A group of students, faculty, staff and residents of Knox County played everything from Mozart to marauders’ music Saturday in Rosse Hall. The Knox County Symphony Orchestra (KCS), conducted by Professor of Music Benjamin Locke, performed its winter concert and showcased this year’s winners of the Young Musicians Competition.
Each year, two college students and two local high school students chosen by KCS judges win the opportunity to solo alongside the orchestra. This year’s winners from Kenyon are Leah Dunbar ’20 (first place) and Jim Finley ’21 (second place). Isaac Che, who is home schooled, won first place and Daniel Pastor, a student at Mount Vernon High School, won second place in the high school category.
Isaac Che, a pianist originally from Pennsylvania, began preparing his audition as soon as he arrived in Knox County. “I actually just moved here [last] February,” he said, “and I had just started with my new teacher, and she mentioned the competition to me. I spent about four months preparing.” Che performed the “Allegro” movement from Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major,” the oldest piece in the concert by over 100 years.
Pastor, also a pianist, chose a more recent work for this competition. “A few months before the competition, [Adjunct Instructor of Piano Janet Thompson-Edge] found this guy playing this really cool song with an orchestra, and she asked me if I could find the music for it,” he said. (Pastor is Thompson-Edge’s student.) “I ended up finding the composer’s email, and he sent me the original sheet music. It wasn’t published yet.” Pastor had found contemporary jazz composer Brent Edstrom’s “Finale for Piano and Orchestra.” Pastor is also a regular member of the Knox County Symphony, in which he plays the violin.
Dunbar, general percussionist for KCS as well as Kenyon’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble, had the opportunity to play her primary instrument: the marimba. Dunbar said she appreciates the musicality of the marimba, and said that the instrument bridged and intersected her interests in piano and percussion.
Finding an appropriate piece for this unique instrument was its own challenge. “The marimba’s not a super popular instrument,” Dunbar said. “But I found this piece and I just really enjoyed listening to it and I thought it would be fun to play.” She performed Movement III of “Sugaria,” French composer Eric Sammut’s showcase for the central-African instrument.
Knox County Symphony, while affiliated with and reliant on Kenyon, is an independent community organization. “Many students [and faculty] from Kenyon are involved,” said Affiliated Scholar in Music and President of KCS Magic McBride, “so a lot of people think of it as a Kenyon institution, but it’s really much broader than that. There are high school students and people from the Nazarene University, so it’s really a community orchestra.”
Two of KCS’s four annual concerts are held at Kenyon, and two others are held at Mount Vernon Nazarene University and Ariel Foundation Park. The group also rehearses on Kenyon’s campus for two hours a week.
The concert was composed of the four chosen solos, as well as two intermezzos, or transitional pieces, and one work each from The Pirates of Penzance and Pirates of the Caribbean.
“I like pirates,” Locke said with a shrug and a laugh. “I mean, this concert’s always a challenge, because there’s such a diversity of the winners’ [pieces]. The style is so piecemeal, it sort of needs a unifying element.” He has conducted the group since 1984.
Finley described his post-concert mood as a “big relief. I’ve been playing this piece for about eight months now, so I can finally just set it down and learn something new.”