Showcasing young musicians

By Mary-Jean Miner - July 13, 2006

The Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society takes a great deal of interest in young musicians and their education. Many years back, the society helped and encouraged the establishment of the all-school string program and in recent years has supported a special scholarship fund to help support private lessons for young people.

On Sunday, June 25, the group presented the first of what are planned as annual Youth Showcases, as a community fundraiser. The program featured piano students of Lisa Rohn and Brian Hughes and violin students of Nancy Jephcote and Susan McGhee. Carol Loud, who is also a private piano teacher, did not have any of her students participating this time, but served as an accompanist. Besides a wonderful showcase for talented students, the event was a powerful statement of the dedication and cooperation of these hard-working teachers.

The First Congregational Church of West Tisbury was the setting. It is great venue for young performers, because it is large enough for a good-sized audience, but not large enough to be intimidating. Even the most timid or nervous performer can feel a certain warmth and intimacy in the setting, which has excellent acoustics as well. And on June 25 a large and appreciative audience - not only proud family members but many local music-lovers as well - packed the pews to hear the young artists perform.

Sydney Johnson led the list of a dozen players. A cool piano performer, Sydney played Ms. Rohn's "Little Song," and "Penguins," by Peter Enright. Her stage presence and playing were flawless. Galen Mayhew, who has been studying piano for several years, played two jazzy selections by Jonathan Martin, exhibiting a good feel for the boogie beat and the blues. Young pianist Emma Wadja played the popular "Pink Panther," with Brian Hughes providing percussion. Emma has a great feel for jazz as well.

Later on, she performed two pieces which would make excellent additions to any church service, indicating that she has great variety in her work.

Silas Berlin, continuing a family keyboard tradition, played a duet with his dad, jazz musician Jeremy. Silas played the melody, which became more and more complicated. Silas then played "Musette in D Major," from J.S. Bach, indicating that he is equally talented as a soloist. He displayed particular skill for Bach's subtle shadings, and a sensitivity to style.

Susan McGhee played a duet with her violin student Caitlin Serpa in a work entitled "Solitude." Ms. Serpa then performed a gavotte, displaying high concentration, having memorized the difficult work. She has a nice performance level. She was accompanied by piano student Maria Casey.

Anäis Bermudes, another piano student, offered a lovely arrangement of "Away in the Manger," accompanied by Ms. Rohn. Like the others, she seemed quite comfortable in performing.

Pianist Timo Nivala gave a sensitive reading of "Ancient Words," developing dynamics in a highly dramatic and effective way. He obviously knows the difference between playing a song and making music!

Marjorie Lewis, in her first public performance, also showed great sensitivity to her music, which consisted of Scott Joplin rags. Her own percussion (foot-tapping) in "Stop Time Rag" was no easy feat, if you will pardon a very bad pun. The great syncopation of "Pine Apple Rag" and the attention to the subtle changes of mood were outstanding.

Becky Williams, a skilled instrumentalist as well as an outstanding Minnesinger, displayed an ease of performance as a pianist. Her dynamics were particularly good in an incredibly difficult Haydn piece, which also displayed sensitivity of interpretation. A 2006 Martha's Vineyard Regional High School graduate, Becky shows great musical promise.

Maria Casey, who first appeared in this concert as an accompanist for violinist Caitlin Serpa, has already displayed her piano skill in other areas. She is currently the musician at Chilmark Community Church. She played the adagio from the emotional Beethoven favorite, "Sonata Pathetique," bringing a new and fresh feeling to the work.

Violinist Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, accompanied by Carol Loud, demonstrated a high degree of concentration and poise as she presented a complicated Friederich Seitz concerto.

Rebekah Nivala, another highly serious pianist, played several selections ranging in style from Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy, to a composition of her own. Her piece, "Rebekah's Song" was lilting, flowing, and melodic. She gave an even-handed performance of Debussy's "Reverie," demonstrating her poise and command of the keyboard. With both the familiar and not so familiar, she gave sensitive readings, especially of Beethoven's well-known "Sonata in G Major." The young musician made the familiar composition new again.

From the youngest beginners to the most experienced, all the students displayed a high degree of sensitivity, dedication, and obvious hard work. Even the first-time performers possessed an air of confidence and joy in their playing, which was communicated to the audience. We are most fortunate to have students who are willing to work so hard to learn and accomplish. And we are equally lucky to have a community, led by the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society, to encourage and support them and their teachers, who are also willing to work hard to enable these talents to flourish.

Mary-Jean Miner, who lives in Oak Bluffs, is a music lover and free lance writer who contributes occasional articles to The Times.