Virginia Arts Festival Announces Fall Arts Celebration Concerts

September 25-October 17 in the Festival’s Outdoor Courtyard

Words and Images courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

Virginia Arts Festival will present a series of outdoor concerts this fall in its Outdoor Courtyard at 440 Bank Street, Clay & Jay Barr Education Center, Norfolk. The series will feature classical and jazz concerts, at both evening and morning times, and will feature some of the region’s most gifted artists.

“Since the restrictions surrounding COVID-19, we have heard from many fans how much they miss live performances of great music, and we wanted to offer this safe opportunity to folks who are craving the satisfaction that only a live performance can bring.” said the Festival’s Perry Artistic Director Robert W. Cross. “These concerts, with safe, socially distanced seating outdoors will offer great opportunities to hear the music you love performed by top artists.”

The Courtyard at Virginia Arts Festival, with grass and pavers. The Hurrah Players building, white with columns, is in the background, and between the two you can see a stage has been constructed.

The Fall Arts Celebration series begins September 25 and includes the following programs:

Evening Chamber Music
Friday, September 25, 2020 at 6pm (Rain date September 26)
For classical music lovers, the series starts off with a great evening of chamber music, featuring the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players Debra Wendells Cross, flute; Elizabeth Coulter Vonderheide, violin; Luke Fleming, viola; and Jake Fowler, cello; for a program including the Haydn Flute Trio No. 1 in C major, Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor, Op. 9, No. 3, and Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major, K.285.

Courtyard Jazz – John Toomey Quartet
Saturday, October 3, 2020 at 5pm (Rain date October 4)
Jazz fans will welcome this Saturday evening concert! Famed for their performances at the Festival’s Attucks Jazz Club, John Toomey and Jimmy Masters will light up the Courtyard with an evening of jazz standards. Featuring John Toomey on piano, Jimmy Masters on bass, Brian Caputo on drums, and Eddie Williams on saxophone.  

Morning Chamber Music
Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at 10:30am (Rain date October 8)
Some of the most devoted fans have enjoyed Virginia Arts Festival Coffee Concerts, morning performances by great artists. This morning outdoor concert features Debra Wendells Cross, flute, and Barbara Chapman, harp, in arrangements of Baroque and Classical sonatas, works of women composers, and traditional folk music with arrangements of “Greensleeves” and “Flow Gently Sweet Afton.”

Courtyard Jazz – Jae Sinnett Trio
Saturday, October 17, 2020 at 5pm (Rain date October 18)
One of the region’s best-known jazz artists is Jae Sinnett, beloved for his performances and recordings, and avidly listened to by thousands of fans in his acclaimed programs on WHRV-FM. For jazz fans looking for a great Saturday night show, this outdoor concert by the Jae Sinnett Trio is just the ticket.

Tickets for the Virginia Arts Festival Fall Arts Celebration concerts are just $20 and are on sale now, online at or by phone at 757-282-2822.

About the Virginia Arts Festival 
Since 1997, the Virginia Arts Festival has transformed the cultural scene in southeastern Virginia, presenting great performers from around the world to local audiences and making this historic, recreation-rich region a cultural destination for visitors from across the United States and around the world. As an arts leader, the Festival has brought millions of dollars economic impact to the region and has driven the creation of new arts spaces and opportunities for artists, audiences, and the region’s diverse communities. The Festival has presented numerous U.S. and regional premieres, and regularly commissions new works of music, dance, and theater from some of today’s most influential composers, choreographers and playwrights. The Festival’s arts education programs reach tens of thousands of area schoolchildren each year through student matinees, in-school performances, artists’ residencies, master classes and demonstrations.


Spotlight Saturdays – Sponsored by the Sandler Center Foundation


Interview by Louise Casini Hollis.
Images courtesy of Symphonicity.

This week Spotlight Saturdays spoke with Symphonicity’s Executive Director Lynette Andrews and Music Director & Conductor Daniel W. Boothe. Founded in 1981, Symphonicity is proud of their volunteers’ continued hard work and the high quality of programming they bring to the Hampton Roads community.

What is your mission statement, and how do you decide on programs that fulfill your mission?
Lynette Andrews:
The mission of Symphonicity is to provide high quality music for everyone, to afford an opportunity for performers, and to educate young musicians. 

We are a group of more than 200 auditioned orchestra musicians and chorus members who love music and voluntarily come together every year to present nine concerts including five masterworks performances, one children’s concert, the free annual Messiah Sing-Along and two Symphony by the Sea oceanfront concerts. Symphonicity is a proud member of the resident companies at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, the location where all indoor concerts are performed. 

Daniel W. Boothe: Unlike most orchestras around the country, Symphonicity currently programs and markets each season with a specific theme or focus in mind. In this way, each individual concert contributes to a whole multi-concert story that unfolds throughout the season. When choosing a season theme, there is a deliberate effort to look at previous seasons and even project future seasons to ensure an emerging balance can occur over the span of multiple years. 

The interests and capabilities of our musicians are of great importance due to our volunteer membership. The music we program must inspire their participation to ensure momentum and enthusiasm during the rehearsal process. Within that span of possibilities, selections are recommended by the Artistic & Repertoire Committee which consists of orchestra and board members. 

A deliberate effort is made to integrate the City of Virginia Beach “Arts Plan 2030 Goals and Strategies”. This resource from the city’s Cultural Affairs Office provides a framework for the collective success of all the arts in our city and we rely upon it to ensure our artistic planning is meeting our city’s goals for the community. In that spirit, we also seek ways to collaborate and support local businesses and artists in all of our programming considerations. This often includes education as well as we try to develop partnerships with area schools and educational cohorts. 

I take all these suggestions, including those recommended by any planned guest soloists, and combine them with other suggestions from sponsors, patrons, and possibly other community arts leaders into a proposed programming plan that also complement’s my repertoire strengths and vision for the orchestra. The final season program is then reviewed and eventually approved by all involved. The entire process takes approximately 18 months in advance of the start of the subsequent season. 

Daniel and Lynette's headshots
Daniel W. Boothe and Lynette Andrews 

What or who inspires/ influences your work?
Lynette Andrews: The greatest inspiration behind what Symphonicity offers the community are the volunteers. Volunteers who already contribute to society in professions that range from doctors and lawyers to engineers and military personnel. Together our 200+ musician and non-musician volunteers give approximately twelve-thousand hours (12,000) annually to produce excellent and innovative concert performances and pre-concert activities for our audience and other Hampton Roads residents. 

What education programs are offered?
Lynette Andrews: One of Symphonicity’s greatest strengths is providing opportunities for community members to experience “live” classical music in a state-of-the-art venue. For those who are not likely, or unable, to attend one of our traditional concerts, Symphonicity’s small ensemble program allows musicians to step off the stage and perform in such places as senior resident homes, special-need summer camps, schools, and hospitals. 

Sharing music is part of our mission, but we also recognize the need to create opportunities where we can support the advancement of music education. This is achieved through our Instrument Petting Zoo program – a program that offers children and adults a chance to try an instrument – as well as the Annual District Orchestra Preparatory Day where Symphonicity musicians come alongside local high school string players to help them prepare for auditions. 

Although these programs are important and have allowed us to reach this past year an additional 5900 residents, Symphonicity believes it can do more to help develop young musicians who may very well become the future musicians of Symphonicity and the Hampton Roads community. Thus, we are currently developing The Young Musicians Scholarship Program, a new effort designed to provide qualifying students private music instructions for one year. Scholarship candidacy is based upon socio-economic conditions, a desire to learn (via a student essay) and a willingness for parents & guardians to make transportation arrangements and oversee student practice time. The private teachers selected to instruct the scholarship student will come from a pool of qualified professionals determined by Symphonicity’s Community Outreach and Education committee. We are hopeful that even in a COVID-19 environment, we will be able to safely implement this program this year if extra funding is secured. 

What makes your work unique to our community, and why is that important?
Lynette Andrews: We present a wonderful opportunity for talented community members who serve in other occupations and vocations to also participate in a high-quality musical experience. By virtue of their volunteer participation, we are then able to offer that high-quality musical experience at an affordable level which creates tremendous value for our community. Our mission is the link between the various grassroots community music groups (such as in churches, schools, etc.) and the world-class quality of professional groups in our region. Together we help strengthen the fabric of a vibrant arts community by ensuring there will always be affordable and accessible classical music opportunities. 

Symphonicity on stage at the Sandler Center
 Full Choir and Orchestra

How have you/ your staff been handling COVID/ what have you been doing since the shutdown? How are you helping your staff and artists during this time?
Lynette Andrews: Symphonicity is comprised of more than two hundred volunteers, seven part-time staff members, and a board of directors. When the concert season was canceled in the spring, there was little effect on the day-to-day internal operations other than a host of emails and telephone calls. With five of our seven staff members regularly working at home, there was little disruption in our normal processes and even less about how we might continue to function virtually. Due to the generosity of our patrons and supporters and a small business loan, we have been able to continue to pay our staff as well as our general operating expenses. This has enabled us to continue planning for all the possible scenarios. 

