A Concert for Dennis

A Concert for Dennis

West Springfield ensemble performs musical piece commissioned for conductor Dennis J. Zeisler.

West Springfield High School's wind ensemble can now say something the London Symphony can’t — It played a piece by Mozart first.

The wind ensemble at the school was the first high-school group to perform a new piece of music, "Mozart’s Variations," at an Oct. 20 concert in the high-school auditorium.

The piece of music was commissioned specifically for Dennis J. Zeisler, professor of music at Old Dominion University, and debuted at the university in April. West Springfield’s director of bands and wind ensemble conductor Larry Einuis studied under Zeisler at ODU while earning his master’s degree, and he jumped at the chance to bring Zeisler on board to conduct the piece in person.

"It’s a unique experience for students to play a piece of music that’s never been played or published before and to know a little more about how a piece gets commissioned," said Einuis.

In honor of Zeisler’s 25 years at ODU, the band leaders at 15 schools across the state got together last autumn to commission a piece of music to be composed specifically for Zeisler. The group, headed by Frank Garcia at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, chose Dr. James Sochinski, professor of music theory at Virginia Tech, an accomplished composer who is also the arranger for the Virginia Tech marching band. Sochinski used the second movement of a clarinet quartet by W.A. Mozart — a piece near and dear to Zeisler’s heart — as his basis and created variations on the main theme. Coincidentally, clarinet is Einuis’ main instrument of choice.

"He was my mentor and my adviser, and really one of the people who encouraged him to go into the music field," said Einuis, who spent 15 years in broadcast engineering after college before changing careers. "He and I got really deep into how music communicates to people, and how to prepare students to prepare to communicate through music."

AFTER THE initial performance in April, Einuis and the West Springfield Band Boosters made arrangements to bring Zeisler to Springfield to conduct the work. The wind ensemble began work on the piece in September.

"It was an honor to be able to play with him and the piece that was written for him," said Becky Koenig, a freshman in the wind ensemble, who played at the concert. "It was really cool to have him work with us beforehand, because he really helped us interpret the different styles of the piece."

Zeisler used his familiarity with the original clarinet quartet to explain to the audience how each of the subsequent variations on the original theme would express different musical ideas than the theme.

"In the beginning, it was a little nerve-racking, because you wanted to play really well, to show him what this band was made of," said Jonathan Greg. "I thought we pulled the piece off pretty well."

Other students who played at the concert looked at it as a good learning experience for their future in music.

"I think it’s always good to have different directors conduct you, because conducting is a very personal thing, and you have to be able to read different conductors, no matter what their style," said senior Emily Boling.

Following the concert at West Springfield, plans are for Zeisler to conduct the piece with bands at each of the other 14 schools around the state. Zeisler said the performance at West Springfield was "an absolutely magnificent accomplishment on a very tough piece of music."