lili tobias

Profile of Music Major Lili Tobias ’19

Like many a Swarthmore student, Lili Tobias ’19 finds herself graduating this year with a somewhat different degree than her younger self had anticipated.  She came to Swarthmore planning to major in linguistics, but soon, as she describes it, “music took over my life. And so now I’m a music major and linguistics minor.”

For Tobias, though, that academic transition was less a tortured decision than natural progression, something that “just happened.”  A pianist in high school, at Swarthmore she began taking classes in theory, composition, and musicology, and joined the Swarthmore College Chorus and the Garnet Singers.  Eventually she realized that most of her classes were related to music, and that those were the ones she really cared about. “The department really felt like home to me,” she says of choosing to focus on music.  “I knew all the professors, I knew all the other majors… it just felt like that’s where I belonged.”

That sense of community is what Tobias names as the best part of her experience in Swarthmore’s music program, which although it may be small—there are only two majors in her year—is plenty mighty.  She sees its size as a defining positive attribute, saying that “it’s so welcoming and we’re very close knit. The best friends I’ve made here” tend to be “connected to the music department in some way.”

The small size also affords a lot of personalized academic attention and opportunities.  Tobias has taken a composition course, the only repeatable course in the department, every semester since sophomore spring.  After one’s first time taking it, the class functions like an independent study, so, she explains, “it’s very individualized.”  She gets tailored listening assignments from Professor Gerald Levinson, a well-recognized contemporary classical composer, that he thinks will relate to the direction of Tobias’s own work.  She’s also had the opportunity to compose several pieces for the college Chorus and Garnet Singers, with the encouragement of its director Joseph Gregorio.

Tobias says she tends to listen to and compose mostly classical music, and especially admires “women composers of the past and of the present.  I identify with them because there’s just a lot fewer women that go into composition.” She’s currently writing her senior comprehensive paper on Amy Beach, a composer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Beach was an American musical prodigy who started composing as soon as she learned to play the piano as a young child, and, although she’s rarely part of modern classical repertory, earned in her own lifetime unusual acceptance and success in an overwhelmingly male field.  For her senior comprehensive, Tobias will not only analyze Beach’s work from a theoretical and musicological perspective, but also perform on piano three of her songs, with soprano Rebecca Regan ’19.

She’s unsure as of yet as her exact plans post-graduation, although she says that “going into music publishing is something that’s definitely appealing to me.”  Tobias got a taste of the business as an intern this past summer with Schott Music, a publishing company in her home city of New York. She describes herself as someone who likes editing and creating a pretty and polished final project, and “really enjoyed” combining those skills with her love of music.

Ultimately, whatever specific path she may take, Tobias feels certain that music “is going to be the main focus of my life somehow.”

Lydia Roe ’20

amy barston

College Ensembles Work With World-Renowned Cellist

Acclaimed cellist Amy Sue Barston will be coming to Swarthmore College to perform and to hold master classes for student instrumentalists. Barston is a renowned soloist and chamber musician, performing all around the world. Her past performances include concerts at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Ravinia, Bargemusic, Caramoor, Haan Hall (Jerusalem), The Banff Centre (Canada), The International Musicians’ Seminar (England), The Power House (Australia), and Chicago’s Symphony Center.

Barston was first contacted by Andrew Hauze ‘04, Lecturer and Director of the Swarthmore College Orchestra and Wind Ensemble. Barston came to Hauze’s mind as a candidate to invite to campus because of the professional relationship that they built over the past years.

“I first met Amy in 2013 through Astral Artists,” Hauze said. “We were scheduled to play some chamber music concerts together, and then I was delighted to discover that she lives right here in Swarthmore!”

“She is a brilliant musician and world-renowned teacher whose students come from far and wide to study with her, and I had always had it in mind that we should invite her to be more involved at the college,” Hauze continued.

This is not the first time Barston has worked with Swarthmore student instrumentalists.

“She worked with the orchestra string section a few years ago, and her teaching was wonderfully inspired and made an immediate difference in our sound,” Hauze said.

Barston’s visits to Swarthmore College provide an opportunity for students to learn from a musician who has cultivated her performance abilities based on her travels and exploration of different musical styles.

“In addition to her extraordinary musicality, Amy brings a knowledge of a wide range of musical cultures and styles and an enormous breadth of experience,” Hauze said.

