Ivy Chan '24
Sep 23, 2022
The String Ensemble is one of the four core music groups at Mercersburg Academy. The ensemble consists of 15-20 string players and is limited to traditional string instruments such as violin, viola, cello and upright bass.
Michael Cameron, the director of the ensemble, began teaching at the Academy in the fall of 2007. Cameron is also a professional cellist. He describes his relationship with the cello, “I began my involvement in music as a seventh grader. I played the viola for one semester. During a rehearsal, the instructor asked the cellos to play alone. I was completely captivated by the sound. Shortly thereafter, I asked my orchestra teacher if I could switch to cello, and he granted my request.”
The pieces that the ensemble will be playing this fall include: “A Forest Shadow” by Bobrowitz, “Greater Than” by Brian Balmages, an arrangement of the hit song by Katy Perry, “Roar” and an arrangement of music that is from the film How to Train Your Dragon entitled “Test Drive.”
The ensemble will also play several Christmas carols at the Christmas Candlelight Service in December. As a special performance, Cameron revealed, “Mr. Morgan will conduct the Ensemble and the Choral in a performance of John Rutter’s “A Gaelic Blessing” during the Chapel Service on Sunday, October 2.
This year, with the arrival of many new students who play string instruments, the String Ensemble is much bigger in size than in years past. “We have a total of nineteen musicians in our group! This is a record number of players and it has changed us in every conceivable way. With eleven violinists, there now exists a rich inner harmony within the group,” said Cameron. There are now five first violins, six second violins, three violas, four cellos, and one double bass in the String Ensemble.
This year, as a new opportunity for the program, the ensemble will travel to California for an adjudication. “All of the Academy’s vocal and instrumental groups will travel to Southern California during the second week of 2023’s Spring Break. Every May, our groups travel to Hershey for what is called Adjudication. This process involves each group performing for seasoned professional musicians who critique us and make recommendations about what we can work on in the future. This is a very valuable experience for all participants. The adjudication event that we will be a part of this coming March is a much larger event; performers from across the country will be there. I believe that we are all anticipating this opportunity with great excitement. All groups will actually work with the judges as opposed to just having them listen to us. There are also a few Mercersburg musicians who are from Southern California and so they will have the added benefit of performing for and spending more time with their families,” Cameron said. “It will not be ‘all work and no play.’ We will do our share of sightseeing. I lived in Los Angeles many years ago, and so I hope to reconnect with old friends.”
Finally, Cameron remarked on his collaboration with Bryan Morgan ‘07, Director of Music, saying, “A great debt of gratitude is owed to Mr. Morgan because he is the person who formulated this idea. He is also the primary organizer of this event.”
Cellist, Justin An ‘23, a key member of the String Ensemble, said, “I actually feel really satisfied with the current situation. Normally in an orchestra, the violins have most of the melodies so they are usually the largest group. But during my time here, the cellos were always the biggest section. So I have always felt like we were overpowering the violins, as well as the other instruments. Now that there is a reasonable number of players per section, I feel that we can make a better harmony, and I’m quite happy about it.”
Although An has not chosen the senior song choice for the Spring Concert in April yet, he is considering his choices. “Pop songs that many would know which could be a hit because not many people tend to be familiar with the classical pieces we play at concerts,” he said.
An reflected on his time with strings. “I have to say my best year was my junior year. The piece ‘She Will Hang the Night with Stars’ by William Holfeldt was arguably my favorite piece that we performed out of the three years I’ve been here. It was exciting to see students ask us about the name of the piece because they thought it was good as well. It was also the year when I got into the Districts Orchestra and experienced such a large orchestra with 100+ members and such a hard repertoire for the first time. It was a very proud moment. That aside, the classes were also just fun in general,” An said.
Crystal Yuen ‘24 was a former cellist String Ensemble member who started playing at a young age and joined the group for 2 years. “I decided to drop strings because I felt like I did not have enough time for it in my busy schedule. With wanting to focus more on swimming and my academic schedule getting harder, it would be difficult to balance strings on top of that,” Yuen said. While she has not decided whether to go back to Strings in her senior year, it is likely she won't join again. “My favorite memory was getting ready for concerts in the back room. I loved the atmosphere and everyone is usually very cheery and excited to go on stage,” Yuen recalled.
Kaori Graham-Myrie ‘24, a current member of the ensemble, elaborated on his instrument: “I enjoy the pitch of the viola being in the very middle. Violin is a very high-pitched instrument, and the cello and the double bass have a very low pitch. The viola also has a rich sound, which I enjoy.” Graham-Myrie said that he is planning to carry on with strings during his remaining two years at Mercersburg Academy.
As for now, he said, “My favorite song is ‘Greater Than.’ Even though the String ensemble have only met a couple of times, I would say this piece is definitely one of our best.”