Joel Ross ‘01 and Amy Birdsong were guest conductors for EMS and Dock Academy instrumentalists at EMS on March 3 and 4. Sixty-eight students, including 24 from Dock Academy in Lansdale, Pa., benefited from the encouragement and expertise brought by Ross and Birdsong.
They rehearsed a day and a half together, and performed for families and guests Friday evening.
After graduating from EMHS in 2001, Ross earned a bachelors degree in music education with a concentration in voice from Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. In 2011 he completed a master’s in music in conducting at Shenandoah Conservatory. He has performed with several professional choirs in Washington, D.C., including Chantry, an early music ensemble, and the National Cathedral Choir. He sang for six years with “Sons of the Day,” an all-male a cappella septet, and currently sings and is music director for “Good Company,” a semi-professional a cappella sextet based in Harrisonburg.
Ross is in his 17th year of teaching in Shenandoah County, where he directs the string orchestra programs at Signal Knob Middle School and Strasburg High School and teaches dual enrollment music theory and musical theatre. He writes an original murder mystery each year for his musical theater class and regularly composes and arranges music for the Strasburg High School String Ensemble. He is the founder and administrator of “Shenandoah Summer Strings,” a week-long summer orchestra camp in Shenandoah County. Under Ross’ direction, the Signal Knob and Strasburg orchestras have received “exclusively superior,” and “excellent” ratings at District Concert Assessment. In 2014, Ross was presented with the John D. Hodson Academic Service Award, an honor given to one person each year for outstanding contributions to academic excellence at Strasburg High School.
Under Ross’ direction, the orchestra performed “Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, 3rd movement,” by J.S. Bach, arr. M. Jasinksi; “Shaker Dance and Lament,” by J. Clemens; “Sinfonia in Gi Minor,” J Ross; “Moondance,” by Va. Morrison, arr by M. Hopkins; “Flop-eared Mule,” a traditionalal American tune, arranged by A. Dabczynski.
Professor Birdsong earned a bachelor of music and a minor in jazz studies at James Madison University, and a master’s degree in music education from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is currently in the process of completing her Doctoral of Musical Arts degree in Wind Conducting at JMU.
Birdsong began her professional career in Henrico County at Varina High School. She received Henrico County Public School’s “First Year Teacher Award” for Varina High School. Subsequently she started the band program at Hanover High School. Her concert ensembles consistently received Superior ratings at Assessment, and combined with successful seasons in marching band, earned multiple Virginia Honor Band designations. In 2016 she was named “Teacher of the Year” for Hanover High School.
In addition to her responsibilities at HHS, Birdsong was also the director of the Richmond Symphony Youth Concert Orchestra, performing semi-annually at the Carpenter Theater at CenterStage. She was a founding and performing member of the Commonwealth Winds in Central Virginia, and currently performs with the Valley Wind Ensemble.
Under Birdsong’s direction, the festival band performed “Cyclone,” by Michael Oare; “Rhythms and Riffs,” by Brian Balmages; and “Byzantine Dances,” by Carol Brittin Chambers.
“It was so special to have Joel and Amy here at EMS to lead this experience which is so memorable for our students and visitors,” said Maria Lorcas, EMS strings teacher who coordinated the event.