Music at Museum offered community chance to experience broad repertoire



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From left, Enriqueta Somarriba, Yen Lee, and Emily Gibson

Music and art converged every month as the faculty of Mason Gross Extension Division performed at Zimmerli Art Museum in a series of free weekend concerts.  The Music at the Museum series included works from Russia, the Far East and Latin America, among others.  Before each concert, the performers discussed the works and the concert’s theme. The series – in its third year – offered the community a way to experience a broad repertoire. The season began in October and ended Sunday, March 19. Our partnership with the museum is expected to continue in the fall with a new season of performances.

The final concert, Alma Latina: Music from Spain and Latin America on March 19, featured our faculty members vocalist Emily Gibson, Yen Lee on guitar and pianist Enriqueta Somarriba.  The concert also featured the world premiere of Love by Chilean composer Patricio Molina.

We spoke with Somarriba about her musical journey and working with Molina to feature the piece for Music at the Museum.  A native of Spain, Somarriba has been working with Spanish and Latin American music at a very young age. She has performed throughout the world from Carnegie Hall in New York City to the National Auditorium of Madrid.


Tell me a little about this music and this performance:

This program is a combination of both traditional Spanish Latin American music and modern pieces.I love having the other two performers, guitar and soprano. That’s a very non-traditional ensemble. There are many pieces for piano and soprano and guitar and soprano, but not that many for all three.

What was it like working with Patricio Molina, composer of Love? 

He’s from Chile, so culturally we are close. We share the same musical interests in that regard. It was a very easy collaboration. When I called him, I gave him a blank page. I said the only thing I need is inspiration from Spain or Latin America. He did marvelous job and called me the next day saying it’s done. That really shows how clear his idea was even before writing the piece.

Have you ever done something like this that combines the more traditional and modern?

Absolutely, in all of my recitals! I think it’s very important to understand tradition, but including new works helps understand tradition. Without the perspective of what’s happening in today’s musical world, it’s very difficult to really dig into the older works. It’s also difficult to understand the new works without understanding what happened before.

What is the most rewarding thing from concerts like this?

With concerts like this I always try to include some audience interaction. In this concert, the pre-concert talk is a way to explain to the audience a little bit about what they are going to listen to.This repertoire is very close to my heart so it is really an exciting opportunity and an honor to share the passion I have and enthusiasm.

Do you incorporate this repertoire in your students’ lessons?

Right now, I have several of my students playing Spanish or Latin American works. I think it’s an opportunity for them to experience something new. I am very thankful to be able to share my experience of this repertoire with my students.

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Chilean composer Patricio Molina with the performers following the concert.


Music at the Museum Concert Series to Feature World Premiere Composition

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Emily Gibson, Enriqueta Somarriba and Yen Lee

The world premiere of a newly composed work, Love, by Chilean composer Patricio Molina will be featured at Music at Museum concert March 19.   Mason Gross Extension Division faculty members — soprano Emily Gibson on vocals, Yen Lee on guitar and Enriqueta Somarriba on piano — will perform the piece.

Music at the Museum is a free monthly weekend concert series featuring classical and jazz musicians from the faculty of the Mason Gross School of the Arts Extension Division. The  series is performed at the Zimmerli  Art Museum, allowing concert-goers to enjoy art and music side by side. The program, which begins at 1:30 p.m. with a discussion about the musical works, is open to the public.

March 19 performance, Alma Latina, , will  feature other Spanish and Latin American compositions for piano, guitar, and voice.  It is the final concert for the season.



A conversation with Maeve Dougal


Maeve Dougal is the director of our ballet program, an American Ballet Theatre (ABT®) certified school. She also teaches in the BFA program at Mason Gross School of Performing Arts at Rutgers University. She loves contemporary and modern dance, but her passion is classical ballet.  Since she was a little girl in kindergarten, she has been in the studio dancing. She was drawn to ballet because of the music and stories; she stayed with ballet because it gives her strength and stamina. Additionally, Dougal is the assistant director of Rutgers Summer Dance Conservatories for new and experienced dancers ages 11 to 18 held in July. The conservatory is holding live auditions March 4 and again April 22, 6:45 p.m.  

