Will Todd Performs With Oyster River Students

Written by Isabella Crocco and Chase Amarosa, Video by Alana Ervin

Professional composer, conductor, and presenter, Will Todd premiered his new music with the help of the Oyster River bands on March 14, 2019.

For an inside look at the rehearsals leading up to this performance, check out the video above

The Oyster River High School Studio Orchestra, Middle School Jazz Band, and Chancel Choir of the Community Church of Durham joined English composer and pianist Will Todd in debuting his new piece Dance Mass. The composition consists of four rhythmic movements, each containing elements of jazz and soul. The movements were created with the Oyster River orchestras and choir in mind. The concert took place on March 14th at the Johnson Theater at the University of New Hampshire at 7:00 pm.

Conductor of the choir, highschool studio orchestra, and middle school jazz band, David Ervin, notes the significance of Todd’s music. “I’d been waiting my whole life to find a composer that wrote music that contained great choral music to sing and great jazz to play. I believe theWill Todd is the first composer to consistently do this,” said Ervin.

Both the high school and middle school worked on pieces to perform alongside Todd at the concert. The Chancel Choir from the Community Church of Durham joined the ORHS high school this year in performing Todd’s choral music.

Four ORHS students, Alana Ervin (‘19), Madeline Blandini (‘21), Giovanna Acioli (‘20), and Isabella Crocco (‘20) were featured singers throughout the pieces. Student composers Alana Ervin and eighth-grader Michael OLaughlin were also able to perform original works alongside Will Todd.

Blandini, a member of the studio orchestra and choir, expressed how valuable singing with older and experienced musicians is, saying, “it’s a really cool experience to be around people who have the same passion as you do and know what they’re doing. I think you learn a lot from it.”

Will Todd conducting the Chancel Choir of the Community Church of Durham, which accompanied the Oyster River High School Studio Orchestra in the performance

This isn’t Todd’s first collaboration with Oyster River. His first performance took place in 2014 and he returned for a second time in 2016. “Every time I’ve been here in the past, I’ve loved working with the band because there’s so much energy and there’s so much enthusiasm. You have great staff here, and the atmosphere is really good for music making,” explained Todd.

Having a profession in the music industry, Todd has been able to travel across the world doing what he loves, and with that he’s been able to perform with a variety of accomplished musicians. “One of the amazing things in my work is that I get to meet so many different musicians ranging from the top elite professional performers to amatuers, school kids, and tiny kids– I love that.”

According to Todd, age isn’t necessarily a key factor in being a good performer. “The thing that’s most important in music is the joy that comes out, the energy of the performing,” said Todd. “You can perform with a professional choir and it’s like being in front of dead people. They’re very emotionally closed, whereas young people tend to be more open. In many ways, young people give very strong performances even if they’re not technically perfect.”

Andrea von Oeyen, the ORHS orchestra teacher, has worked with Todd in the past. “Will is just a wonderful person and he worked really well with the kids last time and the concert went well. The place was full and it was really great,” said von Oeyen. The Oyster River music program enjoyed the opportunity of working with Todd two years ago. The ORHS musicians performed a part of his original piece while it was still unfinished. Andrea von Oeyen recalls, “Two years ago, we commissioned the first movement of the piece we are doing this time with him, Dance Mass. The Kyrie movement is actually something we have performed before.” Todd wrote Kyrie for ORHS musicians back in 2016, and has since written three other arrangements to go along with Kyrie; The Ballet: Gloria, Sanctus, and Hosana.

Will Todd conducting the Oyster River High School Studio Orchestra during a rehearsal

A future collaboration may be in order. Todd says he’d love to come back and work with the ORHS bands again, and he already has a topic in mind. “I want to do something on climate change. That is my big passion.” Todd says he’s been a believer in the climate catastrophe for a long time so he’d love to incorporate a film element to increase the general knowledge of climate change.

As for the ORHS Studio Orchestra, their next concert will be held at the Portsmouth Music Hall on June 15. Out of the one hundred students in the studio orchestra, forty two will be joined by the Chinese class students at ORHS as they travel to China and perform as part of their exchange program with Chengdu University. The students leave on Saturday, April 20th and return Monday the 28th.