What adjustments has the virus caused to your schedule?
Lynette Andrews: In addition to the cancelation of our final two concerts, Symphonicity is also unable to perform the annual summer concerts for the Neptune Festival’s Symphony by the Sea series. We are currently working out the details for our alternative plans for our upcoming concert season slated to begin this Fall. Even if we are unable to perform “live” concerts this year, Symphonicity will still be able to offer its audience quality experiences and celebrate its special 40th anniversary in a virtual setting. 

What’s the biggest change to educational/ community programs?
Lynette Andrews: This year Symphonicity reached an additional 5900 residents through its education and outreach program. Due to COVID-19, however, ten events scheduled in March, April and May were canceled, resulting in an estimated 2000 residents who were not able to enjoy the programs. 

Symphonicity is looking forward to having one of its small ensembles participate in the first concert since spring as part of the City of Chesapeake’s Patriots Day scheduled on September 11th. Although this concert could be subject to COVID-19 cancelation, we are pleased to be planning a live outdoor concert tribute to first-responders with also musical memorialization of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. 

What’s the most encouraging thing you’ve learned during this time?
Lynette Andrews: We learned that our patrons and supporters are committed to Symphonicity and its mission in both good times and in bad. Over 70% of our ticket holders contributed their canceled tickets back to the orchestra and several of our corporate sponsors and supporting foundations, including the Helen Gifford Foundation, Capital Group Companies and BIG Investment Services, allowed us to use their support to help with canceled concert expenses. It was particularly encouraging to receive the generous assistance of the city of Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Sandler Center Foundation to help navigate through all the unknowns. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced? (Personally and/or as a company)
Lynette Andrews: It was particularly challenging to stop mid-course during a successful season and begin to think about all the ramifications of not being able to do what we are meant to do. The continued existence of a symphony orchestra that cannot rehearse or perform is questionable and the data to support the viable alternatives is ever-changing. It is unsettling to know that so many across orchestras around the world have had to close their doors. The difference for Symphonicity is that we are a volunteer community orchestra where all of its members play for the love of music. It is honestly that love that has safeguarded us during this time along with the outpouring of support by our ticket holders, donors, corporate sponsors, contributing foundations and the city and state. They are the reason for Symphonicity’s continued presence in the community. 

Symphonicity playing for some ballerinas on stage
Orchestra and Ballet Virginia

What are some passion projects that you hope to work on while we are “paused”?
Lynette Andrews: Since Symphonicity’s concert season runs from September to May, this “paused” time is similar to the other times between seasons when we focus on the details of upcoming seasons and look to establish new partners and collaborators. The particular limitations to live performances have especially given rise to new ideas and bandwidth for creating online content. 

What advice do you have to artists trying to work on their craft?
Daniel W. Boothe: It’s important to stay connected to what inspires you. During this time with so many legitimate worries and obstacles, it is easy to become fixated on fear, anxiety or even just the basic need to emotionally, mentally and physically survive. But staying connected to what inspires you is what will give purpose to our continued and collective existence within the arts. Find new music and artistic forms that intrigue you. Read more biographies or study other historic examples of how artists continued with their mission during upheaval, strife and even war. Consider how aspects of the current situation could be expressed through artistic forms. And take time to breath and rest. This is a rare opportunity when the world expects little more than that during this time and taking that time for self-recovery and reconstitution can only lead to stronger output in the future. 

What do you need during this time?
Lynette Andrews: We need the continued financial support and patience of our patrons & sponsors as we work out the details of the upcoming season as well as determine the best way to maintain the health and vibrancy of the organization through the pandemic and beyond. 

In what ways are you being proactive for re-opening?
Daniel W. Boothe: We have been actively building different scenarios with other community partners to include other arts organizations and broadcast media. We have also been meeting regularly to discuss the latest public health updates followed by discussions on how to further adjust or recreate our contingency plans. On the basis of different budget projections and COVID-19 mitigation factors, we have a menu of options to execute responsibility. 

Where are you in your planning for next year? What’s your plan for subscribers or members if you know that already?
Daniel W. Boothe: Initially we have been planning to offer a new masterworks season entitled, “Breaking Barriers.” It would feature a myriad of minority, woman and other underrepresented artists and composers that have broken barriers juxtaposed with other familiar composers known for their iconic barrier-breaking contributions to classical music. Even without an audience, we have been planning a possible 360 degree presentation of the orchestra performing this music in the concert hall, socially distanced throughout the balconies, seats and the stage. This performance would then be streamed online for viewing with multiple camera angles. However, if concert hall assembly is not possible for our orchestra, we are planning some smaller chamber music live performances throughout the community and an array of online interviews and “virtual concerts” featuring previously recorded programs. 

What do you hope to return to? What do you hope the future of the arts looks like? Are there specific changes you would like to see when we come back?
Daniel W. Boothe: When we are able to return to the concert hall as a full orchestra, we hope there is a renewed interest and understood value of the performing arts. Oftentimes, it is not until the absence of something that it becomes appreciated the most. And with that new interest in the performing arts, we hope to build an even more diverse audience that can appreciate not only the established traditions of classical music but also the frontier of new and exciting experiences being created for symphony orchestras in the 21st century. 

Symphonicity on stage outdoors
Town Center Jurassic Journey 2019

What conversations do we need to be having right now? Are you seeing those happening?
Daniel W. Boothe: We think it is important to not forget about the arts during a time like this. When the arts are visible they are sometimes taken for granted. When the arts are not visible, they may be completely forgotten. However, it is the arts that have given the world such meaningful expressions of our history and our human condition. The arts have provided culture an effective platform for shaping the present and the future. The performing arts provide a way for many to come together as one in the expression of common ideas and shared experiences. In short, the arts make the world not just a better place, but a place worth living. We must have real conversations about the role of the arts and how the arts must be supported in order to be preserved. 

What are you, personally, most looking forward to after the shutdown?
Daniel W. Boothe: Without a doubt, the first thing that comes to my mind is what it will feel like to see my colleagues again in one place, at one time, with one collective purpose. Their very existence in my life gives intangible value. And it is that value that gives the music such life. 

Lynette Andrews: We are looking forward to being together in one room rehearsing for concerts and performing beautiful music in front of a live, full audience at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. 

Is there a specific upcoming project you would like people to know about?
Daniel W. Boothe: We are looking forward to celebrating our 40th Anniversary in 2020/21, even if that means celebrating mainly through online opportunities. We have exciting plans for many interviews, streams of past concerts, special online guests and more. All of this will be unveiled within our brand new website to begin the 2020/21 40th Anniversary season. We hope everyone will join us at: 

Anything else you want to talk about?
Daniel W. Boothe: There are never enough words or feelings to convey our appreciation for the City of Virginia Beach and our many patrons, sponsors and volunteers who make Symphonicity possible. Perhaps never in our organization’s history have we been so challenged just to survive but also never have we had more support than we seem to have now. We want to thank everyone who continues to believe in us and our mission. And we want to honor that support by giving all that we can each and every day in any possible way. 

Where can people find you (for classes, donations, etc)?
Website: (The site is under construction with an anticipated completion date of September 1, 2020) Social media is the best way to stay updated. 
Facebook: https://www.facebook/symphonicity
Symphonicity’s Office Phone Number: 757-671-8611
Lynette Andrews:

Spotlight Saturdays Sponsored by the Sandler Center Foundation

Virginia Beach Chorale

Interview by Louise Casini Hollis.
Images courtesy of Virginia Beach Chorale.

This week, Spotlight Saturdays spoke with Christine Lewis, Presidents of Virginia Beach Chorale. Founded in 1958, Virginia Beach Chorale boats over 100 members and is southeastern Virginia’s longest-tenured performing arts ensemble.  

What is your mission statement, and how do you decide on a program that fulfills your mission statement?
For over 60 years, the Virginia Beach Chorale has been a proud member of the local arts community. The Virginia Beach Chorale has performed at all the Virginia Beach concert hotspots: the Dome, the Pavilion, and, now, the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. Our mission is to enhance the cultural and musical life of the community and to provide an opportunity for those interested in choral music to participate in these musical endeavors. The Virginia Beach Chorale has a two-fold mission focused on accessibility to the art of choral music. One side of that mission is to provide performance opportunities for community singers who want to take part in a collective musical experience. The other side of that mission is to provide high-quality choral music performances to local audiences at an affordable cost. Our artistic director, Dr. Don Krudop, aims to include familiar favorites in each concert, as well as present newer compositions to broaden the musical literacy of our singers and audiences. We are proud to be a resident company of the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.

The VB Chorale on stage with a pink cyc background and music notes.

What education programs are offered? 
Each December, we host a different local high school choir as our special guests at our holiday performance at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. Every May, we are honored to present the Lou Sawyer Memorial Scholarship in Music to a graduating high school senior who will be continuing their musical studies at the collegiate level. These scholarship recipients perform as part of our concert line-up at our May performance at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.