How long have you been dancing?

When I was really little, I did the Royal Academy of Dance Training Program, which is similar to the ABT® national training curriculum but it’s the British system. I took a break and picked it up again when I was in sixth grade. I danced through college and grad school.

What is it about ballet that draws you to it?

I love the tradition and the ritual of classical ballet; it’s incredibly beautiful. I love the music. I was drawn to it because it was the first time I was able to organize my mind and my physicality. I was able to find my focus – in dance and other areas of my life. I think that’s why I’ve stuck with it so for long.

Did you love it right away?

I eventually fell in love with it. When I was little, I loved to improvise dances. They would give us a piece of music and say ‘This is a dance about flying your kite,’ or we would pretend to sew or pick berries and put them in our baskets. I remember the play part of ballet, which is actually what I love about the ABT® program: Pre-primary through second grade is all based in play. It’s still very structured, but the kids are performing. Developmentally, it’s very engaging.


Why do you teach?

I thought I wanted to perform, but then in my junior year in college, I realized what I really loved about ballet is the process in the studio. I struggled to find good training. I had a couple of teachers who were inspiring, but I had to take a lot of it on myself and teach myself. Even though I wasn’t a brilliant technician, I felt I understood the process of building technique.

So you want to pass that along.

Right, I teach because I love ballet and I love to see my students have breakthroughs. I love to see them gain control of their bodies and develop. My highest level (of students) here are teenagers, which can be a really rough time developmentally, but they have this beautiful community. They’re supportive of each other. I love to be able to foster that experience for them. It has made a huge impact on my life.

img_7581What kind of impact has ballet had on you personally?

I have no idea who I would be without ballet.

Does it define you?

It maybe shouldn’t.

But it does?

Yeah, I think it does parts of me. I’m not who I am professionally.

How do you feel when you’re dancing?

I don’t dance a lot for myself anymore but when I do, it’s an emotional experience. I get caught up in perfection but I’m not perfect. I have to battle that.

Do you think you’ll ever achieve perfection?

No. I know I won’t. If I were able to, I would have already. I have physical limitations I have to work within.

Does that make you work harder?

Oh yea. Ballet has made me really resilient, which I think it’s one of the more important lessons it has taught me. When you love something so much and it doesn’t work out the way you would love or had imagined, you come back to it. You don’t give up, you don’t let it define you or defeat you. You learn to take criticism and rejection, but the victories are huge.

Do you come from a family of artists?

I do and a long line of teachers. My grandmother is 96 and she grew up in 1920s and 30s North Dakota. She put herself through college and was a teacher forever. My mom taught for 40 years. My dad was a (public school) teacher. My mother loved ballet but never took any lessons. She just started taking a dance class, in her 70s. I’m really proud of her.

Do you think it comes from her, this love of ballet you have?

I think the love of movement is my genes. My father enjoys dancing socially. People would stop and make circles around him and watch him dance. My grandparents went dancing into their late 80s, every night. I think I come from a family of movers.


Getting to Know Peter Saleh

Peter Saleh is the founder and director of Rutgers Youth Percussion Ensemble, which aims to help drummers and mallet players ages 13 to 18 develop into well-rounded, confident and dynamic musicians. The ensemble is in its 13th season and classes are scheduled to resume later this spring.  In November, Saleh performed with ensemble alumni as part of our monthly concert series at the Zimmerli Museum. He is also the founding member of Exit 9 Percussion Group and has performed nearly 500 times with the group. Saleh holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Mason Gross School of Performing Arts at Rutgers University and a master’s degree in percussion performance from the University of North Texas. He is the author of “A Percussionist’s Handbook”, about which Joseph Tompkins, Rutgers University Percussion Department head and NYC freelancer said, “You can spend twenty years learning this material through trial and error, or simply read A Percussionist’s Handbook book cover to cover.”


Peter Saleh, second from left, performed at the Zimmerli Museum in November with alumni of Rutgers Youth Percussion Ensemble. The alumni are, from left Angelica Cruz, Ben Cornavaca, and Devon Cupo.

