Yearly Archives:2016

Lana Sweeten-Shults , Times Record News 10:13 a.m. CST December 11, 2016

Hark! The choirs did sing, and they were spectacular.

Soprano Melissa Ward did sing, too, and she was spectacular, standing ovation included.

And the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, whose numbers were rounded out by the 60-member or so Wichita Falls Youth Symphony Orchestra?

Yes, stupendously spectacular.

The WFSO, after several years of not tooting its own horns with the Wichita Falls ISD’s combined choirs, did so once again alongside some tremendous local talent Dec. 10 at Memorial Auditorium for its Hometown Holiday concert.

What’s amazing about the hometown-themed holiday concerts is that it’s a rare opportunity to see local talent all concentrated on one stage.

“Is she local?” one symphony-goer asked after Ward’s knock-out rendition of “Oh, Holy Night” – a performance that gave you goosebumps when she hit that high note while singing “Oh night … divine!”

That symphony-goer was surprised to learn that she is from the Wichita Falls area.

A couple hundred or more choir students from Hirschi, Wichita Falls and Rider high schools nailed their performance on several works.

“Carol of the Bells,” directed by Rider choir director Melanie Coons, resonated as the combined choirs’ many voices pipe in with so many different vocal parts going on simultaneously. It was a resplendent performance, though not quite my favorite from the combined choirs.

I gravitated toward the more spiritual pieces, namely “Follow That Star,” helmed by Hirschi choir director Mineasa Nesbit, and “Star in the East,” led by Wichita Falls High choir director Chris Jarvis, complete with clapping and insistent foot-stomping for rhythm.

Those songs stood out among the mostly traditional reverent tunes generally heard at Christmastime.

The choir also turned in a beautiful, peace-inducing “Silent Night,” directed by Rider assistant choir director Sarah Cook.

What I loved seeing was the choirs working together so well and ending a phrase so crisply. They gave strong performances.

Ward was so confident during “O Holy Night,” arranged by David Clydesdale, which included a prologue from the Bible about the birth of Jesus. Ward has such a powerful voice that stuns you, particularly when she hits those high notes with abandon.

Though, the favorite piece of the evening for my 12-year-old co-reviewer was Jeff Tyzik’s “The 12 Gifts of Christmas,” a rendition of the “12 Days of Christmas” that featured different sections of the orchestra as gifts. My favorite “gift” was the brassy horn section, which went into snazzy big band mode, and then hearing the orchestra break into mini Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart popular works was just fun.

It was one of those effervescent numbers, and the orchestra was lively and entertaining throughout.

The WFSO followed tradition for this concert, which included an audience sing-along section, as well as an appearance by Santa and the traditional end of the hometown Christmas concerts, a performance of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” “Sleigh Ride” comes complete with percussion and brass sounds in which you really do somehow hear a horse-pulled sleigh.

I can’t fail to mention the Wichita Falls Youth Symphony, directed by Susan Harvey, which added such depth and texture to this holiday performance. They made the orchestra sound fuller and richer – in particular, I heard those happy flutists in the opening number, Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.”

In past years, the two orchestras weren’t always in sync, but this year, the main and youth orchestras played as one and sounded as strong as ever.

And then there was the evening’s guest conductor, Jerry Steichen, music director of the Macon (Georgia) Symphony Orchestra, though he’s from Tonkawa, Oklahoma.

It’s too bad Steichen isn’t one of the finalists for the symphony conductor job. He had such a rapport with the audience and is so likable and energetic. He was one of the joys of the evening.

The only thing I wished by the end of the concert was to hear Mineasa Nesbit sing. The Hirschi choir director also is one of those stunning local talents.

The WFSO’s next concert will be 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at Memorial Auditorium and will feature pianist Sean Chen and finalist conductor Fouad Fakhouri.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.


Lana Sweeten-Shults , Times Record News 12:44 p.m. CST November 13, 2016

Oh, the sweet melodiousness of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major.

If any classical work is just joy and bliss and beauty aplenty, it’s Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2. It does not falter in sheer giddy happiness.

I call it exuberant cello-ness. On steroids.

The Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra during its Nov. 12 concert at Memorial Auditorium embraced all of that symphonic sunshine, thanks to resplendent guest artist Julie Albers on the cello. She gave this piece the lightness, effervescence and sprightliness it deserves.

