Earlier this spring, Professor of Music James Rodde approached his fellow faculty members with an out-of-the-ordinary request: Would they be willing to play alongside their students in an orchestra for Iowa State’s Masterworks concert? The response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
The rare arrangement provided Iowa State students with a special experience – the opportunity to perform the large-scale “Brahms Requiem” with their applied professors who, outside of class, are members of professional orchestras across the Midwest.
“This was a professional experience for the students,” said Sonja Giles, associate chair and professor of music. “Typically, a professional orchestra will have one to four rehearsals before a concert, yet the university ensembles often get four to seven weeks of rehearsals to prepare. For Masterworks, we had one rehearsal with the full orchestra, choirs, and conductor. Coming prepared is imperative, so my flute students and I also had our own rehearsal.”
This spring’s concert in Stephens Auditorium featured Cantamus, Iowa Statesmen, and Lyrica performing a variety of choruses from Schubert, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Haydn. The Iowa State Singers and the Des Moines Choral Society performed the “Brahms Requiem” with soprano Beth Deutmeyer (‘06 music) and baritone Joseph Canuto Leon (’13 music).
We asked students and faculty members from the flute, horn, trombone, and trumpet sections to share how they prepared for the concert, and what playing together meant to them.
When a student plays alongside their professor, all the little connections and light bulbs come together, said Josh Johnson, associate teaching professor of music and a member of the Des Moines and Quad City Symphonies.
“Orchestral playing has a whole culture involved, and there is a steep curve, so this opportunity to play a piece like this is incredibly special,” he said. “We’re showing them the way! This experience will most certainly open their eyes to a professional expectation.”
The horns met once outside of rehearsal and their regular lessons to ensure they were ready to play the work’s complicated transpositions.
“It’s like speaking four different languages,” Johnson said. “We see an F on the page and actually have to play a Bb – transposing down a fifth – so it’s incredibly mentally taxing.”
French horn player Kyle Laake (’26 environmental science, music) had played with Johnson once before when Laake was a Quad City Youth Symphony member. He said he enjoyed the challenge of this concert.
“Orchestral playing has a whole culture involved, and there is a steep curve, so this opportunity to play a piece like this is incredibly special."
“I do really enjoy this style because it makes me look closer at my music before the rehearsal and helps me learn it better,” Laake said. “Josh has been such a great mentor throughout my first year here at Iowa State, and the playing and life advice he has given me has helped me greatly.”
Holly Kirchhoff (’23 music) was initially nervous about the required transposition, but the experience of playing with her mentor is one she’ll never forget.
“Professor Johnson helped me to grow in confidence and sound and become a stronger player, musician, and educator,” she said. “I cannot thank him enough for all he has taught me.”
Flutist Kalliopi Katsiris (’24 music) has her sights set on becoming a music professor, and the Masterworks concert helped her continue striving for high-level musicianship.
“I have enjoyed hearing and learning from my flute professor in a live orchestral environment,” Katsiris said. “This opportunity is extremely beneficial because we are in an environment where our professors are doing what they do professionally, and we also get the opportunity to collaborate with them.”
Katsiris said having a single rehearsal reinforced the professional expectations for the students, many of whom were performing the piece for the first time.
“The ‘Requiem’ surprised me with its different emotional motifs throughout,” she said. “Although I have heard it before, being able to experience it live while playing with such a wonderful orchestra and choir was very moving.”
Support from her applied flute professor Sonja Giles, a member of the Des Moines Symphony, is helping Katsiris prepare well for graduate studies.
“I am lucky to have a mentor like her,” Katsiris said. “Whether it is help with repertoire, class, life, or a new body mapping-themed strategy, Dr. Giles always wants to share her knowledge and help her students.”
For Jacob Aldrich (’26 agronomy, music), preparation for Masterworks was full of firsts – working with Bb, C, and D trumpet and transposing in an ensemble. He and his applied professor Andrew Bishop, a lecturer in trumpet and member of the Des Moines Symphony, worked on the intricacies of the smaller-keyed D trumpet in their lessons.
Aldrich said Bishop’s support has been helpful this academic year.
“He makes his appreciation of my hard work known, and he’s been understanding of my interests, even selecting some unconventional pieces of classical trumpet repertoire for me to practice because he thinks I’ll really enjoy them,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich would like to continue graduate studies in trumpet performance one day and pursue a career as a professor or playing in an Armed Forces band. Professional experiences like this are important steps along the way.
“Students don’t regularly have a chance to perform in a large-scale work like the ‘Brahms Requiem’ very often,” Bishop said. “I hope that the students learned all that goes into putting together a work that requires the combination of chorus, vocal soloists, and symphony orchestra.”
For bass trombonist Kyle Grossnickle (’23 music education) and tenor trombonist Alex Schwarte (’24 software engineering, music), Masterworks was a special chance to perform with familiar mentors.
“Usually, we don’t get to play with our professors in ensembles, so it was a really unique opportunity to see them in action,” Schwarte said. “It’s also rewarding to finally get to play with the people you’ve known and seen for years.”
“I have a lot of love and respect for all of the professors I have worked with, and getting to perform with so many of them is very special to me,” Grossnickle added. “Dr. Dishman has been one of the most significant people in my life in the past four years. He has helped me set high goals and reach them.”
The students prepared for the demanding work by doing an extra trombone sectional with Associate Professor Nathan Dishman.
“I have observed Brahms' writing of articulations in classes before,” Grossnickle said. “Performing them has been a fun challenge to play full, round note shapes while providing some separation. To do this exactly right demands high attention to detail. It has been fun to prepare music of this level with people I love being around.”
“I have a lot of love and respect for all of the professors I have worked with, and getting to perform with so many of them is very special to me."
“It is great for students to see the direct application of what we work on day in and day out,” said Dishman, who has performed with many symphony orchestras and as an international soloist. “The experience of putting on a big production with minimal rehearsal time is a taste of what the professional world is like.”
It was Grossnickle’s final Iowa State concert before he begins teaching band this fall at Carroll Middle School in Carroll, Iowa.
“Alex and I have trained hard over the years to become the best players we can be at this time,” he said. “To be at the level where we can perform well in this setting is fun, rewarding, and a perfect way to cap my college career.”