easton Middle School during this academic year. The initiative involved representatives of the School of Music’s Office of Community Engagement at the University of Maryland and music teachers and staff in the Talbot County Public Schools, with coordination assistance from the Talbot County Arts Council and Easton-based Chesapeake Music, which sponsors the annual chamber music and jazz music festivals.

The quintet will make four two-day visits to EMS during this school year: October 4-5, December 6-7January 31-February 1, and March 7-8.  During these times, they will work closely with students and teachers to bridge the gap between the classroom knowledge of world history and the experiences of world music. Using a collaborative lesson plan, the quintet will work with students and music and social studies teachers to make creative connections between the core social studies curriculum and music. This year students in four sixth grade band classes will experience World History with World Music in an effort to show the importance of the arts in societies around the world.  Each visit will involve a 45- minute presentation by the quintet as well as class time to help develop a meaningful relationship between quintet members and the students they mentor. In addition, seventh and eighth grade band classes will receive master classes from the visiting artists.

Potomac Winds is a DC Metro Area-based ensemble comprised of graduate students from the UMD School of Music.  Members have performed in professional orchestras throughout the United States.  Their individual honors have included concerto competition finalists, debut recitals, orchestral soloists, and young artist awards.  Their mission is to establish the woodwind quintet as a virtuosic ensemble through engaging performances of the highest level of artistic expression, cultivating a sense of community with audience members, and collaboratively exploring works of all time periods and genres with particular emphasis on the art of contemporary composers.    The members of Potomac Winds are Ceylon Mitchell, flute; Sarah Balzer, oboe; Melissa Morales, clarinet; Avery Pettigrew, horn; and Jonathan Zepp, bassoon.

The project was initiated by members of the board of directors of the Talbot County Arts Council who were dismayed by the near total absence of young people attending Mid-Shore Area performances of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, and Chesapeake Music.  A study group concluded that younger people might begin attending if they could be introduced to classical music in various appealing forms at the secondary school level.

The resulting project is a result of an organizational effort coordinated by a committee from the board of the Talbot County Arts Council, which brought together the School of Music of the University of Maryland, the music and social studies faculty of Easton Middle School, and Chesapeake Music.  Their objective is to provide the student body a rare opportunity to learn from the skill and experience of graduate-level musicians, to both inspire a lifelong love of classical music among the general student body and allow music students to benefit from the skill and enthusiasm of young professional-level musicians who are qualified as music teachers and who are participating as volunteers.

The University of Maryland portion of the initiative is being managed by Dr. Robert DiLutis, Professor of Clarinet and Director of the Community Engagement Office at the School of Music. Talbot County Public Schools has been involved through the encouragement of former fine arts supervisor Dr. Marcia Sprankle and her successor, James Redman. The EMS component is managed by band director Donna Ewing with the assistance of chorus director CJ Freeman and social studies teacher Christopher Renaud.  Chesapeake Music has been represented by executive director Donald Buxton and Hanna Woicke, chair of the YouthReach Committee.  Participating Arts Council board members are Nancy Larson and Bill Peak.   The program will be administered directly between Dr. DiLutis and Mrs. Ewing, and housing during the quintets overnight stays in Talbot County has been organized by Chesapeake Music president Courtney Kane.

If the pilot program proves successful, it is hoped funding will be found to continue the initiative in future years at Easton Middle School and possibly expand the project to include other local schools. The program is made possible by grant from the Artistic Insights Fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, with funds from an Arts-in-Education grant from the Talbot County Arts Council, using revenues provided by the Maryland State Arts Council.

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