It was a good time for some sheer giddy happiness. Considering the stresses of the recent election, we were all due for something lovely. Let’s make America glad again, already.

Not that this concert reached the highest high it could have, as the concert hit a slow spot or two before bursts of utter enthusiasm, particularly in the last work featuring the orchestra alone, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Eroica.”

The orchestra seemed to have turned down, just slightly, the vibrant energy that dazzled the audience so much in its opening concert in October. The WFSO also lost some of the nuances it displayed recently, namely all the texture it added by really contrasting the highs and lows of a composition to add emphasis and dramatic effect.

Still, overall, the orchestra did not fail to convey all that infectious joy under the helm of finalist conductor Daniel Black, the associate conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Black is one of three finalists vying for the job of becoming the WFSO’s new conductor and musical director after the retirement in the spring of Candler Schaffer.

The challenge for the soloist in Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 is that, while the work seems simple and effortless in all its happiness, it is a technically demanding work.

Albers was called upon to shine more than once in virtuosic solos with no orchestral accompaniment, all while throwing in tricky double stops and octaves. The cellist also must perform much of the work on the higher register notes, which is technically harrowing in itself.

The Cello Concerto No. 2 also speeds up and slows down for some tricky metronome-challenged passages that test the musicians’ timing.

Albers moved smoothly throughout the work, seemingly effortlessly. She impressed during those solos and when she lives in those high notes, never letting them get the best of her. But she also was plucky and confident in those low notes. She was so adroit in her fingerwork and technically spot-on, and her cello emitted such rich, gilded sounds that the audience couldn’t help but feel joyful.

Her performance was lovely.

And the strings – wow!

They are spectacular, so in sync and so rich in their sound. They dominated the concert this time around in a very strings-heavy evening, at least until the final work, Beethoven’s “Eroica.”

The Haydn piece wasn’t the only time during the concert that the strings dazzled. In the opening number, Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture, the violin players speed like a dervish through show-offy passages. They don’t tiptoe, but sprint, through what is yet another light, effervescent, full-happiness composition.

After the intermission, Black took time to speak with the audience about the final piece, Beethoven’s beast of a 45-minute, four-movement Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Opus 55, more popularly known as “Eroica,” or “Heroic”. He told how it was written not long after Beethoven learned he was slowly starting to lose his hearing and soon would not be able to hear at all.

This is, frankly, a mean, structurally demanding composition to perform with its dissonances, the span of human emotion it travels through, and some challenging horn passages. As musical lore goes, it was once dedicated by Beethoven to Napoleon to tell of his heroic triumphs and the great sorrow upon his death. Beethoven would later scratch Napoleon’s name out, which further adds to the legend of this work.

The orchestra was strongest in the third movement, the super-grand and very hyper and jovial scherzo. I loved it. Loved the chirping in of the amazing flutes and the horns and how one section echoed the other section. The orchestra really came together for the scherzo, with one section timed precisely to the other. The orchestra inspired a “Yeah!” yelled out from the audience at the dramatic ending of the movement. The musicians were all in, with blood, sweat and tears. They put all their energy into the movement’s very dramatic ending.

It’s also hard not to mention the second movement, “The Funeral March,” with all its low, rumbling-in-your chest notes that speak of death and that slow final walk to one’s resting place.The low-register instruments get to shine instead of playing a supporting role.

The “Eroica” did have its ups and downs, though, as the musicians really did not get fired up until those last two movements, and there were moments when the orchestra could have exploded much bigger in their sound. I’m not sure if the volume just wasn’t turned up enough, but I really wanted to feel the girth of that passion throughout the piece.

The WFSO’s next concert will be 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at Memorial Auditorium.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.



Gina Menden, originally from Wisconsin, graduated from the University of Arizona with a Master of Music degree in Viola Performance and Drake University with a Bachelor of Music degree in Violin Performance.

With more than 15 years of studio teaching experience, Ms. Menden has helped develop winners of concerto competitions, symphony apprenticeships, and state UIL contestants with gold/silver placements, as well as students who’ve chosen to continue on in college as either music majors or very skilled orchestral players. Beyond these accomplishments, Ms. Menden enjoys guiding her students to be good citizens and to love what they do.

