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Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra Wes Kenney performance

Our Vietnam Experience, Entry #10


Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Violin Professor Leslie Stewart are spending ten days over break in Vietnam with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and at the National Music Academy. These entries document their unique and exciting experience!

January 5, 2018

Concert Day. We leave the hotel at 8 a.m. for a 9 a.m. rehearsal. There is a huge poster outside the opera house with Do Phuong Nhi and my photos on it. We are early so there are very few people around, but fortunately we know the way to the dressing room area and manage to claim one of them.

I wander onto the stage, which is still being put together, as well as the shell being put up. The stage is huge, very much large enough for an opera turntable for sets when a theatrical performance is presented. The orchestra only takes up about half of the space, with the front half extended in front of the proscenium (mostly the strings.) It is clear, the pit must be huge and they’ve had Puccini sized orchestras of about 65 down there. That would be something to see!

view of orchestra hall from loftBy 9 a.m. the shell is up, and the rehearsal gets started about 9:15. One player is missing because of a family emergency, but fortunately they are only a few minutes late. The Copland and the concerto go relatively smoothly. Balances are better than I anticipated although it seems that the brass sometimes tends to overplay the space. We get to go over a few things in the Dvorak and get through the entire symphony just as time expires. I thank the orchestra for their work and they applaud. Eight rehearsals down and only the performance is left!

Lan, Thang, Nhi, Leslie, and I are hosted for lunch at a western styled steakhouse by Honna the VNSO’s music director and his significant other, the assistant concertmaster of the orchestra and also a gracious host. It is once again a wonderful and large meal that ends when the ACM pulls out some Durian cookies for an ending sweet. Durian is a somewhat controversial crop stemming from its unique aroma. As the Vietnamese say, the fruit “smells like hell, but tastes like heaven.” Lan and Nhi really like Durian, but Thang says it should be eaten in the bathroom…! The smell is so strong that there are many hotels that have banned the fruit from their premises. I brave the aroma (which doesn’t seem all that bad) and try a couple of cookies. To me, they are quite good — a new taste treat.

We are returned to the hotel by the VNSO driver for an afternoon of rest before returning to the Italian restaurant we dined at the previous Monday. A little pasta and salad (and we make sure our hosts understand it should only be a small amount) seems to be a great way to get the evening started. We walk the two blocks to the hall, braving the traffic and crowds to get to the musicians entrance. Lan and Thang make sure that the guest artist and conductor manage safe passage, something more challenging for a pedestrian than any westerner could imagine. Lan plays social butterfly with well wishers in front of the hall, eventually finding her way back stage with the rest of my clothing that she insisted on carrying. The humidity concerns me that I might go through several changes of clothes on this evening. I certainly have come prepared with extra undershirts and a hair blower, all of which get used during this event.

The hallways are abuzz with excitement and indeed they are expecting a full house. At shortly after 8 p.m., the orchestra takes the stage en mass, Lan tunes up the ensemble, and I come out for the Copland. I’d been told that going to a concert in Vietnam was similar to China and that the crowds were boisterous and more like a sporting event. However, other than the spontaneous applause after Buckaroo Holiday, it was clear that everyone had truly come to listen to their orchestra with quiet attention. The Copland was well received from the capacity audience. Nhi then took the stage and wowed the house with her spirit and prowess on the Bruch. The audience gave her four curtain calls and she was given two huge bouquets of flowers.

Group of violinists and Wes KenneyAt intermission, the hall outside the dressing rooms is filled with family and friends of Nhi, Lan, and Thang. This includes Honna-san who stops by to tell me the Copland was terrific. As photos are being taken in the hallway, I towel off, blow-dry my hair into some semblance of neatness, and get my game face on for the 2nd half. Their librarians are efficient in taking scores to put on my stand and returning the first half, always being gracious in doing so. Everyone speaks a little bit of English, so communication has always been fairly easy during the concert process.

