McClain orchestrates new changes

The orchestra office is newly organized with arranged shelves of folders lining the walls. In a corner a piano stands with sheet music opened on top, ready to be played.

“This room looks very nice now,”  new performing arts teacher William McClain said. “It did not look like this before school.”

McClain hopes to establish a “professional air” in the orchestra this year, starting with the way classes are run—he expects students to be in class punctually, with their instruments set up and ready to work.

“It makes orchestra a little stiffer at first,” he said, “but we work faster and then we have more fun. It makes the concerts more interesting, and the end product is better.”

The concerts will also be structured differently. McClain will have a theme for each concert for which will be incorporated into the individual pieces.

The first half of the program will include smaller works, while the second part will involve a large piece of music that builds to a climax.

While in previous years Concert Orchestra, composed of the “less experienced” players, only played at the winter concert, this year they will perform alongside the Symphony Orchestra, as well as the newly formed Chamber Orchestra at every concert, McClain said.

Chamber Orchestra, created by McClain as a “goal” for other musicians, is designed similarly to a jazz combo, McClain said.

The class consists of a small group of students chosen from a larger orchestra who play advanced music specifically composed for smaller orchestral groups.

“These are the people we’ll send out to represent our program,” McClain said. “They are the students who have worked particularly hard and who played very good auditions.”

However the group is not closed to other members of the orchestra. As the year progresses, musicians will be able to move into Chamber Orchestra and are expected by McClain to have that goal in mind.

McClain has also changed seating arrangements among the standard orchestras.

While previously members were seated according to their rank by experience and ability, this year both Symphony and Concert Orchestra are designed based on a “buddy system,” he said.

Students are grouped together in pairs based on how McClain thinks they can help each other.
“It’s a rewarding system,” McClain said. “Not just for me, but it’s also rewarding for the students. In the end, there will be a strong sense of identity.”

McClain also wants to work on strengthening the importance of music in the students’ daily lives.
He hopes that students can devote three hours of their time weekly to study music, just as they do with their regular classes.

“In order to have a complete education, you have to include the arts,” he said. “They deserve the same level of commitment and the same level of excellence.”

In coming to Harvard-Westlake, the hardest thing to adjust to for McClain was working in such close quarters with the jazz and the choral arts classes.

Unused to hearing different types of music played in close quarters, he had to get accustomed to teaching while hearing snatches of singing or jazz float down the hall.

“For someone walking down the hallway, it can be a magical experience,” McClain said. “You hear the same students, and they’re making all this music.”