~ The following first appeared in The Floyd Press on June 13, 2013 with a larger selection of photos and captions.
Where else can you be hear ragtime, cathedral music, a waltz, a polka, spirituals, marches, the theme to Pink Panther and a formal symphony orchestra all in one festival?
During Virginia’s Blue Ridge Music Festival’s (VBRMF) 11 days of music, local attendees didn’t have to go far to hear that and more. They, and others who traveled to Floyd to take in the inaugural festival, enjoyed informal chamber ensembles and full orchestra concerts in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings around the county.
Building on Floyd’s reputation as a destination for quality music, the festival presented a blend of professional master musicians, (academyfaculty) and pre-professional student musicians (academy fellows). It provided an up-close and personal experience, in which concert-goers could watch the expressions and movements of the musicians, while holding a collective breath during suspenseful pauses in the music and letting it go for rising crescendos.
After attending one of the full orchestra concerts, Jayn Avery was delighted. “Being able to sit in the Floyd Elementary School gym and hear these outstanding performances, makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world to live in Floyd,” she said.
Another benefit that the festival’s small town accessibility provided was the inclusion of interesting insights on music history, the backgrounds of compositions and the back stories of their composers, told by festival faculty before and in-between performances.
VBRMF artistic director and conductor, David Stewart Wiley, even had a story about Billy Joel. As director/conductor of New York’s Long Island Philharmonic Orchestra Long, Wiley (who is also director/conductor of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra) worked with Joel on an orchestra piece that Joel wrote.
VBRMF rehearsals and classes were free and open to the public and presented further opportunities to learn more about music, the musicians and their instruments. Ann Shank was impressed by a music improvisation class she attended. She described watching the process and hearing the end result of what the musicians created as an “enlivening and enriching” experience.
Mary Wiley (David’s mom) was uplifted by an informal brass ensemble that played on the Sun Hall stage, saying she felt surrounded by the sound. “It felt like they were playing just for me.”
Already excited about next year’s festival, Judy Parrish Lowrance expressed her appreciation for Wiley, who has an infectious enthusiasm and an impassioned conducting style. “David was outstanding,” said Lowrance, who hosted a festival student musician from Pennsylvania in her home. She summed up the experience, saying what many others also expressed, “We are so lucky to have to have this festival right here in our little town of Floyd!”