Renowned composer leads 300 student musicians

Apr 1, 2017

Composer Soon Hee Newbold’s pieces call to life the historic and researched tales of Hiawatha, ancient Egypt, and the Underground Railroad. Sometimes, they focus on culture, like the life of a sea mariner, the Iditarod, or Orion. There are some exceptions, however.

“Tragedy of love... pirates running around, and… Papa Johns. Hopefully you hear all that in this piece,” said Newbold, introducing a piece that she had composed to reflect a generic fairy tale. However, the Dartmouth seventh and eighth graders performing her piece had interpreted it differently, she explained at the string orchestra concert on April 1.

Newbold — who can be spotted in movies including The Waterboy, but is better known for her string compositions and prestigious music awards — joined Dartmouth’s six string orchestras for two days, leading to two Saturday performances solely entailing Newbold’s works.

“It's different because you’re [usually] working on your conductor's view of what the composer wants, but now you know what the composer wants,” said Dartmouth High senior Dominic Vaccari.

Following an all-day practice that started at 7 a.m. on Friday, Newbold entertained students and families with a question and answer session. Vaccari asked Newbold about her process, how she writes music. However, some questions were geared toward her home life; Newbold has one cat that thinks it’s a dog.

Dartmouth music instructors Heather Church and Charlene Monte explained that they have incorporporated Newbold’s pieces into the repertoire for many years, and search her compositions specifically when putting together the year’s syllabus.

“All of the parts [in Newbold’s compositions] are challenging, are beautiful. Viola is usually boring [in other pieces],” explained Church. The string orchestras include violin, viola, cello, and double bass.

The department was able to fund Newbold’s visit through a sold out concert at the Zeiterion last year. The cost was well worth it, said Monte.

“She’s the most influential composer right now for string orchestras,” she said. “She covers a lot of educational things [like string technique] that we need to know about,”

The 300 string musicians — ranging from the fifth through twelfth grades — began practicing Newbold’s pieces following the holiday concerts, said Monte. During Newbold’s visit, she was able to polish the pieces pre-concert and conduct.

“They’re mature beyond their years. It’s very rare that I get to come in and just make music. We were able to make art,” said Newbold. She explained that students at this level are usually still mastering technique.

Newbold said there are always challenges when she comes in as a new conductor comes, and she and the students must become acquainted with each others’ styles. But, this was one of her easiest performances, she said.

“For me, it’s a real big treat to hear the art being made,” Newbold concluded.


The seventh and eighth graders perform "Song of the Sea Mariner" on April 1.