To kick off DePauw’s 139th concert season, the DePauw University Orchestra performed their first concert on Sept. 17. Conducted by maestro Orecenith Smith, the program consisted of four pieces that totalled to about an hour of music.

Before starting the setlist, a brief fanfare to Greencastle was played to commemorate the town’s 200-year founding. Performed with four trumpets, the brief piece set a celebratory tone for the program. 

Then, the orchestra introduced their first piece. “The Dance of the Paper Umbrellas” by Elena Kats-Cherin was written for the HUSH Music Foundation, an organization that works with Australian composers to produce music that brings optimism to hospital patients and their families. This piece was born after Kats-Charin visited the leukemia ward at a children’s hospital and witnessed the doctors’ amazing work. 

The composition was waltz-like and whimsical in nature, using lush string patterns to build new ideas off of. I could easily see it fitting into a movie’s soundtrack, with its playful and light tone mirroring childhood itself.

Afterwards, the orchestra performed Igor Stravinsky’s “Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra,” a work that’s defined by four movements. Stravinsky composed each melody to be simple and easy to learn for his children, Theodore and Mika. While these pieces were originally played on piano, they’ve been transcribed by the DePauw University Orchestra to accommodate a smaller ensemble. 

The first movement “Andante” set the stage with a slow, string-heavy melody, contrasting greatly with the second movement “Napolitana,” which was defined by a more driving tune that passed between the different instruments. The third movement “Española” returns to a slow tempo and incorporates a lot of spiraling parts to create a funky texture, before transitioning to the steady pace of their fourth movement “Balalaika.” Each movement feels like a moment plucked out of time, each having a small story that begins and ends uniquely from one another.

With half of the program completed, Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” was the last hurdle the orchestra had to overcome. This 30-minute piece was originally composed for a ballet about a young husband and wife beginning their life together on the American frontier. The most notable part of this composition is the inclusion of the iconic melody “The Gift to Be Simple” in the ending segments. This piece displayed the true strength of the orchestra, all of the sections working together to tell the story that Copland was weaving throughout the music. 

Now, for the most shocking inclusion in the program: “Shake It Off” by pop-star Taylor Swift, who will be performing in Indianapolis next year for three nights in early November. The arrangement was originally intended to be played by a big band, but the orchestra expertly adapted it and performed it with an infectious energy and enthusiasm. The percussion, in particular, was electric and definitely the highlight of the song.

In terms of mood, I felt like this concert was defined by hope, cheer, relaxation, and enjoyable music as the semester continues to roll along. My favorite piece was “Appalachian Spring” – specifically the first section as it sets the stage both literally and figuratively. The next instrumental performance at the Green Center will be on Oct. 8 at 3 p.m., featuring the DePauw University Band and string students. Bravo to the DePauw University Orchestra on another spectacular performance!