The Dvorak is ready to roll and the orchestra plays as if they are on a mission to prove that this is a piece they intend to play for years to come. The audience again breaks into applause after the first movement. The pastoral second movement is met with quiet reflection in the audience, save for one really loud sneeze out of the house. The furiant/scherzo is played with great energy and one little quirk I threw into the final third goes off without a hitch. The last movement, which had been the albatross for the strings, is played with élan, including the frenetic finale that the cellos set at a blistering pace. The performance produces five curtain calls and I’m told later that the chanting style applause seemed to indicate that they wanted to hear the finale again, something that was lost on me…still, we left them wanting more.

The orchestra members greet me back stage with smiles and many kind words. It seems that we’ve made some great music together and they express their appreciation. Again, the hallway is overrun with people all seeming to want to meet an American conductor, even if his hair looks like he just stepped out of the shower. The after photos with me in my white tie and tails make me look like someone from the “roaring twenties” with slicked down hair, but admittedly, Brylcreem was never my thing. (See the climax to The Sting if you miss the reference).

We eventually work our way back to the Italian restaurant where we toast with wine, pizza, pasta, salad, and good cheer the success of the evening. Around the table are Executive Director Mr. Hong, Assistant Conductor Ling, Thang, Lan, Nhi, Music Director Honna, and a few others. Honna tells me that I remind him of the Czech conductor Zdenek Macal, which I take as a great compliment. Later I would learn that he wants me back as soon as possible, again something that I am thrilled to hear. However, change is in the future for this orchestra. On a positive note, there is a new rehearsal space that is to open soon. But, there is also word another orchestra is soon to start up that may bring more players from outside of Vietnam. It is not clear what this development means for the VNSO as qualified players are not easy to find and they will be losing a few of their own to this new ensemble. We can only wait and see what happens as the future unfolds.

After a couple of hours of revelry we are returned to the hotel for some rest and recouping. Our journey is far from over and we still have more of North Vietnam to explore!

Our Vietnam Experience, Entry #9


Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Violin Professor Leslie Stewart are spending ten days over break in Vietnam with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and at the National Music Academy. These entries document their unique and exciting experience!

January 4, 2018

It is the day before the concert and there is still much work to be done, primarily on the Dvorak Symphony. We’ve arranged to get to the rehearsal hall by 11:30 a.m., so we can meet up with one of our summer M.M.E. in conducting students who is currently teaching in Myanmar, and has completed one summer and one semester on-line in our program thus far. Lee Pophal is on break from his job and is touring Vietnam with his sister. He makes arrangements to meet us for lunch that day and Thang and Lan take us to another Thai place. They order a few appetizers and a hotpot for the table to share. A hotpot is a popular Asian dish where a chicken broth is heated then brought to the table and placed on a heating element of some sort. When the broth is at a boil, meats, seafood, noodles, and vegetables are placed in the pot for quick cooking and then served. It is about as fresh a dish as one can get, and again, it is a fulfilling meal and Lan loves to play “cook,” both in terms of adding the various food elements, then serving it up.

During lunch, we talk about the political situation in Myanmar (some parts of the country are dangerous), but Lee says he is absolutely safe where he is teaching, which is at an American school. Lan and Thang are a bit quiet, perhaps because of the fluid English that is being spoken at the table. We spoke to Lee about other students in our program, or recently graduated, who are also teaching at American schools around the world.

After lunch we head back to the hall, but not before seeing some interesting signs of business such as “Pho Nho!,” and “Huy pei nah?” Maybe this is legit language, or maybe someone is having fun with double entendres! On arrival, we get the strings going on the finale to the Dvorak 6th as the rest of the orchestra shuffles in. The personnel manager informs me that the oboes and the pianist will be late. This is frustrating since the rehearsal was moved to the afternoon on their account. Fortunately the oboes are only 10 minutes late, but the pianist never shows up for the Copland. In my mind the rehearsal is to go to 5 p.m., since the original schedule was for 3.5 hours. However, after we are finished with the concerto, I’m told the rehearsal is to end at 4:30 and now we do not have time to run everything. Tomorrow’s AM dress rehearsal at the opera house would have to suffice. All one can do is take a deep breath and hope we are all ready to focus and run through the full program in the three hours we have left.

