As the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra is celebrating 25 years of making music on Delmarva, we thought we'd share with you an interview with the Orchestra's current Music Director, Dr. Jeffrey Schoyen. The interview was conducted by Liz Layton, a long-time supporter, member and fan of the SSO, and of WSCL 89.5 FM:
In 1985, Dr. Thomas Elliot became the Chairman of the Music Department at Salisbury State College. One of his dreams was to start a symphony orchestra, and in 1986 with the support of Dr. Thomas Bellavance, President of SSC, and an enthusiastic group of local classical musicians, this dream was realized. Elliot was the SSO’s first conductor. He retired in 2003, and in 2005 Dr. Jeffrey Schoyen, associate professor of music at SU, and accomplished cellist, became the SSO’s new conductor. He talks here about the SSO as it is today and its plans for the 25th anniversary season.
How has the symphony grown in the five years you have been here?
In the last five years, the players and I have worked very hard to produce a consistent level of playing, and they have grown artistically and learned to play in different styles.
What have been some of your goals for the SSO?
Of course, I am very committed to giving four consistently good concerts each year. My wife, Sachi Murasugi, and I are solidifying the string sections. Sachi is the concertmaster and attends all the rehearsals. She and I are trying to build a strong, string program in the department. The SSO now has an established tradition of a fall Children’ Concert. This October 23rd the program will feature Frederick’s Fables, based on the children’s book by Leo Lionni, and narrated by SU faculty member Jackie Lew. Also, last season we started a tradition of free pre-concert lectures to introduce the audience to the musical works being played.
What attracts students to play in the orchestra?
We have many more students playing now than we did when I first came to SU. This year we will have 15 students in the orchestra. We have approximately 50 music majors who are attracted by our growing and accredited Music Department. Under the leadership of Dr. Linda Cockey, department chair, we offer a traditional BA in music, as well as a professional track in music education, performance, and music technology. Many of our players are non-music majors. They are students who have been studying an instrument for many years, and want to continue to play in college. Sachi and I have recruited string players from our private students and the youth orchestra. Two talented local high school violinists joined the orchestra last year.
How has the SSO’s visibility increased during your tenure?
We have a lot of support from the University, the Symphony Advisory Board, and also the community. Certain individuals, especially Peter and Judy Jackson, have been very generous. They were responsible for establishing our permanent endowment and have also given a charitable remainder trust which will assure the continuance of the symphony in the years to come.
What is unique about the SSO compared to other orchestras in the area?
The make-up of our orchestra is very diverse. We have professional musicians, talented amateurs, college and high school students. We have nurses, ministers, doctors, school teachers, grandmothers---a wide variety of professions—who help make rehearsals fun and interesting. We also enjoy support from the University and the community which makes us different from other area orchestras.
How do you find your soloists?
I mainly use my own resources. I keep my “ears to the ground” and keep a list of possibilities. This year in February we are again featuring Sarah Jackson, piccolo player with the Los Angeles Orchestra, who is the daughter of Peter and Judy Jackson, and the granddaughter of Roger Jackson, one of the first Board members.
Have you ever been a soloist with the orchestra?
Sachi and I were soloists in Bach’s Sinfonia Concertante in 2007, and last year I played the cello solo in Haydn’s Cello Concert in C major. All of my musical activities have grown out of cello playing. It is an opportunity and a challenge to play the cello with the orchestra. I think it’s important for a conductor to understand where the players are coming from. Sachi and I also play two concerts a year in the Allegheny Ensemble.
What are your plans for this 25th anniversary season?
Our holiday concert will feature Charlotte Paulsen, mezzo-soprano. In February, the theme will be French, and Sarah Jackson will be soloist. And in the spring, we will be playing Russian music with soloist Wesley Baldwin on the cello.
The Board is also planning a gala event on March 19th to celebrate our anniversary----more details to come!
What’s on the Symphony’s wish list for the future?
As the orchestra develops, I would like to see us play some more difficult symphonies, such as the later symphonies of Beethoven, Schuman, and Brahms. We are almost there!
Happy 25th to the SSO, it's current and past members, supporters, and fans!