J. Aaron Hardwick ’21 (Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance – Conducting) was invited by Steve Vutsinas, award-winning orchestra teacher at Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, Virginia, to work with his top chamber orchestra upon their return to online classes. The duo selected a standard repertoire piece for orchestra to explore the score historically and musically in an interactive manner with the high school students, discussing musical choice and idiomatic ideas within the work.
The first session, “Ensemble Artistry: How to be the Best Musician for the Best Ensemble,” featured Gustav Holst’s “St. Paul’s Suite” as the selected repertoire. Hardwick used the session to discuss how to be engaged musically and truly become a better musician during this time. The interactive experience also challenged the students to consider their responsibility as ensemble musicians — improving listening, part marking, score reading, performance expectations, etc. — and finding joy in what they do as performers.
I wanted to use my skills as a conductor and show, even during this time, that we can make a difference and hone our skills as musicians. Being able to give back and work with Mr. Vutsinas and his students are quite an honor. I am grateful for the skills I have obtained at Shenandoah Conservatory and glad to pass these along.
– J. Aaron Hardwick ’21
The first meeting was held via Zoom on Wednesday, April 29. Sessions will be presented to more high school directors in the upcoming weeks due the program’s initial success.
About James “Aaron” Hardwick
James “Aaron” Hardwick has established a reputation as an outstanding conductor, educator, and music advocate — setting himself apart with his engaging, charismatic and musically precise approach on and off the podium.
Hardwick began conducting professionally in 2015. Since then, he has worked with the Brevard Philharmonic, Rochester Philharmonic, Williamsburg Symphonia, and Aiken Symphony Orchestra among others. He has studied with Shenandoah Conservatory Conductor, Director of Orchestral Studies and Professor of Conducting Jan Wagner, Diploma and Korrepetitions Praxis, Academy of Music in Vienna (Austria); Ditson Award-winning conductor Donald Portnoy; Neil Varon of the Eastman School of Music; Anthony Maiello, Paul Vermel; the late Maurice Peress; and Samuel Jones. In 2016, he was invited to conduct the world premiere of a rescoring of the silent film “The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari” with the Collaborations in Contemporary Art (CICA) Ensemble. He has conducted at Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory in collaboration Turtle Island String Quartet, Boston String Quartet, composer Lanny Myers and premiered a work by jazz pianist/composer Ben Rosenblum. While at the University of South Carolina (USC), he served as assistant conductor to the USC Symphony Orchestra and was subsequently hired as conductor at Columbia College, South Carolina, where the orchestra saw a 200% participation increase during his two-year tenure.
Hardwick is also recognized as an award-winning educator and guest clinician/conductor with youth ensembles across the country. He served as a conductor of the Bay Youth Orchestras of Virginia from 2011 to 2015. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra named Hardwick as one of Hampton Roads’ “Most Outstanding Music Educators” two years in a row. He was nominated by the Grammy Foundation® and the Recording Academy® as a quarterfinalist for the Music Educator Award in 2014 from more than 7,000 applicants. Hardwick was one of 50 educators in the nation to be honored by Yale University in receiving the prestigious Yale Distinguished Music Educator’s Award.
Hardwick is currently pursuing his Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance (Conducting) at Shenandoah Conservatory. He earned a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the University of South Carolina and a bachelor’s degree in music with honors from East Carolina University. He studied viola with Ara Gregorian, Nicholas Cords and Karen Huey, and has performed with the New York Ballet Company, Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, University of South Carolina (USC) Opera, USC Symphony Orchestra, Brevard Philharmonic and Aiken Symphony Orchestras. Hardwick currently lives with his wife and son in Stephens City, Virginia.
About Steve Vutsinas
Steve Vutsinas or, “Mr. V.” as he is called by his students, is a 1988 graduate of the East Carolina School of Music. Mr. V. graduated cum laude with a degree in violin performance and a minor in viola performance. He received a second degree from East Carolina in music education.
Mr. V. began his teaching career in 1989 in the Pitt County School System near Greenville, North Carolina, where he taught orchestra for 10 years. He also coached boys’ varsity basketball there, and his teams won two state championships. Also, while teaching in Eastern North Carolina, Mr. V.’s orchestra won an esteemed national championship in the North American Music Festivals. During his teaching career, Mr. V has had the privilege of teaching some of the greatest students in the world.
Mr. V.’s orchestras at Grassfield have consistently received superior ratings at the district and national level. His chamber orchestra was also selected to perform at the prestigious Virginia Music Educators Association conference at the Homestead.
Mr. V. was Grassfield High School’s Teacher of the Year and was also a finalist for Chesapeake Teacher of the Year in 2014. Vutsinas was also selected as a top ten finalist for the inaugural Grammy Music Educator of the Year in 2014 from a list of more than 33,000 music educators from across the United States. In 2017 Mr. V. was selected as the Virginia Orchestra Director of the Year by the Virginia String Teachers Association.
Mr. V. is married to his lovely wife, Sandi, and the couple has three children: Andrew, Samantha and their newest addition, Asher. In his “free” time, Mr. V. enjoys playing the bass guitar at church and playing golf with his friends. He also is fortunate to spend his summers in the mission field in Thailand and Tanzania supporting orphans in those countries.