During her time at Swarthmore College, Barston will hold two master classes with students: one on Friday, November 9th, and the other on Friday, April 5th, 2019. Both of these classes will be conducted in Lang Concert Hall.

“I know that students will be inspired by Amy’s energy and musical sensitivity: she really lives and breathes musical expression, and I can’t wait for the students to interact with her and find their own response to her musical ideas,” Hauze said.

Not only will students learn from Barston’s expertise, they will also have the chance to perform with Barston on stage.

“I am so happy that Amy will get to work closely with students in a variety of formats, and that she will be our soloist with the college orchestra in one of the greatest of all concertos, the Dvorak cello concerto,” Hauze said.

At the end of this semester, Barston will perform with the Swarthmore College Orchestra on Saturday, December 1st at 8:00 pm at Lang Concert Hall. In addition to the performance with the Swarthmore College Orchestra, Barston will also perform with Ieva Jokubaviciute, a pianist, on Friday, March 29th at 8:00 pm at Lang Concert Hall.

Several media outlets have described Barston’s playing style as eloquent, passionate, haunting, and skilled. Hauze is confident that Barston’s two stages at Swarthmore College will not fail to amaze audience members.

“Amy’s performances are always rich in musical depth and alive with communicative energy,” Hauze said. “She also has an extremely beautiful cello sound, and so attending any recital by Amy is a treat!”

David Chan ’19

variant 6

Vocal Group Variant 6 Showcases Student Compositions

Through the Swarthmore College Featured Artist program, Variant 6, a virtuosic vocal sextet, is working with Swarthmore students in recitals, workshops, and master classes throughout the 2018-19 season.

Variant 6 explores and advances the art of chamber music in the twenty-first century by radically reimagining concert experiences through performing rarely heard works, commissioning substantial new works, collaborating closely with other ensembles, and educating a new generation of singers.

Associate in Performance Joe Gregorio first proposed to invite Variant 6 to complete a residency with the Swarthmore Music & Dance Department.

“I had met one of Variant 6’s tenors, James Reese, about three years ago when the Chorus hired him to sing the tenor solos in our performance of Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore,” Gregorio said. “I had suggested to the Department of Music & Dance that we try to bring in Variant 6 for a residency, and was thrilled when our concert manager, Jenny Honig, told me we could.”

As part of their residency at Swarthmore College, Variant 6 will hold concerts, performing alone and with students. Moreover, Variant 6 have two planned composer workshops, one already completed on October 10th and the other scheduled for November 7th, to read original student compositions. Students of Swarthmore Music Professor Gerald Levinson participated in the October 10th workshop, where they sang through choral pieces in progress.

“In this workshop, the members of Variant 6 were able to offer invaluable advice to student composers about the construction of their works and about composing for voices in general,” Gregorio said.

Lili Tobias ‘19, a music major, participated in the October 10th workshop and will participate in the upcoming workshop. Tobias has considerable experience in composing vocal music.

“Many of my friends are singers, and I like writing pieces for us to play together, so voice is one of the instruments I gravitated to from the very beginning,” Tobias said. “I’ve written a bunch of art songs for solo voice and piano, and some choral (or small vocal ensemble) pieces.”

Having Variant 6 present on campus not only provides an opportunity for the group to share their work, but it also gives music students a chance to work in a professional setting and to get feedback from professional musicians.

“We’re very lucky that the Swarthmore Music [Program] is able to get such amazing artists-in-residence, like Variant 6,” Tobias said. “This gives the composition students the opportunity to write for professional-level musicians and get feedback on their music from the perspective of the performers.”

Furthermore, students are exposed to different vocal techniques, especially if they come from a different musical background than Variant 6.

“Variant 6 sings a lot of new music, so during the composition workshop this past Wednesday, they suggested many vocal techniques and subtle differences in voice quality that I was not necessarily familiar with, coming from a background of more traditional, classical music,” Tobias said.

By working with Variant 6, students have the opportunity to expand their voice capability and to enrich their musical education at Swarthmore.

“I think this helped all of us think outside the box regarding what the voice is capable of and the range of sounds it can make,” Tobias continues.

The final compositions generated in these workshops will be performed at the Lunch Hour Concert on November 12th at 12:30 pm in Parrish Parlors. Additionally, Variant 6 will perform a concert of their own programming on Friday, November 16th at 8:00 pm in Lang Concert Hall.

