Messiah Beyond the Music

In preparation for this weekend’s performance of Messiah by George Frideric Handel, I wanted to write a post that gave listeners a unique insight into it. There are so many outstanding things about this piece that people should know about: its high esteem throughout history among composers in every era, including Mozart; the fact that it was entirely composed in an astounding four weeks; that Handel, who had earlier in life suffered a debilitating stroke, considered his writing of Messiah to be the purpose of his recovery. However in this holiday season I find the most fitting story that can be told about Messiah is what Handel considered the work to be, and what he intended it to be used for.

To the sponsors of the first performance of the oratorio, Handel stipulated that profits from this and all future performances of Messiah “be donated to prisoners, orphans, and the sick. I have myself been a very sick man, and am now cured,” he said. “I was a prisoner, and have been set free.”

Following the first London performance of Messiah, a patron congratulated Handel on the excellent “entertainment.”

“My lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them,” Handel humbly replied. “I wish to make them better.”

When you attend the concert this weekend, enjoy the great performance put on by these very talented musicians, but also take the time to allow this singular work to Uplift and Inspire you. Listen to the message of the music. Consider the power of inspiration, and let it lead you, lead us all, to be better.

Holiday Concert and Other Prep


It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Which is to say that the Symphony has begun rehearsals in earnest on Handel’s Messiah. I went in to rehearsal last Wednesday bemoaning the warm November weather, and I came out full of holiday cheer. Hearing this extraordinary piece of music is truly a hallmark of the holiday season for me. I hope to write one more post between now and the performance (December 2) to give a bit more insight into Handel’s life and the period when he wrote this masterpiece.

In the meantime, I’ve dedicated one paragraph to give interested parties a peek into what else we are excited about: besides rehearsing the Messiah to get it ready to perform, we have been working for several weeks on what we are expecting to be the highlights of the season in the spring. I have briefly mentioned before the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony – this intensely difficult piece is considered by many to be Tchaikovsky’s most ambitious and emotional work. We have also already started to tackle on the other most challenging orchestral work, this one to be performed at the end of April: Beethoven’s famous “Eroica” symphony #3. We hope you are gearing up for these concerts alongside us and getting excited to enjoy some beautiful music!

Gala Event!

The Symphony Gala took place on Saturday, November 4. A spectacular event and auction to raise funds, the event was a grand success. Attendees would agree that the gala set out to strike a new tone with the Symphony’s brand, and it did so with marvelous aplomb. Take a look at a few pictures of the evening’s events here.

Spooktacular Preview!

This is it!

The Symphony will be performing their Halloween Spooktacular this Friday at 7:30 PM. This event is so jam-packed full of special surprises that I’m not even sure what they all are.

The program is hugely varied, and also hugely entertaining. One highlight of the show is sure to be the two excellent vocal soloists that will be joining the symphony to perform selections from Phantom of the Opera. It’s a great chance to see this Halloween mainstay performed by top notch local talent.

Beyond this, there is definitely something for everyone in the program. Kids will enjoy the selections from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, and a medley from the wizarding world of Harry Potter, taken from the film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Long-time classical music enthusiasts will also enjoy some of the “deeper tracks” on the program, including Bartok’s Four Transylvanian Dances, and Gliere’s Russian Sailor’s Dance.

However I am most excited about the part of the program that includes those classical pieces that are enjoyable for both children and adults, those that most of us grown-ups are familiar with, but for the younger audience will be first-time listens that will stick with them forever. Funeral March for a Marionette, Grieg’s March of the Trolls, and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance.

We hope to see you there! Bring your kids for an unforgettable Halloween treat!

SWSO Fundraiser event


T’was the night before the 13th, and all through the city, the musicians and classical music appreciators were gathered at Entrada for the SWSO Fundraiser

With the gents in their coat tails and ladies in gowns, everyone came to see the best quartet around!

Lucas Darger, Nona Miller, Shay Clark, and Dr. Ka-Wai Yu put together a wonderful quartet for this fundraising event. Thank you to everyone who attended! We hope you enjoyed the music and there is plenty more to come.

Happy Birthday, JJ Abernathy!

A very happy birthday to JJ Abernathy, former president of the board of trustees of the Symphony. Many of you may know that JJ stepped down as president just a few weeks ago. We want to let those of you who do not know JJ to get a glimpse of the person who is one of the many who has done an indescribable amount of work to get the Symphony to where it is today. Thank you, JJ!

JJ Abernathy, a rancher’s daughter from Southwestern Idaho and a former international business executive based in Hong Kong, repatriated to America after an 18-year stint in Asia for life in the Great American Southwest. While in Hong Kong, she helped establish a 250,000 sq. ft. manufacturing operation in China, where she annually produced millions of toys for the world’s children, including Barbie for Mattel. She holds a degree from Brigham Young University, earned a diploma in the Management Development Program (MDP) sponsored by the Asian Women Management Association in Hong Kong, and attended University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Utah State University, and Southern Utah University for graduate classes in business, English literature, creative writing, and gifted and talented education. She received her MBA in nonprofit management through Marylhurst University.

