Think of a Christmas tune. What popped into your head? “Jingle Bells”? “Adeste Fidelis”? “Feliz Navidad”? “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”? Well, from here on out, when you think of this festive season, the unique sound of a clarinet ensemble playing in a cavern might bubble up to the top of your consciousness, courtesy of a brainstorm last year by Shenandoah Conservatory Anna Lee Van Buren Chair in Clarinet, Coordinator of Winds and Percussion and Associate Professor of Clarinet Garrick Zoeter, M.M., who took a clarinet ensemble deep below the earth to Luray Caverns in Virginia to perform his arrangement of the Icelandic hymn, “Heyr Himna Smiður.”
“The idea came from another performance of the piece by a vocal group in a train station,” Zoeter said. “You can find it on YouTube. It has over four million views. I thought the train station was a unique venue and I wanted us to do the piece in a unique venue as well. The piece has a kind of mysterious sound on the clarinets, so I thought, ‘Why not play it underground?’ Then I remembered Luray Caverns. It ended up being a fantastic location.”
Plenty of others have felt the same way, with the video generating almost 5,000 views since its premiere in December 2014. Want to know a little bit more about this piece and its performance? Let Zoeter explain in our quick Q&A:
Is this a piece often performed by a clarinet ensemble? If not, what is the more typical instrumentation, and why did you decide to adapt it for clarinets only?
Zoeter: This piece is a piece for choir. Often these pieces work well on the clarinet ensemble. When I heard the vocal ensemble performance I mentioned earlier, I thought it would sound great on the clarinets. This version I arranged is actually going to be published soon, so it will be available to all clarinetists.
What makes this particular piece of music special to you? What sort of qualities does it have?
Zoeter: This piece obviously touches people as evidenced by just how many videos there are of it on YouTube and the millions of combined views these performances have received. My students did a great job in their performance of it in the caverns, so this makes me most proud. They have contributed a unique musical moment to the world, one which will always be their own.
What has the response to the piece been like since last December?
Zoeter: The response has been great. I enjoy putting the performances of myself and my students up on YouTube because we reach a worldwide audience with our music. I believe very strongly that music is a communicative art form, so the more people we touch with our performances the better!
Check out more from Shenandoah clarinets on its YouTube channel.
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