For the 2019 spring semester, Variant 6 will hold a master vocal class for Swarthmore vocalists on Wednesday, March 20th at 3:00 pm. Furthermore, Variant 6 will perform with Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers on Friday, May 3rd at 8:00 pm. Both of these events will take place at Lang Concert Hall.

“We’ve been lucky over the last few years to have several top-notch choral ensembles visit Swarthmore College: Roomful of Teeth, the Morehouse College Glee Club, and now Variant 6. I feel very fortunate that the campus community has been able to welcome these groups and that choral singers here have had the opportunity to see and hear such high-level choral singing,” Gregorio concluded.

David Chan ’19

An Evening of Traditional East Asian Vocal Arts

On November 3rd, the Cooper Series will showcase three culturally and musically unique vocal arts: Chinese Kunqu opera, Japanese Noh, and Korean Pansori. They are considered by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to be the “national treasures” of China, Japan, and Korea.

Each piece that will be performed tells stories deeply rooted in these cultures. Swarthmore’s very own Professor Peng Xu of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, drummer and chair of the New York Youth Society of Chinese Opera Bin Ma, and first-chair flutist of the Shanghai Kunqu Company Yin Qian, will perform Chinese Kunqu opera, one of the oldest styles of traditional Chinese theater. Kunqu opera is most revered for its classical and elegant musical expression, stylized acting, refined and precise dancing movements, and incorporation of other forms of traditional Chinese performance such as mime and acrobatics. Professor Xu, Bin Ma, and Yin Qian will perform a piece called Tanci orThe Ballad, an excerpt from from a southern Chinese drama Palace of Lasting Life. The scene they will perform portrays the tragic love story between the Emperor of Tang and his most favored consort, Lady Yang Yuhuan.

The audience will also have a chance to witness Noh theater, a style of performance that originated in Japan. Noh also combines drama, song, and dance into a cohesive, usually culturally historical narrative. The main difference between Noh and Kunqu is that Noh theater utilizes decorative and emotive masks to represent characters. Yasuki Kobayakawa, one of Tokyo’s Shite-katas (lead actors), will sing two episodes from the Noh plays Kiyotsune and Hagoromo(Celestial Feather Robe), though Kobayakawa perhaps will not be in full costume and wear a Noh mask. Kiyotsune tells the story of Kiyotsune and his wife, a couple tragically torn apart by banishment and death. Hagoromo depicts the magical encounter of Hakuryō, fisherman, and a celestial maiden.

The evening will also include Korean Pansori, a relatively new theatrical style of musical storytelling, performed by a singer and drummer. Accomplished singer Min Hye Sung and drummer Choi Hyodong will perform the beginning scene of an eight-hour long piece entitled Chunhyangga. One of the most popular Pansori pieces, the scene tells the story of the character Mongryong, falling in love with another, Chunhyang.

Professor Xu organized this event with hopes that it will inspire students to become more curious about East Asian cultures. It is important, she says, that she does her part as a faculty member and contribute to Swarthmore’s inclusive community by introducing and inspiring “more cultural diversity on campus.”

There is also a “second layer,” Professor Xu says, for why she prepared this event. While Noh, Pansori, and Kunqu are recognized by UNESCO as “Intangible Cultural Heritages,” the specific Kunqu style that Professor Xu will be performing is “almost forgotten”. Professor Xu sings a traditional style of Kunqu that, as many other traditional arts, was banished by the Chinese government during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In fact, Zhu Fu, Professor Xu’s Kunqu master, had to learn and practice it in a solitary house where his singing could not be heard. Before Professor Xu came to the United States, master Zhu Fu passed this “supposedly cast away” art form down to her. Unlike the mainstream Chinese Kunqu, which has regained some cultural influences in China ever since its recognition by UNESCO in 2001, Professor Xu says the traditional Kunqu style she learned from Master Zhu has become “almost forgotten”. By performing in this concert, it is her wish to bring this abandoned art to light again. When Professor Xu sings this weekend, she will stand on stage representing a “branch of the Chinese heritage that has almost been forgotten but needs its voice to be heard.”

The performance will take place in Lang Concert Hall on Saturday, November 3, at 8:00 PM, and English translations will be provided. This event is sponsored by the William J. Cooper Foundation and the Promise Fund.

