Conservatory changes|Handbells, orchestra added to offerings

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 30, 2010

Budding local musicians will have new choices for instruction beginning Monday at The Conservatory of the Fine Arts, with a new handbells choir and an orchestral society headlining the changes for the new year.

Conservatory director Dorothy Brasfield said the new offerings will open up the Vicksburg music scene for both performers and audiences.

“The orchestral society is something the community has needed for years,” Brasfield said. Plans are to assemble a small orchestra of 15 to 20 musicians representing all instrument groups.

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For years, local orchestra lovers have had to drive to Jackson or visit the St. Joseph Orchestra in Louisiana.

“We’re not trying to take away from (St. Joseph’s),” Brasfield said. “They’ve done a good job, but some people just can’t make the trip.”

The Vicksburg Orchestral Society will be coordinated by string teachers Tammy Mason Luke and Sandra Shugars. They’ll assemble the musicians and find and hire a conductor, Brasfield said. A “mini-performance” could be offered by the end of the year if the pieces come together.

“It’s an embryo right now, but we’re excited about it,” she said. Even children and adolescents who are involved in music lessons and want to play in an ensemble are welcome. Aside from the performing, Brasfield wants participants to learn orchestra “manners” and the proper way to play in a group, she said.

The handbells program is one Brasfield said she has wanted to offer for some time.

“We have had a wonderful handbell(s) person on our staff that we haven’t utilized,” she said. “We think it’s going to be popular.”

The conservatory owns three octaves of bells, but needs the seven “big bells” that would provide a complete sound. A full set of tuned handbells, which are thought to date to about 1700, ranges to 7 1/2 octaves.

In a handbells choir, each performer is responsible for playing only certain notes in a piece of music. Because of this, handbells choirs typically play music composed or arranged specifically for them.

The handbells choir will be directed by Shelia Hess, who also teaches piano and organ at the conservatory. In addition to her accomplishments in piano and organ performance and instruction, Hess is an experienced handbells performer and has served on the handbells committee for the Mississippi State Baptist Convention.

Handbells practices are set for Thursdays, with youths from 4:30 to 5:15 and adults from 6:30 to 7:15. It is helpful if bell players can read music, Brasfield said, but it is not a strict requirement.

The conservatory also boasts new teachers of voice, trombone and low brass instruments and Treble Tots, the introductory music education program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Margie Heltzel, a graduate of Southern Miss with a master’s degree from Ole Miss, will teach Treble Tot. Heltzel is the pre-kindergarten through third-grade music teacher at Sherman Avenue Elementary.

Scottye Adkins, who recently earned a master’s degree in vocal teaching and performance from Mississippi College, is the conservatory’s new voice teacher. In addition to teaching, Adkins performs with the Mississippi Opera Chorus in Jackson and the Morrison Heights Baptist Church Celebration Choir and Ladies Ensemble.

James Koestler has joined the conservatory as an instructor in trombone and low brass instruments. Koestler is a graduate of Delta State University and a member of a number of ensembles as a singer and instrumentalist.

Ongoing instruction in flute, trumpet, piano and organ, and string instruments will continue at the conservatory, Brasfield said.

Registration and instruction take place at the conservatory offices in the United Way building at South and Cherry streets. Fees vary, with classes often tailored to students’ needs.

Master classes are scheduled three times a year for students to perform for critique and encouraging each other, she said. “We give the kids the opportunity to perform and learn how to perform before they get into public recitals.”

For more information, contact Brasfield at 601-636-0542 or 601-942-5469.

Contact Pamela Hitchins at