Ms. Menden began working for the Wichita Falls Youth Symphony Orchestra (YSO) in February 2010, where she established and still directs the developmental string orchestra (the “Philharmonic”) and a very robust public-outreach string ensemble program. She joined Christ Academy as a string teacher in October 2014 and later assumed a position as Adjunct String Professor at Midwestern State University in August 2015. In addition to her teaching commitments, Ms. Menden enjoys performing as a violist with the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra and is an avid musical freelancer.



Symphony, pianist Joyce Yang dazzle in season opener

Posted: Oct. 03, 2016
Photo: KT Kim Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Silver Medalist Joyce Yang was just 11 years old when she moved from South Korea to New York to study at Juilliard.

Photo: KT Kim Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Silver Medalist Joyce Yang was just 11 years old when she moved from South Korea to New York to study at Juilliard.
Contributed photo Joyce Yang will open the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra's Season Saturday at Memorial Auditorium. Yang was the youngest person to become a finalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She was just 19 years old.

Contributed photo Joyce Yang will open the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra’s Season Saturday at Memorial Auditorium. Yang was the youngest person to become a finalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She was just 19 years old.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults of the Times Record News

In the universe of concertos, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is the piano concerto of piano concertos.

It is in your face and boisterous and dramatic and loud. It is insistent — then gentle — and ultimately glorious with pools of melodious beauty, its nuggets of glittering, pretty grandeur mesmerizing.

And what pianist Joyce Yang does with this piano concerto of piano concertos is breathtakingly spectacular.

From those opening crashes of piano chords, relentlessly pounding and stomping up and down the keyboard, along with that waltzing Russian folk dance via orchestra softening all that drama, Yang was in command with impeccable technique and remained so throughout the 35-minute work.

It was a stupendous way to open the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 season Saturday night at Memorial Auditorium, the concert unfolding under the direction of Darryl One of the Victoria (Texas) Symphony Orchestra.

One is among three finalists vying to be named the symphony’s new conductor. He helmed an inspired concert buzzing with energy, as musicians seemed to read one another, moved together and played off each other like they hadn’t in some time.

One also brought much texture to the orchestra, really varying each composition by greatly contrasting the highs against the lows. He also exhibited a great rapport with the audience, particularly when explaining the convoluted, comedy of errors plot that is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” during the final composition of the night.

But the night really was guest artist Yang’s.

Her strength is her steadfast technique and all the passion and drama she demands of herself in the Tchaikovsky piece. Her finger work and dexterity during the incredible runs up and down the keyboard were amazing.

Not that crashing notes are all to expect from the young pianist, just 19 when she was named a Van Cliburn silver medalist. Yang brings those notes down to a whisper with such skill and dips down into those low notes with conviction.

In an interview before the concert, she spoke of having to not forget her metronome work, and she is a master of that, pulling the orchestra with her in the piece’s rhythmic directions.

The orchestra wasn’t lost in all Yang’s pianistic fire, however.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is peppered with plenty of shining moments for the orchestra, which starts off the work with perhaps the most well- known opening notes of any classical work except maybe for Beethoven’s Fifth.

The orchestra shined the most, however, in the opening work, James Beckel’s “The American Dream” from “Night Visions.”

The WFSO found the joyousness in this piece, which sang at the top of its lungs with a lightness, joviality and jauntiness.

Kudos to the French horns, which were so plucky. They formed a little corner of upbeat.

With the horns going, tambourines and triangles piping in, and the strings, too, every section of the orchestra busied itself, all sections aware of one another.

Usually, it takes the WFSO a little while to warm up. Not the case this time, as the musicians were all in and firing on all cylinders from the beginning.

This was a strong showing that left you happy at the end.

The evening ended with Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Although a fine work, this was not the composition to end the night with; it couldn’t compare to Yang and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Hands down, the concerto was the strongest piece of the evening.

Still, the orchestra did get to show its prowess once again, as this sprightly work evoked images of fairies and magic.

What was particularly amazing was the orchestra’s punctuation in the scherzo, emphasizing this note and that one and separating those notes from the rest. Brilliant.

And the zippy, nimble bowing by the strings would have made Shakespeare proud.