What makes your work unique to our community, and why is that important?
The Virginia Beach Chorale performs a varied repertoire, from classical to contemporary, jazz to pop, and everything in between. In addition to our two major concerts each season, the Virginia Beach Chorale is proud to participate in collaborative and benefit performances throughout the year. Our singers have shared the stage with other local arts groups, such as Symphonicity, Tidewater Winds, the Virginia Wind Symphony, and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. We have also had the pleasure of singing with the Atlantic Forces Fleet Band, The Tenors, and Kenny Rogers. 

The Chorale on a stage with a band. there is a tv in the background that has a black and white image on it

How have you/ your staff been handling COVID/ what have you been doing since the shutdown?
Despite our 60 year history, nothing could have prepared us for how the COVID-19 pandemic would dramatically affect our participation in the arts. Due to the highly contagious nature of the disease, and the number of volunteer singers we have, it would not have been prudent for us to continue rehearsing and performing during this time. Additionally, with the current research indicating that singing may transmit the virus, the Virginia Beach Chorale has been forced to pause and take a hiatus until our singers can come together again safely. This comes as a tremendous disappointment to all of us, but we know that this is what is best for our singers and audience members.  

What adjustments has the virus caused to your schedule?
While we are in hopes that we will be able to resume rehearsals and possibly perform this Fall, there is too much uncertainty at this time to make any definitive plans.

and old newspaper clipping from Friday Dec 20,. 1968 of the chorale in Dam Neck, Virginia Beach

Where are you in your planning for next year?
It is our greatest hope to be back on stage in the spring of 2021. We have a tremendous project planned: “Sing Me to Heaven: The Music of Daniel Gawthrop”. Daniel Gawthrop is a distinguished contemporary composer and his celebrated work, “Sing Me to Heaven” is one of the most loved, most performed modern choral works. In addition to singing the music of Mr. Gawthrop, the audience will be invited to join together as a mass choir to perform “Sing Me to Heaven”. 

The cornerstone of this performance, however, will be the world premiere of a new work by Mr. Gawthrop. The Virginia Beach Chorale has commissioned Mr. Gawthrop to compose a song dedicated to the City of Virginia Beach, in remembrance of the tragic events of May 31, 2019. Understanding the incredible power of music, it is our intention to offer a composition that recognizes the hurt and rawness of this tragedy while also embracing the love that echoed through our community during this time. It is our hope that this piece will play a small role in helping our community, and others like ours, to heal. 

 Where can people find you for partnering and donations?
The Virginia Beach Chorale is still accepting donations towards this project and is seeking corporate sponsors who are interested in partnering with us on this event. More information and online donation opportunities can be found at the Virginia Beach Chorale website and tax-deductible donations can be mailed to: 
Commission Fund 
c/o The Virginia Beach Chorale
4831 Columbus St. #66214
Virginia Beach, VA 23466

Spotlight Saturdays – Sponsored by the Sandler Center Foundation

Virginia Symphony Orchestra

Interview by Denise Bishop.
Images courtesy of Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

This week, Spotlight Saturdays spoke with Karen Philion (President and CEO) and Monica Meyer (Vice President of Marketing, Sales and Public Relations) of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. On the cusp of its landmark 100th anniversary season, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra produces symphonic music concerts and offers a very wide array of educational and community programs that serve Hampton Roads.

What is your mission statement, and how do you decide on a program that fulfills your mission statement? 
The Virginia Symphony Orchestra is a leading cultural asset that is the source of regional pride, connecting everyone in Hampton Roads through the transformative power of exceptional musical performances and educational activities. We are committed to providing civic value to our diverse community well beyond residents who attend concerts. We foster long-standing partnerships with audiences, artists, donors, volunteers, community and business partners that are based on the following values:

  • Excellence and Quality
  • Accessibility and Community Service
  • Financial Integrity and Sustainability
  • Diversity and Inclusiveness
  • Cooperativeness and Flexibility
  • Openness and Transparency
  • Perseverance and Tenacity

It’s an interesting time for us at the VSO. We conducted a strategic planning study in 2016, and since then we’ve been revisiting who we are, who we want to be, and our role in the community. Yes, we play symphonic music at the highest level, but how in the next 10 years are we going to serve more people who don’t currently have involvement with us? We are looking to create more programs and build new partnerships with community and business partners. We’ve also been conducting a search for a new music director over the past few years. [Award-winning conductor JoAnn Falletta announced several years ago that she would be stepping down as music director after 30 years.] We designed a search process which is thorough and, unlike most other orchestras, involves our musicians at a very high level. Musicians make up half of the 14-person search committee- the rest of the committee is as representative of the community as possible- and the musicians really drove the search process from the beginning, narrowing the field of candidates. We’ve relied a lot on their expertise in the search, as arbiters of excellence. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to conclude that process as we hoped due to the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What or who inspires/ influences your work? 
Our community is constantly inspiring to us. We are committed to providing the value of the VSO to the community.

Virginia Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven and Mahler in 2014

What education programs are offered? 
In normal times, our education and community engagement programs include General Music Education, Artistic Instruction, Community Engagement, Community Engagement in coordination with Mainstage Programs, Wellness Arts, and our “Music for Everyone” Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Initiative.

Our General Music Education programs include Young People’s concerts where elementary-aged students learn repertoire and come together at orchestral concerts in our interactive Link Up program; interactive, themed Small Ensemble Presentations at schools, libraries and family organizations; Delta Arts in the Schools where performers introduce young children to unfamiliar orchestral instruments; and Lifelong Learning lecture-demonstrations and discussions of styles and eras of music, how instruments have evolved over time, and repertoire of upcoming concerts.

Our Artistic Instruction education programs include side-by-side concerts with youth orchestras and SOAR: School/Orchestra Artistic Residency program in local schools providing regular visits from symphony musicians, master classes, and private concerts. We also provide student Coachings both in and after school, coaching and mentoring students through the Heart Strings program in partnership with the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, Professional Development for local music teachers, Master Classes and Workshops with special guest artists and select VSO musicians. Our Old Dominion University Partnership including the “Orchestra Week” side-by-side, chorus collaborations, masterclasses and workshops, VSO open rehearsals, and a “Class Pass” allowing ODU students access to VSO Classics and Pops concerts.

Our Community Engagement programs include Open Doors: Sensory-Friendly Concerts, an inclusive concert experience created with local autism and disability advocates to create a welcoming experience for all who attend, and the CommUNITY Play-In and Sing-Along, conceived in part as a healing response to the 2017 violence at the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, which welcomes community musicians and artists of all instruments and abilities to promote peace, inclusion, and unity. We also have the Harmony Project program with local African-American churches providing free performances and education events as well as collaborative concerts with church choirs; and Chamber Music community performances in intimate or non-traditional venues.

Community Engagement in coordination with our mainstage programs includes the Peanut Butter and Jam Family Concert series to introduce children and their families to symphonic music; Student Showcase Performances give student performing ensembles an opportunity to perform in the lobby before a VSO Classics or Pops concert; and Total Quality Music (TQM), in a unique collaboration with Young Audiences of Virginia, provides many tickets for select concerts to Norfolk Public Schools groups at no cost.

Our Wellness Arts programs include Generations in Unison interactive performances for memory care residents of retirement communities or health care facilities, guided by a music therapist, and small ensemble lobby performances and NICU lullabies at CHKD. The Music and Medicine partnership with Sentara provides both music-therapy-inspired and public awareness programs. Next season, we had proposed to establish a new music performance and music therapy program in coordination with the new Sentara Cancer Center and a new partnership at the Portsmouth Navy Medical Center to serve our active duty and veteran community.

And finally, our “Music for Everyone” Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Initiative. In 2019-2020, an EDI steering committee was established, and consultants Susan Feit and Barbara Hamm Lee were hired to lead the initiative. Spanning May 2019 to February 2020, the initiative includes an organizational audit and educational programs for our Board, staff and musicians. The audit is based on data gathered from an organization-wide electronic survey, interviews with key leaders, focus groups with representative samples from different stakeholder groups, and a review of literature and organizational documents. The audit explored 3 major categories: readiness, representation, and access. The report identified 7 recommendations to advance EDI: solidify a multi-year plan to incorporate EDI in every level of the VSO; establish policies, statements, and practices that affirm our commitment to EDI; provide ongoing EDI education; cultivate staff/musicians/Board from underserved populations; engage the community in discussions about how to create relevant musical experiences; integrate diverse content into VSO’s core program; and celebrate successes. 

Also, under the “Music for Everyone” Initiative, we created a new African American Fellowship Program for four early-career orchestral string musicians to advance the goal of increased diversity of orchestral musicians nationwide. Slated to begin in the 2020-2021 season, this initiative is a continuation of the VSO’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. The Fellows will perform from September to May as part of the VSO in over 100 services throughout eastern Virginia and engage in public school residencies and educational performances. Professional development opportunities, including private lessons and mentorship, will better equip Fellows to achieve in their careers as performers and educators. Through these activities, Fellows will receive a graduate certificate from Old Dominion University.

