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VUHS horn player to take center stage

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September 17, 2007

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Back when Vergennes Union High School senior Katie Jordan was 9 years old, she made a decision that eventually will put her in front of a national radio audience later this fall.

On Sept. 29, Jordan, a 17-year-old Charlotte resident who is the daughter of VUHS choral teacher Karen Jordan, will take the stage at Randolph’s Chandler Hall for “From the Top,” a National Public Radio program that allows the nation’s top young classical musicians to showcase their talents. Vermont Public Radio broadcasts the show on Sundays at 6 p.m., and will air the Randolph edition at a date to be announced.

Jordan will bring her French horn with her to Chandler Hall to play the five-minute first movement of Richard Strauss’s First Horn Concerto, but the horn was not her first instrument. By the time she was a fourth-grader in South Burlington, Jordan was already a veteran piano player who had been giving public recitals for two years.

But fourth grade gave her the opportunity to pick up another instrument: It was then the French horn caught her fancy, for reasons that made perfect sense to a 9-year-old.

“It was really shiny,” Jordan said “And I found that no one played the French horn. So I decided I was going to play that because I was going to be the first one.”

To say the least, Jordan, who also sings well enough to have won the lead in three VUHS musicals in four years, has not regretted the choice. Never mind the six years she has spent playing the instrument for the Vermont Youth Orchestra, for which she is now the principal horn player: She loves the French horn’s sound and expressiveness.

“I find that sound quality from it almost vocal, and I think that may have influenced my choice for it,” she said. “It has a really big range. You can play really bombastic and obnoxious, or you can play really lyrical.”

The vocal appeal of the instrument makes sense considering that Jordan’s performing career began not at the piano in first grade, but before kindergarten in a children’s chorus directed by her mom. 

Of course it was natural that Jordan even then took to music. Her father, Alan Jordan, is now the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, her mother has taught at VUHS for eight years, and both were music majors in college.

“I wasn’t pressured into music, but since it was there in my family I decided to carry on and do it,” Jordan said.

She also hinted that just carrying on and doing it might not be enough for her.

“I’m pretty competitive,” Jordan said.

In first grade she took to piano quickly; now she teaches it privately to 10 students.

“I really liked that, and it came easy to me,” Jordan said. “There were points, obviously, where it was harder, but for the most part I progressed pretty well.” 

She admits that solo performances give her more nerves, even now, than working as part of an ensemble. Her family has visual evidence to prove it.

“I was nervous for piano recitals when I was little. We have this still picture of me. It had to be one of my first piano recitals, and after you get done with a piece, you bow. And I had bowed so quickly that by the time my dad took the photograph I was half-running off the stage, so I was like this blur. It’s pretty funny,” Jordan said. “But I don’t get nervous anymore. Obviously, I’m a little nervous for next week, but it’s not as bad as it used to be.”

PRACTICE, PRACTICE …

It helps her nerves that by the time Jordan hits the stage at the Chandler (tickets are available for $40 at www.chandler-arts.org, and the program includes three other soloists and one trio), she will have had plenty of time to get ready.

She applied for the “From the Top” slot in the spring, and had already been practicing the Strauss piece, which she will play in its 15-minute entirety at a Sept. 22 Vermont Youth Orchestra performance in Stowe.

“It’s a multi-level thing. I’ve been preparing for this for a really long time,” Jordan said. “I’ve been working on this piece for well over a year now.”

One element of the show she cannot fully prepare for is the interview that will precede Jordan’s performance. Host Christopher O’Riley and his team work up a script, often comical, that he and the musicians perform live. Jordan will not see the script until a Sept. 28 rehearsal.

Jordan and a “From the Top” producer spoke on the phone for an hour, and she was asked about her interests and quirks, which she expects will provide material for the show.

For example, her freshman-year performance as the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz” could resurface, but Jordan insisted she would not recreate some elements of that role.

“I told her I’d sworn off all the screeching,” she said.

Right now, between rehearsing for playing Maria von Trapp in the upcoming VUHS production of the “Sound of Music,” preparing for the VYO and “From the Top” concerts, teaching her 10 students and keeping up with homework, Jordan admits she doesn’t have a lot of unscheduled hours.  

“Do I have life?” she said. “Very little right now. I go out with friends and spend time on Church Street like most normal people. But right now I have literally no time.”

She also admits she does not share the musical tastes of most of her peers. 50 Cent, Gretchen Wilson or Nickelback won’t pop up on her iPod; more likely a shuffle would uncover Broadway show tunes or composers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner and Igor Stravinsky.

“I like big symphonies that last for a million years,” she said. “They’re all big brass pieces, very loud, very dramatic. In music there are periods, just like art, and those pieces are mainly from the Romantic period, going into Contemporary.”

In the future, Jordan plans to attend a college music conservatory, and then pursue a career with a professional orchestra.

But first she wants to make it safely through a 15-minute solo in Stowe, and then almost that much time in front of a national radio audience.

“I was nervous a while back, mainly because we hadn’t decided what piece I was going to play yet. But I usually play better under pressure,” she said. “So we’ll see. It’s a wonderful way to have people sort of get to know you, get your name out, and also show people what you can do.”

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