Behind the Scenes of "Letters for Home" With Graduate Teaching Assistant Shaun Evans
Graduate Teaching Assistant Shaun Evans (DMA, wind band conducting) will conduct “Letters for Home” by Peter Meechan for the upcoming University Wind Ensemble and University Symphony Orchestra virtual performance on May 27 at 7:30 pm. Commissioned by the East Lancashire Concert Band with support from Arts Council England, the piece explores the complex emotional journey surrounding a soldier in World War I.
“Letters for Home” has a unique format added to its storyline: a reading precedes each movement. The reading can be from the WWI Front, period poetry, thoughts and reflections recorded elsewhere, or new words, written by local poets, school children, or others. Although the main focus is on WWI, the readings can be adapted to fit other wars, both modern and historical, as well as locally-sourced readings.
While preparing this piece, Evans devoted additional time to research letters, quotes, and poetry about different conflicts throughout history. “In my study, it became clear that this piece required a great deal of empathy in regards to understanding its origin, analyzing the music, and sharing in its performance.” He then brought his research to the students so that they could explore and process the thoughts and emotions together during rehearsal. Above all, Evans wanted the musicians to connect the music with their feelings, and thoughts.
During their first rehearsal, Evans was surprised at how quickly everyone allowed themselves to explore the emotions of the piece and be vulnerable. The first read left him with “goosebumps,” and he found himself “digging deeper in each rehearsal with a goal of sharing this feeling with our audience in the broadcast.” The musicians shaped sections of the music that contrasted with Evan’s ideas, which surprised and also compelled him to adapt his approach. Evans hopes that the audience will be able to experience the outcome of this collaborative effort in the final performance.
This piece will also include a unique selection of instruments. Evans chose to feature a woodwind choir, a tuba, and percussion. The core of the woodwind choir is a saxophone quartet with flutes, clarinets, bass clarinet, and tuba.
Reflecting on the process, Evans observed that “this piece was a deep emotional journey with the connections to love, conflict, and turmoil.” He found himself experiencing this in his preparations and found discussing the topics with colleagues in the days leading up to the final performance. “In my future conducting opportunities, I plan to continue taking deeper dives into emotion and connection with the music and musicians...I feel that this has a great impact on the music-making process in rehearsals and performance.”
The University Wind Ensemble and University Symphony Orchestra’s virtual performance broadcast will air on May 27 at 7:30 pm, exclusively on the School of Music’s YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwXiVJq_xKs) channel. Sign up for email updates: https://bit.ly/2RgmXnk.