American music lesson brings students across the border to perform with the Windsor Youth Symphony Orchestra

What began as a group of American music students rehearsing works created by Canadian composers led to a journey across the border for a collaboration with the Windsor Youth Symphony Orchestra.

About 50 students from Ohio were tasked with exploring music that made its debut in Canada, according to Jay Welenc, professor of orchestral and orchestral music at the Toledo School for the Arts.

A year earlier, he had had an idea: to bring his students to Windsor and perform the same music with a Canadian orchestra. But a cross-border school trip at the height of COVID-19 was out of the question.

But on Thursday, for the first time ever, 46 music and choir students from the Toledo School for the Arts were able to cross Canada and perform with peers from the Windsor Youth Symphony Orchestra.

“This is my first time in Canada and I absolutely have to come back,” said 17-year-old cellist Hailey McConnaughy. “The atmosphere is so welcoming. I’ve never felt so at home in a place that isn’t home.”

the @Windsor Symphony Youth Orchestra welcomed young musicians from the Toledo School of Arts in Ohio for a unique collaboration.

Teachers say 46 students from the United States are here, rehearsing and performing vocal and orchestral pieces by Canadian composers.@CTVWindsor

— Sanjay Maru (@sanJmaru)
March 11, 2022

For McConnaughy, there was a noticeable distinction between the orchestral playing styles of her more familiar Ohio ensemble and what she heard from Windsor players.

But bringing together each other’s “personal sounds” was “pretty awesome”, she said, adding that it was “really amazing” to get another bandleader conducting.

“Mr. Welenc and the guest chef [here in Windsor] have really different styles,” McConnaughy said.

Among the key instructions during Friday’s visit was Daniel Wiley, associate conductor of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra.

As music crosses all borders, Wiley said, he considers the welcoming of American students to be quite “incredible” due to the isolating nature of the pandemic.

“As a former teacher, to even think of going around the students in a pandemic is crazy,” Wiley said. “But to think of taking them internationally, it blows my mind.”

For Wiley, one of the main points he wanted to drive across to everyone in the crowd, whether they were from Toledo or Windsor, was the importance of “taking calculated risks”.

“It’s not just about teaching them how to play their instruments better. But it’s also about making them more aware of the world around them… So it’s about teaching them a bit to be people, as well as learning to play their instrument.”

At various times on Friday, orchestra students from Toledo rehearsed instrumental pieces at the Capitol Theater while their choir counterparts practiced at the University of Windsor’s School of Creative Arts building. Both groups were able to observe each other.

“It was super fun. I really enjoyed it,” said Ella Culbreath, an 18-year-old advanced choir student, who toured the old Armories building. “The story behind the building itself was just amazing.”

Singers from Ohio practiced with singers here in Windsor earlier today.

Now it’s the orchestra’s turn. Here is some music from @the weekend.@CTVWindsor

— Sanjay Maru (@sanJmaru)
March 11, 2022

According to Toledo School of Arts Band euphonium player Laine Brown, Wiley’s lesson on Friday taught her the importance of “focusing more on the expressions of the music rather than actually playing the note.”

“Because a lot of my notes and the basis of my songs were whole notes and half notes, usually boring stuff. But the way he phrased it made it a lot more interesting and a lot more fun to play,” said said Brown, adding this was also his first time at Windsor.

“I’ve never really left the United States before, but it’s definitely been a great experience. Now that I have my passport, I hope to be able to move around a bit more.”

Before returning to Toledo on Saturday, students will spend the day at the Chimczuk Museum, John R. Park Homestead Conservation Area and Devonshire Mall.

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