Winston-Salem State University has the good fortune of having one of the only String Programs at a Historically Black College & University. Having a tradition of over 100 years at Winston-Salem State University, the Chamber Orchestra is open to any student, staff and faculty who play string instruments. Committed to serving the community through music, the orchestra and its members has performed Side-by-Side Concerts with area High Schools such as Parkland High School, West Forsyth High School, and North Forsyth High School. They have participated in numerous on-campus and off-campus events such as performances at Arbor Acres Retirement Home, WSSU Donor Events, performances and outreach activities at area schools, the Winston-Salem Air Show, performances at art galleries and local churches.
The Chamber Orchestra plays music both popular and classical. Students can expect to play a mix of styles from the Classical Genres to Jazz to Pop styles. The group recently participated in a two-year project studying works by African-American composers who wrote in the 1890-1920 String Band style. Over the past ten years, the group has performed symphonies by Haydn, Gluck, and Dvorak, string works by Edvard Grieg, Felix Mendelssohn, and Henry Purcell, works by African and African American composers such as Three Nigerian Dances by Samual Akpabot, Umoja by Valerie Coleman, and Noveletten by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, and pop songs such as “Georgia on My Mind,” “Tainted Love,” “What Is Love?” and the Beatles song “Blackbird,” to name but a few.
Each spring a number of select string students are invited to participate in the Intercollegiate Music Association Conference String Ensemble. This is an honor group that features string players from HBCUs throughout the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. This group meets at one of the member institutions each year and students work with a guest conductor to prepare a concert for the end of the conference. This is a wonderful opportunity for students to serve as WSSU ambassadors while working with nationally-renowned string educators.
The Chamber Orchestra is led by Dr. Christina Placilla, a violist and specialist in the area of chamber music and chamber music pedagogy. Dr. Placilla believes strongly in the “conductor-less” orchestra model exhibited by the best chamber orchestras in the world, such as the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The WSSU Chamber Orchestra is led by its students and the professor in its performances without a conductor. This experience gives students wonderful leadership opportunities and allows them to help shape the music in a creative and musically-maturing fashion.
Students are encouraged to not only participate in the orchestra, but to engage in chamber music opportunities, private minor string lessons, and for select students, undergraduate research opportunities. Chamber music, in the form of duos, trios, quartets, and quintets, have helped a number of WSSU students reach their musical goals through learning the arts of communication and cooperation, as well as challenging their technical and musical abilities in small group settings.
Any WSSU student who has previously studied violin, viola, cello, or bass is also welcome to register for minor lessons with the string faculty. These lessons, a half-hour once a week, are one credit, and can help students fine tune their string playing skills.
Undergraduate research has become a rather important part of the string programs at WSSU over the past four years. Students have been funded to study the pedagogy of chamber music side-by-side with Dr. Placilla and have contributed research that has been presented at two National American String Teachers Conferences as well as led to the publication of two books, where the students were listed as co-authors: We Are the Music Makers, Vol. II and Vol. III.
It is not necessary to own an instrument to participate, but prior experience is required - either through private lessons taken at WSSU or from past high school or middle experience. Auditions are not required to register as a member of the orchestra. There are limited scholarships for members of the orchestra. Any student interested in a scholarship will need to audition the spring semester preceding the academic year of entrance with Dr. Placilla and another faculty member.
The Chamber Orchestra can be registered for under: MUS 1128-01 String Ensemble. String majors are required to participate in the orchestra. Students may contact Dr. Christina Placilla for more information.