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Sandy Journal

Waterford student string quintet performs in England, wins international competition

Aug 11, 2023 09:51AM ● By Julie Slama

Waterford School’s quintet performed at the intimate Milner Hall in Rhodes House at Oxford after winning the Virtuoso International Music Competition in London. (Photo courtesy of Waterford School)

Entering an international competition was something that Waterford School Orchestra Director and Music Department Chair Kathy Morris hadn’t considered in her 30 years teaching.

“Somebody in the community recommended it saying, ‘all your kids are so good,’” she remembered. “We’ve always entered solo and ensemble state high school and American String Teachers Association competitions, but it’s just been in Utah.”

Fourteen-year-old celloist Dalloway Smith remembers her teacher being “very casual about it, asking us if we had heard of it. She already had recorded us because it’s always good to have recordings of the pieces you play so she just entered us and said, ‘we’ll see how it goes.’”

Morris submitted the video of her student string quintet to be adjudicated in the chamber music portion of the Virtuoso International Music Competitions in Brussels and in London. One month later, Morris learned they won both contests. 

Only, it took a bit to reach her quintet because it was spring break and they were scattered across the world — New York, Italy, on a cruise on the Nile in Egypt as well as in Utah.

Once the good news traveled the globe, the group elected to attend the London ceremony and bypass Brussels so they wouldn’t miss more school.

“This was a first for us; it was an amazing opportunity for these students to perform in the Royal Albert Hall recital hall and receive their first-place medals,” she said.

They were the only chamber group to perform. 

“What’s cool about true chamber music is its unconducted; they look at each other to communicate and do it all on their own,” Morris said. “I was just so proud.”

The students also were invited to give a 30-minute performance in the Milner Hall at Rhodes House, which is fashioned after a Cotswold mansion with colonial influences, at the University of Oxford.

“It really was a once in a lifetime experience,” she said. “Milner Hall is very beautiful. It has amazing acoustics and there were tables and chairs for people to enjoy tea while they listened to the music. We received a warm welcome; it was spectacular, just very beautiful and historic.”

The concert, which included pieces by George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach, included solos for each of the members. 

Sixteen-year-old Adrian Walker, who played first violin, and Nathan Kwon, on viola, agreed that experience was a highlight.

“We got to play almost all the pieces we learned. It was truly a more in-depth performance,” Walker said.

While at Oxford, they climbed the spiral staircase of the 500-year-old Magdalen Tower. At 144 feet, it dominates the eastern entrance to the city and “has great views,” Walker said.

The group, which included family members, toured some of the non-typical tourist sights in amongst rehearsing for hours on their violins and violas and a rented cello and bass and doing homework.

“We got an amazing tour of the Royal Academy of Music which may interest some of my kids in attending there, and we saw a professional concert at Royal Albert Hall,” Morris said. “It also was about the time of the coronation of King Charles, so we saw Westminster Abby the last day it was open to the public. They already were putting platforms in place; it was kind of neat to be witnessing the preparations for something historic.”

Another highlight was watching the Liverpool FC vs. West Ham United soccer game.

“It was truly amazing to see; everybody was laser focused on the game — no eating, no drinking, no talking, no texting. They cheered with their hearts,” Morris said.

Walker agrees: “It was cool seeing the atmosphere because there’s nothing really like that in the U.S. The fans are pretty hardcore.”

Morris said that two members of the quintet are on the school soccer team that went to the semifinals “so they were excited, but we all had fun. We have two in the quintet who play on the tennis team, one does robotics, one is into theater, they do community service; they all are involved in addition to being musicians.”

While there was some family sightseeing time where they explored on their own, the group also went to tea together.

“It was fun spending time with friends,” said 15-year-old Grant Brady, who plays second violin.

Sixteen-year-old Connor Greally, on bass, is the final member of the group.

“I met him on his tour at Waterford and introduced him to this amazing string tour that plays cover bands. He looked them up and said they sound cool and liked their bass player, he decided to play bass. It’s been a couple years and already, he’s outstanding,” Morris said.

Brady began playing at age 5.

“It’s gotten more fun as I’m able to play advanced pieces,” he said.

His mother, who earned her doctorate at Juilliard, “showed me what was possible. I decided I wanted to do that.”

Dalloway also was inspired by her mother when she chose the cello as a 5-year-old.

“I remembers watching Mom practice the cello and I thought it was super cool, but she’s more of a pianist,” she said. “When I was younger, I thought it was fun to have everybody’s eyes on me when I was performing, but I hated practicing. I grew up grumbling about that and having to listen to the classical music channel. I hated it. But my appreciation grew as I was exposed to symphonies and huge works that are epic. There’s such a world of classical music people don’t know about that’s absolutely riveting and amazing.”

Walker, who began playing at age 4, appreciates classical music.

“Listening to classical music, especially a violin solo, gives me motivation There’s always something to improve on. I can work at and do better because there’s a lot of music I want to play,” he said.

Kwon, who started his musical career on piano before switching to viola, said he gets inspired by others.

“I like playing in the orchestra and quintet at Waterford much more than playing on my own. It’s cool to hear how each individual part can contribute to the main theme. It’s relaxing having a break in the day,” he said.

Morris teaches about 200 students who are enrolled in a sixth-grade orchestra, a seventh-grade orchestra, a ninth through 12th-grade orchestra, the chamber orchestra and a chamber music class.

“Music is something we value. The dream 30 years ago, when I came from Juilliard, was to build the fine arts program. We had no building, no program and literally all my stuff was on one cart. Now I have an amazing classroom, and we have a beautiful concert hall that’s just spectacular. It’s very important in terms of the liberal arts education at Waterford,” she said.

Morris selected the students for the quintet as she has done with other trios, quartets and groups. Outside of class, they practice on their own, most about three hours daily.

“The chamber music class is by audition and once they were in the class this year, I put them together and picked pieces I wanted them to learn,” she said.

She already is making plans for performances and contests for the quintet and all her students for the upcoming year — as well touring in Austria and Hungary next summer. 

“I’m keeping this group together to build upon where they’ve been performing. Their success is a testament to their passion, their hard work and dedication,” Morris said. “These are my five most outstanding musicians in terms of not just their technical ability, but their musicality. These five play with heart and with sensitivity, and have a sense of musicality that is rare. Their artistry is special.” λ