Over the course of the week, we have been collecting “take-away” leftovers in our hotel fridge. Lan looks exhausted at the end of rehearsal, so we tell her to please take the night off and be with her family and we will fend for ourselves. We have been eating so much during the week that the thought of quietly nibbling on leftovers in our room seems quite palatable. The next day will be an early one to the opera house and then a long day ending with a party after the concert, so getting to sleep early seems to be the best plan.

Our driver returns us to the Sheraton. I’m following along on my iPhone Map app. The hotel is situated on an inlet on the east side of Westlake. It appears that both the opera house and the rehearsal hall are the same distance to the south. However, since the rehearsal hall is more west, we always travel up and around the top of the lake then south. The opera house is closer to the downtown area and more east, so then we go the opposite direction. In either direction, there is always something new to see. A beautiful garden with multicolored flowers, a set of partially constructed condos that appear to have been abandoned as they have no windows, and an amusement park with a large ferris wheel and roller coaster that sits dormant during this time of year.

There is a long stretch of road where a portion of it is being lowered about 15 or 20 feet to the level of the businesses on either side. This is to help increase the number of lanes and help the flow of traffic. The single lane road going south created by the construction is home to a businesses ranging from Land Rover dealers to very small open air markets where meat is set out for people to peruse. Of course, motorbikes weave around sometimes passing on the right, sometimes passing in the wrong direction on the left. For us westerners often disconcerting, for the people who live there, just another day in Hanoi.

2017 International Horn Symposium tour photo

A Run-Out to Brazil

Wesley Ferreira and Dr. John McGuire holding Brazil and USA's flagWell, this trip unexpectedly turned into quite the adventure! Clarinet Professor Wesley Ferreira and I left Colorado on Sunday, June 25, to head to Natal, Brazil for the 2017 International Horn Symposium, held at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN). This is the largest single French horn event in the entire world each year, and receiving an invite to perform at it is highly competitive. I have been lucky, though, because I work with such terrific musicians and colleagues!

Wesley and I discussed the possibility of going to the symposium back in the fall of 2016 with an idea for a new piece for horn, clarinet, and piano. We brought the request to our composer at CSU, Jim David, who was very excited and set to work on it right away. The result is what Wesley and I believe will be a fabulous addition to the repertoire, Batuque. The two-movement piece is based on traditional Brazilian folk music, with the 1st movement being lyrical in nature and the 2nd movement being highly rhythmic and percussive.

Dr. John McGuire playing hornOur flight from Denver to Atlanta went well, as did our flight from Atlanta to Sao Paolo. However, once we got to Sao Paolo things started to go a bit awry. We ended up missing our last flight to Natal and were delayed by an extra 12 hours! This turned our 24 hour travel day into a 36 hour travel day, and needless to say, we were both fairly tired when we finally got to our hotel at 1:30 in the morning on Tuesday.

With as long as that day was, the five hours of sleep that we were able to get seemed to fly by as we had to get up early on Tuesday in order to rehearse with our accompanist for our performance. But, no matter how tired we were, being in an exotic location, as well as having the opportunity to premiere a really terrific piece, gave us all the energy we needed. That, combined with some really strong Brazilian coffee!

Our performance was on Thursday at noon and it couldn’t have gone better! The hall was packed and the audience was incredibly receptive and genuinely excited after hearing Jim’s wonderful piece! We had numerous people come up to us afterwards, asking how they could to get a copy of Batuque. So, Jim, you may be having to answer a lot of emails from excited horn players!

