Students take notes with the National Symphony Orchestra

When junior Lindsey Ferris first heard Oliver Messian’s “Quartet for the End of Time” in her honors symposium class, she said she thought it was a random compilation of depressing noise.

Ferris and more than 100 students analyzed the piece with five members of the National Symphony Orchestra at the symposium organized by the University Honors Program.

“It became this meaningful and mystical piece of work,” Ferris said.

The symposium, held Friday and Saturday at the Western Presbyterian Church on Virginia Avenue, gave members of the GW Honors Program an opportunity to learn from the nation’s top symphony performers.

Students participated in an open rehearsal with the symphony, discussed the “Quartet for the End of Time” after a live performance and attended a closing concert by symphony members Saturday evening.

“Having the symposium here at the church is a really neat opportunity because of the way the music just bounces off the rafters,” said Amy Drummond, symposium coordinator. “This really isn’t your typical classroom.”

The event differed from the format of most Honors Program symposia, which normally include many speakers and little interaction between the students and speakers, Drummond said.

“(This is about) having people from the arts community help students understand something else besides what Washington is known for,” Drummond said.

The speakers included Yvonne Caruthers, a member of the National Symphony Orchestra, Dr. Daniele Struppa, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at George Mason University, and William Francis McSweeny, a presidential trustee of the Kennedy Center.

The symposium focused on Franz Schubert’s “Trout” and Messian’s “Quartet.” Prior to attending the symposium, students examined the two selections, Drummond said. Many of the students felt that the modern piece by Messian was difficult to understand, Honors Program Director David Alan Grier said.

“When we were going over the Messian piece, about 90 percent of the students were on the edge of their seats listening to the explanations,” Grier said. “I think they got the point on that one.”

“When we came we were able to understand that there is form behind the chaos,” junior Elisha Rothschild said. “We got to look at this music in a very different way.”

Grier said the Honors Program coordinates events like the symposium to link real-world learning to the classroom. This particular symposium gave students a chance to see something on their own and then discuss it with those who actually play the music.

“This weekend gave us an interesting and new way to look at music,” freshman Janeen Gavin said. “Music is a lot more than just what you hear on the radio.”

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