Monthly Archives: February 2018

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The Jasper String Quartet’s Culminating Performance

Since their formation at Oberlin Conservatory in 2006, the Jasper String Quartet has received a steady stream of recognition and praise. From prestigious awards at various music competitions, to residencies at Oberlin College, Rice University, Yale University, Temple University, and Swarthmore College, the Jasper String Quartet has traveled extensively to deliver both emotionally stunning performances as well as informative master classes. While in residency as a Featured Guest Artist at Swarthmore, the Jasper String Quartet has conducted a series of master classes, rehearsals, and workshops over the past few months with students in chamber music and composition courses, the Swarthmore College Lab Orchestra, and the Swarthmore College Orchestra.

When Andrew Hauze of the Music Program became acquainted with the Jasper String Quartet in 2010 through Astral Artists, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, he recognized that the group was not only passionate about their art, but also eager to share their knowledge with younger students.

“I saw that not only are they terrific musicians and an amazing group together, but really fine teachers. One of the prerequisites for inviting people to participate in this featured artist series is that they are able to teach and interact well with undergraduate students who are not in a conservatory but who are really serious about music.”

Since the Jasper String Quartet is based in Philadelphia, it was fitting for the group to visit Swarthmore College a number of times throughout the academic year. Although still early in their professional relationship with the college, Professor Hauze has found their impact profound as they work with our students in both master classes and orchestra sectionals.

“After they work with us, the difference is immediate, and the sound, the way that we play, the kind of chamber music sense of playing together, is startling. We’ve had the opportunity for them to play alongside student musicians, so it’s not just a teacher-student relationship, but…playing together as colleagues making one musical experience.”

This ability to create unity and emphasize the importance of communication was a lesson that Jasmine Sun ‘18, a violinist at Swarthmore College who attended one of the Jasper String Quartet’s master classes, noticed and marveled at as well. “They helped us to harmonize our sounds and play more cohesively. They showed us how to listen more closely to each other [and] worked with us on using certain techniques to enhance our sound quality. It was a wonderful experience…to see how small changes they suggested really helped us to enhance our playing.”

The deep sense of awareness and intimacy that has propelled the Jasper String Quartet to such success serves a poignant reminder of the importance of music as a source of community. The Quartet’s exceptional capacity to listen and communicate so well with one another is something that Hauze is hopeful those who attend the Jasper String Quartet’s solo concert in Lang Music Hall on March 2nd will enjoy. They will be playing Haydn’s Quartet in D minor Op. 76 no. 2, as well as other works by Shostakovich and Mendelssohn. The concert is free and open to the public.

Marion Kudla ’19

asher wolf

Profile of Music Major Asher Wolf ’18

When asked about his post-graduation and career plans, music major Asher Wolf ’18 replies without hesitation, “I want to be a rockstar.” On campus, Asher proudly displays his self-described “obsession” with music in many ways. He has written a classical piece performed last semester on strings by the professional Jasper String Quartet, as well as a choral piece to be performed this semester by the Swarthmore College Garnet Singers. He has performed on campus in various student bands and has branded himself under the moniker “Glom.” In all appearances, Asher “Glom” Wolf is well on his way to becoming a rockstar.

Asher’s love for music began before he can remember, before he believes he had “formed a sense of self.” According to his parents, Asher was always drawn to the guitar and loved sad cowboy songs as a young child. Fast forward to today, and Asher can be found listening to anything and everything, absorbing as much music as he can. “I’m at the point where I have this skill to be able to hear music that’s unfamiliar to me, of a different style that I don’t know very well, and be able to enjoy it. Now I kind of just love everything.”

Asher attributes his open and diverse appreciation of music to his Swarthmore experiences. “The world’s kind of opened up to me with music since I’ve been here.” Upon arriving at Swarthmore, Asher had not yet chosen his major, nor realized his lifelong path in pursuing music. He remembers discussing his academic plans with a high-school friend who told him, “All you talk about is music.” At first offended, Asher reflected on the statement and came to a self-realization. “I decided to be a major then when I realized that it was obvious that I was totally obsessed with music, and that it would be silly to do something non-music related with my life.”

