Monthly Archives: November 2018

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