With wind and string harmonies echoing through the halls, Truman State University’s music department held its annual Gold Medal Concert in Ophelia Parrish Performance Hall March 2 with Sam McClure as conductor leading Truman’s Symphony Orchestra, featuring four soloists who won the Gold Medal competition.
The Gold Medal competition invited all members of the music department to compete against one another in their respective sections, woodwinds against woodwinds, strings against strings. Normally, there are three winners; however, this competition produced four winners, including vocalist Allison Holloway, who was the first soloist of the night.
Holloway has been singing since she was 5 when she participated in church choir and then vocal lessons through middle school. She began to take singing more seriously the older she became, performing classical pieces since high school. She soared to new heights as she continued onward to Truman to work toward bachelor’s degrees in vocal performance and sociology.
Holloway almost didn’t attend Truman. With her eyes set on Butler University in Indianapolis, she continued to receive invitations to join Truman’s music program. When she finally visited, it was like she already belonged.
“I stepped on campus and it was kind of that movie moment I’ve been waiting for,” Holloway said. “The sun was shining, The Quad was beautiful. People were hammocking and throwing frisbees. It was so perfect. I met some of the music faculty and everyone was so nice. I didn’t feel like just a number.”
With hopes to continue onward to earn a master’s in vocal performance and pedagogy and then a doctorate, Holloway wants to become a voice professor and would love to perform for a while. She said the stage is a place where everything can disappear for just a brief moment.
“When you’re on stage, every emotion that’s a part of you is shown and you don’t see the audience,” Holloway said. “You’re just up there doing what you’re supposed to be doing … but there’s another part of you that just sings and can’t believe you get to tell the story to an audience.”
Holloway said the performance went very well and was blessed to have been able to perform with such talented musicians. With a smile and bow to the audience, Holloway finished her performance of “Sposa son disprezzata” and received a round of applause. Then, violinist Adam Barker stepped to the stage with his violin.
Barker picked up the instrument at age 6 as an extracurricular activity that slowly grew into a deep affection for the arts when he turned 14. His self-motivation began to take form when he started taking private lessons and practicing as part of school curriculum.
A huge inspiration to Barker was a group called “The Piano Guys,” a group that takes different genres of music and rearranges them as classical music.
“I mean, it’s just another reason I love them,” Barker said. “I can see that they love the music they brought, and they didn’t care if anyone was watching or not. They’re out there playing away, and just seeing their drive and how music helps them express themselves was such a cool thing. It helped me realize I really wanted that myself.”
Barker said his performance wasn’t as perfect as he hoped, but he was happy with the result. Mere minutes before his performance, he was filled with nerves. With an entire orchestra on his heels and months of practice under his belt, uneasiness crept to his fingers. As Barker’s time came, he realized he should just do the best he can and walked proudly onto the stage and played Antonín Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor, movement 3.
“I think music is such a wonderful thing,” Barker said. “I don’t think it’s something we completely understand as people, but somehow just hearing sounds put together in certain ways really can just resonate with people across all cultures throughout all of history.”
With many avenues open to him, Barker said he doesn’t know what he will pursue as a career just yet; however, he is sure no matter what he will be doing, he will still be involved with music.
As Barker finished his solo, the orchestra continued to play before saxophonist Jichen Zhang came to the stage.
Zhang began playing the saxophone at age 12. Urged by his father, he continued through high school where he discovered his love for the saxophone and decided to chase a career in music. After completing his undergraduate degree in China at Yantai University, he came to Truman as a graduate student to continue his pursuit of music education. With hopes of receiving his doctorate at the University of Iowa, he plans to return to China and teach saxophone or music theory.
“Right now, every year we have a lot of opportunities to perform on the stage, so gradually it becomes a routine job,” Zhang said. “I just enjoy the feeling on the stage. I enjoy expressing the music to people and express the joy to people to pass it on.”
Zhang performed “Sunshine Over Tashkurgan” by Chinese composer Chen Gang. Written for violin, Zhang performed the piece on the saxophone. Zhang said it has never been played in the United States on saxophone, and it was very important to him to perform flawlessly. He had been practicing nearly every day since last semester. Donning ornate, traditional Chinese clothing at the performance, Zhang played a rendition alongside the orchestra.
“I think I’m the first Chinese in this competition, and I hope as a Chinese, I can do really good or express more Chinese music to the U.S.,” Zhang said. “I want to bring more music back to China, kind of like a deliverer or fusion. Absorb both cultures and do something like fusion.”
As Zhang and the orchestra finished the performance and exchanged handshakes, the orchestra made room for pianist Grace Chang and her piano.
Chang began playing the piano in her living room at age 4. Starting as curiosity and blossoming into a passion of expression, Chang continued on as a pianist through homeschooling in Kirksville.
Chang said during high school, Truman music professor Lok Ng was an inspiration.
“I remember this one concert, she played ‘Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor’ with the orchestra, and I mean, I was absolutely enamored with it,” Chang said. “I just wanted to be like her in every way possible.”
Currently, Chang has a private studio of her own teaching violin and piano students. After Truman, she plans to pursue her master’s in performance and hopes to continue teaching her own private studio or at a university.
With butterflies in her stomach, Chang went on to play Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major.” Having practiced since June and rehearsed with the orchestra for only a week and a half, their hard work paid off with a successful performance.
“The piece, it’s kind of the epitome of me as a pianist because it’s very energetic and powerful,” Chang said. “That’s something I really love is speed and power on the piano.”
After Chang finished, the orchestra played an extravagant song to close. As the night came to an end, the orchestra stood, and the soloists came to the front of the stage to take a bow.