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Arts and Entertainment

Conservatory Of The Ozarks Students Present Their Postponed "Patriotic Recital"

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(Poster design courtesy Conservatory of the Ozarks)
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The Conservatory of the Ozarks in Springfield employs professional instructors to provide students of all ages, children and adults, with music, art, and drama lessons. Conservatory students were to present a recital of patriotic music in time for the Independence Day holiday. It was originally scheduled to take place in Drury University’s Clara Thompson Hall.  However, that facility suffered damage due to vandalism in early May, so COTO postponed its recital until Sunday August 1st. The location has also changed: still the Drury campus, but now the performances will take place in Drury Stone Chapel. Heather Leverich, COTO’s master Voice & Piano instructor, explained what happened.                                                                     

“We were supposed to have the recital in June or July, but because of the vandalism at ClaraThompson, we had to postpone it. And the piano still isn't quite repaired yet. So actually, we're having it at the Stone Chapel.” Since the chapel can seat over 400 people, Leverich said “we should have plenty of space to sit six feet apart or more. The music students have been preparing pieces about America. And each student this time has prepared a little speech that they'll recite before their song, describing either what they're thankful for in America or how this song was written by an American composer. We'll be featuring people like Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin quite a bit in the program.”

One “happy outcome” of moving to Stone Chapel, said Leverich, is that Conservatory of the Ozarks has “never, that I remember, had a recital at a venue that had an organ. So as soon as I realized that, I thought, ‘oh, we have to find a way to use that!’” A Drury University keyboard student will accompany one of Leverich’s voice students as she sings a solo. There are numerous vocal pieces, as well as music for violin, piano, guitar, and other instruments. “But the organ will be really exciting,” Leverich said.

I mentioned above that COTO teaches “students of all ages, children and adults”—or, as Heather Leverich put it, “cradle to grave.” The age range literally begins with babies, according to Heather Leverich. “The very youngest students will be from my ‘Music for Tiny Humans’ class--and they are actually babies! They don't do a lot of singing… but they know how to wave their American flag around while we do the Yankee Doodle piece that we're going to be performing. And then the oldest (students), of course, are senior citizens.”

They plan to present a “special tribute” to a former music student at the conservatory named Jim Hayes. “He took lessons for several years with me for voice, and he actually died of cancer a couple of years ago.” Hayes was a military veteran and “just such a special part of the conservatory. So we wanted to do a special tribute to him in the recital this year.”

One thing the Conservatory likes to do at their annual recital performances is raise money for local organizations, said Heather Leverich. “We have been just incredibly blessed by our community over the last year during COVID. We were going to have to close, of course, and we were just overwhelmed by the kindness of our community, donating to help us stay open. And I mean, we're really not in the clear yet—but we're doing the best we can. We haven't done a community fundraiser for somebody else in quite a while, because we've been just struggling to survive ourselves. So I thought we should take this time to give back. And an organization that I thought would be perfect to support right now is the Semper Fi Fund. It supports disabled veterans who were wounded during combat. My brother was in the Marines and actually has a Purple Heart because of some things he experienced while he was overseas. He's going to give a little speech about Semper Fi Fund and what it's meant to him and his family. So if people want to, they can just leave a donation and we'll send it off all of it to Semper Fi Fund.”

Considering how the COVID shutdown in 2020 came close to devastating performing-arts organizations all over the world, how did Conservatory of the Ozarks make it through and remain open for business? Heather Leverich remembered the last thing they did before the shelter-in-place order went into effect in Springfield in March 2020 was a St. Patrick’s Day recital in a local nursing home on March 8, 2020. “Then after that we had our spring break. And during the spring break I kept hearing all these things about COVID and a shutdown. And I was starting to feel really anxious and nervous about what's going to happen. And then, sure enough, we had one week of lessons after spring break—and then it was the shutdown. Of course, we couldn't go to our studio to have lessons. So we all transitioned to virtual art lessons, drama lessons, music lessons. All of it had to be done virtually now.”

Leverich has had a few virtual students, who have moved away from the area and wanted to maintain their lessons with her online. “I don't know about all the other teachers, but to suddenly have every single student only online, that was a big change.”

One thing Leverich said she actually likes about conducting online lessons has to do with the journal notes and critiques she writes as she listens to the students. “I could sit there and type as I was listening. I can type a lot faster than I write, so I felt like I could really take a lot of fast, detailed notes and then email it to them each week.” She has no guarantee that her notes and critiques were actually read by the students(!), but having the computer keyboard in front of her made the task easier. “And it's also really easy to record the lesson so that the student can refer to it later.”  The virtual option has allowed students as far away as Connecticut sign up for lessons.

Eventually, COTO was able to open back up for live teaching, but “everybody had to be masked,” Leverich said. “So we gave the option to students. I still have some students who have not returned to in-person lessons, which is fine with me. I mean, I'm vaccinated, so I feel totally comfortable seeing people in person. But if people prefer to be online, I'm also totally fine with that. So we have a mix right now. I think that's how it is with most of the teachers.”

She said it hadn’t occurred to her until we did this interview, but this will be the first COTO student recital since COVID that will be all live and in-person.  “At first, of course, we were doing only virtual recitals because there were just too many restrictions to really do an in- person recital very easily.”  

The postponed Patriotic Recital by Conservatory of the Ozarks will be Sunday, August 1st at 3:00PM in Stone Chapel at Drury University. It’s free and open to the public, but donations will be requested for the Semper Fi organization.  Socially distanced seating will be encouraged—families and groups may sit together, but they should maintain at least a six-foot distance from other groups in the audience. For information, call COTO at (417) 592-1756, visit the Conservatory of the Ozarks Facebook page, or send an email to conservatoryoftheozarks@gmail.com.

One more thing, said Heather Leverich. “You should probably wear red, white and blue!”