Easton Middle School Musicians Benefit from Artist-in-Residence Program


Band students from Easton Middle School (EMS) recently held a Student Recital at the Talbot County Free Library in Easton, demonstrating what they learned from the University of Maryland’s Potomac Winds Ensemble as part of a new Artist-in-Residence Program.

According to Nancy Larson, representing the Talbot County Arts Council, “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.”

Photo: Pictured back row, L-R: Bechora Aguoru, David Ludwig, & Mara Stoyanov, Potomac Wind members. Pictured middle row, L-R: Mrs. Donna Ewing, Mrs. Jackie Valcik, David Gardner, Elaina Steinly, Anna Lesher, Charlotte Moseley, Ian Branic, & Mrs. CJ Henry. Pictured front row (kneeling): Eduardo Diaz-Chavero, Olivia Tagbo, Merceyde Wilkins, Ahltair Baltimore, & John Schwaninger.

A committee from the board of the Talbot County Arts Council then brought together the University of Maryland (UMD) School of Music, the music and social studies faculty of Easton Middle School, and Chesapeake Music to discuss the issue. The objective of the group was 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 ensemble made four two-day visits to EMS during the school year, working closely with students and teachers to bridge the gap between the classroom knowledge of world history and the experiences of world music, through both assemblies and master classes with EMS band students. According to Robert DiLutis, Director of Community Engagement at the UMD School of Music, “This has been an incredible first year of our chamber music residency. It has also been an amazing experience watching the Easton Middle School students develop meaningful relationships with the Potomac Wind members over the past year as they have grown and developed. We are also extremely excited about the possibility of continuing the residency next year with a UMD brass quintet.”

Pictured L-R are Potomac Winds flutist Ceylon Mitchell with Mara Stoyanov of Easton Middle School. (Photo courtesy of: Debbie Gardner)

Donna Ewing, Band Instructor at EMS, comments, “It has been a joy to watch the band program grow at EMS over the last 12 years. The community has been so supportive of bridging the gap between student performers and professionals.”

A number of EMS students who participated in the recital, had been working on solo and ensemble work, getting ready for State of Maryland Solo and Ensemble Festival. Both Ian Branick, a 7th grader, and Anna Lesher, an 8th grader, found that Potomac Winds helped them with their sound and how to make the music sound better – including the dynamics of their playing.

Ijeoma Tagbo, mother of 6th grade flutist Onyi Tagbo, states, “The program has helped with creating discipline. My daughter is growing to love the flute.”

Bechorah Agulru, an 8th grader who plays the clarinet, states, “The experience really helped us to develop skills to bring out our fullest potential in the music we were playing to prepare for our Festival. I won a superior rating at the Festival after working with Melissa Morales, the clarinetist of Potomac Winds.”

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.  The members of Potomac Winds are Ceylon Mitchell, flute; Sarah Balzer, oboe; Melissa Morales, clarinet; Avery Pettigrew, horn; and Jonathan Zepp, bassoon. Ceylon Mitchell comments, “It’s been exciting for us – seeing the youth and their excitement with us coming to mentor them.”

Melissa Morales, adds, “You have a vibrant, wonderful community in Talbot County.”

Courtney Kane, president of Chesapeake Music, coordinated the housing of the musicians with the help of Chesapeake Music’s executive director Donald Buxton and Hanna Woicke, chair of Chesapeake Music’s YouthReach Committee. Courtney comments, “There was instant electricity when the Potomac Winds met EMS student musicians. Potomac Winds artists were talented, skilled in their approach to the group…….and young. The band classes responded with unmistakable enthusiasm. Each session included demonstration, some theory, small group and individual coaching. Kudos to all, including generous local hosts who welcomed the visitors into their homes.”

Given the apparent success of this year’s program, 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. Carpe Diem Arts also supported the program.

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