Conducted by Professor of Music Bruce Polay, the Knox-Galesburg Symphony (KGS) is a professional orchestra that brings together students with professional musicians. The Knox Student sat down with some of the students involved to interview them about their experiences playing with the orchestra.
Bo Ram Lee
For violinist and junior Bo Ram Lee, the experience of playing with the KGS was a dream come true.
“I achieved my dream of childhood,” she said of her two years with the orchestra. “I never thought … that I could do academic goals and music at the same time. But since we are at Knox, we can do both.”
Lee started the piano as a child but had always wanted to take up violin. In sixth grade, she finally did, playing throughout high school and attracted to Knox partially because she saw they had an orchestra. Upon arriving at Knox, she auditioned for Polay, played with the orchestra for a few weeks and was given a spot as a second violin.
Rehearsals for concerts could be intense, Lee said. The orchestra has only three, three-hour rehearsals before each concert, meaning they must work out things like pitches by themselves so the group can focus on the larger picture.
“Miniscule things, we have to practice by ourselves. So it’s a lot of time consuming [sic] and responsibility,” she said.
Despite this, Lee loved the experience, especially getting to play with the guest soloists featured at each concert.
“They’re awesome,” she said. “Listening to them just a few feet away and playing harmony — that’s the most awesome thing ever.”
When junior Ryan Paulus started playing music in fifth grade, he didn’t aspire to play the bass. He wanted to be a banjoist.
“I wanted to play banjos because banjos are cool, but they don’t have that in an orchestra,” he said. “The director was like, maybe the bass is like the banjo — which is really just them saying, we need more bass players.”
The bass worked for Paulus, however. He kept playing throughout high school and auditioned for the KGS upon arriving at Knox. The transition in joining a professional orchestra was challenging but ultimately rewarding.
“That challenge of going from [a high school orchestra] to the other [KGS] has been somewhat difficult. The first few concerts, I know I felt really overwhelmed about it. But that’s one of my favorite parts,” he said.
Paulus has already experienced a wide array of music playing with KGS, from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky to Breckner, in addition to a pop concert every spring.
“We always play one modern or 20th century piece,” he said. “Sometimes it’s really weird for the first three weeks, but then … when we perform it, it’s like, I get this piece now.”
Junior Ben Kammerer has been playing with the KGS ever since his arrival at Knox. Recruited by Polay, Kammerer only plays with the group when a piece requires percussionists — not always true of the KGS’ more classical repertoire.
“A lot of more modern works don’t really have a genre assigned to them,” Kammerer said. “A lot of those are the ones that use more percussion.”
Kammerer, who has been playing since seventh grade, is primarily a drummer. However, his role as a KGS percussionist “kind of includes everything.” At times, he has played everything from the gong or bass drum to more melodic instruments such as xylophone or marimba.
Kammerer, who plans to be involved with music professionally, appreciated the unique experience of KGS.
“It’s a very different sort of performing experience,” he said. “In both jazz and a rock band you get right on top of the beat. In the symphony … the time signature is much more fluid.”