Article by Sidney Belleroche <email@example.com>
As the sun sets and the chatter in Wismer reaches a crescendo, a few select, talented students begin tuning their instruments and talking amongst themselves, preparing for another meticulous practice in Bomberger Auditorium.
As the sun sets on Bomberger, some students are tuning their instruments, preparing for another meticulous practice in the auditorium.
After a few minutes, Director Melinda Rice, steps up, and the auditorium becomes silent. With a movement of Director Rice’s hands, the group of individuals becomes the Ursinus Strings Ensemble once again.
Ursinus Strings is one of the four music ensembles open to every student at Ursinus. This semester, sixteen students joined Strings, with instruments ranging from violins, violas, cellos, double bass, and percussion. However, every member falls under the tutelage of Melinda Rice, a relatively new addition to the college, having joined this past January. Rice, a noted violinist and violist, hails from California, where she studied at the California Institute of the Arts. But Rice also grew up near the Collegeville community, in Spring Mount, and remembers visiting the college for concerts as a child. Her approach to directing the Ursinus Strings is simple: looking at the forest, not necessarily each tree. “I want the ensemble to know what others are playing,” Rice stated, “and understand the flow of the music and emotion of each piece, especially how it all harmonizes.”
According to second violinist Maia Mendoza ’27, this approach has helped build her role in Strings and the Ursinus community. “[Director Rice’s approach] feels more integrated with the music than my former directors. The way she works through the music is very intuitive and focuses on what everyone is doing rather than individuals. I know I am part of a group, and these are people I can be around.”
While the smaller size of the ensemble can pose a few challenges, Director Rice also sees its benefits to each individual. “A smaller ensemble has a level of intimacy,” she noted. “What each person plays matters and makes a difference.”
For violist Keelyn Fitzgerald ’27, this aspect of the Ursinus Strings bodes well for her personal goals. “I have been playing the viola since 4th grade,” she said, “and joining the Ursinus Strings is the perfect opportunity for me to continue my musical studies.”
Ursinus Strings’ meetings typically start with a warm-up, tuning the instruments appropriately to proceed with the rest of their practice. That includes playing their repertoire as a whole, then breaking off into sectionals to work further on the finer details before ending with some improvisation practice. This flexibility is one of the many reasons that Hayley Kane ’25 loves performing under Director Rice. Kane, a first violinist and a member of the Ursinus Strings since her first semester, stated, “We love Director Rice! She is very flexible and accommodating to what pieces we want to play. We sometimes play crowd-pleasers, other times more challenging pieces, but all are rewarding.” Occasionally, special guests may come and provide new insight alongside Director Rice. Recent guests included Min-Young Kim and Thomas Kraines, two members of the renowned Daedalus Quartet. The ensemble has been preparing for a concert centered around “fantasy.” The performance includes pieces from Studio Ghibli movies – which “stirred [a] feeling of playful fantasy,” Rice said – as well as from the Danish String Quartet. Earlier in the semester, the ensemble collaborated with the Film and Anime clubs for a Studio Ghibli concert followed by a showing of My Neighbor Totoro. Director Rice hopes to hold a similar night in the spring semester.
As noted by every member interviewed, the sense of community in the Ursinus Strings Ensemble is strong. Unfortunately, the prospect of one’s time ending in the ensemble is bittersweet because of this. One who is facing this dilemma is none other than the Grizzly Editor-in-Chief and percussionist Marie Sykes ’24. “It’s weird that I am being asked as a senior how leaving feels,” Sykes laughed. “I’m definitely going to miss the community together, the other players, Melinda [Rice], and the songs, dearly.”
The faint sounds of Bomberger Auditorium continue late into the day, with every member putting their best foot forward, practicing, being challenged, and enjoying the music, the latter being Director Rice’s ultimate goal for the ensemble. “It’s a great reason to be here, to make music: to have fun!” And so it is, as the ensemble plays throughout the night.
The Ursinus Strings Concert will be on Sunday, November 19th, 2023, in the Bomberger Auditorium at 4 p.m. The concert will be less than an hour, and attendance is encouraged.