An orchestra of talent

Cameron Yong/HIGHLANDER

In the Arts Building, sounds of different instruments can be heard daily — string, brass and many more. But not a lot of people know how much work the UCR orchestra puts into their pieces and concerts every day. Matt Chiapa, Daphne Ferreiro and Chloe Keedy are just three examples of extremely devoted students to their craft. While two of them are not music majors, their passion is just the same, and last Sunday, they performed in a concert featuring pieces from American fairy tales to get the orchestra’s name out there.

Chiapa, a fifth-year physics major, has been playing the trumpet since he was 3 years old. Inspired by his father, who played trumpet in a mariachi band, Chiapa was given the instrument to start practicing. “It was just a little bit bigger than me,” he laughed. Ever since, it has been a life full of music, from piano to musical theory. “I’ve always had a musical ear … I started musical theory on the piano. That’s where I learned how to read notes. I then transferred over to trumpet, where I didn’t have to worry about making a good sound. I know something is in tune and when it’s not in tune.”

But school orchestra isn’t the only ensemble he’s part of. Aside from physics coursework and the running club, he also followed in his dad’s footsteps by starting a mariachi band. He said, “Music is just a hobby for me. I’m not considering on making it professional. Professionals live and breathe music. If I were to make it that my life depended on it, it would take away the luster of it.” His current career goal is to get into optometry school after graduating, and even with Chiapa pursuing a degree in the sciences instead of music, he still loved his experience with the UCR music department. “I can say it was fulfilling … I know as many people in the science department as I do in the Arts Building. I was drawn to this school because the ensembles are so available and accessible.”

Daphne Ferreiro, a fifth-year Asian studies major, has been involved with string instruments since the fourth grade. “I’ve been playing for so long that it’s become a part of my identity,” she said. “Once I switched to the viola, I never thought about switching back to the violin. The viola is a little bigger in size and a little deeper in sound … A viola is unique and rich in its own special way, just like the violist herself!” As soon as she submitted her statement of intent to register at UCR, the first thing she did was contact Ruth Charloff, the orchestra conductor, to see if she could audition. “Even though I had different majors in mind, playing viola always brought me such happiness in the past, so it was something I knew I wanted to keep doing in college,” she said.

But the viola isn’t Ferreiro’s only talent. She also has a passion for singing. She has been singing almost her entire life and just started receiving professional training just over a year ago. She won third place in two K-Pop singing contests and is currently trying out to sing at her commencement ceremony — so to whomever is in charge of choosing the singer for commencement, Ferreiro seems quite qualified for the job.

Like Chiapa, Ferreiro is not a music major, so she also has to be able to balance her studies with her music. However, she seems to be doing extremely well with her time management. Playing music has proven to be a very relaxing time for her after her classes. She says, ”Whenever I wasn’t able to play for a quarter, I would feel overwhelmed with schoolwork. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this form of artistic expression was almost necessary for me to do well in other parts of my college career.” She has loved her college experience with the musical department because it has helped her realize her true passions in life. “I realized that doing what makes me happy as a career would be the best decision for me,” she said. “Even if I choose to pursue another dream for a while, on the side and in my heart, I will always be a violist.”

Chloe Keedy has a very diverse set of talents. First off, she is only a second-year who is scheduled to graduate in fall 2014. That means, along with her music, she’s also taking 20 – 23 units a quarter. With that sort of schedule, I wouldn’t know how to fit anything else in, but Keedy is able to do it. “I think a lot of it has to do with my working style,” she said. ”I love to be busy and the projects I’m working on all mean a lot to me … This week’s project was studying for the GRE. As far as time management goes, I take things one at a time and try to stay in the moment. I make sure to get in the gym six days a week and spend time with my friends — balance is key.”

Just some of Keedy’s projects have been giving music presentations at elementary schools, running UCR’s Jazz Sextet and even doing independent research on street musicians. But one of the most interesting projects is her band Gypsies and Judges. Originally started in high school, she brought it with her to UCR, got mostly new members and developed a “dark swing music” genre. Her band is currently Nathan Guze, John Duke O’Neill, Nadine Parra and John Garcia. When asked about the differences between being in a swing music band and a formal orchestra, she said, “Oh, it’s like night and day. Orchestra gives me the opportunity to be exposed to music I would never have come across as a primarily jazz performer. I get to sit in the brass section and let myself be moved by the magnificence of a large and diverse group of musicians. When I perform with Gypsies and Judges, I am front-and-center, which is a completely different experience.” Despite her graduating this fall, she still wants very much to keep her band alive along with possible MBA programs in music composition. Is there anything this girl cannot do?

Sunday’s concert was the orchestra’s way to get their name out there. In honor of L. Frank Baum, the event featured musical pieces from “The Wizard of Oz,” the film “Oz: The Great and Powerful” and the famous musical “Wicked.” Chiapa said it was going to be a difficult show because they had to “sing through their instruments” without any vocal accompaniment, and from my seat in the University Theatre, I think they did a fantastic job.

The concert began with a compilation of pieces from “The Wizard of Oz.” It was amazing to hear how harmonious the diverse set of instruments sounded together and could go from one song to the other so smoothly. They played famous songs, such as “If Only I Had a Brain” and “The Wicked Witch Is Dead,” and even with no singing present, I could still hear the words in my head. The same reaction occurred with their compilation of songs from “Wicked,” including from “Dancing Through Life” and “Popular.”

The ensemble then took on Danny Elfman’s composition in the film “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” It had the Elfman creepiness all over it, starting with a soft triangle in the background and ending with a booming sound from the orchestra. It sounded like I was watching a Tim Burton movie on stage.

In the middle of the performance, Johanna McKay came to the stage and read “The Queen of Quok,” one of Baum’s first fairytales, to the audience. The fairytale was about a 10-year-old king being forced to marry an old wealthy woman to make the kingdom prosperous again, despite his feelings for a lower-class woman. What is interesting about this piece is that not only is it the first time it has been read aloud in a professional venue, but the music to accompany it was written completely by Tim Labor, a composer and a UCR professor. With her intense emotion and Labor’s composition, it brought the adorable tale to life on stage. The whole concert was a nostalgic experience, and the work of students like Chiapa, Keedy and Ferreiro made me fall in love with Baum’s incredible creation all over again.

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