EasySitePicture_6045837Symphony Strings students return from concert tour

by Hannah Benson, ’15

“Anytime an instrument can be used as a vehicle to travel somewhere, it typically leads to life-changing experiences,” orchestra co-director Ed Zunic said in an interview with ThisWeek News.

It seems that the members of Symphony Strings, UAHS’ most elite orchestra, would agree. Symphony Strings returned from a 12-day concert tour in China with an orchestra from Mirca Costa, Ca., on July 6, the orchestra’s first venture outside of North America. The orchestra performed in six different venues across the country, including the glittering Shanghai Oriental Arts Center and prestigious Beijing Concert Hall.

Bob Phillips, president of the American String Teachers Association, was struck by Symphony Strings’ performance at the Ohio Music Educators Conference in 2013 and invited the orchestra to join the League of Astonishing Strings on a concert tour of China. This journey, though a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, came with a staggering price tag of $110,000.

To raise money, orchestra students opened a program called Practice Partners in which Symphony students helped elementary school orchestra members perfect their string techniques. The program was orchestra co-director Gretchen Zunic’s personal favorite fundraising effort.

“Practice Partners was the most enjoyable fundraiser in which we participated,” Zunic said. “It really allowed our high school students to connect with our fourth and fifth-grade students and I think all of the students gained tremendously from the experience.”

They found even more success with a gala concert and silent auction at Hastings Middle School, billed as “Bears to Beijing.” This event raised a whopping $15,000.

Senior Anna Smoot, a violinist, chose to focus her fundraising efforts on the Bears to Beijing gala.

“I showed up early [to Bears to Beijing] to help set up,” Smoot said. “My mother helped organize the silent auction that was held.”

Smoot says the effort paid off; she remembers the final concert in Shanghai most fondly.

“I think the Shanghai concert was the best part of the trip,” Smoot said. “The last piece that we played was called ‘Spring Festival Overture.’ It is widely popular in China. [The audience] clapped along while we played…. After each performance, everyone wanted pictures with us, which was cool.”

Junior violinist Chloe Amsterdam agreed.

“The audience was actively listening, and in our finale piece they were cheering and clapping along which made it exciting for us,” Amsterdam said. “It made it feel like they were thoroughly enjoying our music.”

When they weren’t performing sold-out concerts in Shanghai theaters, orchestra students were visiting tourist attractions such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the site of the Beijing Olympic Games.

“I don’t think I can single out a moment in which I was the most proud of the orchestra,” Zunic said. “The UAHS Symphony students could not have been better representatives for our school and community. They handled every situation with grace, patience, and maturity [and] I was incredibly proud of them not just as musicians, but as young people.”

Image caption: The Orchestra Bears take a photo break in China’s Tian’anmen Square. The Bears traveled China for almost two weeks and played a total of six concerts.

Image courtesy of UA Orchestra