Although he claims to have taken on the role of “devil’s advocate” with the music department, expanding his focus to include folk, rock, jazz, blues, pop, bluegrass, and funk, Asher admits that he also loves the classical repertoire he studies. However, his passion for diverse genres has manifested in an interest in ethnomusicology within his music studies. When asked to describe his major, Asher explains, “The discipline of music theory is very internal. It’s about taking a piece of music and then burying your head in it and waiting for your eyes to adjust then looking around and figuring out how it ticks. Which is awesome and necessary for understanding music, but I also care about looking at music in a more contextualized way. So what that means for me is combining it with studies in sociology and philosophy, describing how music works the way it does and how musical meaning is conveyed.”

After graduating, Asher hopes to teach music in Philadelphia while performing and working on his songwriting. Although he is set on his ultimate goal of being a rockstar, he sees his path getting there as more unclear. “If [teaching] doesn’t work, then I’ll get some kind of day-job, hopefully something music-related like a music establishment, performance venue, or guitar store. If not, I’ll wash dishes or wait tables, something to free my brain up so I can do brain things while I make money. Basically, just somehow make a living until people…I don’t really know what happens after then, but maybe till people notice you and sweep you up to heaven?” More seriously regarding his goals for the future, Asher says, “I say ‘rockstar’ kind of facetiously, in homage to my twelve-year-old self, but I want to be a musician. I want to be an artist. I want to make original music and have people hear it and be the kind of musician that brings joy and substance to others’ lives.”

Maya Kikuchi ’20

The Lunch Hour Concert Series

Wander through the highly populated Parrish Parlors midday on a Monday and you will find yourself an inadvertent audience member to a Lunch Hour Concert. The newest Concert Series at Swarthmore differs drastically from most other musical events that are usually held in Lang Concert Hall or other designated performance venues. Since its creation, the Series has served a variety of purposes and communities on campus. First, the concerts increase visibility for the Music Program and encourage many students who might not have otherwise attended a formal music event to stop and listen. In this way, the Series also serves the greater Swarthmore community of students, faculty, and staff, creating a more casual and accessible space to experience and appreciate music. Because the performances are short and on a drop-by basis, more people can attend.

Most importantly, the Series allows student musicians and performers more opportunities to play in front of an audience. Says Desta Pulley, organizer of the Lunch Hour Concert Series, “Usually, students are performing with ensembles or as part of a larger concert, but these [Lunch Hour Concerts] are more intimate and focus more attention on the individuals.” The student musicians, representing everything from solo acts to string quartets to acoustic guitar and singer duos, feel the same way. Although the genres of the music performed vary drastically, the performers all appreciate the more intimate, lounge setting provided through the Lunch Hour Concerts. Asher Wolf, member of a student bluegrass duo, describes the virtues of such a performance space. “Parrish is a good venue because it’s small enough to reward detailed listening for acoustic music. And it’s central, so people can wander through by accident.”

Student musicians are not the only ones to perform in the Lunch Hour Concerts, however. Past performances have featured Andrew Hauze, professor of music at Swarthmore, as a solo pianist. This week’s featured group is comprised of three professionals, clarinetist Ken Weiner, pianist Kim Kahng, and cellist Tom Whitman, who serves as chair of the Music and Dance program at Swarthmore. The Lunch Hour Concert Series provides an interesting mix of student musicians who may be performing together for the first time, and professional groups like that of Weiner, Kahng, and Whitman, who have played together for five years. Students and faculty alike are united across years of experience and genres in their mission to reach more people with their music. As Asher Wolf puts it, “The world needs more music in more places at all times.”

Maya Kikuchi ’20

early music ensemble

Middle Ages, Music, and Madrigals

If you know absolutely nothing about medieval music, perhaps it brings to mind images of weary monks singing gloomy Gregorian chants, or wannabe troubadours congregating at a Renaissance fair. Harder to imagine is half a dozen Swatties singing in Italian about orgasms. Welcome to the Early Music Ensemble, one of the newest classes born from the Fetter Chamber Music Program.

The Fetter program allows small groups of students to audition to form their own, small music ensembles. If accepted, they are given a coach from the Music and Dance Department and funded for a full semester, culminating in a final performance. This semester, one of these groups is the Early Music Ensemble, led by Professor James Blasina.

“I think it’s a very important opportunity for students to do music like this. Early music is still very influential today, in anything from pop to Western classical music …For example, you can’t understand Bach if you don’t understand Gregorian chants,” explains Professor Blasina.