Another thing that I would like to mention about this symposium, as well as almost all of the others I have been to over the course of my career, is just how thoroughly excited and inspired I usually find myself immediately after the event is over. And this symposium did not disappoint! Any time you get to hear some of the truly elite players in the horn world is a wonderful thing. One concert in particular stood out to us. The Wednesday evening concert featured such horn luminaries as Jeff Nelsen, Frank Lloyd, Abel Pereira, Kristina Mascher-Turner, and Marie-Louise Neunecker. This one program included both Richard Strauss horn concerti as well as Schumann’s Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra. The world-class horn playing left Wesley and me speechless! Any of you horn players out there know just how massive this program was, and after all that wonderful horn playing, the orchestra closed the concert with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture! I can’t wait to get home and practice my own horn!

two men playing clarinetsLastly, I would be remiss if I did not make special mention of my colleague Wesley Ferreira. Not only was this a thoroughly enjoyable artistic experience with him, but it is refreshing to see all of his hard work and dedication to his craft pay off, especially in a foreign land. When the faculty at UFRN heard that he was going to be in Natal, they immediately contacted him and asked him to do a master class at the University. Word on the street here is that he is quite well-known in Brazil…even though he has never been here! His master class was both engaging and entertaining, and the students clearly learned a lot from him. What clarinet player goes to a horn symposium and steals the show?! I’ll tell you who – my colleague, Wes Ferreira!

Next year’s International Horn Symposium will be held at Ball State University In Muncie, Indiana. It will be the 50th annual IHS. Maybe I will see you there!

~ Written by Dr. John McGuire, CSU Horn Professor

Crab Apple Blossom

In The Green Room: April 2017

The Green Room April 2017 Vol. 3 Iss. 18 April 2017 | Powerful, Collaborative Expression Spring Dance Concert Preview

April 2017: The Green Room

It’s The Green Room’s anniversary! Our creatively crafted and responsibly delivered online showcase of all things performing and visual arts at Colorado State University is now two years old. As you continue to engage with the arts at CSU, we hope our free, story-telling solution continues to be a part of the mix.

April is an exquisite time of year with the lovely crab apple trees in full bloom. Fort Collins has a special affinity for the varied-colored trees, with their heavy clusters of blossoms. Laden with meaning, the blooms were considered a symbol of artistic creativity by the Celts. Perhaps with the trees encircling the UCA as a contributing factor, April is the culminating month for events each academic year, and 2017 doesn’t disappoint! This month’s highlight events include the Spring Dance Concert, the opening of Little Shop of Horrors, The Musical, and two nights of the University Symphony Orchestra.

As you read the pages of our second anniversary issue, we hope you find an event that feels tailored to your tastes, and that we see you at the UCA soon. Altogether, it is an ideal time to visit campus!

If you’ve enjoyed this publication, please share it, send us your own story ideas and news. We thank you for your ongoing readership and support!

Jennifer Clary Jacobs
Marketing Director, University Center for the Arts

2016 December Green Room cover

In The Green Room: Wow, I’ve Got Nothing…

2016 December Green Room coverThe Green Room is the University Center for the Arts’ online magazine. 

December 2016: As I put keyboard to paper this month, my first thought is “Wow, I’ve got nothing…”

As I stare at this practically blank page, I realize that this way of thinking is not only inaccurate, but diminishes the value of a whole lot of time and effort, both mine, and everyone else at the University Center for the Arts.

This semester, I’ve watched the comings and goings of over a 1000 students who spend a portion or most of their day at the UCA each week; I hear a satisfying cacophony holistically emitting from 50 practice rooms at the south end of the building, no matter the time of day; I smell wood being cut in the scene shop as that delicious scent wafts down the hall; I hear the crunch of the ice machine as a dancer fills an ice pack the end of a grueling rehearsal; I see Poudre School District buses pull up in front and little kids holding hands as they wind their way into the museum; and I hear the rhythmic chug of our large color printer churning out programs and posters for hours at a time.

I could go on and on…and easily fill ten pages, but that’s simply a glimpse into a few elements comprising the learning and creative process that took place at the UCA during the 2016 fall semester, and all the semesters before that. And it’s precisely the ten pages’ worth of activities, events, tasks, and exercises that initially left me with nothing to say.