Virginia Sypmhony Orchestra stands on stage before they take a bow

What makes your work unique to our community, and why is that important? 
Well, we’re the only full-time professional symphony orchestra in Hampton Roads. Part of what makes us unique among the arts organizations is that we bring artists into the community. Musicians come from all over to audition for us, and then they move to the area, they live & work here, playing music in the churches and teaching in the schools.

How have you/ your staff been handling COVID? What have you been doing since the shutdown? How are you helping your staff and artists during this time?
Our staff was working like crazy in the spring. We had a lot of work to do cancelling all of our live performances and educational activities. Thankfully, we applied for and received a PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loan which allowed us to keep people employed through the end of our normal season [typically early June]. We had to cancel scheduled performances and in-person education activities beginning in mid-March.

What’s the biggest change to educational programs? 
Our musicians and staff pivoted quickly and created virtual content in order to stay connected with our community by providing entertainment, education, and inspiration.  Some of these innovative projects included: 

VSO Music Learning Lab: The VSO created a free resource hub of approximately 50 videos featuring 35 VSO musicians. The Music Learning Lab is hosted on a page of the VSO website and has been accessed by teachers and students, from pre-K through college. Videos are embedded via our YouTube channel and promoted through social media, and they have been distributed through our contacts with Hampton Roads public school teachers and administrators and other partners. All content is also being linked from WHRO’s to better promote it to educators across Virginia. To date, we have received over 6,000 views of this important educational resource.  

Virtual Masterclasses with Old Dominion University:  This series of Zoom sessions brings Old Dominion University students closer to VSO musicians in live masterclasses covering playing technique, musicianship, and ensemble preparation.  Each session ends with a Q&A session allowing students to get help with specific problem areas.

Virtual Heartstrings & HeartValves: In the wake of school closures in response to COVID-19, the HeartStrings & HeartValves students that VSO musicians had been working with throughout this year are at home without instrumental instruction. This program is geared towards children who participate in the Salvation Army-Kroc Center’s after-school program.  The VSO has stepped in to provide virtual private lessons to 4 violin students still able to participate in the program, at no cost. 

Link-Up: The Orchestra Sings: This year’s Young People’s Concert, performed for 25,000 elementary school students annually, is available online to our school partners, allowing elementary school students across Hampton Roads to experience the music at home as a culmination of their school music class. The video consists of an audio recording of the concert, paired with the concert PowerPoint of play-along sheet music and visual aids. 

Hospital Partnership: The VSO partnered with our local children’s hospital to stream two kinds of content throughout the hospital in lobby spaces and patient rooms, over the hospital’s closed circuit TV system. In addition, the hospital also received a special “pop-up” concert by two musicians in its butterfly garden following an annual memorial service for patients who had passed away in the last year.  

The creative virtual programs were well-received by our community and showed the resiliency of the organization to quickly adjust and create new and relevant content for the benefit of our community in the midst of the pandemic crisis.  

A picture from onstage at the Symphony, with percussion instruments on stands in the foreground, and harps and string players in the background.

What’s the most encouraging thing you’ve learned during this time?
Our ticket buyers and supporters have been amazingly flexible. As trite as it sounds, they really understand “we’re in it together”. And the arts organizations have rallied together. Being under severe stress during the pandemic has been challenging, but my staff and I have found support, genuine concern, collaboration, and cooperation from our counterparts at the other local arts organizations. I talk to Tom Quaintance [Producing Artistic Director of Virginia Stage Company] and Russell [Allen, President and CEO of Virginia Opera] more now that I did before!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Cancelling all the performances was a huge loss. Not just suddenly losing over a million dollars in revenue but also the live musical experiences that we were unable to provide to the community.

What are some passion projects that you hope to work on while we are “paused”?
We’ve been so pleased at the creativity of our musicians during this time. Even in a time of fear and uncertainty, they have really energized and brought joy and passion into our new virtual programs.

What do you need during this time?
We need people to stay engaged. Sure, we need financial contributions, but we also need people to not forget about us, to stick with us and come back when we are back.

In what ways are you being proactive for re-opening?
We’re in listening and learning mode, staying abreast of all of the latest best practices. The League of American Orchestras [of which VSO is a member] held their annual conference virtually in May. Through the League, we are able to collaborate with other orchestras of similar size and also we’ll be able to see how the first big ensembles handle re-opening and how they are received. 

Where are you in your planning for next year? What’s your plan for subscribers or members if you know that already? 
Our 2020-2021 season was already planned and announced, and we are particularly excited about it because it is our 100th season! Normally at this point in the summer, we would be mailing tickets to our subscribers. To our subscribers: we’re working on it. Please stay tuned while we wait for guidance from the state on safe venues and to ensure that the musicians’ health and safety can be accommodated. We plan to have an announcement by late summer.

What do you hope to return to? What do you hope the future of the arts looks like? Are there specific changes you would like to see when we come back?
This crisis has shown us how critical the arts are. So many people are turning to the arts for solace right now. We’ve reminded people what a basic human connection means. Society is also recognizing lack of equality and access and I want to see this organization respond to that. I would like VSO and all of the arts feel a sense of urgency in our desire to be more relevant and inclusive, to recognize that we don’t have time to waste. We need to remove the barriers to access and equality now.

What conversations do we need to be having right now? Are you seeing those happening?
I’m not seeing a lot of conversations right now, partly because we can’t gather, but I think we will need to move forward together. In this arts ecosystem, organizations of different genres and sizes who serve different populations, through more conversation and collaboration, can do more art and distribute it more widely.

What are you, personally, most looking forward to after the shutdown?
Being together. Seeing the musicians play a live concert.

Is there a specific upcoming project you would like people to know about?
We’re excited to celebrate our 100th anniversary season and announce our new music director, when we’re able! These are both such pivotal moments in the history of this organization–only a handful of orchestras have reached the milestone 100th anniversary. We can’t wait to celebrate with the community!

Where can people find you?
For more information, please call 757.892.6366
or visit
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Teaching Music in the Time of Covid

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of Karen Jackson.

Everything is different and more difficult. Life is more complicated. We’re all adapting and adjusting. We have to worry about toilet paper, sanitizer, our temperature and so much more.

Through all of this, in our new normal, we need to remember what’s really important – family, friends, community, the causes we believe in. There is some good in all of this. We’ve had time to pursue the things we love to do. The arts have always been important to me. There is a lot of not so great painting going on in my house lately. It makes me happy and keeps me centered.

The arts are important to Karen Jackson. Her passion is music. She trained at the prestigious Eastman School of Music as a clarinetist. She has been the band director and music teacher at The Williams School in Norfolk for 22 years. She can teach, and play, flute, sax, trumpet, trombone baritone and various percussion instruments. 

The Williams School closed its buildings in mid-March because of Covid 19, but Jackson continued to teach remotely for many of her band students who wanted to continue learning their instrument of choice. She taught “whatever that child needed to continue to grow as a musician and have fun while doing it.”

It’s officially summer vacation. We are still in the midst of a pandemic. Jackson has students that want to continue with their music, and the arts are important. Studies have shown that learning an instrument can improve memory and abstract thinking skills, which helps with a whole host of academic subjects. Besides, playing music just makes you happy. Who doesn’t need a little happiness right now?

Karen Jackson has teamed up with The Academy of Music, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to bring the joys and benefits of learning music to the residents of Hampton Roads, regardless of their ability to pay.” The Academy of Music will support Jackson in implementing all the CDC guidelines to teach private lessons in her home this summer. 

Jackson has a large front room, equipped with a thermometer, sanitizer, hand cleanser and the rest. Only the student musician will be allowed in the house, no parents or siblings. As Jackson says, “you can’t really teach a wind instrument with a mask.” She teaches with an instrument in her hand, modeling technique. The student can sit at an appropriate distance and still see and hear her. “It’s a joy for me to teach” says Jackson.

a selfie of Karen and Samantha

Karen Jackson has another passion in her life, inspired by her 23-year old daughter, Samantha. Samantha is autistic. Jackson is an advocate and activist for inclusivity for the disabled community. She founded the Faith Inclusion Network in 2008. FIN is “dedicated to helping faith communities develop inclusive ministries for people with disabilities and helping families affected by disability to find welcoming and accessible places to worship in South Hampton Roads, VA.”

Jackson and The Academy of Music are working together to develop a pilot program called Band-Together. Jackson will teach people with disabilities individual and small group instruction on band instruments, with the goal of forming a small ensemble group. This type of musical instruction will be the first of its kind in Hampton Roads and one of very few nation-wide. Jackson is hoping to begin Band-Together this fall. For more information, contact The Academy of Music.

Karen, Scott, and Samantha at the Tattoo.

Jackson says, for many students, “arts education is their life-line in school.” For all students, “the arts have a social component that is so important and we can’t forget about it.” Schools must make a commitment to arts education as we move forward during these uncertain times.

