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Students find new sound in holiday tunes

Junior Alexander Blitstein, right, sings I Have a Little Dreidel during a Dec. 8 presentation by the orchestration class taught by Assistant Professor Wendy Wan-Ki Lee.
Students in Wendy Wan-Ki Lee’s orchestration class took on a challenge appropriate to the season for their Dec. 8 final presentation: They had to arrange and perform Christmas carols and other holiday songs.

From Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy featuring violin to Carol of the Bells without bells, students tried the unusual and unexpected.

Some attempts were better received than others, of course. Perhaps the most popular was a jazzy take on White Christmas, complete with prominent saxophone and two students snapping fingers to offer some percussion.

Lee, an assistant professor in her first semester at Binghamton, said the students had to use at least five instruments, a new challenge after a midterm project that used a string quartet.

The students, including music majors and non-music majors, also had to perform each other’s tunes.

“This is a lesson of a lifetime,” Lee said, noting that students had to learn a lot about instruments they don’t play, including timbre, ranges and how they sound in combination.

“It’s extraordinarily challenging for them,” she added, “because many of them haven’t had experience writing.”

Junior Alexander Blitstein, a tenor, sang both Good King Wenceslas and I Have a Little Dreidel while wearing a Santa hat. He also ran between the stage and the back of Casadesus Recital Hall so Lee would have a CD recording of the recital.

Several students performed on multiple instruments. Subin Lim, a junior double majoring in music and economics, may have been the busiest. She played flute, piccolo, marimba, glockenspiel and vibraphone.

Lim deemed the project both challenging and fun, but wasn’t happy with her performance of her own arrangement of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

That’s part of the lesson, said Lee, a composer who also plays piano.

She said she urged students to be brave and try new things even if they might fail.

Several students enjoyed the class so much that they’re hoping to continue working together in the spring.

“I really hope to keep them involved in music,” Lee said, “whether it’s professionally or on the amateur level.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08