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Bryce Seliger came to Forest Grove university eight years ago and mixed it up with music

On the musical Serengeti, rock n’ roll bands and symphony orchestras rarely drink from the same watering hole.

Yet in Forest Grove, one woman is determined to bring together both musical beasts.

Pacific University’s director of orchestral activities, Dr. Bryce Seliger, took the most visible step in her quest last year, when she got rock band Kansas to play with Pacific’s Philharmonic Orchestra. On sabbatical this semester, Seliger is studying the synthesis of rock music for orchestra.

Meanwhile, she has chosen a colorful repertoire of music for her substitute at Pacific’s fall concert. Dr. David De Lyser, director of orchestral activities at the University of Portland, will conduct Pacific’s Philharmonic Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 in the university’s Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center.

The orchestra, comprised of Pacific students as well as community members, will perform Russian composer Modest Mussorgky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which musically interprets 10 paintings, from unhatched chickens to a witch’s hut. Pacific senior and piano soloist Lars Holte will perform Mozart’s famous “Piano Concerto No. 23.”  

And from the sounds of obscure American landscapes (beef T.V. commercials and rodeos), audiences will recognize the orchestra’s performance of composer Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” and “Corral Nocturne.”

Powered by music

Raised in Long Island, New York amid the comforting sounds of flute, piano and 1960s rock (from Janis Joplin to Cream), Seliger decided when she was in the sixth-grade that she would one day become a conductor. Her parents first thought she was talking about trains, not symphonies.

At 17, Seliger was invited to play in her region’s all-county orchestra. From there she studied flute performance and conducting as an undergrad at State University New York — Fredonia. She went on to earn a master’s degree in music at Butler University and her doctorate in orchestra conducting at the University of South Carolina.  

“I was drawn to the power that an orchestra ensemble can exude,” said Seliger, who taught as a full-time orchestral professor at Florida Atlantic University before she accepted a teaching position at Pacific eight years ago. “I love being the interpreter.”

As the primary interceptor between a composer’s music and the ensemble, Seliger says she usually falls in love with whatever piece she is working on, but her favorite composer is Johannes Brahms.

‘Orchestra moves me’

“Orchestra moves me the same way rock music moves the average person,” Seliger said.

Exposed throughout her childhood to a range of rock music by her father, Seliger says she has been looking for a way to bring the energy of a rock concert to the orchestral performance.

For orchestras, already struggling to stay afloat in a stormy economy, Seliger’s exploration is as idealistic as it is practical.

People who like a good rollick in the communal mosh pit don’t usually want to sit still and quiet for 90 minutes of classical music. But Seliger hopes she can lure younger listeners into the orchestral experience by offering music they recognize and love — then expose them to the power of classical repertoires.

On sabbatical, the professor is doing her research. She’s attending concerts and taking notes.

Recently, Seliger watched the Indigo Girls play with the Oregon Symphony, and afterwards interviewed the performers. “The two worlds are colliding,” she said. “It’s not easy ... they didn’t belong, but they loved it.”

Rock musicians look to their drummers for tempo, while orchestra members look to their conductor, Seliger said, but when both are playing together in the same room, the conductor synthesizes all.

Rocking the classics

Back at the university, Seliger has been mixing it up musically. Last year, she slipped Eric Clapton’s blues-rock love song, “Layla” into the Philharmonic’s program, which also included Beethoven’s Triple Concerto.

The orchestra has also performed the Angry Birds’ theme song along with Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Mario Brothers video game soundtrack.  

When she is back at Pacific next term, Seliger plans to continue her experimentation in exposing her students and audiences to the songs they love and the classics they’ve never heard.

“It draws in an audience that never would have gone to the concert to begin with,” said Seliger.  And ideally, folks walk out saying, “Wow, I love the orchestra.”

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