BJSO program lets students conduct

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Todd Mishler | July 7, 2017

JANESVILLE -- The music always comes first. Then it depends on mastering the necessary skills and subtleties of the role.

Add the fact that Elijah Miller and Bryan Trasvina are self-starters, and it's easy to see why they were chosen as guest student conductors for the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra's annual Independence Day pops concerts.

The Fruzen Intermediate School eighth-graders-to-be were selected from Glenn Wilfong's band class, which participated in BJSO music director Rob Tomaro's five-week Conducting Kids program.

Trasvina takes the spotlight at the Janesville concert July 3, while Miller leads the professional performing group in Beloit on July 4 for events that celebrate the nation's birthday and honor veterans and current military personnel. Trumpeter Stephanie Klett is the guest soloist.

Tomaro, BJSO music director since 1999, said these two students possess the requisite skills to study conducting should they choose to do so, which include:

n A good level of talent in the areas of rhythm, musical form and harmony

n The ability to conduct an ensemble confidently and with a demeanor that inspires a good performance

n The beginnings of an intuitive understanding of the exciting process of how to develop a piece of music in rehearsal with an orchestra or band and end up with a piece that is ready to be performed

Trasvina played clarinet in Fruzen's seventh-grade band and the Aldrich-Fruzen concert band, while Miller played horn with the Fruzen seventh-graders and piano for the Aldrich-Fruzen jazz ensemble.

Wilfong has worked with them a lot and said they're ready for the big-time.

“Bryan enjoys challenging himself and eagerly works on new skills,” Wilfong said. “Elijah works hard to excel at every task he is assigned or takes upon himself. All members in the Aldrich and Fruzen band programs begin conducting in sixth grade and continue to improve their skills in seventh. When Dr. Tomaro offered the opportunity to conduct the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra at the Independence Day concerts through his Conducting Kids program, these two students jumped at the chance and have worked hard to be prepared for their conducting debuts.”

For their part, the youngsters understandably have mixed emotions.

“It sounded interesting, and eventually I got to conduct four or five times in front of the class, and then I've practiced at home,” said Miller, a fan of classic rock groups such as Led Zeppelin, Journey and AC/DC. “I'm nervous and excited, but I've got a lot of practices to build up confidence.”

“The most important thing about being a conductor is the performers follow the leader and the conductor holds everything together,” said Trasvina, who appreciates a large variety of musical styles but recently has gotten into classical. “These performers are professionals and know what they're doing ... they're amazing, so I'm excited.”

Trasvina credited Tomaro and Wilfong for nurturing his progress.

“Mr. Tomaro seems like a light-hearted person, but he knows when to get serious and knows so much, and I look up to him,” said Trasvina, who has fiddled with his father's old acoustic guitar. “I was shy the first time (conducting), but because I have played a couple of instruments it gave me a good sense of keeping your mark and I know what they're doing. And Mr. Wilfong taught me how to play the clarinet, and I love playing it.”

And the BJSO's budding relationship with the school system has helped many of these band/musical students blossom.

“Conducting Kids grew out of an earlier program I instituted as part of the BJSO education outreach, Composing Kids, which was begun about five years ago,” Tomaro said. “This consisted of a five-week workshop with middle school students who composed a score for a silent film or cartoon. I orchestrated their music and the symphony played it along with the film at the final concert of the season. Each group (of five) was given one section of the film to score, and at the end I collated all the music. It is a wonderful and deeply rewarding experience to work with the students as they discover the joy of composing music.

“After several years, I came up with Conducting Kids,” Tomaro added. “I work with one class each semester, encouraging all of the students in a band or orchestra class to take a turn conducting their student ensemble during regular rehearsal periods. Eventually, several students are identified as good candidates to conduct the BJSO.”

Wilfong said the experience has proven invaluable for his classes.

“Many students in the Fruzen band program have taken part in this year's Conducting Kids activities,” he said. “Students gain a deeper understanding of the music they are performing when they are standing in front of their peers and making musical decisions about tempo, dynamics, phrasing, blend and balance.”

Miller has tried his hand at French horn and accordion after starting with the piano at age 4, but he prefers bass guitar. He said that varied background has helped him prepare for his biggest role.

“Playing guitar has helped me count the music better and learn how many beats in each measure,” Miller said.

Trasvina said conducting with the BJSO is simply another adventure.

“I'm the type of person who can try anything without being too emotional ... if I mess up, I just keep going. I think about what I did wrong and fix it,” Trasvina said. “That's why we have practices.”



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