Maria Consuelo De Dios ’21

hunchback of notre dame 1923

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Gets a New Twist

This coming Sunday evening, one will be able to find Professor Andrew Hauze seated at the organ of the Swarthmore United Methodist Church in front of a gathering of community members there for the advertised “pre-Halloween fun.”

The event is a showing of the 1923 silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with live accompaniment by Hauze, a conductor, pianist, and organist, who graduated from Swarthmore in 2004 and returned shortly thereafter to teach and perform at the college.  Although a busy schedule on campus prevents him from focusing on much else, Hauze lives in the town of Swarthmore and says that he “love[s] to participate in musical events off-campus whenever there’s time,” often substituting as an organist at local churches and giving informal chamber concerts “with friends around town.”

In this case, he was asked to join the project by Linton Stables, who organized it on behalf of the Swarthmore Senior Citizens Association.  Stables got the idea for a silent film showing with live accompaniment after attending one at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and, in the words of Hauze, “thought it would be a great way to have a town-gown community building event.”  The evening is co-sponsored by seven local organizations, including the college’s Department of Music and Dance, and those involved are hopeful that this broad base of support will result in an equally broad range of people in attendance.  They are aiming for a crowd of all ages that is well mixed between members of the college community and other Swarthmore area residents.

Professor Hauze was especially willing to participate due to his pre-existing interest in silent film music.  In April 2017, he curated a collaborative performance between music faculty and students and Orchestra 2001, then Swarthmore’s official ensemble-in-residence, in which he conducted live the scores for Night Mail (1936) and The City (1939).  Those works were composed by Benjamin Britten and Aaron Copland, respectively, but Hauze says that “many silent films didn’t have original scores” and that “instead, a local musician or even small ensemble would create a score from previously existing music, sometimes with new additions composed specifically for the movie.”

He found that in the case of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, any form of an original score has mostly been lost, and so instead decided to improvise, calling it “a lovely opportunity to try my hand at creating film music on the spot!”  The final performance won’t be completely unstructured though, as Hauze explains that he has built upon “a number of French medieval folk songs and liturgical music [with] a relationship to the plot as themes for improvisation.”  He has established a general framework that uses “the same themes in similar locations” in order to consistently match the cinematic mood, but lets the precise development and transitions between those set points be different each time he practices.

So, while some of the musical elements of Sunday’s show may be thrillingly spontaneous, there are a few sure details to remember: the event is on October 28th at 7:30pm in the Swarthmore United Methodist Church, at 129 Park Avenue.  It is free and open to all, with free refreshments served at intermission, and promises to be a perfectly spooky way to start the whole holiday season.

Lydia Roe ’20

jasper quartet 18-19

The Jasper String Quartet in Concert

Since their formation at Oberlin Conservatory twelve years ago, the Jasper String Quartet has been wowing audiences and their fellow musicians across the country, playing music from a host of time periods and genres, from the classics to contemporary debuts. They are recipients of the Cleveland Quartet Award, bestowed only once every two years, and the Fischoff National Chamber Music Association’s 2016 Educator Award, recognizing their admirable work with young musicians. Last year, they were a Featured Guest Artist at Swarthmore College, playing with the Lab Orchestra, giving master classes and leading sectionals.

Orchestra director Andrew Hauze gushed about the musical capacity of the quartet, noting, “not only are they world class musicians and communicators, but they are also amazing teachers, individually and as a group. Each time they work with our student musicians I am impressed by their ability to take students at whatever technical level they find them and help them reach new heights of musical expression and collaboration.”

Cellist Kyle Yee ‘19, whose chamber group participated in a master class with the Jasper Quartet, recounted how “working with string players of that caliber was really something else. They really helped us open up our sound.”

Many were disappointed when the quartet’s solo concert was postponed last year due to inclement weather – particularly those in the orchestra who had closely worked with the group – but this week, the Jasper String Quartet is returning to Swarthmore.

When asked about her experience conducting the Lab Orchestra, Shira Samuels-Shragg ‘20 said “getting to work with the Jaspers last fall was such a privilege. They generously and joyously shared their vast knowledge of string technique and musical interpretations with us. As a student conductor, I was deeply grateful for their combination of constructive feedback and enthusiastic support. Their love of and dedication to music are contagious and inspiring.”