Spotlight Saturdays – Sponsored by Sandler Center Foundation

Tidewater Winds

Interview by Louise Casini Hollis.
Images courtesy of Tidewater Winds.

This week, Spotlight Saturdays spoke with the Tidewater Winds concert band’s Executive Director Michael Kerry Williams and Maestro John Brewington. Founded in 1985 by the late C. Sidney Berg, the Tidewater Winds Professional Concert Band consists of 55 talented woodwind, brass, and percussion musicians who bring free professional band concerts in the “Sousa Band” tradition to the Hampton Roads community.

What is your mission statement?
The mission of the Tidewater Winds is to foster and maintain an organization dedicated to the making of music within the highest aspirations of musical art, creating performances and providing educational training programs at the highest level of excellence. 

What or who inspires/ influences your work?
Maestro John Brewington: I take inspiration from every concert and performance I’ve previously been a part of and from every conductor I’ve ever worked with.  Everyone from Walter Noona with the Virginia Beach Pops, Sidney Berg with the Tidewater Winds, John Savage at Virginia Commonwealth University, my conducting teacher Anthony Maiello, to performing and working with JoAnn Falletta and the Virginia Symphony. I follow or have studied conductors such as Keith Brion, Erich Kunzel, Michael Tilson Thomas, Arnald Gabriel of the US Air Force Band, Boston Pops conductors Keith Lochart and Authur Fiedler and of course John Philip Sousa.  I’ve also had the opportunity to perform with a number of luminaries including: Steve Lawrence & Edie Gorme, Doc Severinsen, Victor Borge, Mitzi Gaynor, Roger Williams, Rich Little, Marvin Hamlish, Carol Channing, Bruce Hornsby, Rosemary Clooney, Peter Nero, Glen Campbell, The Smothers Brothers, and The Moody Blues. I constantly draw from these experiences and continue to be a music student at heart.

Tidewater Winds on stage with an orchestra shell in the background. It is a wide shot to show everyone.

What education and community outreach programs are offered? 
Maestro John Brewington: We have two major initiatives. First, the Tidewater Winds believes in the value of sharing our work, events and concerts with students. Perhaps the most powerful performing arts music education program in Hampton Roads is the Tidewater Winds Student Musician Intern program.  High school and college level students experience the full summer concert experience working and performing side-by-side with our professional musicians. This opportunity provides selected high school and college students with a professional mentor, master classes and lessons while performing the summer repertoire. Secondly, we provide masterclasses and workshops to local school divisions to inspire, encourage, enlighten, entertain and educate the next generation of students.

What makes your work unique to our community, and why is that important?
Maestro John Brewington: The Tidewater Winds provide free and subscription-based concert programming. Our free summer series allows us to expose a large number of people to a music form they might otherwise not be able to experience. Our audience connects people to programmatic creativity and relevant connections to our community and beyond. The original purpose of Tidewater Winds is to make programs entertaining and accessible. We believe strongly in the unique nature of our art form. We promote concert band education, works, history and repertoire and its significance to patriotism and our American Heritage. Our sole objective is to entertain and be entertaining to the widest audience possible.

How have you/ your staff been handling COVID/ what have you been doing since the shutdown? How are you helping your staff and artists during this time?
Michael Kerry Williams: We have been managing to stay afloat financially with the support of the Cares Act funding, our donors and corporate sponsors. Much of this time has been spent making new contacts and sharing the work we do, and will continue to do, when things begin to level out. In addition, our artists, board and staff members have been communicating via Zoom and Google Hangouts to plan for the future. We have provided a limited number of online events to share with the public and we will be growing these online presentations and performances over the next few months. 

Tidewater winds plays at an outdoor venue, the stage from far away with some crowd in front

What adjustments has the virus caused to your schedule?
Michael Kerry Williams: Unfortunately, the reality of performing in a pandemic of this nature is unrealistic. Our free summer concert season normally consists of over twenty programs with our full 55-piece concert band, the power of which is incredible. Since we cannot keep a 6-foot distance between musicians on-stage, and we risk possible contamination with spit valves and other instrumental components, the season has been canceled. We can however work with many of our smaller ensembles and are formalizing the summer schedule now for our “backyard concert series”. “From Our Backyard to Yours” will debut on our Facebook and web page Wednesday evenings in July featuring our quintet and 9-piece jazz band. While it is not the full Concert Band, we will be performing similar repertoire, only in small groups. We are also planning to run our Full Concert Band at least 3 times throughout the coming year if things continue to improve for Virginia. 

What’s the biggest change to educational programs? 
Maestro John Brewington: Effective educational programs have changed over the years to be more interactive and engaging with students. Our future educational programs include musical performances with narration and visuals to help better connect educational programs to content.  I am very excited about the next evolution of these programs. In the near term our biggest challenge is program delivery. How we deliver educational content and educational programming will depend on multiple factors mostly with how we gain access to kids. For now, live performances and in-school performances are on hold; however, we are committed to leveraging technology to reach students however we are able. The most important thing we can do in the short term is provide arts experiences that reach the social emotional needs of our students during and after the COVID19 pandemic.

What’s the most encouraging thing you’ve learned during this time?
Michael Kerry Williams: I would say patience and resilience. We are blessed to be supported by so many passionate donors and volunteers. These audience members have come to our aid on more than one occasion and we love their loyalty. With their support we are encouraged to be patient and to continue to find the means to sustain our work. 

Maestro John Brewington: I am working on new music, arrangements, and content to future programs. We are working on a future holiday program that will tell the story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” known as the Candy Bomber. I am also working on an adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s classic children’s story, Pinocchio, for children of all ages.

As you know, it is most difficult to plan for the future when the future is so uncertain, but here is what we do know. When it is safe for both musicians and audiences to return we will do so safely.  We will begin with smaller ensembles such as our Little Big Band, Brass Quintet and Woodwind Quartet before we bring back the entire concert band.  We will reach our audience members in small numbers and leverage technology resources to broadcast what we can. Our programing for our new concert season will include:

Tidewater Winds Little Big Jazz Band: Jazz in its many Forms
The Tidewater Winds Little Big Jazz Band will offer a vibrant collection of modern jazz, music of Earth, Wind and Fire, and well-loved jazz standards.  Come and enjoy the music of Ellington, Davis, Jobim, Tower of Power, Chorea, Gillespie and more!

Fiesta de la Vida: A Celebration of Life
Fiesta de la Vida celebrates life through the music of Latin-American.  The music emanates from the pageantry and celebrations of the street bands, bullfights, bright costumes, blazing dances and pulsating rhythms.  Celebración de la vida!

Some Enchanted Evening: The Music of Rodgers and Hammerstein
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II with a concert that covers 10 of their classic collaborations, including Oklahoma!Carousel, South PacificThe King and I, and The Sound of Music.

Battles on the Homefront….and Beyond: 75th Anniversary of the end of WW II
From the pen of Dr. Christopher Palestrant comes his world premiere, The Battle of Great Bridge.  In cooperation with the Chesapeake Battle of Great Bridge Museum, we will look and listen into a battle that helped change the course of history. From the Homefront to over there, Americans celebrated for two days after the end of WWII and the world continues to celebrate this victory. Come hear and see some the great musical memories from the Greatest Generation.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Michael Kerry Williams: This may be the most challenging. I’ve experienced setbacks, failures, successes, improvements in many aspects of my work and life. Not knowing how to plan for what is next is frustrating and heartbreaking. We want to perform for our public. Not being able to do our work impacts our musicians who depend on this extra financial support but also our audience members who rely on these concerts as part of their social livelihood. 

What are some passion projects that you hope to work on while we are “paused”? 
Michael Kerry Williams: We have been putting together our education packets and proposals as well as our special events projects for future use. These include 4th of July proposals to municipalities, our Education Series proposal to connect halls, and other special events packages as potential partnerships. 

Where are you in your planning for next year? What’s your plan for subscribers or members if you know that already?
Michael Kerry Williams: We intend to thank our donors allowing them to experience Tidewater Winds in full production again soon. We hope to return to full capacity performing with a major celebration of music. Our hope is to organize an October Concert, December Holiday Concert, Valentine’s Day Concert and Spring Concert event before our next free summer concert series in 2021. This new model spreads out our season annually instead of only summer concerts. 

What are you, personally, most looking forward to after the shutdown?
Maestro John Brewington: Being able to perform again, to make music with the great musicians of the Winds and once again be able to see our patrons.

The view from over the shoulder of a trumpet player. We see his music and some of the audience.

Is there a specific upcoming project you would like people to know about?
Michael Kerry Williams: We have our annual Golf Tournament coming up on September 24th at Heron Ridge Golf Club. We would love to see new teams and players join us this year. This is our one major fundraiser to help offset concert expenses and we certainly could use your support! Contact 757-480-0953 for details or visit our website

Anything else you want to talk about?
Michael Kerry Williams: As mentioned earlier, we are seeking partnerships with corporations and small businesses. We are offering naming rights for our concert series and I welcome discussions on how we can mutually be mutually beneficial to each other. 

