Hodgdon’s McQuarrie accompanys high school chorus at Music Festival

9 years ago

By Scott Mitchell Johnson
Staff Writer
    PRESQUE ISLE — While performing at the Dec. 5-6 All Aroostook Music Festival at Presque Isle Middle School was exciting for county middle and high school singers, perhaps no one was more thrilled to be there than Dr. Sarah McQuarrie, who was the accompanist for the high school chorus.

    Currently an associate professor of music education and graduate coordinator at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, McQuarrie was joined by her husband, Dr. Ronald Sherwin, who was the guest conductor for the high school chorus. This was a homecoming of sorts for McQuarrie as she is a 1993 graduate of Hodgdon High School.
    “This is kind of a dream come true for me,” she said. “At Hodgdon High, we had a small chorus, so every year I looked forward to doing All Aroostook. I was in All Aroostook from junior high up to high school, and I never dreamed that I would be the one working with the director sitting behind the piano.
    “Ever since Ronald and I have done festivals, I’ve told him, ‘We’ve got to get to All Aroostook! We’ve got to get to All Aroostook!’” said McQuarrie. “I have arrived. I’m so proud to be here, and so happy to be home.”
    “Our European debut was in Salzburg, Austria, and I think she’s more excited to be here than performing in Salzburg,” said Sherwin. “We’ve been together for 20 years. We met in college as a conductor and accompanist, and I have heard nothing but, ‘All Aroostook changed my life.’ Her dream from the time of her bachelor’s degree to getting her doctorate has been, ‘Oh, when we’re professionals, maybe some day we’ll get booked to do All Aroostook.’ I’m glad she’s been able to fulfill this dream.”
    Sherwin, chair of the department of music at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, said the whole point of the music festivals is to “make a really cool experience for kids.”
    “I like doing festivals in rural areas where the music programs often are small, so this is the first time that kids will sing with a near 100-voice choir because they might only have 20 kids in their choir at school,” he said. “For them, this could be a life-changing event, and they’ll always associate us with this cool time that they had. You feel like you’re making a memory that they’ll have for the rest of their lives.
    “I love the fact that I get to work with a new group of kids that I haven’t seen before, which is a huge challenge because you never know when you come in whether the kids are super prepared or whether you’re going to have to teach a lot of notes,” said Sherwin. “You never know if this is something added into their curriculum or something their teachers have been preparing them for. The excitement is in the first hour … ‘What am I doing? Am I teaching the music or am I polishing the music to make it great?’”
    The high school selections included “Gloria Patri,” “Blow, Blow thy Winter Wind,” “Behold a Star from Jacob Shining” and “Hope for Resolution.”
    Camille Saucier, of Saco, served as the conductor of the middle school chorus. She teaches part-time at Thornton Academy Middle School and is the director of Voices In Harmony, a group she produced and started 15 years ago.
    “Why I love these festivals is because it reinforces for children to go beyond their own community and build a larger community. It reinforces their singing, their positive feelings toward singing, promotes them to reach out beyond their world and know that we are part of something bigger,” she said. “I know it’s just Aroostook County, but I made some of my best friends when I went to these festivals.”
    The accompanist for the middle school chorus was Mari-Jo Hedman, who is the choir director and organist at the Lidstone United Methodist Church in Washburn and the director of both the vocal and instrumental programs in Fort Fairfield.
    Among the songs the middle school choir performed included “Festival Sanctus,” “Elijah,” “Blue Skies” and “Amavolovolo.”
    “I try to always pick a wide variety of music. I want them to be exposed to a historical piece. We’re doing a piece by Brahms, which is from the Romanic period. It’s a folk song about love and relationships, and we’re also doing a contemporary jazz piece by Irving Berlin,” said Saucier. “I think I’m one of the few conductors that always brings in a jazz piece, which is very diverse. A lot of kids do not have exposure to jazz, which is our own music, and I really want them to not be afraid to attempt to sing a jazz tune. We’re also going to do an African piece, as well as a spiritual piece based on a Bible story, and a festival/celebration piece.”
    Saucier said it can be challenging working with students for the first time.
    “I enjoy the size [of the chorus] because I personally do not get to rehearse with a large group at that age very often. My task is really to get them on board … get on my ship; follow how I want them to sing and follow my ideas, and get them on board with where I’m going with the music,” she said. “They all come from teachers who have different twists and takes on how to sing and perform, I have to get them right away on board with my ideas and get them together as one choir.”
    The students rehearsed Friday and Saturday, and the concert was held Saturday afternoon.
    According to Jay Nelson, SAD 1 vocal music director, about 95 high-schoolers and 85 middle school students were selected by their music teachers to attend the festival.
    “We have students from the Katahdin schools in the Sherman/Patten area, all the way up to the Fort Kent and Madawaska schools,” he said. “There are 16 different schools being represented.”
    The All Aroostook Music Festival is sponsored by the Northern Maine Music Educators Association. The All Aroostook band students will perform Jan. 16-17 at Washburn High School.