Steve Charles—I was photographing the Wabash Chamber Orchestra’s final rehearsal of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony for its fall concert last Sunday night when a familiar string of notes played with unfamiliar beauty stopped me in my tracks.
I’d forgotten that the solo in the symphony’s second movement, one of the most compelling and recognizable tunes in music (think “Going Home”), is played on English horn. I’d forgotten how powerfully that instrument conveys both yearning and hope. And I’d forgotten what a gifted and accomplished musician that soloist—former senior administrative assistant to President White and now Wabash grants coordinator Deborah Woods—is.
Even in the flurry of a rushed final rehearsal, Deb played Dvorak’s melody with such precision and power that I felt as though I could have been in any professional symphony hall in the country.
And she has played in a few. She completed her undergrad work at a music conservatory, earned her master’s in music performance at Northwestern. She taught oboe for 17 years at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. Before she wrote grants for Wabash, she was associate director of development for grants for the Columbus Symphony in Ohio.
Having such a dedicated professional in the orchestra bolsters Director Alfred Abel’s confidence in the ensemble. “No doubt Alfred Abel programmed this piece, in part, because Deb could showcase what is among its finest moments so beautifully and capably,” Wabash music department chair Professor Peter Hulen told me following the concert. “She exemplifies how music can be an enrichment to one’s own life and the life of the community.”
Those who have worked with Deb in the president’s office or in advancement may not have realized she is a professional musician, that she teaches oboe and English horn here, or that she could hold an audience spellbound Sunday night with her playing. The vocation of a musician and teacher in our culture has many facets, but it’s all one gem. Showing how they all fit together in a way that enriches her life and our community is another way Deb Woods teaches students, and all of us, about the power of music. Somehow it’s all connected.
And there are several such folks, a story behind every instrument, in this orchestra, which Peter calls one of the College’s best-kept secrets (though the nearly full house at Sunday night’s concert suggests the secret is getting out.) You can start with the director.
“We are so fortunate to have Alfred Abel,” Peter says. “He is a perfect match for Wabash. He is patient, dedicated, and skilled at eliciting the very best out of our players.”
And those players include a new freshman concertmaster, his brother on viola, and three new student double bass players. With the support of new and continuing excellent players from the Crawfordsville community (this orchestra has long been a remarkable partnership), the group just keeps getting better. Take a look at the photos from that Sunday afternoon rehearsal in this album.
Better yet, mark your calendar now for April 21st and the Orchestra’s spring concert.