St. Mary's student performs with DYSE

Mara Shannon was selected to play in the DSYE's fall concert series. The third grader says music is important "because you can go to orchestras and be in a concert, and it's fun!" (Photo submitted)


By Molly Moser

The Dubuque Symphony Youth Ensembles (DSYE) opened its 2013 – 2014 concert season at the University of Dubuque’s Heritage Center on Sunday, Nov. 17. The DSYE is comprised of three training ensembles: Dubuque Youth String Ensemble, Dubuque Youth Philharmonia, and Dubuque Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Mara Shannon, age eight, was selected to play with the String Ensemble following a live audition. Mara told her violin instructor, Katie Sigwarth, that she’d like to perform with the DYSE. “My mom said, ‘Are you sure about it? Are you ready for it? You have to do lots of practicing!’ I was like, yes!” Mara told The Press. 

The String Ensemble is an introductory honors ensemble for young string players with at least one year of ensemble experience or equivalent ability. The group performs various levels of string orchestra literature from the standard middle school repertoire. 

Mara has been taking violin lessons weekly for two years. “My mom showed me the violin on TV, and I wanted to play it,” Mara explained. She was drawn to the sound and the finger movements, but says struggled when she first started. “I didn’t know how to exactly play it, but then I practiced and got it,” she said.

Mara also plays piano, but says she’s not as advanced at that as she is at the violin. She started on a quarter-size violin and has moved up to a half-size. “If your violin is the right size, you have to make sure it goes from here, to here,” Mara said, tucking her violin under her chin and wrapping her palm around its opposite end. By those standards, the half size instrument fits the third grader-perfectly – but she expects to move up to a full size violin by age 10 or 12. 

The String Ensemble, which consists of 24 students playing bass, violin, viola, and cello, is conducted by Ann Duchow. Duchow is associate concertmaster for the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and is the orchestra director at Dubuque Senior High School. In the season's first concert, she led the String Ensemble in three selections that showcased different types of bow strokes. 

Mara’s own sheet music is full of notes like ‘counting,’ ‘bow position,’ and ‘brush-offs,’ written in a child’s scrawl. “I wasn’t scared,” said Mara when remembering her performance with the DSYE. The best part about it, she says quite simply, was playing music.

She enjoyed practicing for the concert, though she admits it wasn’t easy. “At first the songs were hard, and I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “My teacher Katie Sigwarth helped me with it on Tuesdays.” The DSYE rehearses on Sunday evenings throughout the school year at Dubuque Senior High School.  Rehearsals began on Sept. 8.  

Mara’s parents, Dan and Joan Shannon, joined the audience at Heritage Center to cheer for their daughter. “Oh my gosh, it was so good,” said Joan. “I was in awe. Those kids are amazing.” 

Two additional DYSE concerts will be held on March 9 and May 18. To order tickets, call (563) 585-SHOW.

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