Maestro John Brewington: We have a strong legacy of concert programming and a compelling mission of making concerts and band music available to all. We also recognize that we are living in a time of accelerated change. As an organization, it is incumbent upon us to grow, evolve, and to redefine ourselves in the eyes of our community and to reorganize ourselves in ways that maintain our relevance. We recognize the importance of our history and intend to maintain and expand on our original efforts. When we are able to return, we will re-commit ourselves to excellence as we entertain audiences and children through our Concert Band performances and educational outreach programs.

Where can people find you (for donations, etc?) 
Donations and support can be made via PayPal on our web page at
You can also mail in your checks or provide recurring support by phone at 757-480-0953.
If you prefer US Mail, then please send to:
Tidewater Winds 
PO Box 62000
Virginia Beach, VA 23466

Spotlight Saturdays – Sponsored by the Sandler Center Foundation

Virginia Arts Festival

Interview by Denise Bishop.
Images courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival.

This week, Spotlight Saturdays met with Robert W. Cross, Executive Director and Perry Artistic Director of the Virginia Arts Festival. In its 24th year, the Virginia Arts Festival brings world-renowned performers to Hampton Roads for a festival of music, theatre, and dance performances and arts education activities each year in April and May.

What is your mission statement, and how do you decide on a program that fulfills your mission statement? 
The mission of the Virginia Arts Festival is to bring world-class performing arts to our citizens and visitors, impact the lives of students through outstanding educational programs, commission new works of national and international significance, and make a tangible difference in Hampton Roads through regional partnerships and cultural tourism.

For programming, we have three or four big areas of focus. One is trying to bring in the really great, big artists from around the world to come to Hampton Roads, creating an opportunity for people who live here to see the best of the best. Also, when it makes sense, we want to showcase local arts organizations and partner with them.  As you know we work with the symphony (Virginia Symphony Orchestra) a lot, the stage company (Virginia Stage Company), the opera (Virginia Opera). We work with a lot of the attractions and museums. Next, almost every artist that comes to the Festival does a workshop, master class, or student matinee. The fourth piece, which is one of the reasons we were formed, is to try to drive tourism in the shoulder season. Trying to create events that will drive people to come out of their homes and visit Hampton Roads in the spring.

Wynton Marsalis plays the trumpet
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra featuring Wynton Marsalis

What or who inspires and influences your work? 
I’m a classical musician [Robert W. Cross is also Principal Percussionist with the VSO], so a large percentage of what the[Virginia Arts] Festival does is classical music. There are certain orchestras that influence me; Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra are the orchestras I grew up with.  For me as a percussionist: the people who were my mentors: John Lindberg [former Principal Timpanist with the VSO] was my teacher when I was a kid, Vic Firth [founder of Vic Firth Company, which makes percussion sticks and mallets] was my teacher when I was away at school, and my colleagues that I’ve been able to work with over the 30 years of my playing career.   

What education programs are offered? 
There are three different levels of engagement for our education programs. First, we offer student matinees where we bus students to the venues to see a performance. Even though these students may not take music or dance classes, they can see great artists and experience that in a real concert setting. Second, we have in-school experiences (lecture-demonstrations or mini-performances), which are a little more in depth, where our artists will go into the schools to work with students.  That might be a little more targeted — they might be doing it for, let’s say it’s Chanticleer, and they’re going in and working with all the vocal students. Or Amani Winds are working with the band students. Or going into a school like Booker T [Washington High School, in Norfolk] that has a dance class, so a student taking dance as an elective gets to work with a young professional dancer or dance instructor. And third, we offer even more in depth master class programs for students who are serious about their craft, whether it’s instrumentalists, singers, or dancers, to work side by side with a really gifted artist such as a workshop for Governor’s School students with a dance master from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

What makes your work unique to our community, and why is that important?
There are several other really fantastic performing arts organizations in the community, but I think we’re probably the only one that has a true tourism part of their mission statement and economic development. We really put a lot of thought into how to move the needle for tourism.  And also for economic development, companies use the Festival as a tool when they’re recruiting people to move here. And when an economic development officer goes out to recruit businesses to move to Hampton Roads, the Festival will be in their packets of amenities in the region.

How have you and your staff been handling COVID? What have you been doing during the shutdown? 
COVID came at a really inopportune time for us. Things got shut down around March 12th or 13th, and we were scheduled to start in the middle of April. We had 55 public performances to cancel, and I believe 75 education events scheduled in April and May. It’s a lot harder to unwind the Festival than it is to schedule it. The staff was as busy or busier than we would have been if the Festival was going on because you have to cancel concerts, unravel travel, production, be in touch with ticket-buyers, the halls, our donors, corporate sponsors. Just about this week are we starting to get on the other side.  About half everything we had programmed we were able to reschedule for 2022 or 2023, and then the other half just didn’t make sense to reschedule. They were either time-sensitive or they aren’t available. Now, we’re focusing on: how do we restart? We really are committed to helping the cities reopen when we can, even though it will be outside the Festival period. We’re working particularly with Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, and Norfolk on how we can create some concerts and activities as soon as it’s safe to do it again. They just need to get people out going to the restaurants, going to the shops. So, now we feel like we’re in a holding pattern – trying to make good plans and know when we need to activate them. 

How are you helping your staff and artists during this time?
We’re trying to keep morale up because everybody deals with this in a different way, whether you’ve got children or elderly parents. We’re trying to make people feel taken care of, that they still have a job, that they’re safe. For artists, we’ve worked as hard as we could to get as many artists as we could rescheduled because they all need the income. Especially some of the  smaller chamber ensembles or dance groups who have no money coming in.

What’s the biggest change to educational programs?
Right now, we’re working with artists that we have relationships with that have content available online. A lot of the dance companies in particular have been putting out a lot of classes and masterclasses, and we’re sharing that with our schoolteachers and our audience base who are hopefully sharing that with their kids. And then, we’re in the planning phase of figuring out how to deliver content to students this fall. Hopefully, they’ll go back to school in the fall, but I can’t imagine they’ll have much bandwidth for field trips and artists coming to their schools, so how can we deliver content, even when schools start back, especially for the first half of the year.

Mandolin Orange
Mandolin Orange

What’s the most encouraging thing you’ve learned during this time? 
I would say the most encouraging thing is that donors and corporate sponsors that have the ability have really stepped up to help us and other arts organizations through this. There’s so much demand on social services for obvious reasons, but I think people have worked hard to make sure that the performing arts organizations are going to be able to get through this period and be there when we get on the other side of it.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
I think the biggest challenge is uncertainty, in terms of not knowing when we can start back. (Laughing) We’re already rescheduling some things we rescheduled. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and with other big catastrophes, you always feel like you have a beginning, an end, and a recovery. I don’t feel like we’re in recovery yet.

What are some passion projects that you hope to work on while we are “paused”? 
Well, for me, since the orchestra is closed down too, it’s actually been enjoyable to practice when I don’t have any concerts. I’m probably in better shape right now than I am during the season because in the season we could have three different programs in a given week. So, between rehearsals and performances, there’s no time to practice. It’s really fun to walk into practice and say, “What do I want to play today?” I can play scales or I can play all the stuff I haven’t played for 15 years, so that’s kinda fun. Not that I can’t wait to be on stage again actually playing for the public, but it is fun to have a little bit of bandwidth to be in shape and just play for pure enjoyment.

What advice do you have to artists trying to work on their craft? 
We work with a lot of chamber music groups and soloists, and my advice right now as a musician, assuming this could easily go on for another 3 or 6 months or a year, is be creative about how you can deliver content. If we can’t gather for concerts with audiences, you’re going to have to figure out a way to find something that’s engaging. It’s tough – I’ve seen some really, really good stuff out there, but it’s just not the same as being in a concert hall. It can be great playing, but coming through TV speakers or an iPad, it’s just not the same. And for students, this is a gift: they have time right now.  If they’ve got a good teacher, they can get a good lesson online through Zoom. And for people who are serious musicians, in their teens or college age, there is no reason in the world you’re not practicing 4-6 hours a day right now.

What do you need during this time? 
I’d say it’s probably financial, though I’m more worried about next year. This year, we were close enough to the end of the fiscal year and people have stepped up to help us, so we will probably have a small loss but it really won’t be catastrophic. I think next year is going to be even more challenging, financially. Even if we can do concerts, what is the comfort level of the public going to be? Typically in Chrysler Hall we might hope to have 2000 people or in Sandler 1100 people, but if we have to safe-distance, we might only put 500 people in Chrysler Hall or 400 people in Sandler Center. For those that have the ability to help the arts organizations financially, I think that’s going to be the greatest need for the next year. Being very conscious of the need that social services are going to have for the short term and long term, don’t forget the arts organizations because you want them to be there when we get on the other side. We want the opera to be there, the symphony and the stage company.

