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