She was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to study medieval culture with an emphasis in medieval music at Yale University, and completed an institute sponsored by the Pittsburgh Symphony and NEH.  She also completed a fellowship through the National Endowment for the Arts at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. As a former cellist in the Southwest Symphony Orchestra, JJ remains committed to the arts in her community. Currently, she serves as board chair of the Southwest Symphony Orchestra and writes a weekly column called “Music Times” for The Spectrum newspaper, a Gannett publication.  She regularly contributes to Etched magazine (formerly élan). JJ has served as a secondary educator of English, sociology, and entrepreneurship.  She lives with her husband Patrick in St. George, and is the mother of four musically-gifted children and grandmother of ten.  In 2013, she received the Woman of Achievement Award in Entertainment by Utah Business Women. JJ embraces the philosophy that every life is like a symphony.

Mid September News

This was a banner week for the Symphony in many regards. This last Wednesday saw the first rehearsal for Symphony members working on their most ambitious piece yet: Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony in F minor. I’m going to start plugging this performance (scheduled for January) right now, because it surely will be memorable for both SWSO regulars and newcomers alike. Don’t miss this landmark performance of a truly beautiful piece of music!

SWSO players also had a few chances to participate in other local musical events over the weekend, as well:

Dr. Ka-Wai Yu, resident cellist at Dixie State University and first chair cellist in the orchestra, spent many weeks preparing and organizing the Second Annual Dixie State Cello Festival, which was, as it was last year, a roaring success. More than 80 cellists from St. George and the surrounding area came together to play as an ensemble, listen to one another perform, and get educated on teaching and practicing techniques.

Friday night featured a teachers’ recital, in which teachers participating in the festival got the chance to perform some of their favorite works. The program took listeners on a tour of the world, with pieces from the far East, Europe, and our good ol’ US of A, featuring composers such as Elgar, Kummer, and Mark Summer.

Saturday night, the cello ensemble took the stage to delight and entertain. The highlights of the performance included Bachianas Brasilieras #5, Disney favorites Let it Go and A Whole New World (from the films Frozen and Aladdin, respectively), an all-cello arrangement of Kashmir by Led Zeppelin, and what performance wouldn’t be complete without a little John Williams, in this case the theme from the Indiana Jones films! A good time was had by all, not least of all because of the free donuts and pizza. Click here to watch a video of part of the final performance!

Saturday the 16th, 5 SWSO members got the opportunity to form a quintet and play with the very talented vocal group, GENTRI. Comprising three tenors and one pianist/arranger, GENTRI arranges and performs what they call “cinematic pop,” weaving together close harmonies and symphonic arrangements to create original music and new versions of old classics, which they use to deliver uplifting and inspiring messages. The set list on Saturday included a Broadway medley, selections from Les Miserables, some of their original compositions, and a selection of popular hits from a range of genres, including Bless the Broken Road (Rascal Flatts) and It’s Hard to Say I’m Sorry (Boston), and one very innovative piano mashup of Thunderstruck and You’ll Be In My Heart from the Disney movie Tarzan.

This was the second time the SWSO has had the chance to perform with GENTRI and we very much look forward to the third. Thank you, guys!

If you are aware of a musical or other artistic performance, either in the past or in the future, that involves SWSO musicians that you would like to highlight in the blog, please let us know!

Elevate and Inspire!

The first post of an ongoing feature is always the toughest. How to begin to speak to an already loyal audience in a brand new voice? This blog, of course, is the smallest of many changes that the Symphony is undergoing this year, but not to worry, nothing that you love about SWS is going away. Everything new is there to further Elevate and Inspire.

This blog will be where you will be able to not only find out what upcoming programs you will be able to enjoy, but it’s also my aim to heighten your Symphony experience. For each scheduled performance, there will be four featured articles:

Personnel Profile:

Who is your Southwest Symphony Orchestra? These are a group of very talented individuals, but they are also your neighbors, your friends, your work colleagues. We’ll start to tell the story of these people, how they came to be where they are, and what they love best about their involvement with the SWS.

Show Preview:

In my own experience, the more background I have about a composer or a piece, the greater my appreciation for that piece is, and the more I enjoy it every time I hear it played. Did you know, for example, that Edvard Grieg’s piece “March of the Trolls,” which will be a part of the Halloween Spooktacular, has been played under the title “March of the Dwarfs” because trolls were a largely unknown mythical creature outside of Norway (Grieg’s motherland)? I am excited about unearthing little known bits and pieces about all of these compositions this year, and sharing them with you.

Culture Closeup:

Ok so it’s nice to know that Grieg came from Norway and what trolls are and all of that, but what does that have to do with our own history? Let’s discover the rich history of the humanities here in our beautiful Dixie together. Who are our local artists, both past and present? Which was the first theater here in town? What are the highlights of the present local arts scene? This feature will endeavor to uncover everything Arts that St George has to offer, both past and present.

Plan Your Night Out:

Looking to make an evening of your SWS experience? Are you taking a date? Your spouse? Your children? Your old Army buddy? What are some of the local things that you can do around town to make it a memorable evening (as if the music itself weren’t enough)?

I look forward to getting Elevated and Inspired with all of you!