Reuben Gelley Newman ’21 first heard of the Ensemble from a friend and has developed a deeper appreciation for Early Music since joining. “I love music and sang some madrigals in high school chorus…[medieval music] doesn’t get as much attention as more modern classical music from the traditional canon…people don’t do it as much, so it’s mostly smaller groups where we know each other better.”

Having a small, close group is essential to the early musical experience. As Professor Blasina explains, “[Much] early music wasn’t meant for performance, it’s really used in private or religious contexts, so we’re deliberately a smaller group. [Secular music] was often sung in private contexta— you might have a few after dinner drinks, gather up, and sing these polyphonic songs called madrigals. They often deal with romance and sex, sometimes very frankly.”

Madrigals do not fit in with what we might imagine as Early Music- they are fun and playful and very often sexual.  Natasha Nogueira ’18, a member of the Ensemble, recalls one particular madrigal sang by the Ensemble. “[The madrigal] talks about dying a thousand times but it’s actually about orgasms — [it’s] very weird and fun to be singing that. My favorite is maybe ‘Sumer is icumen in’ (‘Summer is coming,’ in Middle English.) I heard it as a kid on a CD, and I’m really excited to be singing it now. It’s a kind of music everyone can enjoy.”

Gelley Newman’s favorite is based on a Latin poem, written to commemorate the death of Lorenzo da Medici. As Gelley Newman explains, it is “…a very sad song of grief and mourning, the only one of the repertoire that’s sad…there’s something very powerful in its evocations of grief, dark and mysterious.”

Professor Blasina’s favorite also deals with mourning – a Monteverdi madrigal recounting the grief of a lover at his beloved’s grave. “There are sonorities in these madrigals you don’t hear again until the 19th century…it’s anachronistic in the best way. Another great one, not part of our repertoire, is a Monteverdi duet aria, L’incorazzione di Poppea, the story of Nero and Poppea. It’s so beautiful, but we know the end of their story [Nero allegedly beat Poppea to death while she was pregnant], so it’s also creepy.  So you’re left feeling very uncomfortable. And it would have been sung by a female singer and a castrato, with very similar voices, so that opens the door for lots of gendered interpretations.”

Grief, love, lust, discomfort, all are brought to life by the Ensemble. It’s a far cry from what one might associate with the “Dark Ages,” and overturned my own preconceptions about Middle Ages culture and arts. The Early Music Ensemble’s final performance is scheduled in April; the campus and Swarthmore community is invited to come and experience how music over seven hundred years old can reflect experiences and emotions essential to the human experience.

Emilie Hautemont ’20

Kris Faatz photo

Kris Chadderton Faatz ’01: To Love a Stranger

Appreciators of music and literature alike will be intrigued by Kris Chadderton Faatz ’01, musician turned novelist, Swarthmore alum, and author of To Love a Stranger. This story centers on life in a classical orchestra, with characters drawn from Faatz’s life as a professional musician herself. In fact, Faatz claims the book would never have been written without her experiences in the world of music. Prior to To Love a Stranger, Faatz had never done any serious fiction writing but recalls writing stories as a kid. From the novel’s conception in 2007, the project took 10 years to complete.

In asking Faatz about her inspiration for the novel, she points to music as an obvious influence. “I wanted to bring readers into the backstage world and show them what musicians’ lives look like,” she says. However, as the novel evolved and took shape, Faatz found new themes emerging in her writing. “I began to realize that it was also about social justice. The story takes place during the late 1980s, at the height of the AIDS crisis. The more I worked on it, the more urgency I felt to tell my main character’s story because even these days (perhaps especially these days) it’s still far too easy to look at someone else as ‘other’ and dismiss or judge them out of hand.”

Another influence on Faatz’s writing was her Swarthmore experience as a music and engineering double major, which she described as “intense and sometimes pretty exhausting.” However, the endless hours spent in Lang and many performances with Swarthmore’s chorus and orchestra led Faatz to pursue music in graduate school, and later, as a profession. Although her engineering major seems less directly related to her novel, Faatz draws a connection through the thinking, problem-solving, and patience involved in both engineering and writing. On the connection between writing and music, Faatz says, “They’re both forms of storytelling. Musical storytelling can be a bit more abstract, but when I’m playing, as when I’m writing, what I want to do most is communicate with the audience. Storytelling in either format is a way of inviting people to experience something new and join in an act of sharing. For me, that’s the most powerful aspect of both art forms.”

