Features Article for University of Alaska, Anchorage newspaper The Northern Light
by Jessica Keil (maiden name)
Northern Light Features Editor
If music hath charm to soothe the savage breast, members of the University Sinfonia might well be the most placid people on campus.
A sinfonia is an orchestra scaled down. Way down, if you’re looking at UAA’s sinfonia, with its core group of about 15 members.
The University Sinfonia is run as a two-credit class, so anyone can sign up, but the prerequisite may make some people rather squeamish. You have to audition to get in.
“The auditions are really informal,” says Russell Guyver, assistant professor in UAA’s music department. “I’ll just say: ‘Please come and play,’ and I’ll maybe put up a little sight-reading of something we’re planning to do and see how they handle that.
“So somebody will come and play and I’ll either tell them they’ll work well with the group or maybe they need to wait a year,” he says.
But don’t let that scare you off. The sinfonia isn’t only for music majors. Guyver, who’s been with the sinfonia for five years, says “It’s open to anyone. A lot of very talented musicians are in other fields, I’m glad to say.
Music is an overcrowded profession, so I’m glad to see a lot of people doing very different things who are in the group.”
So what is it about music that brings diverse people together?
“Music has universal appeal,” Guyver says. “Rhythm is such a natural part of our lives – from day to night to the beating of your heart – these things have rhythm.
“I think performance of any type, if it’s done well, is attractive. Whether it’s a stand-up comedian or a symphony orchestra. If it’s done well, there’s a focus of energy that’s universally exciting. In the case o the music we’re dealing with, from classic masterworks, you can’t go wrong. They’re resonating on many different levels,” he says.
Or, there’s always the appeal of a challenge.
Dick Reed, 48, is a local architect who plays violin for the sinfonia. Reed said he decided to play violin when, as a child, he was told it was one of the hardest instruments to play. Reed says he enjoys the challenge and that he finds music to be very satisfying.
“I saw the sinfonia as a group that is committed to playing good music,” he says, when asked why he chose to join the sinfonia. “I think Russell works with us very hard and that we’re all committed to playing music the best we can,” he says.
The sinfonia’s music isn’t confined to the pint-sized concert-hall in the Arts Building, however. According to Guyver, the group usually does one big concert a year as well as what he referred to as “The Institutional Series.”
The sinfonia packs its bags and tours places around Anchorage which house people who wouldn’t normally be able to get to a public concert. Last Tuesday it went to The Mary Conrad Center.
Reed says he enjoyed performing there. “It was very informal. The audience was enthusiastic and they seemed to appreciate us a lot. It was a ground-breaking experience and I look forward to the next one.”
Elementary education major Teresa Nathanson, 21, agrees. “It was very pleasant and we were very well-received,” she says.
Nathanson, who has played cello for 14 years, says she also enjoys the camaraderie the sinfonia offers. But, she admits, although she does enjoy performing, she often gets nervous.
Guyver says this is a relatively common occurrence.
“ You work for such a long time and then the feeling you get before a concert is, you suddenly see the negative side and what you haven’t managed to do. I think that’s a very general feeling,” he says.
But the other feeling among the sinfonia seems to be a feeling of unity.
“The sinfonia is a group I’ve really enjoyed as it’s changed over the years,” Guyver says.
“I think I’ve always enjoyed working with it. It’s always a nice atmosphere here, it’s small enough so you get to know everybody, you can hear everybody playing and how they contribute. It’s always been very positive.”