What do you do when you’re not performing?

I enjoy spending as much time as possible outside with my dog – Batman, a French bulldog. I also like building and working with my hands and writing – I am working on the second edition of my book, A Percussionist’s Handbook.

If you could play any other instrument, what would it be? Why?

Cello! Sound produced by percussion instruments die away quickly. The cello is capable of producing a sustained sound. The range and repertoire of the instrument speak strongly to me and I think I would really enjoy being in a string quartet. Plus, the instrument crosses over to popular music in interesting ways.

Where’s your favorite place to listen to music?

I like to see small groups in small venues – a place where the audience and musicians are breathing the same air; the genre doesn’t matter.

Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?

In South Korea, on an island called Jeju – it’s like their Hawaii. The first time my group performed there was in an amphitheater overlooking the sea. We performed around sunset. It was an amazing view from the stage and the audience was incredibly receptive.

What inspires you?

My students, especially when they reach the point of self-motivation.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I like some pop artists that other trained musicians might look down their nose at, but a good song is a good song!


I like a group called Postmodern Jukebox – they do fun, cross-style arrangements of pop songs. I also really like a group called Lake Street Dive – just saw them at Radio City recently. It’s kind of a soul-pop band with some killer musicians and a great approach to song writing. I’m not admitting to anything more than that, and a little Beyonce.

What’s your favorite movie?

Rounders with Matt Damon, Ed Norton, and John Malkovich

Do you remember the moment you fell in love with your art?

The first day of band class in 5th grade. I had so much fun that I couldn’t wait to play again!

What was the first record or CD you bought?

Metallica’s Ride the Lightning – I bought it when CDs were still sold in long boxes!

Why do you teach? What’s the most rewarding part of teaching?

There’s an expression, “water every seed.” Every student has the potential to go far in his own way if he receives the right direction and encouragement. Maybe not every seed will develop, but I teach because I like to help — and be a witness to — a child discovering his talent. A few years ago, a parent gave me an old picture of her son – 5 years old in the picture playing with a toy xylophone. That 5 year-old eventually got into Julliard.  I look at the picture occasionally as a reminder that you don’t know where people are headed. The most rewarding part is that, although I know the work I do with all my students is going to stay with them, in many cases, for a long time, you also get to help create your colleagues!

Have you ever considered a career outside of the arts?

I majored in chemistry in college, but I was spending more time on my music theory elective than all my other course work. I took that as a sign and switched majors. I had an office job right after college. I had arranged a schedule time off so that I could keep accompanying dance classes each week. It was the playing time I was getting. At one point, my boss said either I had to work full time or I was going to be let go. The job had already helped me buy my marimba so I decided to leave. I haven’t worked outside of music since.

Getting to know Rebekah Sterlacci

Rebekah Sterlacci is the artistic director of Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers. When she’s not directing the Rutgers Children’s Choir, she’s directing the choirs at T. Schor Middle School, Piscataway, where she is music and vocal teacher. Rebekah holds a master’s degree in music education from Mason Gross School of the Arts and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Rowan University. When she is not singing, directing or doing school work, she spends time with her family, including her 2-year-son. Come and see Rebekah and her students perform during Rutgers Children’s Choir winter concert Saturday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Nicholas Music Center.  

What drebekah-sterlacci-headshoto you do when you’re not singing, conducting or directing?   

When I have a rare moment to myself, I really enjoy running and cooking vegan meals.

If you could play any other instrument, what would it be? 

I play enough piano to get by, but I really wish that I could play the piano at a higher level. I love the versatility and the exciting, diverse uses of piano music.

Where’s your favorite place to listen to music?

My favorite place to listen to music is in my car – volume turned all the way up – singing (or rapping because it is probably Hamilton or the Mixtape) FULL volume. It is how I relax!

Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?

While I was at Rutgers for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I had exciting opportunities to perform at Carnegie Hall and at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. Both experiences were amazingly awesome, but my favorite place I have performed was at my church growing up – preferably singing a duet with my Dad.

What inspires you?