In what ways are you being proactive for re-opening? 
Our goal is that next April and May we can have something that resembles a normal Festival, but I’m telling the staff to be prepared that we can’t, and if we can’t, then how can we deliver content? Let’s say we had Candadian Brass coming, if they can’t play a concert at Sandler Center or Chrysler Hall, do we still bring them in and tape it and stream the concert? How do we present the arts to people if they can’t gather?

Where are you in your planning for next year? What’s your plan for subscribers or members if you know that already? 
We’re full speed ahead in planning for next year. I’m probably 75% through booking next year’s Festival because I’ve had the time to do it and artists are hungry to work. So for us the question will be: when do we feel comfortable announcing it? We typically announce the season in mid- October. Are we going to feel comfortable doing it then, or are we going to wait a little bit?

Jason Isabel and the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Williamsburg Live 2021 headliner

What do you hope to return to? What do you hope the future of the arts looks like? 
Well, I love what we do, so my hope is that, whether it’s 6 months from now or a year from now, that we’re back to where we were before. To me there’s nothing more exciting than being in the Sandler Center or Chrysler Hall or the Ferguson Center with a full house seeing Joshua Bell or Alvin Ailey or Kristin Chenoweth. The act of experiencing the arts with people is really, really powerful. I want to figure out how to remain relevant and healthy as an organization until we get back to that point, but I want to get back to that point where we can do it again.

What conversations do we need to be having right now? Are you seeing those happening? 
I think that we’ve all got to be talking to our elected officials. I know they’re dealing with incredibly important issues in terms of schools, social services that are immediate needs. But let’s not lose sight of how important the arts are in Hampton Roads. It’s a big part of our economy in terms of tourism and in terms of quality of life for everybody. I think we’ve got to be sensitive to what’s going on, but we can’t disappear because there are so many things pressing on the needs. If we do disappear, there are plenty of things that are going to fill the vacuum. In my circle of colleagues, we’re talking with our elected officials on a regular basis.

What are you, personally, most looking forward to after the shutdown? 
Being in a concert hall for a live performance. That’s the first thing I’m looking forward to. The second is going to a good restaurant and having a good meal and a good bottle of wine with friends. It’s a close second. As much as [my wife] Debbie’s been doing some great cooking, I miss my friends.

Is there a specific upcoming project you would like people to know about? 
Sure! One of the things that was supposed to happen in the Festival is a Michaelangelo exhibit at MacArthur Center for three weeks during the spring. It’s these beautiful images, facsimiles from the Sistine Chapel. So, we have the exhibit; it’s in crates at MacArthur Center, and we’re hoping to open it for three weeks in August. MacArthur Center is reopened, so the plan is it gets installed the first week of August and will open either the second or third week of August for three weeks. We’re really excited about it! It’s really beautiful. It will give people a chance to get out. We’re working really closely with other museums on understanding how to operate a museum safely in terms of one-way paths, everything’s touchless. And I think regardless of what your religion is, it’s a little timely to go see something so beautiful. You can go there for a few minutes and maybe just contemplate it. So I’m looking forward to that.

Anything else you want to talk about? 
We’re very grateful for the way the community has stepped up, for us specifically, and for all the arts organizations, helping us through this difficult time. We want them to know that we’re doing everything we can to make good decisions and be there on the other side of this pandemic.

Where can people find you (for classes, donations, etc)?
Visit our webpage! Our team has done a really good job with what we call the Virtual Festival. We’re putting out a weekly e-blast of what’s going on during the Festival. We’re in the last month of our fiscal year, so we’ve got a pretty active campaign right now to close out the Annual Fund. Events that have been rescheduled are already on the website calendar. We’re also sharing information on social media. (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @VaArtsFest,  YouTube: @VaArtsFestival)

The Art of Interacting Online

Words by Louise Casini Hollis
Photos courtesy of Louise Casini Hollis and Hampton Roads Philharmonic.

Peggy Watson – Hampton Roads Philharmonic

It may appear that the world has shut down, but the teaching artists of Hampton Roads have taken this opportunity to flourish online with a multitude of opportunities for students to stay connected during the pandemic. In an ongoing series, Spotlight HR is talking to artists and arts organizations around Hampton Roads about their experiences in engaging with students online.

“Music has been a huge part of my life since I was a child, and teaching music was a natural extension of that,” Peggy Watson shared from her home in Newport News. As concertmaster for the Hampton Roads Philharmonic, a private music teacher, and the Peninsula’s Kindermusik teacher, her weeks are normally quite busy.  Additionally, Peggy plays with Grace Notes quartet, Strings & Things quartet, and Stowehaven String quartet. But even though performances and rehearsals have been canceled, Peggy is still busy virtually teaching 25 of her students.  

Originally from Long Island, New York, Peggy received her Bachelor of Music degree from Grove City College and M.S. in Music from Long Island University, CW Post Center and is certified to teach K-12 music in Pennsylvania and New York states. She taught orchestral and instrumental music to elementary and middle school students for five years for Longwood Central School District in Middle Island, NY before moving to Hampton Roads when her husband Chip got a job at Jefferson Lab in 1988.

A multi-talented musician who plays the violin, viola, piano, flute and guitar, Peggy is busy keeping up with her piano and violin students via Facetime, Zoom, and Skype. “The easiest platform is Facetime,” she explained. “When I do Zoom, there are often video or auditory problems… It’s never easy even after we’ve been doing it for weeks.”  The sound quality of music produced on-line lacks the resonance and timbre experienced when one hears it in-person, “so working on tone is difficult, because I can’t be certain what I’m hearing from them” observes Peggy. 

Peggy Watson playing the violin in profile

The technical reason for this is that there is only so much bandwidth available, so cell phone companies use audio signal processing called dynamic range compression that, “reduces the volume of loud sounds while amplifying quieter ones,” writes Lily Katz in her article “Why Conference Calls Sound Bad”. “This yields more efficient processing at the expense of sound quality,” Katz adds.  Thus, when music students play, the frequency of the notes is shortened through bandwidth compression, distorting them on the receiving end.

Audio problems aside, Peggy has discovered that remote teaching offers practical challenges as well. “Things that would be easy – take tuning the instrument,” says Peggy, “I’m having to instruct the students and sometimes the parents how to tune the strings, whereas in two seconds I could do it in person.  In some ways that’s good.  It’s creating more independence in my students.”  Fortunately, when she first attempted online lessons, “it was with a high school student that has been studying with me since she was a child, and so working out some of the kinks with her was very helpful to me to offer lessons to younger students.”

“The biggest difference for me is I can’t do duets,” observes Peggy.  “I can’t play the teacher part with them.  I’ve been a bit frustrated with that because the time lag – I just can’t get around that. Most of my students don’t play with other people, so for them to learn ensemble [skills], they have to do it with me, and now I can’t do that.”  However, Peggy has found a perk of teaching online, “is that I’m getting a glimpse into my student’s homes which they love… I get to see what kind of piano they’re playing. I feel like I’m getting a better handle on what they are doing at home.” While Peggy is getting more comfortable teaching online, “I don’t think it’s ever anything I would seek to do instead of in person. I can see it being useful – a sibling is ill so they can’t come for an in-person lesson, [or] I could teach someone in California. Distance-wise, you’re no longer constrained by how far people are willing to drive.”  

A group shot of the Hampton Roads Philharmonic. They are standing on stage with their instruments.

 “I’m a very hands on teacher,” she observes which is important in teaching Kindermusick classes where children newborn to 7 years old experience rhythm, movement and language through song, dance and using musical instruments. An added benefit of Kindermusik is the social engagement it provides very young people. “I first learned about Kindermusik when a friend of mine started teaching it,” explained Peggy. “She had me substitute for a couple of her classes, and I was hooked! It’s a fantastic program that is so good for early child development, and it’s a ton of fun! I did my training in 2001 and was fortunate to find a home for my Kindermusik program at First Baptist Church in Newport News.” Some Kindermusik teachers have moved their classes online, but Peggy has not. “It hurts my heart, but to me the in-person [aspect] is just too important to it,” she says wistfully.  Families can still take advantage of Kindermusik’s benefits at home, though, by signing up for their weekly at-home activities available through their website.

While Peggy continues to teach private music lessons remotely, she misses the immediacy of the classroom. “I love sharing ideas, knowledge, and passion with other people–so I was drawn to teaching. I get excited when my students master new skills, concepts, and pieces of music–it makes my day to see the ‘light bulb’ illuminate!” she says excitedly.  And so until she can be with her students in-person, Peggy will continue to help her young musicians grow through virtual means.

Hampton Roads Philharmonic
Strings and Things Quartet
Stowehaven String Quartet

The Art of Interacting Online

Words By Louise Casini Hollis.
Images courtesy of Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

Virginia Symphony Orchestra

It may appear that the world has shut down, but the teaching artists of Hampton Roads have taken this opportunity to flourish online with a multitude of opportunities for students to stay connected during the pandemic. In an ongoing series, Spotlight HR is talking to artists and arts organizations around Hampton Roads about their experiences in engaging with students online.

