CINCINNATI, Ohio — The Deer Park Band and Choir participated in a one-of-a-kind experience, as Cincinnati Pops Orchestra Principal Conductor John Morris Russell spent the afternoon discussing music during a Zoom class session last Thursday.
The nationally-recognized, Grammy-nominated conductor spent time discussing the history of musical traditions in the United States and connections to the Cincinnati area, explained the many challenges with building a musical program during the pandemic, and answered questions from many of the 60 Deer Park students in attendance.
“Anytime we can get students in front of real world professionals is a real opportunity to change someone’s life,” Deer Park Band Director Patrick Bauer said. “My high school band director made a special trip with me and 2 of my friends to meet the great band director Frederick Fennell in Dayton, Ohio back in 1999 and that day changed the course of my life. Maybe John Morris Russell did the same for one of our students.”
Several of the students asked questions about Pops’ performances this year, which have been shared through video inside of empty theaters because COVID-19 restrictions.
“We had to find pieces of music that would fit our ensemble on stage,” Russell shared. “We could only have an orchestra of around 30 players. There was not a lot written for a group that small. Sometimes when your back is against the wall, you run into things that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Not all questions centered around the pandemic, however, as many students took the opportunity to ask Russell about his experiences in front of one of the top orchestras in the world.
“The difference between practicing with the Pops and any other group is that, at the professional level, everyone comes in immensely prepared,” he said.
Bauer added that he was grateful for the strong resources this area provides for music and musicians.
“We are lucky to have the musical resources we do in Cincinnati,” he said. "We have one of about 5 full time pops orchestras in the nation, it is a true blessing to witness the creativity and the arts in this town.”
Russell also took the time to show several clips from the virtual concerts and shared stories from his most memorable performances, including a trip to Europe to perform just days before the birth of his first child.
“The students of the Deer Park Band and Choir asked some really impressive questions and even spoke to JMR about some music that he had not heard before, which is a great example of the collaborative spirit that is always present when musicians gather to share thoughts and ideas,” Bauer said.
To conclude the meeting, Russell added a bit of advice for the students in navigating through the difficulties of this year.
“Remember this, because we will get back to regular life soon,” he said. "Every day, every opportunity to be inclusive and every opportunity to perform is a gift. Never miss a chance to take advantage of that.”
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