Although Memorial Auditorium’s loud air conditioner wasn’t as distracting as it has been at past concerts, it’s still a shame to hear it buzzing away in the background during some of the concert’s quieter moments.

Except for a couple of brass notes that weren’t as crisp as they could have been during the piano concerto, and except for choosing to end the night with a work that wasn’t the strongest of the three, Saturday’s season opener was joyful and the most impressive opening the WFSO has had in some time.

The next concert at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 will feature cellist Julie Albers.


By Lana Sweeten-Shults of the Times Record News

Sorry, Andy Warhol. It isn’t pop art.

It’s the Pop-Up Art Gallery, a one-day tiptoe through creative cerebralism in an out-of-left-field space with a mayfly-like modus operandi, since this gallery’s life span is just a few hours long.

The sage brick-and-mortar Guggenheim it is not. But, like the Guggenheim, the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts & Culture’s temporary Pop-Up Art Gallery, descending on downtown Saturday, celebrates art.

It will open from 3-6 p.m. in the iconic “Big Blue,” a business center in the midst of oil and gas country that also happens to be home to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum.

It’s an unusual space for art, but alliance Executive Director Margie Johnson Reese planned it that way.

“We wanted people to see that art happens everywhere,” she said, and it isn’t as if Big Blue, also known as the First Wichita Building, 719 Scott St., hasn’t been a conduit for other unique art projects.

In 2015, photographers gathered to shoot photographs for the “Blue Skies for Big Blue” project, which culminated with an art exhibit.

Visitors to the Pop-Up Art Gallery will get to view artworks by 150 youths ages 5-17 created under the guidance of eight “Teaching Artists” over four weeks this summer. The exhibit is the product of the summertime arts workshops.

While these local Teaching Artists have shared their creative skills with youth — skills from singing to performing to painting and sculpture — they also have been students themselves.

The Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts & Culture brought in national master artists to teach them how to teach.

The program, dubbed the Teaching Artists Learning Laboratory, started when Reese arrived in town six months ago.

She knew what Wichita Falls needed and had a vision to build a thriving arts community. To do so, she wanted to establish a corps of teaching artists who would share their skills with the next generation. It also would be the first step to building an economy based on the arts, which in turn would encourage artists to stay in Wichita Falls.

“It was really clear that the first thing we needed to do was find our artists,” Reese said, and the alliance did. Then it moved forward with training them. The hope is that this initial corps of eight will teach more artists.

Saturday’s Pop-Up Art Gallery will feature the works of youths from several community organizations, including the Southside Youth Senter, MLK Center and the East Branch YMCA.

It also will spotlight performances by opera soprano Ashley Renee Watkins and New England Conservatory pianist Lewis Warren. They will play a mini-concert at 4 p.m. before launching into another concert at 7 p.m.

Watkins, who is on the faculty of the Lincoln Center, is one of the national master artists who worked to develop the teaching skills of local artists. And Warren has performed in Wichita Falls for a Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra fundraiser.

The symphony had long wanted to bring Warren back to town. Symphony board president Katie Parkey said Reese suggested the group join the alliance in Saturday’s Pop-Up Art Gallery, where you might not find Andy Warhol-inspired pop art but where creative cerebralism will be in tow.


Philip Chisum began playing the cello at the age of 9 and played throughout school as he attended Jefferson Elementary, McNeil Junior High and Rider HS. One of his favorite performance experiences was playing in the Texas Tech Symphony—his last concert was a performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, a very moving experience.

Some of his favorite music includes compositions of Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Mahler—the romantic era is by far his favorite in classical music. He also enjoys listening to, as well as performing, chamber music.

He loves playing his cello, gardening, and reading about political philosophy—as well as historical events and economics. He’s also starting to read some about raising dairy goats so that he can start a small family farm with his wife Sarah.

Be sure to gaze at the cello section to find this rising young cellist.


Alex Parkey is our volunteer of the month. Her energetic personality and technological expertise have been a big help to us in the office as well as behind the scenes. She is always willing to help out in any way from day to day tasks to special projects and of course concert night!

Alex graduated this year from Notre Dame Catholic School and will attend the University of Dallas in the fall.

We wish her all the best!