While professional musicians in any context can inspire emotion and excitement in their playing, there’s something special about not only listening to but watching a world class chamber ensemble in their element. The soloistic virtuosity and nuance, along with the rich sonorous strings and engaging stage presence of the Jasper String Quartet make their performance truly a sight and sound to behold.

The Jasper String Quartet will be performing on October 27, at 8:00 PM in Lang Concert Hall. Their repertoire will feature the Haydn Quartet op. 64 No. 6 and Smetana Quartet No. 1 “From my Life,” along with Joan Tower’s “Wild Summer” and Caroline Shaw’s “Valencia”.

Andy Zhang ’21

Photo 1

“Everything You Know About Indian Music is Wrong:” Victoria Levine’s Upcoming Lecture

On Thursday, October 25, ethnomusicologist Victoria Levine will come to Swarthmore’s campus to present a lecture titled “Everything You Know About Indian Music is Wrong.” Levine is a professor of music at Colorado College, located on traditional lands of Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho people. She focuses her research on music in Indigenous ceremonial life, musical revitalization, historical ethnomusicology, and the circulation of music along trade routes.

Professor Levine’s provocative title originates from Paul Chaat Smith’s book of the same name. In this lecture, Professor Levine intends to answer four questions: How did modernity affect Native music? Do Native musicians have music theory? Can Native women make music? What is the history of Native music?

In order to tackle these four questions, Professor Levine draws upon the work of Native and settler scholars as well as her own research. She poses these four critical questions as an opening to begin challenging herself as an ethnomusicologist of settler descent and to challenge audience assumptions about Indigenous music and musicians.

“Professor Levine obliges us to think about music in unusual (and sometimes, perhaps, uncomfortable) ways,” Swarthmore Music Professor Tom Whitman said.  “I expect that her audience will be stimulated by her ideas to reflect in new ways on music and the arts in relation to culture and their own lives.”

Professor Levine’s lecture is the annual Peter Gram Swing (PGS) Lecture, an event established in the honor of the founder of Swarthmore’s Music Department. The idea to invite Professor Levine as part of this annual event was first proposed by Swarthmore Music Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant, who saw an opportunity to bring a scholar of Native American music and culture to Swarthmore since there are no current specialists present on campus. Other members of the Music Faculty were immediately enthusiastic.

“I first met Professor Levine when she interviewed me for a faculty position at Colorado College in the early 1990’s,” Professor Whitman said. “She impressed me very much at that time, and I have followed her work from a distance over the intervening years.”

“I’d also like to single out the advocacy of a current Swarthmore student, Julia Wakeford, who had met Professor Levine, knew her work, and encouraged us to invite her, without knowing that we were already thinking along the same lines,” Professor Whitman continued.

Though Professor Levine’s lecture is not a part of any Swarthmore class semester, Professor Bryant tries to incorporate related events into her own course.

“I try to incorporate related campus events in my ‘Music and Dance Cultures of the World’ course, so my students will be attending the lecture and writing a short response for our class,” Professor Bryant said.

This lecture is an opportunity to address topics that are not covered currently in any Swarthmore music classes.

“We try to bring speakers who can address topics that are not otherwise covered in our curriculum,” Professor Whitman said. “Through almost 30 years of PGS speakers on many different topics, I don’t believe we have ever previously hosted a specialist in the musics of indigenous peoples, so this seemed an auspicious opportunity.”

Moreover, this event provides space for a group who has been historically underrepresented.

“I am excited to have Native musicians and music centered in this year’s PGS lecture,” Professor Bryant said. “First, I hope that the audience will learn more about Native American musicians, music, and music making. Second, I hope we can all think about the stereotypes and assumptions that have been, and continue to be, circulating in mainstream popular US culture and K-12 education.”

“I believe Professor Levine’s lecture will provide an opportunity to both challenge and extend one’s current knowledge and awareness,” Professor Bryant added.

Professor Levine’s lecture will be located in the Lang Concert Hall and will occur on Thursday, October 25 at 4:30pm.

David Chan ’19

deondre

Music Minor Profile: Deondre Jordan ’18

A musician, chemist, and aspiring physician-scientist – Deondre “Dre” Jordan ’19 will graduate next semester with an Honors major in Chemistry and an Honors minor in Music.  He plans on carrying both passions into his life after graduation, hoping to gain research experience, earn a M.D./Ph.D, sing in an advanced chorus, and compose his own music.