Next year marks Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s 100th season, and Rebekah Geiselman, Education and Community Engagement Manager, and her team have been quite busy. Through their website, they have launched their Music Learning Lab that has programs for students from PreK thru college. Having all of these programs on-line, “had been on the backburner for a while,” Rebekah shared. “Given the current circumstances it kind of brought it to the front and allowed us to get some of these resources available for teachers and for students and families at home.”

Their “Virtual Petting Zoo” designed for Pre K-5 students teaches students about the design, sound and use of orchestral instruments and has companion worksheets aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning. “Technique Tips” uses Virginia Standards of Learning as well, and  is geared towards middle and high school students and was devised, “as kind of a supplement for students that are at home who aren’t having that in-person experience with their teachers at school or some of their private lessons” notes Geiselman. Finally, their “Into the Spotlight” series for advanced high school and college students gives advice on how to tackle performance challenges including topics such as performance anxiety and audition preparation. So far, they have featured the violin, viola, French horn, and trombone and they will be adding additional resources soon. “It’s been great to have musicians part of this process – part of the decision making,” Geiselman said.

Rebecca teaches virtually, a screenshot from a video, she sits at home holding her violin.

The Music Learning Lab can be accessed through VSO’s website, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channel. They also host a series of virtual master classes for ODU students via Zoom. “It’s helping us [fulfilling] this extra need,” says Geiselman. “While we may not be able to get musicians physically into every single classroom or into every single room, this creates a way we’re still able to broaden our reach beyond our initial scope… and making sure we are having a deeper impact on the community.”

In addition to these new teaching resources, Virginia Symphony Orchestra has an archival video of their Young People’s concert “Link Up: The Orchestra Sings”, which is part of their partnership program with Carnegie Hall’s Link Up Program. The footage is available for the school students whose concerts were canceled due to school closures. “At the beginning of the year, schools receive staff professional development as well as student and teacher workbooks.  Throughout the year classes study and prepare Link Up repertoire through listening, singing, dancing, and playing the recorder,” explained Geiselman. Normally, VSO performs the concert throughout 11 school divisions in Hampton Roads. This year, they were able to perform 12 of their 26 scheduled concerts before schools were closed.  

Want to listen to a Virginia Symphony Orchestra concert at home?  You can on Friday evenings at 9pm by tuning into 90.3FM WHRO.  Next year is sure to be exciting as VSO celebrates their 100th anniversary season (2020-2021), and will include some of the programming that was intended to finish out this season. You can be part of the music too, by following the links below.

Virginia Symphony Orchestra
Music Learning Lab
WHRO media player

The Art of Interacting Online

Words by Louise Casini Hollis.
Photos by Tony Robinson.

Musical Director Karla Robinson

It may appear that the world has shut down, but the teaching artists of Hampton Roads have taken this opportunity to flourish online with a multitude of opportunities for students to stay connected during the pandemic. In an ongoing series, Spotlight HR is talking to artists and arts organizations around Hampton Roads about their experiences in engaging with students online.

Talking to Karla D. Robinson is like taking a master class in music direction, which is no surprise with her 25 years of teaching experience here in Hampton Roads. As the Director of Music at Young Musicians of Virginia, Music Director of A Chorus Line at the Generic Theatre, and as a private voice teacher, she stays busy. “Any situation you can learn from and you can choose to find the worst, or you can choose to look at all the upsides,” observes Karla, “I love learning new things and challenging ourselves.”

A Chorus Line was scheduled to hold auditions March 29th– 31st, but the shutdown didn’t deter Karla and Shon M. Stacy, the show’s director and Generic Theatre’s General Producer. Immediately they got to work and organized a way for actors to submit their auditions on-line. This will be the fourth show Karla and Shon have worked on together. “We both appreciate art, and the work that goes into it and behind it,” writes Shon of their collaboration, “as for our working together, there’s not a word out of her mouth that is not echoed from mine, and I know vice versa. We have that type of working relationship.”   

Karla Robinson smiles at the camera while showing off her score to A Chorus Line.

Rehearsing a show online takes an incredible amount of organization, and the production team has responded by creating a comprehensive schedule utilizing Zoom. The rehearsal schedule consists of a Monday night meeting with the whole chorus; Tuesday evening acting and character building with individuals; and then Saturday’s meetings with the show’s four choreographers. They also utilize Zoom for individual work and to give notes. Karla uploads warm-ups, rehearsal tracks, and notes onto the production’s private Facebook page. “I give the cast an assignment on Monday night and they have till Friday at 4pm to video themselves or audio and email it or Drop-Box it back to me.” She then provides specific notes such as, “this cut off was wrong, sustain through the end of this phrase please, watch the vowel on this,” to further augment her, “critiques, corrections, recommendations,” for their work. “I told them ahead of time: Please don’t expect me to sugar coat everything because I just don’t have time for that.”

Karla has found one of the benefits in having actors record themselves is that they can listen and hear what they need to improve on. “People I feel are growing and learning more about their own instrument, rather than just ‘let’s get together and sing and do this,’” she observes. To further augment rehearsals, Karla has appointments during the week with various soloists to work specific sections.  

The biggest obstacle to working online as a musician? Timing. “One of the problems with any interactive video such like Zoom or Facetime or Skype is that there is a sound delay. And I found that when I first started teaching,” Karla shares. “I got on Facetime and I would play warm-ups and they would sing them a beat and a half after I played them, which hurt my brain to no end. So, what I had to do is make recordings, give them the recordings, [and] they play the recordings on their end and sing it back to me because the time delay is just too much…They are literally a beat behind you.” For A Chorus Line, the cast is working with rehearsal tracks, so Karla has taken extensive rehearsal notes for the orchestra to help the transition from recorded to live music.  She has also warned the actors that they must fit their dialogue into the vamps included on the rehearsal tracks.

If all goes according to plan, the cast of A Chorus Line will have 16 days together before the show opens on June 26th. “And I believe we can do it!  We’ve got a very eager and hardworking cast,” boasts Karla. “We’re hoping to be the first show back up in the area. We’ve got to keep moving forward. We can’t just keep putting everybody’s life on hold” says Karla. “I really feel like not just the greater community needs shows to go for entertainment and to get away from things for a little while, but all these actor folks need a community.”

As a teacher, Karla has learned a great deal about online teaching as well. She had 2 days to prepare for all her Young Musicians of Virginia classes to move on line. She has used some of her Seniors as sounding boards to get a feel for what her students are experiencing using Google Classroom, and to make sure the assignments work with the distance and challenges of virtual teaching. The biggest challenge Karla has found is that she must compensate for the time delay. To adjust to it, she has recorded warm-ups and vocal exercises and uploaded the files in her Google Classroom. She then gave her individual students the option of warming up before their virtual lesson or during their virtual lesson. Most of her students have chosen to warm up ahead of time, allowing for more work on their pieces during the lesson. To further combat the time lag, she has her students pick from a selection of Broadway songs, and then they find an appropriate karaoke track so that the student can play it on their end.  

Karla Robinson works on a score in her house, surrounded by her harp, computer, and music stand.

“Sometimes the lessons run long because of working through time delays and technology issues,” says Karla, but she doesn’t mind putting in the extra time with her students. “I believe that it’s easier for instrumentalists to do this than it is for the voice, because with the voice there’s so much of the body you’re looking at. You’re watching their middle to see how the diaphragm is working, how they’re breathing. You’re watching their chest to make sure that’s not rising. You’re watching for the tension in their jaw. You can feel the resonance in the voice, the placement in the voice better when you’re in person and actually feel the sound.”  

Since Karla’s students will not be able to do a jury performance at the end of the school year, Karla will have them do a final performance in front of their families so that they have the experience of singing in front of someone.

One top of working with private students, this dedicated teacher listens to each of her 42 choir students individually so that she can give them feedback on their voices. And to keep it fun, she has assigned them a, “March Madness like choral music listening bracket. There are links to each song for them to listen to and decide what their favorites are and then write a little bit about each of their top favorite songs.” She also, “put out a bingo card for them with activities such as a sing along with [their] favorite Broadway musical or sing a song with a family member or rap one of our choir songs or write a new vocal warmup.” “I’m trying to keep the kids engaged and interested,” adds Karla.

Engagement is the key to operative learning and, in the future, Karla says she will occasionally have her actors and students record themselves and listen to themselves before submitting the recording to her. This will give them the opportunity to hear the issues and bring her questions, and provide a context for what she is asking them to work on. Scott Anderson, Professor of Music at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln explains in the article Teaching Music Lessons in the Online Environment, “There are positives to this methodology. First, the student has control over the recording process and second, they are not dependent on internet speed or bandwidth to make or break the lesson.” 

“I prefer to do it in person,” concludes Karla, but she is glad that if students move away, she can provide training remotely until they have the opportunity to find a local instructor.  

You can check out Generic Theatre and Young Musicians of Virginia on their websites for more information!