Get to Know the Musicians - Valley Symphony Orchestra

Get to Know the Musicians

Zynahia Banda and Linda Chavez, two musicians appearing on the November 20 “Melody and Rhythm” concert, sat down with the VSO to talk about their performances, the pandemic, and more. Read on to hear their insights:

How was preparing for this concert different than a full symphony concert?

Z: “For us woodwind players, there are many of the same features in chamber music as there are in symphonic music because we usually play individual parts in the symphony, too. But there is a lot of intimacy in chamber music where there is no conductor and so a deeper communication between the musicians arises. Each musician is tasked with fully understanding how they fit in the dialogue that happens in the music.”

L: “In a full symphony, the piano usually has only small moments where it’s audible — a short solo or duet here and there, but the large amount of musicians and sound on-stage usually drown out the piano. For this concert, I knew from the start that the piano’s role would be much more prominent and would be a constant throughout.”

Tell us about the music you’ll be playing – what makes it special, why do you like it? Is it enjoyable to play? Difficult? Why or why not?

Z: “The Poulenc is my favorite; it’s such a fun piece in the woodwind literature, and the second movement is just full of rich melodies and so much finesse. The communication in that piece is so necessary, with the melody passing along the players. There’s also a recurring motif in the Rimsky-Korsakov that reminds me of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony — maybe the composer was inspired by him. It’s so rich and orchestral in its sound, almost like playing a full symphony in its texture.”

L: “The Rimsky-Korsakov is one of the most energetic chamber pieces I’ve ever played. Unlike the Poulenc, it’s a bit more straightforward, making it slightly easier to align with everyone else in the ensemble. However, the tricky part for me was maintaining that ‘hyper’ character it demands throughout. It has a repetitive melody that leaves you humming afterwards. Both pieces were so enjoyable to ensemble and have their own set of challenges, and they were so uplifting. I hope people can see how much fun we had.”

What are some of the benefits of the VSO performing digitally? In what ways is it more challenging?

Z: “We can reach a larger audience, particularly now that we are all spending more time at home and looking for quality entertainment. This opens up the option for people to look into the Symphony for the first time when they might have otherwise been hesitant to come to a concert in the hall, not knowing what to expect. Nothing beats a live performance, but this is good for the community and the Symphony.”

L: “Challenges — well! Knowing that we had one take to make it happen turned the pressure ON! In a live performance, the music happens and then it’s gone. The impression that you had stays, but the music itself can never be replicated the same way again. That’s why it’s alive! A recording remains behind, though, and that aspect of this performance made me much more aware of every nuance in the music. It’s the musicians’ internal struggle; trying to let go of the need for perfection and instead enjoying the moment of music making, whether that moment is temporary or not.”

How do you think the pandemic will change classical music and live performance?

Z: “I expect more people might see an orchestra performing for the first time and will come out on the other side of this with an appreciation for in-person events and live making of the arts. All art forms are enjoying innovation and exposure to new audiences.”

L: “I think that the most important change will come from the appreciation that all people have for the arts, including us musicians. Being able to finally come together again and collaborate on a grand scale…hopefully this translates into a deeper appreciation by everyone to the role that the arts have in the community and the opportunities that we have to experience them in live events.”

How have you been keeping up your musicianship during the pandemic?

Z: “I actually feel that I‘ve gotten better! I teach online now, and I have 4 classes every morning where I play all the fundamentals with my students. I’m practicing as much as I was when I was in school. Now that I’m revisiting the basics coupled with the experience and the teacher’s perspective that I have, the fundamentals have been that much more beneficial. This break has helped me keep up with my playing rather than the other way around.”

L: “Fortunately, my teaching has not slowed down. My musicianship these days has come from seeing my students flourish, finding new ways to teach via technological apps, and reinventing my teaching. It has been quite the journey!”

What do you miss most about VSO concerts and performing live?

Z: “The sound of the concert hall, the sound of the stage, the collaboration with the orchestra on a grand scale, and the audience because there is nothing more fulfilling than giving your everything and having the energy of the audience reflected back at you. The ultimate reward is moving the audience with your art.”

L: “The energy. The adrenaline. The connection from human to human. You can play the same music to different audiences and the outcome could be totally different. So much of our energy comes from the people we get to share it with. That’s what I miss the most.”

What message do you have for the VSO patrons?

Z: “Well I think that we absolutely, 100 percent cannot do this without their continued support and patronage. I’m very grateful for the support we’ve seen and I say ‘thank you’ because especially here in the Valley, the Symphony falls outside of our culture’s mainstream music preference and what we have traditionally been exposed to; that is why patronage of the Symphony in the Valley is so special. And that’s why the annual Education Concerts are so important, too, for planting the seed in the young Valley audience, so that they can patronize the arts later in life. I can give a personal example: I lived all my life in the Valley and began my music studies here, but only after building my career and returning home to teach did I discover that we have a professional Symphony that is a part of our community. We need more people to know about the rich arts community that we have right here at home.”

L: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. For continuing to support our efforts, for allowing us to share with you, and for making it possible for us to be a part of the virtual VSO. It has been such a wonderful experience and a memory I will cherish forever.”

Zynahia Montemayor-Banda is a proud Rio Grande Valley native. She earned a Master’s Degree in Flute Performance from the prestigious Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from Texas State University.  Her primary teachers have been Dr. Adah T. Jones, Kathryn Lukas, Thomas Robertello and Donald Peck. In addition, she earned a Performers Certificate and an Associates Diploma from Trinity College, London. Mrs. Banda was honored to have won a national competition to perform for flute legend Jean-Pierre Rampal which earned her an appearance in Rampals’ PBS documentary. She is currently the Director of Bands at La Joya ISD’s Juarez-Lincoln High School. Under her leadership, her bands and students have been awarded many high distinctions. Mrs. Banda has served as Co-Principal Flute with the VSO since 2003. She is married to Mr. Jacob Banda and has two amazing daughters, Izabella and Cozette.

Linda Chávez is a Mexican-American pianist from Brownsville, TX. A Magna Cum Laude graduate, she received her Bachelor’s of Music Education with emphasis in piano at the UT Brownsville and a Masters of Music in Piano Performance at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has participated in numerous festivals in Italy, Costa Rica, Aruba, and NYC Lincoln Center. Her piano duo Table for Two has received much success winning the Styriarte Music Festival in Graz, Austria with their all-women composer program. Currently, Ms. Linda works as an Accompanist, Assistant Choir Director and Piano Instructor at HCISD and is the proud owner of Brownsville Piano Studio. Ms. Chavez is humbled to play alongside such talented colleagues. She hopes to continue to make a difference with her music and with her passion for positive change.