Creativity, passion, and collaboration inspire me, especially when the choir brings out all these characteristics in the students I teach, or colleagues and musicians I work with. These skills help us to become better people and therefore give us an opportunity to make the world a better place.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Harvest Moon Brewery in New Brunswick. My husband and I go on a date there once a week while my in-laws watch our son. My standard order is the pad thai with tofu and a double IPA!

Why do you teach? What’s the most rewarding part of teaching?

I teach because I believe that every child deserves an opportunity to be heard and valued. I teach because of the impact my own teachers had on my development. I teach because I believe education and knowledge have the ability to open doors, engage people in dialogue, and help us know more about one another. The most rewarding part of teaching is stepping back and acknowledging the process. I love to see how my students have grown and become independent. My greatest reward is seeing my students become adults and stay in touch. It makes me feel so proud!

Have you ever considered a career outside of the arts?

I have wanted to be a music teacher since I was 13 years old. Mainly because my middle school music teacher was amazing! (We still keep in touch and she played the organ at my wedding!) I have never considered a career outside of the arts. The arts — music, singing, acting, dancing, theater, writing — have impacted my life so strongly that this was my only option. The arts have become the only thing that would make me happy, and they have! I am working now in the research arena with the goal of improving educational equity – the hope is to become a professor in the future. My research interests center around advocacy for the transgender community with an arts integration focus. Essentially, using the arts and the acts of creation and performance to increase awareness and knowledge for the transgender community. So even now as I look to the future, I am still focused on the arts!

Who would you like to meet? What would you ask that person?

I would like to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda. I am obsessed with Hamilton, but I am more obsessed with finding out about Miranda’s process. He has had so much success, but even more, he has changed theater and culture. As a researcher, it would be cool to research the impact of Hamilton and the hip-hop culture on our education system.

What’s your favorite movie?

My favorite movie of all time is Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Seriously! Also a contributing factor in my career choice. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. I make all my students watch it at some point in the year.

Do you remember the moment you fell in love with your art?

I can remember two times in my life when I fell in love with my art. The first was when I participated in regional choir for the first time in 8th grade. The feeling of my voice locking in with hundreds of others in harmony was exhilarating! The second time was conducting the Rutgers Children’s Choir as a graduate assistant while getting my Masters. That was when I fell in love with conducting!

What was the first record or CD you bought?

The first CD I ever bought was The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse. I used my own money and went to the store all by myself! The first CD I ever owned (bought by my parents) was New Kids on the Block, Hangin’ Tough.

Mason Gross Extension Division at Rutgers has forged a partnership with neighboring Highland Park, moving its children’s choir to rehearse off-campus at Bartle Elementary School.


MGSA Childrens Concert 12-18-11


The Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers, which provides vocal training for pre-college students, began rehearsing weekly in September at Bartle Elementary, 435 Mansfield Ave., Highland Park.

End-of-semester performances and special events will continue to be held on campus at the Nicholas Music Center, New Brunswick.

The partnership will make the Rutgers program more accessible to the community. In turn, Highland Park is providing a much-needed space for the Extension Division to run the program.

“We wanted to have a tangible connection to the community and this partnership provides that for us,” Extension Division Director Christopher Kenniff said. “It also gives us a quality space that we badly needed.”

For Highland Park, a municipality that embraces the arts, it was another opportunity to encourage creativity.

“We’re trying to strengthen our partnership with Rutgers and because Highland Park is an art-centric community, we thought what better way to strengthen that relationship than to connect with Mason Gross,” said Scott Taylor, Highland Park superintendent of schools. “The arts give kids the freedom to express themselves in ways they may not able to do through traditional means.”

As part of the new relationship, Highland Park Public School students will receive discounts from the Mason Gross Extension Division to participate in any Extension Division offering, including the children’s choir. The district has 1,550 students in four schools. Nearly 40 percent of the students are on reduced or free lunch program.

For Rebekah Sterlacci, the artistic director of the program, the new space now allows parents to sit in on rehearsals and watch the work their children are doing.

“This program is popular because we are a family,” Sterlacci said. “Kids grow up in the program.”