This weekend, Faatz will read from To Love a Stranger as well as perform piano pieces from or related to the book. The performance and reading embody the intersection between music history, performance, and literature. Faatz will also provide historical commentary, as well as an audience Q&A, meet-and-greet, and book signing. Says Faatz, “I’m especially excited to have this event at Swarthmore because I know how much the community values the arts and cares about current issues and social justice. I can’t imagine a more supportive place to share my ten-year book project, and I’m so glad to have the chance to bring Stranger home.”

Kris Faatz Reading and Performance takes place Saturday, February 10th at 3PM in Lang Concert Hall. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit https://www.swarthmore.edu/music/concerts-events.

Maya Kikuchi ’20

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Janis Siegel in Concert at Swarthmore College

Janis Siegel, a nine-time Grammy winner, seventeen-time Grammy nominee, and founding member of the vocal group The Manhattan Transfer, will perform at Swarthmore College this Sunday, February 11th. In addition to her success with The Manhattan Transfer, she has also led a successful solo career, releasing almost a dozen albums that have garnered consistently high critical and popular praise. While working with The Manhattan Transfer, Siegel established herself as a dynamic songwriter as well as a skilled vocalist. She wrote five charts for the acclaimed Vocalese and seven charts for the Grammy-winning Brasil, as well as the charts for “Why Not?” and “Sassy,” both of which earned the group Grammys. In 1989, after recording and touring with The Manhattan Transfer for more than a decade, she released Short Stories with jazz pianist Fred Hersch, which Jazz Times ranked “among the most graceful, thoroughly heartbreaking efforts of the modern era, thanks to her rich, emotive vocals.” In 1993, she and the other members of The Manhattan Transfer received honorary doctorates from the Berklee School of Music, and in 1999 they were among the first class of inductees into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. She continues to tour with The Manhattan Transfer, as well as with her own band, and teaches master classes while remaining an active member of the music scene. Her recent projects have spanned several genres, from participating in improvisational vocal performances to curating CDs that feature such vocal legends as Lisa Fisher and Kellylee Evans.

Siegel helped usher in a renaissance of American vocal-based music. Her early work with The Manhattan Transfer came at a time when jazz music was primarily an arena for instrumental musicians. Siegel’s powerful vocals on The Manhattan Transfer’s first records forced people to rethink this assumption, while her solo career cemented her place as both a preternaturally talented vocalist and as a versatile songwriter. Through the years she has influenced not only jazz music, but vocal performance in general. She attributes this partly to one of the unchanging, transcendent characteristics of music: “I think people will always respond to emotion and to great songs sung well,” she says. “And I think the vocalists in particular will always be in demand. There’s nothing that approximates the human voice. In the end, when you come down to it, people want to feel something.”

Don’t miss Janis Siegel this Sunday, February 11th at 7:30pm in Lang Concert Hall.  She will perform with pianist John DiMartino, bassist Gerald Veasley, and tenor sax Andrew Neu, who is also Director of the Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble. The event is free and open to the public. She will also be giving a master class in the Lang Concert Hall at 3:00 pm on the same day, and will be performing with the Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble in April.

Gabriel Hearn-Desautels ’20

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Music Major Profile: Rachel Hottle

Music major and biology minor Rachel Hottle ’18 considers herself to have taken “a liberal arts approach to music,” exploring many musical skills and concepts instead of sticking to just one. She plays both the flute and piano, and sings in the Swarthmore College Chorus, Garnet Singers, and Grapevine acapella group. She also composes music herself, including a piece based on Emily Dickinson’s poem, “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark,” that was performed in the Swarthmore College Chorus concert last fall.

Hottle has found inspiration in female composers and songwriters. “I was trained in classical flute and piano but most of the composers of classical music tend to be dead white men,  which was not the most inspiring thing for me growing up,” she said. “It’s hard to look up to Mozart as a young girl. So I play primarily classical music but I draw my inspiration from Joni Mitchell, Carole King, [etc]. I really look up to female singer-songwriters.”

Her interest in the gender imbalance present in classical music has stayed with her throughout her time at Swarthmore, influencing her senior recital. “My initial idea was, ‘I wanna do a recital that has only music by female composers,’ but I have since discovered that that’s kind of difficult since there aren’t a lot of female composers,” Hottle said. She instead adjusted her plans to feature “mainly non- dead white men” in her recital.

