San Juan College Orchestra back on stage this weekend, but pandemic challenges linger

Nov. 19 performance is first of four live concerts by college's music groups

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The orchestra will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19 in the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall on the college campus.
  • Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors.
  • They can be purchased at the San Juan College bookstore or at the door.

FARMINGTON — As the end of the semester approaches and the San Juan College music department presents a series of concerts before live audiences over the next few weeks, it might seem as if things largely have returned to normal for students and faculty members.

But that's not necessarily the case, music professor Teun Fetz says, explaining that department officials continue to scramble to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly two years after it began.

"I guess normal is sort of a nebulous thing," Fetz said. "We don't have everything back to where we like it."

The department will hit a significant milestone this weekend when it presents a concert by the San Juan College Orchestra, which will serve as the first performance by an instrumental ensemble group at the college in front of a live audience since the pandemic began.

Performances by the San Juan College jazz ensembles, the Symphonic Band and the African Drumming Ensemble for live audiences will follow in December.

Fetz is pleased that his students will have the opportunity to play for a live audience again, rather than in the virtual format that became the norm during the pandemic, explaining that the concerts serve as a reward for the hard work students put in over the course of the semester.

Teun Fetz will lead the San Juan College Orchestra in its semester-ending concert this weekend at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall.

The orchestra concert will feature the usual complement of instruments, including strings, winds and percussion. That was not the case when the orchestra performed its semester-ending virtual concert last spring with just strings.

But some social distancing restrictions remain in place, he said, and that will make this weekend's performance a little tricky. The full orchestra will consist of 42 musicians, most of whom will be positioned 3 feet apart. The exception to that will be the winds players, who will be stationed 6 feet apart.

Fetz said those distances will make it difficult for the performers to hear each other — especially in the confines of the performance hall, which he described as having booming acoustics.

Some of the other challenges Fetz faces as the leader of the orchestra will have less to do with the music and more to do with the logistics of staging a live event on the campus. Virtually every position in the college's fine arts administrative office has been vacated since the pandemic began, meaning Fetz and his fellow music instructors are taking on the tasks of selling tickets, arranging for technical crews to work the concerts and lining up ushers. Fetz said the college has no online ticket vendor at this point, meaning that advance sales for events can be conducted only in person.

"That's been the biggest headache – trying to get the people to run lights, sound equipment issues and selling tickets," he said, adding that he recruited his sons to serve as ushers for this weekend's performance.

Nevertheless, Fetz is excited about this weekend's concert, which will consist of six pieces — three by an ensemble of strings players and three more with the full orchestra. He is especially looking forward to a viola solo by Dr. Joseph Pope during a performance of "The Concerto in G Major for Viola and String Orchestra with Basso Continuo" by George Philipp Telemann.

"Dr. Pope is one of my favorite people," Fetz said. "He's a good friend, and he's my physician. I think there's no more perfect thing during a pandemic than having a physician take part in a community event like this. He's also a very fine viola player."

Dr. Joseph Pope will serve as the featured soloist this weekend when the San Juan College orchestra performs in Farmington.

Fetz said viola solos are rare in the classical music world, but he said he wanted to reward Pope, who has been part of the community music ensembles at San Juan College since their inception in the late 1990s.

"I felt it was the perfect tribute to him," Fetz said. "And I think it shows the humanistic side of the pandemic and how music can support people."

Fetz said he hopes that is the message audience members at this weekend's concert carry home with them after a year and a half of largely being isolated.

"That human connection, I think, is so important — not just to art, but to human sensibilities," he said. "Music is the ultimate expression of the human spirit. It's a soothing outlet. I know I feel frustrated, and I'm not happy when I can't make music for people."

The orchestra will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, in the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors. They can be purchased at the San Juan College bookstore or at the door.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.