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Morrie Brand Announces Academy of Music Retirement

Categories: WSO General

Morrie Brand, Director of the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra Academy of Music Announces Retirement, Reflects on the Lasting Legacy of the Academy of Music

The Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra (WSO) announces that Morrie Brand, Academy of Music Director since 2005, plans to step down from that position at the end of June. He will stay on as the music director of the Summer Philharmonic, the Academy’s summer community orchestra.

The Academy has become a critical asset to the success of the WSO. Offering private lessons for string players and offering orchestral experiences for area youths and adults alike places the WSO into the lives of many area families. The Academy’s primary purpose is to reach out to the greater community in various formats to encourage interest in classical music. It seeks to further develop curiosity and listening skills, helping to create well-informed consumers of classical music in the Westmoreland region.

“I’m so appreciative of the time I was able to devote to the Academy, and I treasure the experiences I shared with the many wonderful families I got to work with, especially from the youth orchestra program,” said Brand. “Seeing the Academy recover from the challenges of the pandemic is especially satisfying,” he said.

Music education has always been an important focus of the WSO from its earliest years. The WSO created Young People’s Concerts in 1975, a one-hour concert designed just for elementary-age kids. Over the years, thousands of young students have attended; for many, it is their first experience listening to live classical music. The concerts were followed in 1981 with the establishment of the Westmoreland Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO).

The WSO, led by Morrie Brand, Executive Director from 2000-2017, established the WSO Academy of Music in 2005, greatly expanding the number of musical offerings from three to twelve. Along with serving as conductor of the WYSO Philharmonic, he founded the WYSO Philharmonia (2015), a middle school orchestra, and the WYSO String Ensemble (2013) for elementary string players. He added a summer season in 2018, offering Summer Wind Ensemble and Summer Strings, greatly increasing the number of students participating in the WYSO program. He also founded the Summer Philharmonic in 2013, a summertime 65-member community orchestra, comprised of area music teachers, WYSO alumni, and other area adults.

At one time, many of the area school districts offered orchestra programs, but most of those were cut in the 1970s. The WSO Academy of Music now fills that void in the community, teaching and guiding young musicians from elementary age through high school in the excitement of playing in an orchestra.

The Academy has played an important role in the lives of many students. “WYSO introduced me to orchestral music and ensembles, which is an opportunity that I never had in school. I joined when I was 13, and being a part of a classical ensemble at an early age was so pivotal in helping me become a better musician. Playing throughout middle school and high school taught me how to collaborate and coordinate with other musicians and made me a more adaptable musician. It also allowed me to explore a wide range of classical genres and made me an overall more expressive performer,” said Evelyn Markle, flutist, and former Academy member.

In 2014, Mr. Brand added a music appreciation class, called Classical Encounters, four 75-minute classes, focusing on the four principal eras of orchestral music history.  These sessions were offered at area public libraries and online until halted by the pandemic. He plans to resume this offering this coming season. Classical Encounters is a wonderful vehicle for identifying the many people who are knowledgeable about classical music, but have yet to attend a WSO concert.

Diane Persin, WSO Board Member and longtime chair of the Education Committee has seen the positive influence of the Academy over the years. “According to renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, ‘Music helps our students make connections.’ The WSO’s Academy of Music has been providing this opportunity for the young people of our area to make these connections and beyond. The private and group lessons, summer camps, youth orchestras, and performance opportunities have provided this essential contribution to Westmoreland County students for many years. The Academy has proven itself to be an important part of music education as well as social and community connections, and should be supported and continued for years to come,” said Persin.

Once he passes the baton, Brand plans to commit more time to music composition. Composing for friends and students has been his lifetime passion. His latest work, Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orchestra, was premiered last summer by the Summer Philharmonic with flutist, Evelyn Markle. He is now working on a clarinet concerto. “I am so pleased to be able to dedicate the rest of my life to composition, sharing with those within my reach,” said Brand.

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