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News Grad Student Performs at ClarinetFest

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clarinet ensemble performing on stage

​IUP's Crimosn Squawks. Photo by David Royse

At a time when Music at Delaware is growing like never before, graduate clarinet student Anthony McDonnell scored a prestigious first for the department when he was invited to perform in a master class with renowned jazz clarinetist Ken Peoplowski at the International Clarinet Association’s 2019 ClarinetFest this July.

“This is the first time we’ve had a student perform as a soloist at ClarinetFest, and it is great for the Clarinet Studio to have one of our own play here,” says Assistant Professor Christopher Nichols. ClarinetFest draws the most celebrated clarinet artists in the world, and it is an opportunity to hear the clarinet played as a solo instrument, as well as a featured instrument in orchestral pieces, with string quartets, as part of jazz ensembles, and in band literature. It is also a great place to network and set up the connections that are such a vital part of a professional musician’s career: “I met so many people!” McDonnell says. “So many people I’ve heard of and wanted to meet. Everyone knows Dr. Nichols, and he introduced me to everyone. This opens up opportunities for me to work with other artists down the road.”

McDonnell stays busy at UD. He is in his second year of the master of music in clarinet performance while simultaneously starting his first year of graduate conducting studies with Lauren Reynolds, assistant professor and director of the UD Wind Ensemble. During football season, McDonnell is a teaching assistant with the Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band, working with brass section leaders, as he had a double concentration in trumpet and clarinet in his undergrad.

He took this energy and enthusiasm to Tennessee this summer for the five-day festival. In addition to the master class, McDonnell performed as an alumni guest artist for the Crimson Squawks clarinet ensemble from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his undergraduate degree, allowing him to reconnect with former classmates, as well as his former studio instructor, Rosemary Engelstad.

The master class itself was more than McDonnell expected. He learned just the day before that he would perform in a 1,000-seat space at the University of Tennessee. “I had to expand my horizons dynamically,” he says. “But now, if I ever audition for a large orchestra, I’ve had the experience of playing in such a large hall.”

McDonnell, classically trained, had prepared to learn from a master jazz musician. “We talked a lot about phrasing and vibrato. But really, the most important thing Ken mentioned was having a consistent sound and tone. No matter what path you take in music, the number one thing is your sound.” McDonnell adds that another lesson came backstage when Peoplowski talked about the amount of traveling he’s done in his career. “He said that he’s gotten very good at practicing soft because of all the times he’s had to practice in a hotel room and not disturb other people. You can still work with phrasing and even dynamics while playing softly. I’ve been trying it, and it opens my palette in a different way.”

The International Clarinet Association’s ClarinetFest is the largest annual global event for clarinet players and enthusiasts, drawing up to 2,000 participants to the five-day conference each year. Among more than 200 events including ensemble performances, solo artists, vendors, an instrument showroom and a variety of lectures, the event presented just four master classes.

McDonnell was one of two students selected to perform with Ken Peoplowksi, former member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, under the direction of Buddy Morrow. He has also worked with the legendary Benny Goodman and Bobby Short


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Graduate student Anthony McDonnell performs at ClarinetFest 2019.

​Graduate student Anthony McDonnell performs at ClarinetFest 2019

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Grad Student Performs at ClarinetFest
  • School of Music
  • Amy E. du Pont Music Building
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-2578