FARGO — For young musicians, performing shoulder to shoulder in a buzzing throng of talented minds is more than a little fun — it’s a workout for the body and mind.
Playing measure after measure of complex music, clouds of hot air loom overhead as each student fills the space with sound, and since the emergence of the coronavirus, the risk of spreading COVID-19.
For almost a year now, that's been the challenge for organizations like the Fargo-Moorhead Area Youth Symphonies (FMAYS) as they work to keep musicians active through the pandemic.
With many students unable to participate in music at school because of a shift to virtual learning or lacking a full experience because of drastically reduced orchestra sizes, the community has come together to provide spaces for FMAYS and their students to continue as close to normal as safety allows.
The 45-year-old nonprofit arts organization gradually got back to rehearsal while navigating a leadership transition, setting up in spaces ranging from a church and synagogue to a fitness facility — and now, a live music venue.
“The community stepping up is such a big deal for us,” says Matthew Winarski, who was recently announced as the new executive director of FMAYS.
With an entire summer off from rehearsals, the orchestras began hosting 11 small ensembles split between three music directors this fall at First Lutheran Church in downtown Fargo.
Since then, the various orchestras have bounced around to several other community spaces, going on a tour-de-music through Temple Beth El, Rise Training and Fitness in Moorhead and now TAK Music Venue in Dilworth.
“Todd Carlson (owner/operator of TAK) is amazing to jump in and say, ‘Hey, I can’t hold the kind of events I’m used to, please come use my site,'" Winarski says.
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Now practicing in a space that boasts a state-of-the-art ventilation system to mitigate the risk associated with playing instruments, FMYAS has been able to bring up each ensemble number to around 50 students at a time, allowing brass, woodwind and percussion groups who sat out most of last semester to join the mix.
“We've consulted with medical professionals and decided that we can go a little bit bigger, as long as the venue can safely support the numbers with recycling the air,” Winarski says.
While the organization maneuvers challenges with rehearsals, it also was undergoing a transition in leadership.
The former director, Tiana Grisé, announced she was moving from the area for another opportunity in the summer of 2020, with the role to be handled temporarily in combination between Winarski and longtime Music Director Jane Linde Capistran.
“Having her at my side has been great because we just have different strengths,” Winarski says about his work with Capistran in the past months.
While Winarski handled the logistics of technology, equipment and safely moving in and out of the new space, Capistran put her focus on the students while offering a wealth of knowledge and connections to the local music community.
“I have been so inspired by the students’ perseverance to continue playing classical music through this pandemic,” Capistran says.
“Although I have suffered a great loss this year,” Capistran says about the death of her husband, Rodney Capistran, a cherished Fargo Public Schools teacher, “the students’ energy, eagerness and love of music is a real boost.”
She's now able to focus again on her role as music director, alongside Lindsay Schwartz-Miller and Brian Cole, directors of the Attacca Strings and Junior High Strings ensembles, respectively. Capistran will continue directing the senior high symphony orchestra, while Winarski will oversee rehearsals.
With a passion for marching band tracing all the way back to sixth grade when he started performing in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., Winarski now serves as a graduate assistant director for the Gold Star Marching Band at North Dakota State University.
“I fell in love with working alongside Sigurd Johnson and the rest of the NDSU marching band team,” says Winarski, who has been involved with the band the past four years.
Up until the pandemic halted live performances, Winarski was working behind the scenes to plan rehearsals and write drill routines for the band.
And while his strengths may lie in dotting i's and crossing t's, he’s no stranger to the thrill of picking up an instrument — his specialty being the French horn — and diving into a piece of music.
“My first job out of college was teaching fifth grade band students how to play clarinet, flute, sax, horn, trumpet — you know, the whole gamut,” Winarski says about his first job in Forman and Gwinner, N.D.
“Some instruments I play better than others, but usually I could always stay at least a couple weeks ahead of the students,” he says.
Winarski is pursuing a doctorate in musical education at NDSU and hopes to finish his remaining classwork this semester.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.