Monthly Archives: December 2017

Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers Fall Concert

The Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers concert on Saturday, December 9 at 3:00 PM invites its audience to celebrate not only Bach’s music on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, but also the voices and experiences of minority composers. The unexpected repertoire, chosen by director Joseph Gregorio, will feature Bach’s “Magnificat,” performed by the entire Swarthmore College Chorus and Orchestra. The Garnet Singers, a subset of the chorus composed of students at the college, will sing pieces around the theme of light and dark.

Though the Garnet Singers will be performing Bach with a piece called “O Jesu Christ Meins Lebens Licht,” the majority of their pieces come from composers not typically represented in classical choral music, such as women, African-Americans, and people of Native American descent. “I’m very aware that it’s difficult for women and minorities to be represented fairly in the classical concert hall and it’s something I wanted to try and work toward with this programming,” Gregorio said. “I try to pick music from throughout history and from as broad a diversity of composers as makes sense.”

From capturing despair to celebrating hope, these composers each bring their own diverse responses to the Garnet Singer’s theme. One piece not only responds to darkness but attempts to make sense of it through a poem by Emily Dickinson, “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark.” Alto section leader Rachel Hottle ’18 composed the piece this year and will perform as a soloist. Two compositions that evoke a sense of hope are “Sure on this Shining Night” by Samuel Barber and “My Lord, What a Mornin,’” composed by the grandfather of African-American spiritual arrangers, H. T. Burleigh. “The setting is very much at dawn,” Gregorio said of the Burleigh piece. “There’s darkness and there’s the realization of approaching light.”

One of the most unorthodox pieces of the repertoire is the Ute Sundance, a piece sung with vocables instead of lyrics. Ethan Sperry adapted the composition for chorus with the permission of Valerie Naranjo, who based the original composition off of a yearly ritual that her Ute ancestors performed. “The Sundance was historically a very difficult and painful dance ritual,” Gregorio said. “It was thought that through the Sundance, all of the grudges and disappointments and bad feelings of the previous year are cleansed and washed away, so it’s a ritual of purification, really, and the idea that was by the suffering taken on by these dancers, the community was washed clean of all of those bad feelings.”

Reena Esmail, who was a new student at Juilliard when the Twin Towers fell, composed “Ritual” in the wake of the attacks. The “constellation of notes that evoke fear and uncertainty,” as Gregorio notes, express the apprehension that Esmail felt. She based her composition off of a William Stafford poem that she encountered in class the day before 9/11: “As we…began to reel at the overwhelming magnitude and gravity of the situation, there was only one phrase that emerged from the chaos. It was the last line of Stafford’s poem. The darkness around us is deep,” she writes on her blog.

During the second half of the concert, the college chorus and the orchestra will perform “Magnificat,” a liturgical composition based on a Latin biblical hymn. Andrew Kim ’18 will perform as assistant conductor of the piece. In addition, for the first time in many years, professional vocalists will perform with the group, including Swarthmore voice instructors Clara Rottsolk and Nancy Jantsch. This year marks 500 years since Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, initiating the Protestant Reformation. Luther greatly influenced Johann Sebastian Bach, whose musical career is closely associated with the Lutheran reformation. “The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most beautiful results of the Reformation, so I wanted to pay some sort of homage to that,” Gregorio said. “The spectacle of the chorus singing Bach, whose music is very intricate, very florid, but absolutely glorious in sound—I’d like to think that could lift anyone out of a bad mood.”

The pieces that the chorus will perform at their fall concert will evoke emotions ranging from despair to apprehension to joy. The depth of the repertoire will provide an enriching and awe-inspiring experience for all who attend.

Bayliss Wagner ’21

Music Major Profile: Andrew Kim ’18

Senior Andrew Kim’s involvement with music on campus doesn’t end with the designation “music major.” Music truly pervades every aspect of his life at Swarthmore. I had witnessed his conductorship in Chorus and Garnet Singers and frequently seen him in the Lang Music Building–often wondering if he ever left Underhill Library–but I did not truly understand the extent of his dedication until I sat down to interview him about his experiences with the Music Program.

Andrew is majoring in music with a concentration in conducting, both choral and instrumental. He has worked with multiple Swarthmore music ensembles, including Chorus, Garnet Singers, Lab Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, and Orchestra. Outside of his experiential work, Andrew studies with Joe Gregorio and Andrew Hauze on fundamental musicianship that supports his conducting.