Hottle’s senior recital will be “a little more eclectic than most senior recitals,” according to her, including singing, flute, guitar, duets with friends, and a song from Grapevine. “Playing with other people has been an important way that I’ve connected with people outside of your typical social interactions,” she said. “One of my closest friends who graduated, we would just hang out all the time and sing and play the guitar and just harmonize together.”

She has cultivated this love of group music-making since she was 12, when her church asked her to play piano to fill a gap in their ensemble.

“I think that was pretty central to my musical formation, being forced to do things that were a little bit beyond my ability,” she said. “I had to improvise on the fly and learn how to be really flexible, which I think really helped me in group music-making.”

After leaving the tight-knit Swarthmore community where she participated in so many ensembles, Hottle plans to study music cognition in a graduate program. She will also continue playing music as well as studying it.

“Regardless of what I’m doing, I definitely want to keep playing after I leave Swat and I’m not sure how that works in the real world…are there community groups that you can join? Do you just hang up flyers saying ‘who wants to jam with me?’ I don’t know.”

Bayliss Wagner ’21

Ni'Ja Whitson Ian Douglas

History and The Black Magic of Living: Thomas DeFrantz and Ni’Ja Whitson

From February 2nd to the 10th, “The Black Magic of Living,” part of the Cooper Series, will take place at Swarthmore College. Artist-scholars Thomas DeFrantz and Ni’Ja Whitson will be in residency giving talks, master classes, and performances in a multi-dimensional meditation on being Black in America. DeFrantz’s and Whitson’s dance performances were inspired by the poetry of Jean Toomer and Marlon Riggs, respectively, two artists who pushed beyond the traditional boundaries of their mediums to tell stories of the origins and lives of African Americans at specific times in history. The resulting performances are complex, layered examinations of some of the biggest questions facing American society today.

Thomas DeFrantz’s work, CANE, explores stories of African-American sharecropping. Inspired by Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer’s 1923 text of the same name, CANE uses a digitally-constructed canefield to create a “responsive environment” that the dancers interact with. Toomer’s text was highly experimental for its time, combining poetry, drama, stories, and sketches to tell stories of the origins and experiences of African-Americans in the United States. In the way that Toomer pushed beyond traditional literary boundaries, DeFrantz stretches typical expectations of visual art and, in this case, dance. His use of technology to create the canefield – the piece of the dance that would most immediately place the work in a specific historical context – gives credence to the idea that the present cannot be understood without first understanding the past. DeFrantz and his company will perform CANE on February 2 and 3 at 8:00 PM in LPAC’s Frear Ensemble Theater.

Ni’Ja Whitson’s A Meditation on Tongues is a more physically expansive piece. At one point, both dancers take turns reciting a speech about the inability to “go home” as a black gay man. While one speaks, the other runs around the entire performance space before trading places with the speaker. As they repeat this over and over, their speaking becomes more laborious, symbolizing the physical and emotional strain of alienation. A Meditation on Tongues is a performance art adaptation of Marlon T. Riggs’s film, Tongues Untied. Whitson’s piece explores ideas and questions about loss at the height of the AIDS crisis, while reimagining images of Black and Queer masculinities. Whitson’s work also relies heavily on history to present an altered picture of the present, and will be performed in LPAC’s Frear Ensemble Theater on February 9 and 10 at 8:00 PM.

By framing these questions of identity in different historical contexts, Whitson proves that finding answers is difficult if one simply looks at a single event or time period. History is a living entity, and every event must be considered not only in its present context, but in terms of the ideas, beliefs, and circumstances that led to it over time. Both of these artists have created works that channel this idea toward the concept of being Black in America. Their pieces are visceral and challenging, and ask as many questions as they answer.

The Cooper Series is supported by the William J. Cooper Foundation, which provides a varied program of lectures, performances and exhibitions which enriches the academic work of Swarthmore College. The Foundation was established by William J. Cooper who specified that the income from his gift should be used “in bringing to the college eminent citizens of this and other countries who are leaders in statesmanship, education, the arts, sciences, learned professions and business.” Planning for next season is currently underway.

From February 2nd to the 10th, both artists will be giving talks and master classes in addition to their performances. Information can be found here:https://www.swarthmore.edu/cooper-series/black-magic-living.

Gabriel Hearn-Desautels ’20