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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI conductor's baton reaches beyond the classroom - Alumni and students play on

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 29, 2004 -- You could say that Ann Danis, associate professor of music and orchestral studies at the University of Rhode Island, is upbeat. But thatís only one measure of her talents. Danis not only founded and conducts the Ocean State Chamber Orchestra and the Ocean State Youth Orchestra, she also conducts the URI Orchestra. Not one to rest on her baton, Danis took over as conductor of the Fall River Symphony Orchestra last fall.

How does the Cranston resident manage it all? "It depends on the week youíre talking about," she says. "Besides, itís keeps me out of trouble."

If you attend any of the weekly rehearsals or any of the four annual Fall River Symphony Orchestra concerts, youíll see some familiar faces. Three URI alumni Christina Dickson, class of 2003, Catherine Gagnon, class of 1998 and 2003, and Sheri Santos Fernandes, class of 2002, as well as two current students, Richard Brownell and Daniela Gongora, class of 2002, who is currently studying for her masters in music performance have become members of the community orchestra since Danis took over. Other alumni, Vincent Mattera and Lori Anderson also perform. In addition Barbara Youmans, who teaches voice at URI, plays flute for the orchestra.

Brownell, a senior majoring in music performance from North Kingstown, met Danis when he was in high school and played with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, which Danis conducted. Brownell, who has been playing percussion for the past 13 years, primarily plays the timpani for the Fall River orchestra. While not studying or performing, the URI student works on his compositions in hopes of starting a small studio to produce music for video games.

He carpools to Fall River practices with his fiancee, Christina Dickson of Hyannis, Mass., and North Kingstown who graduated from URI last May with a degree in music performance.

Dickson has played the violin for the past 15 years and now teaches that instrument to fourth and fifth graders at Potter Hill School in Kingston. Before choosing a college, she asked her violin teacher for advice. "She told me that I should go to URI to be a student of Annís. After I met Ann there was no question where I wanted to go," says Dickson who is concertmaster for the Fall River Symphony. "It's wonderful to be in a leadership position. Itís also a great atmosphere. Everybody is there because they truly love what they do."

Catherine Gagnon earned both bachelorís and masterís degrees in music education from URI. As the managing director of the Ocean State Chamber Orchestra, she is in regular contact with Danis. The orchestra is composed of 25 professional musicians who play mostly stringed instruments. The Cranston resident also conducts the symphonietta portion of the Ocean State Youth Orchestra, the program which began with 150 students when it was founded by Danis in 1999, but now has more than 250 student members.

Gagnon plays the French horn for the Fall River Symphony Orchestra. "It's a fun group. There are a number of professional music teachers who are members as well as other amateur musicians. "It's really a great outlet for people who teach but want to play."