Harmonizing Talent and Community in the Mason Wind Symphony

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At George Mason University's College of Visual and Performing Arts, the Mason Wind Symphony is a testament to musical excellence and community strength. Under the guidance of Dr. William Lake, Jr., this ensemble, composed primarily of music majors, is one of the highest levels of artistry and dedication within the School of Music. Students assigned to this ensemble are chosen through a screen audition process that sets a standard for excellence throughout the performance season.

Dr. Lake's leadership goes beyond technical mastery, aiming to create an enriching and transformative experience for his students. He explains, "Participating in prestigious events, such as the Maryland Music Educators Association Conference, has significantly boosted the Mason Wind Symphony's presence in the region. Adjudicated performances challenge the group to deliver the same quality of performance on a larger stage with a discerning audience, representing the artistic strength of George Mason University."

The Wind Symphony's repertoire is notably diverse, from historical compositions dating back to 1597 to contemporary works. "Our students have performed works inspired by gospel, transcriptions of Baroque organ works, Cuban music, contemporary electronic fusions, jazz, Snarky Puppy, opera, video game scores, blues, and chamber music of the Romantic Era," Dr. Lake notes. This extensive variety provides students with a unique depth of playing experiences.

Wind Symphony Orchestra
Photo by: Will Martinez

Dr. Lake carefully balances musical challenges with personal and educational growth opportunities when choosing the ensemble's repertoire. "I believe in choosing repertoire that offers the appropriate amount of challenge to the ensemble technically, musically, and emotionally paired with all of the pedagogical support I can provide to inspire their success," he explains. "I know very well the strengths and weaknesses of the ensemble, and I intentionally program music that will highlight our strongest assets while also pushing our ideals further."

One particularly memorable performance for the Wind Symphony was their collaboration with the School of Dance for a concert titled Come Sunday, featuring Omar Thomas's work of the same name. "This concert was a huge collaboration that brought together two disciplines and our Center for the Arts staff in a huge production," Dr. Lake recalls. "Our community, both here at the university and abroad, still talks about this performance with high regard."

For students like Olivia Skousen Sudweeks, the experience of being part of the Mason Wind Symphony has been transformative. "It was always a goal of mine to perform with the Mason Wind Symphony. It is so meaningful to be trusted to play such demanding music. Dr. Lake's high standards of performance have pushed me to expect more from myself as a musician. Playing in Wind Symphony is a masterclass in collaboration," she shares. Olivia highlights the camaraderie among ensemble members, noting the contrast between the serious demeanor on stage and the lively interactions backstage. "The community among ensemble members is incredible. To be honest, the banter between ensemble members backstage or during rehearsal is my favorite part. There's a huge contrast between the stoic demeanor you see on stage and the silly shenanigans backstage."

Lydia K. Sorenson, a percussionist in the ensemble, echoes these sentiments. "The George Mason Wind Symphony has given me access to new and exciting repertoire in the world of wind bands. Dr. Lake values the work of living, marginalized composers, which is a passion that I also share," she says. Lydia cherishes the traditions within her section, like taking photos and celebrating together after each performance. "The George Mason University band percussionists have a tradition of always grabbing a photo before or after each concert and heading across the street to the nearest McDonald's so we can celebrate and eat after each performance together."

Dr. Lake envisions a bright future for the Wind Symphony, with aspirations for regional and national recognition, special tours, and even international performances. "We are always dreaming forward. Last year, the Mason Bands hosted 102 students on campus for our inaugural Summer Band Camp in partnership with the Mason Community Arts Academy. Our students mentored, chaperoned, and played next to our campers – while I led one of the camp ensembles. This immersive experience in our artistic life in the Mason Bands has already yielded new members in our ranks," he says. This coming fall, the Mason Wind Symphony will play side-by-side with the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” for the second time in the past two years. The Mason Wind Symphony continues to be an ambassador of new music at the highest level, forever advancing its mission rooted in collaboration.

The Mason Wind Symphony is more than just an ensemble; it's a community where students grow as musicians and individuals. Through rigorous rehearsals, diverse repertoire, and prestigious performances, the Wind Symphony shapes the student experience, fostering a sense of excellence, camaraderie, and dedication that extends far beyond the stage.