When asked about his musical background and the origins of his interests, Andrew surprises me with his answer, stating that his interest in music came later in life. He cites a specific memory, singing Mozart’s Requiem towards the end of high school, as the first moving experience he’d had with music. “That moment really captured my interest in music and got me to understand its power,” said Andrew. From there, Andrew began looking into liberal arts colleges like Swarthmore because he felt that in that environment, unlike at a conservatory, he would be able to pursue music in some form. “I thought, I’ll get started and see where it goes.”

Although Andrew’s interest in music was still forming post-high school, he knew he wanted to study conducting specifically. “I found the role of getting everyone together to make music appealing, so I had that vague interest coming into college. I talked to Joe Gregorio and Andrew Hauze and they suggested different paths that I could take from there.” Then, laughing, Andrew said, “I actually came here to study English, so I was going to be a double major for a long time. But I knew music was going to be the interest that I wanted to pursue. I just wasn’t sure what I could do or how I could pursue this since usually people who study music are people who have played for a long time, and I just didn’t have that kind of background. So I had the mindset of, ‘Well, we’ll see what happens.’”

As it turns out, a lot happened. During his time at Swarthmore, Andrew has performed numerous concerts with Swarthmore’s choral and orchestral ensembles. He has been heavily involved in the Lab Orchestra, which was created his junior year as a response to the demand for experience opportunities for student conductors like Andrew. With the Lab Orchestra, he has conducted both on campus and with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This semester, Andrew also won first place in the annual undergraduate choral conducting competition held by the PA chapter of the American Choral Directors’ Association.

Andrew describes his experiences at Swarthmore as invaluable in shaping his musical career. “I think studying music would have been impossible anywhere else because I just wouldn’t have had the preliminary qualifications to go to a music school, so I’m very grateful to have found a place where I could get started. I think being in a small department has been really advantageous for me because I get a ton of time with Andrew and Joe. They really met me where I was, and there’s a flexibility within the department that affords me opportunities like the Lab Orchestra even when it’s not a part of the regular curriculum. And I think the connection that I’ve had with my professors is a unique thing to a liberal arts college. I’ve probably spent more time with Andrew Hauze than some of my closest friends,” he jokes. More seriously, he notes, “I think that’s really special. I’m so grateful for the support, and it’s been a blessing working with so many talented professors and musicians.”

Andrew’s Senior Recital will take place on Friday, December 8 at 8:00 PM in Lang Concert Hall. He will be conducting a group of friends he has musically collaborated with during his time at Swarthmore, in selections of concertos by Schumann, Ibert, Chopin, Shostakovich, and Beethoven. This performance is free and open to the public.

Maya Kikuchi ’20

Chinese Music Ensemble’s Debut Concert

On Sunday, December 10 at 7:30 PM in Lang Concert Hall, the Chinese Music Ensemble will perform its debut concert as an official Swarthmore College ensemble. The group had previously been part of the Fetter Chamber Music program, performing only in the Fetter concerts each semester. Now, the group has sixteen members, with students performing on traditional Chinese instruments including the guzheng (zither), erhu (bowed fiddle), pipa (plucked lute), yangqin (hammered dulcimer), dizi (flute), and percussion.

Directed by Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant and Performance Associate Wang Guowei, the ensemble performs traditional and contemporary music from different regions of China and the Chinese Diaspora. Professor Bryant, who joined the Department of Music and Dance this fall, plays erhu in the ensemble, which she studied along with guzheng in Taiwan, China, and the U.S. Wang, an internationally touring erhu soloist and composer, has directed Chinese ensembles at Wesleyan University, Williams College, NYU, and the Westminster Choir College. He also arranged the versions of the folk songs that the ensemble will be performing in this concert. The program includes Cantonese folk song “Riding in the Countryside,” a medley of three folk songs, Ding Guoshun’s “Spring of Happiness,” Fan Shange and Geshanjida’s “Spring in the Snow-capped Mountains,” Taiwanese folk song “Catching Mud Carp,” Hunan folk song “Chestnut Flower,” and Jian Guangyi and Wang Zhiwei’s “New Song of the Herdsman.” The concert will feature soloists Annie Tingfang Wang, Henry Han ‘20, and Josephine Hung ‘19.

