“Let’s hear the room breathe a little bit,” Wind Ensemble Director David Winer told the students as they warm up. “Don’t start off with an empty tank.”
Behind him was a reminder on a whiteboard: “Relax, enjoy music-making with each other.”
On this day, Thursday, November 2, the music-making included a special guest, Tony Susi, the composer of Harvest Fair, which the Wind Ensemble had performed on Family Weekend. Mr. Susi was here to work with the Loomis Chaffee musicians on the piece that originally was commissioned by RHAM High School in Hebron, Conn.
The Hebron Harvest Fair, synonymous with the town, inspired the song. The fair has been a community and regional event for more than 50 years. New England is famous for its fair season, which runs from late summer into the fall, and Mr. Susi has been to his share of fairs. His piece celebrates that part of New England life.
Mr. Susi, a longtime music educator and composer, came to the Island at David’s request. They have been colleagues for years.
“I am honored that you are putting all this time and effort into my music,” Mr. Susi told the students after being introduced. “Any composer is grateful. … Just because we write things doesn’t mean people will play it.”
As Mr. Susi worked with the students, there was a fair amount of stopping and starting for teaching moments.
The song Harvest Fair is supposed to conjure up memories of having gone to fairs, those happy moments when rides and games and food and farm animals come together to create sights and sounds that live on for years. It is a lively, spirited, feel-good song.
At one point in describing a section of the piece, Mr. Susi talked about a young child skipping along in excitement. And he demonstrated skipping as opposed to plodding along. At another juncture he stopped to explain why he created a part of the song the way he did, calling it a musical conversation.
“The kid wants to go one way and the parents another way, so there is a little tug of war going on,” Mr. Susi said. “The larger instruments are the voices of the parents and the smaller ones the voice of the child.”
The parents want to get something to eat. “I want to go on the merry-go-round,” Mr. Susi said in a kid’s voice that has a touch of whine to it.
“Who gets the last word?” Mr. Susi asked. “The parents.” And that is reflected in the music.
Along the way, Mr. Susi reminded students of other things that make for good musicianship. One is posture, which establishes a good appearance and much more. If you cannot get out of your chair to a standing position without using your hands, your posture is wrong, he said. “When I’m talking — and I can be a little long-winded — sit back, cross your legs, do whatever is comfortable, but when we go to play, return to good posture.”
Onward went the song and the teaching.