The Royal Oak Symphony  Orchestra, led by music director and conductor John McLaughlin Williams,  performs a concert titled “America!” at Royal Oak Middle School March 9.

The Royal Oak Symphony Orchestra, led by music director and conductor John McLaughlin Williams, performs a concert titled “America!” at Royal Oak Middle School March 9.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


Royal Oak Symphony Orchestra delivers special performance

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published March 13, 2018

Photo by Erin Sanchez

 John McLaughlin Williams conducts  the Royal Oak Symphony Orchestra at  Royal Oak Middle School March 9.

John McLaughlin Williams conducts the Royal Oak Symphony Orchestra at Royal Oak Middle School March 9.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

ROYAL OAK — On March 9, the Royal Oak Symphony Orchestra played a special concert featuring a tribute to one of its own who died last year, as well as a salute to a talented American composer, in its “America!” concert.

The nonprofit group of approximately 60 volunteer musicians performed at Royal Oak Middle School.

Lillian Dean, president of the ROSO, said the group hired conductor and music director John McLaughlin Williams, the first African-American orchestral conductor to win a Grammy, at the beginning of this year’s season in the fall. This was the third of four symphonic concerts in the season.

The fourth will take place May 11 and will feature the ROSO’s young artist competition winner, Elayna Sabelhaus, of Troy, on the flute.

Dean said the ROSO began rehearsing for the “America!” concert in mid-January. She said Williams had several major pieces in mind for the performance, but the group rearranged some of its set due to the untimely death of its principal trumpet player, Marty Markiewicz, in September.

“Marty was a wonderful, wonderful trumpet player,” Dean said. “He really liked performing at veterans events and memorial events.”

Royal Oak High School band teacher David Jensen said the ROSO reached out to him to commemorate Markiewicz, his longtime friend and former bandmate. The pair used to co-lead a brass quintet called The New Vintage Brass Quintet.

Unable to find a piece of music he liked, Jensen said he wrote an approximately two-minute fanfare called “Remembrance,” featuring three trombones, three trumpets and timpani. It opened the concert.

“I tried to find a balance between major tonalities and minor tonalities. Major are happy and minor tones are quiet and a little more sad and reflective,” he said. “For this occasion, it’s really kind of both of those things. We’re celebrating Marty’s life, and it’s also very sad that he’s not here.”

Jensen added that he wrote the piece with the hope that high school students would perform the piece in the future, as Markiewicz got his start on trumpet in high school and he wanted the piece to live on.

“Marty was just a really, really good friend to everybody,” he said. “He was just really, really loved by a lot of people.”

The concert also included other American pieces, such as “A Trumpeter’s Lullaby,” by Leroy Anderson; four dance episodes from “Rodeo,” by Aaron Copland; and an “Oklahoma!” medley, by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Symphony No. 5, “Connecticut,” by Henry Hadley, rounded out the performance.

Williams said the final piece had only been performed once publicly in 1935, and that he discovered it in the New York Public Library. He said he transcribed the piece by Hadley, and he was interested in it because it was relatively unknown despite Hadley being “a champion of American music in his day.”

“When it came to this season (with the Royal Oak Symphony Orchestra), I knew I wanted to do an American program,” he said. “I think Americans at large are not aware how great American music is.”

While the final piece is titled “Connecticut,” Williams said it is more representative of the coming-of-age of the country as a whole. Split into three movements, he said it reprises the emotions accompanied with the respective years 1635, 1735 and 1935 — the final movement representing the year the piece premiered.

It denotes the early settlers’ feelings of loneliness and danger, then pastoral joy and tranquility personified by children playing, and finally the bustling industrial age. Besides symphonic instruments, the piece also includes tribal drums, old-fashioned children’s toys, bird calls and a church bell.

“What we want the audience to take away from any and all of our performances is, music makes a difference in our lives,” Dean said. “We want them to understand that music is part of our daily life and is important for whatever we are going through, whatever joy, whatever we want to express and think about.”

For more information about the Royal Oak Symphony Orchestra, call (248) 549-0262 or visit www.royaloakorchestra.com.