The youngest of the choir singers are the Little Knights for kindergartners through second grade; followed by Choristers, third to fifth grade; Chorale and Chamber Singers, fifth through eighth grade; and Scarlet Singers, high school.  Register for an audition here.

View video of the Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers in concert.

For more information or to register for Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers, call the Extension Division at 848-932-8616.  Or, contact us by email at

Download flyer.




Weekly Faculty Interview: Dr. Rhonda Hackworth


This week, we will be interviewing one of our most beloved instructors at the Extension Division, the director of the Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers program, Dr. Rhonda Hackworth.

We are especially excited to celebrate the tenure of Dr. Rhonda Hackworth as the artistic director of the Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers (RCC & SS), during their spring concert on Saturday, May 7, 2016, 2 p.m., at the Nicholas Music Center.  This concert will feature the world premiere of We Stand and Sing – music by Thomas Juneau, lyrics by Matt Hackworth (Rhonda’s husband).  The work was commissioned by the Mason Gross Extension Division to commemorate Dr. Hackworth’s excellent work and commitment to the ensemble over many years.  Sadly, Dr. Hackworth leaves us for her new home in North Carolina after this summer.  Longtime associate conductor, Rebekah Sterlacci, will step in as the new artistic director of the ensemble. We wish all the luck in the world to Dr. Hackworth!

art-classes-december-2010-421Dr. Rhonda S. Hackworth  is an associate professor of music at Mason Gross School of the Arts, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in music education and serves as the artistic director of the Rutgers Children’s Choir. She received her PhD in music education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and also holds an MM in vocal performance. Her primary research interest is vocal health for music teachers. Her published articles can be found in Journal of Research in Music Education, International Journal of Music EducationJournal of Music Teacher Education, UPDATE: Applications of Research in Music Education, and Missouri Journal of Research in Music Education. She currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Music Teacher Education.

What initially inspired you to go into the arts?
The feeling that I could excel in music.  I initially wanted to go into business, but it was so boring to me that I had to choose music instead! I could never love business the way I love music!


Was there a teacher who made an impact upon your development as an artist?  How did they impact your own work as a teacher? 
There are several teachers who inspired me! If I had to pick just one, I would say my choir teacher in college. Dr. Edgerton was talented and demanded excellence, but he was very lovable and always made sure to let us know how proud he was of our work. He inspired me to become a choral conductor.


What is the most rewarding part of teaching for you?
When students begin to learn how to self-instruct; that means they’ve been paying attention to what I’m saying and are able to apply the knowledge.



In all your years of conducting the Rutgers Children’s Choir, what has been your favorite moment or performance?
Wow – you want me to name one thing? Impossible.  I loved it when we sang the Charlie Brown Christmas pieces. I loved performing with American Ballet Theatre in the Nutcracker at the State Theater. I loved collaborating with other choirs. I loved when we formed the Chamber Singers and the Scarlet Singers. I loved when we got to have a Skype conversation with a girl for whom one of our pieces was written (a girl who survived the Rwandan genocide). And I love that this spring we have a piece commissioned just for us!


How does a child or teenager benefit from joining a choir?
Choir is a terrific place to learn about healthy singing and gives children a sense of being part of something larger than just themselves. It’s really not safe for children to start private voice lessons until they are about 13, so choir is the best choice for singing when they are young!


What are some of your personal favorite pieces for choir?
We Sing for the Children, Beneath the African Sky, Christmas Time is Here, and many, many others.

Thank you so much for your time and all the work you have done at the Extension Division, Dr. Hackworth! 

The Rutgers Children’s Choir will be performing at Rutgers Day on April 30, 2016 at the Zimmerli Art Museum from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Come join us for the festivities, as well as music, dance, hands-on activities, games, and demonstrations hosted by accomplished professors, students, and staff. And, it’s also Alumni Weekend so it’s the perfect time to celebrate your scarlet pride!

And join us for the Rutgers Children’s Choir Spring Concert, featuring performances from our Choristers (3rd-5th grade), Chorale & Chamber Singers (5th-8th grade), and our Scarlet Singers (high school)! This is sure to be a wonderful way to celebrate the arrival of spring with your family!The concert will take place at 2 p.m. at the Nicholas Music Center on the Mason Gross School of the Arts campus. The concert is free to the public will feature the world premiere of We Stand and Sing by Thomas Juneau!


