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College concert band, string ensemble to perform for community, encourage inclusion, individuality

| Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Saint Mary’s concert band and string ensemble will perform the music of J.S. Bach, Brian Balmages, Lauren Barnofsky, Soon Hee Newbold, Alfred Reed and others in their fall concert Tuesday. Kenneth Douglas serves as band director to the students, faculty, staff and community-member musicians in the band.

Douglas, who started as band director last year, said there are currently about 30 band members, mostly coming from the local community.

“Since we are still relatively new, there aren’t a lot of students that know about it yet,” he said. “In the fall, a lot of students prefer to participate with Notre Dame and their marching band, primarily. So, if we can get those people, I would love to have them.”

Courtesy of Kenneth Douglas

Director Kenneth Douglas conducts the College’s string ensemble during the 2019 spring concert.

Though the Saint Mary’s band is dwarfed by the neighboring marching band, the smaller size allows for greater individuality, he said.

“That is one of the things that I hope to accomplish is to establish our identity separate from Notre Dame,” Douglas said.

The band practices for two hours once a week, and typically performs once a semester, Douglas said. Members of all skill levels are invited to join and no auditions are required.

“We really want to build the program, and we want to be as inclusive as possible,” he said. “If anybody is interested in joining the band, they don’t have to be a music major, and if they’re a community member and they’re in retirement, that’s fine. If they used to play an instrument in high school, we have a place for you.”

Carla Youngdahl, an assistant professor of speech language pathology at Saint Mary’s, started playing the double bass in the string ensemble in 2018, following one semester with the concert band.

“I have played [the bass] for years and love it for its diversity across genres,” Youngdahl said in an email. “I like having the diversity in being able to play in a full symphony orchestra, small string ensemble, jazz band or sports pep bands. I think it also fits my personality that I like to be the ‘supporting’ player for things, but not the solo star.”

Youngdahl played in symphony orchestras and small chamber ensembles for more than 10 years prior to joining the group at Saint Mary’s, but said she took a step back from music to pursue her Ph.D. and start a family. She said she was more than ready to start again with the string ensemble.

“Music has been an important part of my entire life,” she said. “It has always been my go-to form of creativity and expression. Rehearsing and performing gives me a balance with my work life.”

The level of inclusion within the concert band and string ensemble creates a greater sense of community, Youngdahl said.

“I really enjoy that everyone is welcome,” she said. “I have had great experiences getting to know students, other faculty and community members in a different setting and dynamic. Being open to all, with no auditions, puts the focus of the group on everyone getting to pursue their interest and passion. We’re there because we want to be there.”

Junior Kat Esguerra, entering her fourth semester playing with the concert band, has played the oboe for about 12 years. Esguerra said the band’s structure creates friendships between musicians of varying backgrounds.

“The Saint Mary’s College band surprisingly has a wide range in terms of generational diversity,” she said in an email. “A lot of members are former high school band directors or come from a long musical history as well as beginners in university, and I think that results in an environment with a good discussion in terms of music. There are a lot of outside opinions.”

Esguerra said she originally enrolled at Saint Mary’s with the intention of furthering her passion for music.

“It was important to me know if my college or university had a band that I can play in,” Esguerra said. “I enjoy playing the oboe because it allows me to focus on something other than academics and social life.”

Despite the group’s small size and low-commitment schedule, Esguerra said the concert band has become a tight-knit group of music lovers.

“We created this awesome family where students, professors and community members could bond to create music,” she said.

The concert band and string ensemble enriches the College’s on-campus culture by connecting music from the past and present and inviting both musicians and audience members to provide their own interpretations of each piece, Esguerra said.

This kind of community-building experience stems from all forms of music and art, Youngdahl said.

“If you go to a good pop concert you feel like you are part of something,” she said. “The same thing happens with all music — it can create bonds not just between the members of the group but with the audience also. Performing and attending concerts can be a way to hear and experience something new, relax from studies and make new friends.”

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