Chamber Orchestra sets aspirations deep, personal


Sophia Comas

Seniors Grace Hart and Liz Efken practice their Shostakovich piece with their violas as they wait for director Nate McClendon to arrive for class. The orchestra began rehearsing earlier in the week in preparation for the day when they must play it completely by memory.

Sophia Comas, Online Editor-in-Chief


That’s how director Nate McClendon opened class for his students in Chamber Orchestra on the brisk Wednesday morning of Sept. 4. 

Of course, when thinking of an orchestra class, one does not immediately think uncomfortable, but that’s what came to mind for his conversation.

It didn’t start that way though.

Uncomfortable does not come to mind when senior Liz Efken draws mini-figures of McClendon on the whiteboard. Uncomfortable doesn’t come to mind when various stringed instruments are being plucked to odd tunes that sound as though someone cut off the note too short. Uncomfortable doesn’t come to mind when the group jokes about seniors Allen Zhang and Chris Chae being absent. Uncomfortable doesn’t come to mind when the sound of independent rehearsal carries over the exasperated exclamations of “I don’t know what I’m doing in Physics” or “Have you done the Chemistry homework?”

If anything, it seems special — an insight into who the members of that group are before they become masked with memorization techniques and concentration. 

“I had a great experience last year,” senior Grace Hart said. “I want to make this year just as good if not better because this is my last time.”

Those experiences have carried through each person as they continue to build the unbreakable camaraderie that has never left them. It’s even in the new-comers, two of which are a brother and sister, who have already blended into the group as if they had always been there, but behind closed doors, they open themselves up to the difficulty.

“There’s a lot of pressure on us new kids to do really really well,” Eadon Marstall, junior, said. “Everyone’s super nice, so I don’t feel it from them. It’s my own internal pressure.”

That pressure is what drives the Chamber Orchestra to do well. Their first major hurdle is memorizing a piece by composer Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian composer who battled mental health issues the majority of his adult life. The piece the group is playing is what Shostakovich claimed to be his own personal requiem because he had planned to commit suicide just a week after he finished it.

“We’re going to be exploring some dark and personal stuff with this,” McClendon said. “We just want to play it as powerfully as we can.”

Their next challenge will be for the Kansas Music Educators Association when their state music conference takes place and all of their rehearsal will become a live performance. 

“They’re really good students, not just in playing-wise,” McClendon said. “They want to be good and they practice hard,”

Being good at what they do is the one goal that they hope to continue to meet throughout the entire year. For McClendon, however, that doesn’t just mean knowing how to play their instruments. It means talking about the uncomfortable, which is why they will all participate in a class-wide book study over “Leadership and Self-Deception” to learn about themselves and others.

“How many of you like conversing with other people?” McClendon asked the class.

Only two students raised their hands. 

The question came seemingly out of nowhere, but as with all things McClendon, it has a purpose. It proves that there are still levels of discomfort within the group. 

For the group, that discomfort will push them forward. It will bring them closer together. The tension that follows them will prove that it is not something they fear but rather embrace. 

“Can you feel it?” he asked again. “That’s one of my superpowers. I’m able to create that feeling of tension.”