Don’t we all do this though? Pour everything into our art, or whatever else we are dedicated to, until we are depleted and imagine that we have nothing left. But in truth, we have everything, it’s all around us, reflected in our satisfaction with a performance or research project, the photos, and videos taken at events, and in the memories our immense efforts created.

This issue of The Green Room shares some of those captured moments and foretells of projects that will be memories soon. After that, the UCA will pause and rejuvenate until classes resume later in Jan. Until then, we wish you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

Take care,
Jennifer Clary Jacobs
Director of Marketing, University Center for the Arts


Accuracy Is Everything In Practice

“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” ~ Wyatt Earp

An interesting person to quote for today’s post, but very applicable to our lives as musicians because it relates to how we practice. How do we become accurate and consistent? It’s by practicing slower. Our brains and our muscles need time to process an activity, and time to build up speed and accuracy.

My recital is in a few weeks, and while my program feels secure, I still take one practice session a week to go through the repertoire at three quarters of my performance speed. There is always something that needs attention-a shift, a phrasing that can be clearer, an articulation that needs attention.

Now that everyone’s semester is in an established routine, take a moment to think about your practicing. Are you in a rut? Are you practicing carefully and being a mindful listener?

Until next time,
Margaret Miller
Professor of Viola

John McGuire pictured performing in Russia

Fortress Brass Returns to St. Petersburg

Well, here we are! Another year, another Fortress Brass tour! After a year off, we’ve come back to St. Petersburg, Russia as part of the Brass Autumn Music Festival.

  • St. Petersburg 2016 Tour photo
    First day in St. Petersburg, Russia. I am very tired from traveling, but had a good rehearsal with the orchestra.

It’s always so much fun to go on adventures, especially with this group. But, as enjoyable as a tour is, I always feel the hardest part is the initial journey to your destination. We flew for 24 hours, had two connections, and had to eat airline food for multiple meals. And the hardest part is that after all of this, we had to get off the plane and go directly into a rehearsal with an orchestra. My piece, the Concerto in E-flat by Christoph Forster, is hard enough when you’re well rested, but after a long travel day…oy!

That’s when you have to rely on your preparation and trust your training!

This particular concert involved each of the five of us playing solos with the orchestra and then playing several brass quintets for a packed hall. Having been over here before, we learned that with as much as the Russian audiences appreciate good classical tunes, they really are into jazz music, especially Dixieland, which happens to be a staple of our repertoire. They clapped along with several of our tunes and demanded encores! It was so invigorating to feel such appreciation for what we do! Afterwards, we signed a lot of autographs, took lots of pictures, and visited for a long time. Music really is transcendent!

More on some of our other experiences soon! Stay tuned!

~ John McGuire
Assistant Professor of Horn

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. -Johw Dewey

Welcome Back!

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

Happy Labor Day to you all! I hope that you have had a restful weekend. As I told my studio this past week, starting tomorrow, it is a long haul until fall break, meaning Thanksgiving. Remember to take care of yourself during this fall semester. Tension issues can creep in without us realizing it, so if something hurts, tell someone! There is no need to suffer in silence.

Now, about today’s quote. Whether you are a freshman in high school or college, or a graduate student, or a working professional, we are always learners. Take advantage of attending concerts, lectures, workshops, anything that interests you. You may discover a passion for something related to music that can be advantageous to your career. One never knows…

For me, being a life-long learner means learning new repertoire, reading about topics that interest me, such as funding in the arts and what it means to have a successful career in the arts. There are many creative people in the world doing amazing things, search out a topic that interests you!

As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts for future postings.

Until next time,
Margaret Miller

Kids Do It All Todos Santos

Kids Do It All – A Beautiful Collaboration and Exchange

Gabriela Ocádiz, CSU Alum (’15), M.M., Music Education
PhD student in Music Education at Western Ontario University

My experience with Kids Do it All in Todos Santos has always been enriching in many senses, particularly professionally and personally.

