Reprise— Battle, Lopez return for concert
- Published: March 7, 2020
Clarinetist and former villager Mark Battle, along with pianist George Lopez, will return to the village to perform a concert on Friday, March 13, beginning at 7 p.m.at 504 Phillips St. The concert will serve as a benefit for the Yellow Springs Youth Orchestra Association.
Battle, a 1983 YSHS graduate and the son of longtime villagers David and Esther Battle, spoke with the News last week via phone from his home in Maine. Battle and Lopez performed a concert in the village once before, six years ago, and Battle said they enjoyed it so much, Lopez immediately suggested they do it again.
“I wasn’t going to say ‘no’ to that,” Battle said, “and it would have happened much sooner, but our lives are so busy that we haven’t been able to schedule it until now.”
Pulling the concert together has been something of a joint effort locally between the concert’s beneficiaries, the Yellow Springs Youth Orchestra Association, or YSYOA, and the Battle family. YSYOA board members were aided in publicizing the event by Battle’s mother, Esther, and the concert’s publicity materials were designed and illustrated by his father, David, a noted local artist.
The concert’s program will include a number of duets for clarinet and piano: “Six Studies in English Folksong,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams; Brahms’ Sonata in E-flat Major for Clarinet and Piano Op. 120 No. 2; Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano Op. 1; and “Two Tangos: Oblivion, Libertango,” by Astor Piazolla. Lopez will also perform piano solos: “Mazurka Glissando,” by Ernesto Lecuona; “Hands of My Father,” by Glenn Jenks; and “Cervantina,” by Rene Touzet.
Battle said he and Lopez chose pieces with a wide range of appeal, some of which aren’t commonly heard.
“We wanted to play really high quality music of lasting value — the Brahms piece is maybe one of the best pieces for clarinet ever written,” he said.
Battle originally met Lopez at Bowdoin College in Maine, where the former is professor of physics and the latter is the Robert Beckwith Artist in Residence. Lopez plays extensively throughout the country and internationally — this summer, he’ll make his first tour of China — and also founded the all-student Bowdoin College Orchestra, which he directs. Battle said that, when he first met Lopez at the college, he so admired his musicianship that he wanted a chance to play with him, despite the fact that his clarinet work was “a bit dormant” at that point.
“George is an incredibly outgoing and inclusive person and musician, and when we became acquainted, he said, ‘We should play together sometime!’ Well, I leapt at that opportunity,” he said. When not playing with Lopez, Battle is active as a chamber musician throughout midcoast Maine.
Battle’s formal training in clarinet ended when he chose to pursue physics in graduate school, earning his MA and Ph.D. from Rochester University. He studied clarinet through his undergraduate years as part of a dual-focus bachelor’s program at Tufts University and the New England Conservatory of Music. The intensive five-year program allowed him to double major in clarinet and physics, an experience Battle said made him feel “very lucky.”
“I was able to defer the decision [between physics and clarinet] for five years beyond when most people have to choose,” he said.
Battle’s musical foundations were laid down, he said, in the Yellow Springs schools. He began playing clarinet in fourth grade, initially receiving tutelage in a novel program established by Shirley Mullins, in which older students would teach younger students. Battle would go on to be tutored by Richard York of the Springfield Symphony, but before that, his first non-student tutor was villager Suzanne Grote, who had just returned to the village after completing her education at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Grote, a village native and former longtime educator in the YS Schools, is now the president of the YSYOA. Like the aforementioned student tutoring program, the YSYOA is part of the legacy of Shirley Mullins, co-founded with the late violinist Mary Schumacher in 1965. Though it was originally founded to focus on supporting music education for children in YS schools, Grote said the YSYOA’s focus has broadened over the last several years.
“We still want to provide support for music in the schools, but there is so much music in the community, so our goal is to provide opportunities that aren’t limited to school-aged students,” Grote said.
One such opportunity is a newly instituted scholarship fund to help musicians of any age take private music lessons. Those who haven’t received private music lessons on a preferred instrument may apply to the scholarship fund to receive funding to pay for a limited number of lessons, with the possibility of further support after those lessons have been completed.
The YSYOA also supports and organizes the annual YS Summer Music Camp; the Yellow Springs Strings, a chamber orchestra for adults; the purchasing and refurbishing of instruments; the purchase of sheet music; and music scholarships for students.
Grote said she sees her work with the YSYOA as a way to pay forward the music education she received as a student in the schools, much of it from YSYOA founder Shirley Mullins.
“Many of the YSYOA board members, myself included, went through the school system,” she said. “We all benefited from working with Shirley.”
Battle said that he was happy to support the YSYOA with the concert for the same reasons.
“[Lopez] and I are absolutely passionate about helping the community of young musicians grow and prosper,” he said. “The energy and interest in music in the public schools when I was a kid in YS really was extraordinary and the fact that I’m still taking so much pleasure in making music now is in large part due to the foundation that Shirley Mullins established.”
Mark Battle and George Lopez will perform Friday, March 13, beginning at 7 p.m. at 504 Phillips St. Donations to benefit YSYOA will be taken at the door. For more information, visit http://www.ysyoa.org.