Acclaimed composer conducts Dartmouth’s school orchestras

Feb 10, 2024

For the past three days, Dartmouth Public Schools’ orchestras have practiced constantly. The night before Friday’s concert, the young musicians strummed their strings into the late evening, past 9 p.m., said low strings coordinator Michael Daniels. And yet, “they were working as hard as they would at any other time,” he said. 

That enthusiasm stemmed from the visit of Soon Hee Newbold to Dartmouth’s orchestra program. Soon Hee Newbold is a world-renowned composer whose works are often used in scholastic settings. Alongside composing, Newbold travels as a guest clinician, helping school orchestras around the country and world. 

The California-based composer came to Dartmouth Tuesday night and worked constantly with the student musicians on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, throughout the day and evening. 

“It’s usually pretty packed,” Newbold said. “There's a lot of people and there's a lot of music to get through, so it's usually pretty much all day, evening rehearsals.”

Her stay was celebrated with two special performances in the Dartmouth High School auditorium on Feb. 9. The concert comprised the Grade 6, Grades 7 and 8, and High School orchestras, along with the high school chamber orchestra. 

Students primarily played works written by Newbold. Orchestra Director Heather Church introduced each piece, and explained some of the context behind Newbold’s work with the students. 

“The amount of growth that all these students have made in a short three days with her presence has been outstanding, and quite frankly, jaw dropping,” Daniels said. 

Newbold is not an unfamiliar face in Dartmouth — she visited the district in 2017 for the first time, then assisted again with some lessons during the pandemic. 

After her second in-person visit, Newbold said Dartmouth’s educators stood out the most: “They're really good at connecting with them, just on a personal level, but also they're very good technicians — they're very good at their craft as well,” she said. 

Her favorite part of conducting the orchestras was seeing Dartmouth students have some fun with the music — nowhere was that more apparent than during the final composition, called “Battle,” which featured several soloists playing back and forth with each other. 

Because of the extended timeline with Newbold, Daniels said students got to know her and learn more about her work, which made them want to work harder. 

“I feel the students got to, first of all, get somebody else's opinion on their plane and feedback out leading them as an ensemble,” Daniels said. “To have a new voice in the room is really a nice breath of fresh air.”

After Friday’s performance, student musicians came to the cafeteria to ask for Newbold’s autograph, say goodbye and take selfies with her — so many students came to do so that a line formed around her. 

“She was really understanding of everybody and I feel like she was good at communicating with us,” said tenth grader Valerie Carreira. “Throughout the three days she was here, she really helped us.”

Carreira said Newbold specifically helped the group learn what each piece of music was about, both textually and musically: “Like when we get quieter and louder, I feel like it was way easier for us to understand it more, because she made sure that we knew the piece.”

Dartmouth’s school orchestras will next ready themselves for the Massachusetts Instrumental & Choral Conductor's Association in April.