Introducing Christine Lundahl, the new director of the Rogue Valley Symphonic Band. Originally from Tampa, Florida, Christine has recently relocated to Southern Oregon, where she works full time for SOU as the Director of Bands. She is also actively involved in many local schools’ music programs, giving her the unique opportunity to work with musicians from the ages of 8 to 80. As the new Artistic Director of the Rogue Valley Symphonic Band, Christine seeks to expand horizons by introducing and incorporating more diverse genres of Wind Band music. In today’s interview, I speak with Christine about Rogue Valley Symphonic Band´s concert, “Lift Every Voice.” and their upcoming concert “Bloom”.
Hi Christine, welcome back. How did the Lift Every Voice concert go?
It was an incredibly special evening of music-making! Everyone I have spoken to has said it was one of the best concerts they have ever been to, or for the players, been a part of. The music was new and fresh, but spoke to our individual humanity in a way that felt achingly familiar. I felt very lucky to be a part of it.
Please continue to talk about the mission of the ensemble.
As we come out of these two years of the pandemic, we are working on focusing on three key goals going forward:
• It is important to us to not only play music known and loved by those familiar with the wind band canon, but to also bring to light new and diverse composers.
• This group of musicians are some of the most talented players in the Rogue Valley and it is our privilege to keep pushing to new heights and bring that top-quality skill to each performance.
• Lastly, we are passionate about classical music and our specific genre of wind band being accessible to everyone, and have been working on new ways to reach a younger audience.
What are specific goals you have that the community can help you in achieving?
We are so grateful for the wonderful community that we are a part of and how excited our audience has been after our last few concerts! In board meetings and discussions with players, it is apparent we are ready to take this group to the next level and join the other top-tier performing ensembles in the area. We are currently hiring a business manager to take on more of the administrative duties, discussing ideas for touring and youth outreach programs, and just working to spread the word about the great music we’re playing. If there are any community members interested in supporting our mission, we are looking for season sponsors for next year!
Where do all your players in the Rogue Valley Symphonic Band come from?
A good number of players have been with the group since its inception in 1988. Many are community members, some are SOU students of mine, and all are truly fabulous musicians and people. I encourage anyone who is interested in joining our ensemble to reach out.
The band you have now at Southern Oregon University was not in existence last year? Please talk about that accomplishment.
In March of 2020, the world shut down and SOU went virtual. Many classes are able to be taught without much difficulty on the Zoom platform, but a large performing ensemble is not one of them. In September of 2021, we had our first rehearsal and of the fifty members in the group, there were very few that had ever played together before. The energy and excitement in the room was palpable and we started working on ways to build the culture of the band and establish it firmly to give students a place to feel at home.
Christi, please talk about the art of building a band culture.
There is a trust that needs to be built between everyone in the ensemble because what we are doing is time-consuming, often difficult and frustrating, and opens us up to criticism with every note we play. If the players feel safe to make mistakes and enjoy being around the people in the group, there is far more buy-in and the music we make together is that much more authentic. I planned activities outside of rehearsal so that they could spend time getting to know each other in a different environment, always make sure to encourage leadership and ownership within rehearsals by eliciting their feedback, and am continuing to get to know each of them on a deeper level.
Where and how did you learn to create a band culture?
I’ve had the privilege of being in ensembles with conductors and educators at the top of their field and have been to many clinics and symposiums where the topic of creating band culture was discussed by brilliant minds.
Please talk about the powerful experience that is created when young conductors are working beside you in front of a live audience.
For our last concert, I gave a piece each to four students who were taking private lessons and studying conducting with me. They got to rehearse the band once a week and I gave them conducting and rehearsal feedback in real time in front of the ensemble so that they could practice changing their gesture to fit the needs of the music. It was so much fun for me to see how much they grew in such a short period of time, but it was also a real joy to see the players offer feedback and interact with them.
Please talk about your love for inspiring music educators.
I absolutely adored being a public school teacher and getting to spend years with my high school band students – watching them grow, learning from them, and inspiring great change in their lives through the beauty of creating music with other young people. It was such a precious gift and now I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share what was effective (and what wasn’t!) and everything I picked up along the way with future music educators, my college students at SOU.
What are some of the most important messages you give to young musicians?
I encourage them to be brave, to be sensitive, to explore the innate musicality within them, and to allow their own human experiences to dictate the way they play. I work to create a very vulnerable space in our rehearsals so that they can feel free to stretch beyond their own imposed boundaries.
What is the Young Artist Competition and how did it work?
Earlier this year, the Rogue Valley Symphonic Band put out a call to local school-aged instrumentalists. Interested students submitted an application along with a video of them playing a solo on their instrument, then a panel of judges chose the top three. Elinor McGary, a French horn player from North Medford High School, was chosen as the high school winner and will be performing the Strauss Horn Concerto no. 1 with the RVSB at our concert. Second and third place were both from Ashland High School: Clara Dyson, an oboist, and James Dyson, a bassoonist. We also received a submission of a wonderful new piece of music that we’ll be premiering, composed by South Medford High School student, Asher Howell. To round out our Young Artists, we will also have SOU student Travis Muñoz conduct Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide.
Tell us some more about the concert. When and where is it going to be?
We have titled this performance “Bloom” and will be playing pieces that celebrate youth, vitality, and spring renewal. The concert will be May 21st at 3pm in the SOU Music Recital Hall. We hope you’ll join us!