Column: The McKnight Center’s opening weekend ushers in new era for music at OSU

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The New York Philharmonic played at The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts during the past weekend.

The rich sound of the familiar tune resonated throughout the performance hall in The McKnight Center.

Stringed instruments added new, beautiful layers to the song, but the melody was unmistakable.

The New York Philharmonic was playing Oklahoma State’s alma mater.

Before plans for The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts were announced, if someone had told me I would see the nation’s oldest symphony orchestra play live music, I would have guessed it was going to happen in a large metropolitan area. Instead, I enjoyed the New York Philharmonic’s performance without leaving my college town Saturday night.

This weekend marked the beginning of a new era for the arts at OSU, and that fills me with joy. As a sports journalist, I don’t often write about music unless I’m referring to an athlete’s favorite hype songs before games. Still, my love for listening to intricate harmonies and emotion-stirring musical arrangements is just as strong as my passion for describing touchdown plays, monster dunks and walk-off home runs.

My enthusiasm for music grew in Stillwater, where I sang in a children’s choir and performed in The Seretean Center for the Performing Arts on OSU’s campus. At the annual summer choir camp, we had opportunities to play instruments ranging from xylophones to maracas, and I was thrilled.

OSU provided me with my musical foundations, and thanks to The McKnight Center, the university continues to offer opportunities for people of all ages to experience the arts in ways they otherwise never would in Stillwater.

From the minute the first note floated through the performance hall, I was captivated with the New York Philharmonic’s stage presence and musical prowess.

Jaap van Zweden’s conducting baton danced in the air as he carefully used it to direct each section of the orchestra, whether he temporarily hushed the sound or signaled for the musicians to pick up their tempo. Frank Huang, the featured violinist, stood and played complex, gorgeous melodies from memory throughout the first half of the performance.

The rolling, thunder-like boom of the drums blended with the steady, deep cello tones and the light, airy singing of the harp. Each instrument was distinguishable, but the sounds blended as if all musicians were one.

Because of the venue’s acoustics, the sounds carried across the crowd and filled every level. I was sitting in the balcony, but I could hear the crisp, clear notes as if I had a floor seat.

This unique experience was possible because of contributions from those such as Ross and Billie McKnight as well as Anne and Michael Greenwood, the music school's namesakes.

The McKnight Center is a stunning symbol of the OSU community’s love for the arts. It shows the students and faculty of the music department, as well as Stillwater citizens interested in music, that they matter.

Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” one of my favorite songs, begins with the line, “Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand.” The McKnight Center is a space where people can speak and celebrate this language, and I can’t wait to see the future that this venue can create for arts education and appreciation at OSU.