The purpose of the program, in my own words, is to give opportunities for children to express themselves – their thoughts, feelings, and personal life – through storytelling, theater, music, and art. It is a different educational proposal because we take everything that the kids come up with and help them transform it into a play; we do not intend to teach them what to do, but we facilitate the space for them to build whatever they want. All of what they know, and who they are, is welcome, accepted, and applauded. The outcome, and the process, is different every time because neither the counselors nor the students know where their ideas are going to end up. Their imagination, their daily experiences with others, has the possibility to be recreated and transformed specially through theater, and this provides an amazing learning experience for all of us.

During my time at CSU, I discovered this way of learning, and it provided me with the opportunity to work on a program such as Kids Do It All (KDIA) in my home country. The ability to communicate with people, writing, and planning were skills that I learned through different activities at CSU. Leading this program helped me understand that nothing can be possible if it is not through the work of a strong community, in Colorado and in Todos Santos.

My experience leading the camp was challenging, but highly rewarding. There is always a feeling of accomplishment that comes from months of work, combined with the sadness of knowing that the days of playing, singing, acting, and laughing will come to an end!

  • Kids Do It All Todos Santos

If the program ends with children laughing and playing – dressed up like princesses, lions, monkeys, or kings of the world – the program has achieved the goals of helping kids realize that they can do, and be, whatever they want in life; that what they have to say is important; and that there are people who will love to hear it. As a music teacher and personally, KDIA helps me remember that there is still much more to do to give even more children the opportunity to have an experience such as this.

This program has the characteristic of being bilingual and bicultural. Mexican children share the experience with children from Colorado to achieve a common goal. Since last year, the program added one more level by inviting students from the Universidad Autonóma de Baja California Sur (UABSC) to work together with the CSU counselors, and I also lead those students; being originally from Mexico and having lived abroad, another level was added to this cultural engagement.

One of the things that spoke a lot to me this year was the amazing work, flexibility, and care that the counselors had with the children. Many of them did not speak fluent Spanish, but were willing to try the best they could to communicate with their groups. Communication is complicated when you do not speak the native language, therefore, communication comes in a circus of movements, drawings, signs, and sounds to be able to understand each other, and the outcome is beautiful to observe.

A story I can share is when a group of Mexican girls wanted to talk to an American girl. They asked me to translate to English several times and they were able to share a bit. Later, one of the girls asked me to read a letter she wrote in English (with the help of google translate) to see if it was good enough to give to her friend. I was moved by the way something that appears limiting, such as the difficulty of communication, was not a limit anymore. The girl who received the letter was really excited to know someone had such an interest in communicating with her, and said that no one had done something like that for her before.

We are living in a really complex world where difficulties and differences are not praised but diminished. This program is a combination of efforts between a colorful town in Mexico, and a mountain city in the United States, for both countries’ children. As a teacher, I believe it is a powerful program and proof of a different possibility for collaboration, communication, and sharing.

Freshman pictured spelling out CSU

Welcome back, everyone!

I hope that you have all had a great summer; I’m sure you’ve returned to school with energy, enthusiasm, and possibly a little bit of anxiety. My summer involved coaching at the Lamont Academy, Just Chamber Music in Ft. Collins, and PlayWeek West at the University of Denver. I did enjoy some down time getting caught up on projects, gardening, and reading. Oh, yes, and starting to practice for my recital in Oct.

What are your goals for the fall semester? I’m sure that one of those is better time management. Speaking from my own experience, it’s a life-long process! We all change and have priorities that change as well. Number one on your list-and mine-is to take care of yourself. I find having a weekly and a daily list of items helps me plan my personal time, what I want to get done for my practicing, and what to plan for my students. Be thinking now of how you can best use your time so you can avoid as many all-nighters as possible!

Like last year, this posting will occur twice a month. I enjoy hearing from you, so if you have a topic that you would like to hear about, do let me know.

Until next time,
Margaret Miller
Assistant Professor of Viola; Coordinator, Graduate Quartet Program
School of Music, Theatre and Dance