The orchestra exploded in sound as the first measure of the piece was played. The percussion in the back sounded, ringing in support of the melody. Instruments from the brass family seemed to have a conversation as they sounded back and forth, different beats and syncopation ringing out in the room as the strings grew louder towards the climax of the renowned melody. Professor Ben Mason, Director of Instrumental Studies, Music Composition and Audio Production, threw his hands up with passion, baton held high in his right hand. With these simple motions, the theme from Star Wars ensued.
“We have two orchestras,” Mason explained “One is the university orchestra and that’s made up of both music and non-music majors and members from the community. We play two concerts per year, one at Christmas and one around Easter. For the other orchestra, we have a string ensemble and a wind ensemble, and we combine both of those groups. We do more advanced symphonic literature.”
Both orchestras meet throughout the week to practice for these concerts.
Since The Master’s University reopened in August, there have been a few changes made to how these classes take place due to COVID.
One of the things that changed drastically since last year was the loss of community member participation. Wanting to respect the health guidelines and regulations, Mason said that community members will only join the orchestra for concerts. Although these changes have had some negative effects on the orchestra, it has led to unexpected growth.
“How do you make music when you are separated? How do you listen to one another and stay in tune?” Mason questioned as he reflected on the growth of his students. “It’s been really neat to see the first semester and how it was a challenge for them. But this semester, I’m starting to see their musicianship. Their abilities are skyrocketing. I think one of the important things as musicians is, yeah, we’re learning our craft on the instrument, but we’re teaching people how to listen. Their listening skills have improved.”
The students in the orchestra admire Mason just as much. Debbie Birgean, a music major at The Master’s University and also TA for the university orchestra, eagerly shared her thoughts on the professor.
“He is very encouraging and he always pushes us to strive for perfection because our music and everything that we do is worship to the Lord. We need to strive for the best version of ourselves so we can glorify God. He always makes rehearsals very productive, but also very fun. It’s easy to work with him and to be under his leadership,” said Birgean.
The relationship Mason and his students share allow them to make music together and grow in their skills. As the orchestras continue to progress, Mason hopes they will continue to grow.
“We really want to be able to reach out to the community and let them know what Master’s is about and what we are doing here,” shared Mason, also having a desire to get the community surrounding the school involved in future concerts.
At the end of April, the string and wind ensembles will perform live to an audience for the first time in over a year.
“We’re going to be doing a film music concert. We’re going to be performing works like Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones, and then hopefully some with live picture,” said Mason, eager and excited to be able to perform again.
Mason is excited to share their future goals and the plans for live performances. He also calls for students to not only attend the concert, but to join the university orchestra.
“Come. If you play an instrument, don’t be shy. We have fun. It’s much different than a lot of orchestras,” said Mason.
Mason truly sees music as a gift from God and ultimately an act of worship. He wants to teach and show that to his students in the orchestra classes. The professor of the school’s orchestras wants people to know when he conducts his students, they are doing more than just playing good music.
“Music makes a lousy god. We want people to see past the music and see why we are making the music. We want them to see who we are glorifying,” stated Mason. He wants people to recognize that it is the Master’s university.
“We need Christians that can be salt and light in the symphonies, the film-scoring world, and the audio. We want the community to see that there is a group of Christians who love the LORD, make music together, work together, and do it at the highest level of their ability,” shared Mason.
While sitting in the music office, waiting to interview Mason, Dr. Paul Plew, Dean of the School of Music and Professor of Choral Studies at The Master’s University, walked in. There was a small word of greeting before he realized who was going to be interviewed and why.
“Let me tell you,” Plew started, eager to share his point with confidence. “Putting four families of instruments together and making them sound like one?”
He grinned to himself as he continued, “It’s major. Major.”