Marshall music faculty, graduate student play with Mannheim Rocket Orchestra

MUMusicMannheim_1Several Marshall University music faculty members and the John Marshall Fife and Drum Corps started spring break by performing at the inaugural concert of the Mannheim Rocket Orchestra in the historic Monumental Church in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

The Mannheim Rocket Orchestra is the brainchild of Dr. Richard Spece, virtuoso clarinetist and conductor who specializes in historically informed musical practice. He has been a guest on the Huntington campus on several occasions over the past few years and has a close rapport with several of the music faculty.

Promotion for the event promised, “200-year-old music performed on 200-year-old instruments in a 200-year-old church” and that was the case.

MUMusicMannheim_2A 24-piece orchestra using either actual antique instruments or reproductions of instruments from the late 18th century performed two symphonies from the era, Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. The location, a 200-year-old church, was commissioned by Richmond civic leader John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the United States and for whom Marshall University was named, as a monument to those who lost their lives in a tragic theater fire on the same site. John Marshall offered the inaugural address at the church in 1814.

Music faculty members Kay Lawson, Dr. Stephen Lawson, Dr. Richard Kravchak and Dr. Wendell Dobbs performed with the Mannheim Rocket Orchestra, along with Marshall graduate student Brittany White. Other members of the orchestra hailed from Montreal to Seattle. Many of the string performers perform together regularly in Washington, DC.

Historically informed performances on period instruments is a common occurrence throughout Europe. The practice has gathered momentum in the U.S. in the past several decades. The goal is to perform in a fashion that replicates, as closely as research will permit, the sonority and style that would have been heard in the period when the music was created. Spece has appeared as clarinetist with members of the Marshall music faculty, performing woodwind quintets by Reicha, Danzi and Cambini on period instruments. In this logical next step, Spece assigned clarinet duties to other artists and took up the baton to lead the Mannheim Rocket Orchestra.

Members of the John Marshall Fife and Drum Corps began the event with a brief program of music from the era of the War of 1812. Their performance featured tunes from the French, Creole and Cajun communities, followed by tunes from the frontier tradition, such as Andrew Jackson’s favorite, “The Hunters of Kentucky.” The corps ended with Francis Scott Key’s “The Defence (sic) of Fort McHenry,” set to the traditional tune “Anacreon in Heaven,” which Americans now recognize as our National Anthem.

The following day the John Marshall Fife and Drum Corps performed for members of the Junior Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps at their rehearsal facility in Colonial Williamsburg.

Reaction to the event from Richmond Times-Dispatch music critic and cultural writer Clarke Bustard can be read at  Scroll down to the March 13 Review: Mannheim Rocket, Richard Spece conducting.


Photos: (Above) Marshall University music faculty members (from left) Dr. Richard Kravchak, Kay Lawson, Dr. Wendell Dobbs and Dr. Stephen Lawson stand with graduate student Brittany White (second from left). (Below) Marshall music faculty Dr. Wendell Dobbs (right) plays with the Mannheim Rocket Orchestra alongside graduate student Brittany White.