Weekly Faculty Interview: Matt Walley


As the temperature rises outside, the Extension Division is looking forward to our summer programs, especially the Rutgers Symphonic Wind Band & Chamber Music Camp! We have been receiving your auditions videos and applications, and we have been thoroughly impressed with what we have seen. This week, we figured it would be a good idea to interview Assistant Director Matt Walley to answer our questions and give prospective students a better idea of what to expect this summer!

Matt Walley (1)Matt Walley, a trombonist from Pascagoula, MS, is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Trombone Performance as a Doctoral Fellow and Graduate Teaching Assistant at Rutgers University under the tutelage of Weston Sprott. Walley also studies conducting with Darryl Bott, Associate Director of the Music Department and Director of the Rutgers Symphony Band. He holds a Master of Music degree from the University of Georgia and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where he studied with Dr. Joshua Bynum and Dr. Scott Anderson respectively. Currently he serves as Principal Trombone of both the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra and Rutgers Wind Ensemble.

Walley has taught as a substitute faculty member at the Juilliard School’s Music Advancement Program. Walley has performed with the Edison Symphony Orchestra, the Garden State Philharmonic, and with the New York String Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Walley has also performed with the Symphony Orchestras of both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Georgia as well as their respective Wind Ensembles.

What initially inspired you to go into the arts?
Everyone in my family all played woodwind instruments during high school and college. When I was growing up, they were always talking about how much fun they had and that made me want to join band in middle school. But instead of following in my family’s footsteps and playing a woodwind instrument, I decided to play a brass instrument and I have never regretted it! My first teacher was a trumpet player and middle school band director in the area, Earl Turner. He’s the person that really pushed and inspired me to go into the arts – funny thing is he wasn’t even my middle school director!


Was there a teacher who made an impact upon your development as an artist?  How did they impact your own work as a teacher?
Every teacher I’ve had has made an immense impact both on my development as an artist and teacher. During my undergraduate degree my trombone professor, Dr. Scott Anderson at U of Nebraska-Lincoln, really pushed me to be the best performer while my professors during my masters and doctoral program, Dr. Joshua Bynum and Weston Sprott respectively, pushed me to be the best performer AND teacher I could be.


What is the most rewarding part of teaching for you?
Helping a student achieve their goals and seeing their elation when they actually achieve their goals.



What’s the best part about playing a brass instrument in a symphony orchestra?
The best part about playing a brass instrument in an orchestra is the varied roles we get to have. Most of the time we are serving as background, supporting instruments but there are times when we get provide power for a really big climax or get to shine through a soft, exposed chorale section.


What are some of your favorite works for trombone? 
Solo: Henri Tomasi’s Trombone Concerto and Launy Grondahl’s Trombone Concerto

Orchestra: Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8  


Why should students apply to the Symphonic Wind Band Camp? What can they look forward to this summer?
Students should apply because they will get the opportunity to work with Rutgers faculty members, both within a large ensemble setting and during masterclass settings. Students can look forward to working on standard symphonic band literature under the direction of Darryl Bott and Tod Nichols. In addition to the faculty members that will be working with the students all week, we are currently working on bringing in additional world-class performers to present instrument specific masterclasses.

Thanks so much for speaking with us, Matt!

For more information about the Rutgers Symphonic Wind Band & Chamber Music Camp, please visit their website here!

During The Rutgers Summer Symphonic Wind Band & Chamber Music Camp, from July 26 to July 1, 2016, participants experience a week of intense band training with Mason Gross School of the Arts faculty members, renowned professional musicians, and leading music educators from the New York-New Jersey area.

Students participate in daily large-ensemble and chamber-ensemble rehearsals, group lessons, clinics, master classes, and electives. Accomplished students may audition for participation in the Honors Wind Symphony and have the opportunity to perform in featured chamber music ensembles. Students share newly developed performance skills during the final Gala Concert, open to the public at the 740-seat Nicholas Music Center.