Dre became involved with Swarthmore’s Music Program well before he enrolled as a student. Dre sang in the Chester Children’s Chorus while in middle school, attending rehearsals and learning programs on the college campus. Dre even recalls working with Professor Andrew Hauze when Hauze was still a Swarthmore student. When Dre reached his third year of high school, he joined the Swarthmore College Chorus where he grew close to many of the college’s music faculty, especially Chorus conductor Joe Gregorio. By the time Dre enrolled in the college, much of the music faculty were already “like family” to him, which only intensified his motivation to remain in the College Chorus and join the Garnet Singers.

As a chemistry honors major and music honors minor, Dre “loves” the connection he feels between the two seemingly different subject areas. Dre recalls taking Organic Chemistry II and Music 13 simultaneously and feeling as though the ideas for both classes were essentially the same: recognizing patterns, solving puzzles, and learning how to create —  whether it be synthesizing compounds or constructing melodies and harmonies. In Physical Chemistry I, Dre learned to view the electron as a wave and about its wave characteristics. At the same time, he was taking Atonal Music Theory Seminar, where he learned how sound waves can be superimposed to build intervals and create harmonies. “It was really beautiful to see electrons and intervals do the same thing in two different fields,” he says. It is these beautiful intersections between chemistry and music that, he says, “made doing both easy.”

Even though his desired professional career focuses more on chemistry than music,  Dre believes that the skills he has developed as a musician at Swarthmore will help him thrive as a physician-scientist. Music has taught him how to not only understand emotion, but more importantly, how to express emotion clearly and professionally. He has learned how to sustain an appropriate degree of vulnerability while remaining personable to his audience. Dre realizes how important it is for a physician to have a mastery of these qualities, so they are things that he’ll carry in whatever he does, especially in treating patients.

For now, Dre plans to stay active in the Music Program. He starts a new position this semester as the College Chorus’s assistant conductor, and is currently learning musical conducting and more advanced music theory under Joe Gregorio. As a singer for most of his life, Dre is excited to take on this “different but important role.” His experiences and knowledge gained thus far have already made Dre “grow so much as a musician”, and he is “infinitely grateful” not just for this new position, but for all the opportunities Swarthmore has given him throughout his life to pursue music.

Maria Consuelo de Dios ’21

ARC Program Notes

In ARC our intention is to bring together two very different drumming traditions of tabla from North India and taiko from Japan.  We sought to find choreographer/dancers whose artistry would include a responsive sensitivity subtle enough yet expansive enough in order to interpret the enormous dynamic and physical range of the arc between these two poles.

We also see a second relational graph producing an arc between the electrodes of tabla and the dance/movement with taiko—an art form comprising both drumming and choreographed full-body movement in equal parts—as the resultant voltage that will illuminate the relationship between the three components.

We hope for exploration as well as reconciliation of these disparate disciplines.  Thundering taiko drums will offer a dynamic contrast to the quieter, complex rhythms of tabla; and as the taiko drummers explore a complex personal kinesphere with the space and volume of their drums, dancers will seek out sonic spaces and the rhythms that define them.

While tabla drums—played as a pair—are now played all over India, these drums are traditionally found in the north of India.  The two drums typically produce as many as twelve distinct sounds and the rhythm cycles can consist of over one-hundred beats.  All rhythmic phrases can be spoken as recitative as can rhythms of Taiko. Tabla often accompanies dance traditionally and today.  The dancers too recite these rhythmic syllables as part of the process of choreographing, teaching, and performing.

Taiko—a term that means ‘fat or big drum’—have traditionally been played for folk festivals and religious rituals in temples, shrines and in sacred forest sites.  Stimulated by massive economic growth of postwar Japan and its concomitant move of large populations to the cities, these urban communities soon developed a nostalgic interest in rural traditions and values and ultimately in their efficacy for the revitalization of their home village communities.  Also, in response to the notion of the Japanese community that the incessant intrusion of the modern was a product of Western enlightened reason, new forms of artistic expression were born. These forms often reflecting traditional source, but in opposition to customary decorative art, sought to express in a diverse and experimental manner a search for post-war identity.

