Fine Arts Academy
Instrumental Music: Orchestra
McCallum’s Orchestra program was started in 1953 with the opening of the school and has had a history of highly qualified and dynamic orchestra directors. Today the program has grown to close to 200 students participating in three performing orchestras, a double bass ensemble, a violin ensemble, a viola ensemble, a cello ensemble and, with the support of the Austin Chamber Music Center educational outreach, numerous other quartets and ensembles.
Director Ricky Pringle, who previously taught in the Houston suburb of the Woodlands, is in his second decade of leading the McCallum orchestras. Under his leadership, his string orchestras have consistently received top scores at UIL concert and sight-reading competitions. String orchestras also add wind players to compete in the UIL Full Orchestra competitions each year, where they have also been very successful over the years. When the orchestra moved into the new orchestra hall in spring of 2007, years of trophies finally had a place to be displayed along with photographs of previous orchestra dating back to the 1950’s. In 2010/11, Assistant Director Georgann Shockley, a member of the Austin Symphony Orchestra and the Austin Lyric Opera Orchestra, joined Mr. Pringle and maintains the high standard of performance expected at the academy.
One of the signature accomplishments of Mr. Pringle’s work at the Fine Arts Academy has been collaborations of orchestras and string ensembles with other Academy students/directors in other strands such as dance, theatre, and vocal music. For example, Chamber Orchestra and McCallum’s combined choirs have performed masterworks including Schubert’s Mass in G, Handel’s Messiah and Vivaldi’s Gloria.
Over the years, McCallum orchestras have frequently provided live classical music for Academy dance performances, and as an outgrowth of that, some McCallum orchestra members have studied dance and appeared on stage in both musical theatre and dance productions (as dancers) and others have joined the choir as singers for special performances. In a production of the Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex, a string ensemble performed on stage to provide significant music/dramatic support.
Two of the performance highlights were Carnegie Hall performances. The Chamber Orchestra performed at Carnegie in June, 2007 and the McCallum Fine Arts Academy choir and orchestra performed together on the Carnegie stage in June 2009.
After only a week of rehearsal with music that had not been performed for over 200 years, the McCallum Chamber Orchestra was the first student organization to perform in the Long Center’s Dell Hall. The performance, A Neapolitan Revival, the Lost Music of Italy, punctuated a weeklong master class studying the Neapolitan Masters of 18th Century Italy.
Maestro Gioacchino Longobardi and Alberto Vitolo arrived McCallum’s Fine Arts Academy a week before the concert to introduce the McCallum music students to the Sounds of Naples. The master class presented a journey that explored the instrumental repertoire of the 18th century Neapolitan School of music. The selected works represent each of the four conservatories established in Naples, beginning in the 16th century from among the greatest Neapolitan composers, Jommelli, Durante, Scarlatti, Leo, and Pergolesi.
Longobardi and Vitolo are recognized as leaders in their field for transcribing Neapolitan masterpieces for contemporary performance. Together, they transcribed the scores from original manuscripts and instructed the students on the different bow and string skills that were used 500 years ago. The students had only a week to learn the music theory and history and to rehearse the compositions before the concert. “The students were really challenged in a lot of ways because they only seven days to learn the music. It is a huge responsibility on the musicians,” said Lanier Bayliss, former director of the McCallum Fine Arts Academy. “It was a really professional experience for them.”
Almost 500 people attended the lecture and concert including Dr. David Nuebert, principal bassist for the Austin Symphony, who exclaimed “what an amazing performance, the McCallum orchestra really shined tonight.” Former orchestra student Gonzalo Hernando said, “It’s hard to believe they only had a week to work on this program; they sounded really good.”
Students from all orchestra groups performed in the Movie Music in the Park Concert in 2010-2011 school year. The production involved rehearsing movie theme music to be performed in front of a giant outdoor screen. Eighteen movies were featured with the orchestra and as a finale, there was a showing of the full-length feature of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There were approximately 1500 people in the audience that evening.
Other concerts have featured all Beatles’ music with the talent of the Eggmen and the Chamber Orchestra. Students from all groups were involved in a concert featuring music by the composer Graham Reynolds which was held at Ballet Austin. Music by one of the string students, Trevor Young, was also on the program that evening.