Desta Pulley

Swarthmore Lab Orchestra to Perform at Fetter Chamber Music Concert, Invited Back to PAFA

In response to increased student interest in conducting, Professor Andrew Hauze introduced the Lab Orchestra in the fall of 2016 as a way to give those students practice. This spring, they performed at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) thanks to Concert and Production Manager Jenny Honig’s efforts to find off-campus performance opportunities for the group. This semester, Swarthmore College Lab Orchestra co-conductors Andrew Kim ’18 and Shira Samuels-Shragg ’20 have had the experience of conducting not only the Lab Orchestra, but also the Jasper String Quartet, a Philadelphia-based group of professional musicians.

“Having a lab orchestra like this is very rare for an undergraduate program,” Kim says. “This is usually a model for graduate conducting programs. I don’t know of any other conducting opportunities even at bigger universities that undergrad students can get that parallels this kind of experience… it’s remarkable what we as a small department can do and the development that has happened in the past couple years thanks to Andrew and Jenny.”

 According to Shragg, the rehearsals with the Lab Orchestra have allowed her to explore different interpretations of the pieces because she can ask the group to perform the piece in different ways. “You get the score, you go through it, and you try to figure out what everything means and what ideas you want to bring to it,” Shragg says. “The perfect situation is that you have such a strong image and understanding of how you want the piece to sound that you can simultaneously hear the orchestra, what they’re playing, and the idealized version you have in your head, and bring the orchestra to meet your vision for the piece. What’s fun with Lab Orchestra is because…it’s literally like a lab, we get to play around, whereas you could never walk into an L.A. [Philharmonic] rehearsal and say ‘oh, I’d like to try this passage three different ways.’ In this setting you can do that, we have done that.”

Kim says that conducting for professional musicians has facilitated the improvement of both the student conductors and musicians. “There’s more of a direct feedback with musicians have been playing in orchestras for a long time, so they can give pointed tips that work really well both for the players and us too,” he says. “I’ve just found that everything that they say clicks with both the musicians and me a lot.” Though the group gives feedback, Kim is still able to assert his own creative agency in the pieces that he conducts. “In my two semesters of working with them, I’ve found the space that I need to still be that leader,” he says. “Even though they’re much more accomplished musicians than I am, they’re good about still giving me that space and allowing me to do what I need to do.”

According to Shragg, the Jasper String Quartet prepares her for her career path as a conductor. “It’s different, but it’s great practice because anything that we get to conduct in the real world, that’s how it’s going to be,” Shragg says.

This weekend, Shragg and Kim will debut their holiday repertoire—featuring Sir Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, Covelli’s Christmas Concerto in G minor, Op. 5, No. 8, and “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons—at the PAFA rotunda on December 3 at 2:00 P.M. and during the second half of the Fetter Chamber Music Concert on December 2 at 8 P.M. The Jasper String Quartet will be featured in the Elgar pieces as well as performing solos in the Covelli. Kim took the Jasper String Quartet’s suggestion of the Elgar pieces because of the beauty of the music as well as the late Romantic-era style. “I think it’s a challenging piece for our group but they’ve really kind of risen to the challenges of this piece,” Kim says.

Shragg, on the other hand, will conduct the Vivaldi and Corelli pieces. She was inspired to conduct Vivaldi’s “Winter” after hearing it played during her Music Theory class. Hauze suggested the Corelli as her first piece to conduct “because unlike the Elgar, it’s not super dense. It’s still beautiful and there’s a lot to explore there but it’s more manageable,” Shragg says. The Christmas Concerto was composed to follow the story of Jesus’s birth.

The common thread that ties the pieces that both Shragg and Kim have chosen for their fall repertoire is nature. The Elgar piece an English pastoral, the Corelli has a movement called “pastorale,” and the Vivaldi has its own corresponding poem that includes lines like “shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting, stinging winds; running to and fro to stamp one’s icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.” Both hope that Swarthmore students who attend their performance will be inspired by the wonder of nature, without having to feel the “teeth-chattering,” “stinging” winter weather.

“[The element of nature] is something that’s close to Swarthmore students because we go to school in an arboretum,” Kim said “I hope that at a particularly busy time of the semester it can help people to take a break and even if they’re not outside in cold nature, they can experience nature kind of vicariously in our pieces.”

Bayliss Wagner ’21