The development of contemporary Taiko has played a role in this search.  In 1971 Den Tagayasu created Ondekoza, the first group that would take taiko from traditional performance sites to international concert stages. The name means ‘demon drumming’—derived from ‘Ondeko’,  a demon drum-dance invocation for a successful harvest or fish catch. Den Tagayasu describes Ondeko as having a contagious, spiritual, shamanistic power found in Shinto ritual.

‘Ondekoza’ refers both to ‘demon dancers’ or ‘artisans’ and is also present in ARC’s culminating section which features references to the demon-sword dance Oni Kenbai, originally a danced offering in order to comfort ancestral spirits, and later, provide inspiration and courage for soldiers before or after battle.  While Oni Kenbai consists of rhythms from the distant past, our performance will incorporate the rhythmic framework of the classical Indian tehai creating an expectant, forward momentum for both dancers and drummers. Our hope is our Oni Kenbai, as well as the full ARC performance, will not only provide comfort to our ancestors, but engagement and inspiration to all in our audience.

Professor Kim Arrow

ARC

ARC Residency at Swarthmore College

For a three-week period in July 2018, an entire cast of performers gathered at Swarthmore College’s Department of Music & Dance in order to create a performance titled ARC. This performance project combines music and dance idiosyncratically to explore how different musical genres collaborate or clash and how dancer/choreographers interpret the uniquely created rhythms.

This evening-length performance suite will bring together drumming traditions of tabla (from North India) and taiko (from Japan), along with contemporary Western, African Diasporic, and Southeast Asian dance.

“For instance, how does taiko drumming, known for tremendous sonic impact, interact with the complex rhythmic cycles and sounds of the tabla?” Swarthmore Dance Professor Joe Small asked. “How do the dancer/choreographers interpret the array of rhythms and sounds they can hear?  And conversely, how do the drummers respond to the actions of the dancer/choreographers?”

Taiko, or “fat drum” in Japanese, refers to designs and drums played in Japan and to the art of drumming in various formalized manners. Taiko has had a long history as an instrument, but as performance music, taiko is a post-WWII phenomenon. In North America, taiko was brought over by mostly working-class Japanese immigrants who used it as a form of community entertainment.

“As taiko involves physical dynamism – that is, it’s an embodied form of drumming that can be considered choreography in and of itself – practitioners (especially anyone who feels underrepresented) find the art quite empowering and a means to express their identity particularly in a manner that the public will take notice,” Professor Small said.

Tabla originates from the Indian subcontinent and consists of a pair of drums. Tabla is particularly important in Hindustani classical music since the 18th century. Playing the tabla involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create different sounds and rhythms.

Because of the combination of different musical genres, each artist had to step out of their comfort zones to better understand each other’s work and methodology. Therefore, the effective collaboration needed to create ARC’smusic and dance during its creative residency highly depended on an environment of mutual openness.

The cast consists of three tabla artists: Lenny Seidman, Jonathan Marmor, and Daniel Scholnick; three taiko artists: Joe Small, Kristy Oshiro, and Isaku Kageyama; and three choreographers/dancers: Laurel Jenkins, Annielille Gavino and Orlando Hunter.

ARC was conceptualized by Lenny Seidman, a tabla player and teacher, a composer, Co-Director of Spoken Hand Percussion Orchestra, and Jazz Curator for Painted Bride Art Center. Seidman began studying tabla in 1971, but it was only when Seidman became a student of tabla maestro, Zakir Hussain, that he directed his performing focus exclusively to tabla.

As for Professor Small, he is not only an Assistant Professor of Dance at Swarthmore College, but also a professional taiko drum artist. His creative approach often incorporates postmodern choreography and performance art. Professor Small has been a member of Marco Lienhard’s ensemble, Taikoza, since 2009. He is a disciple of pioneering taiko artist Eitetsu Hayashi and the sole foreign member of his Japan-based professional ensemble, Fu-Un no Kai, since 2012.

“I was contacted by Lenny [Seidman] some time in 2016, inviting me to be part of the ARC project, as I’m a professional taiko drum artist” Professor Small said when asked how he became involved with the performance project.  “Having had the chance to collaborate with Lenny during my time as a Swarthmore undergraduate dance major in 2004-2005, I happily agreed to collaborate.”

ARC will be performed on Friday, October 5 at 8 pm in the LPAC Pearson-Hall Theater, and was financially made possible by support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and Swarthmore’s William J. Cooper Grant.

David Chan ’19