Monthly Archives: April 2019

Chinese Music Ensemble Highlights Student Soloists

On Sunday, April 28th, the Swarthmore College Chinese Music Ensemble will hold its spring concert, performing traditional and contemporary music inspired by musical traditions from a variety of ethnic groups and regions across China and its Diaspora. Students will also perform on traditional Chinese instruments such as the guzheng (zither), erhu (bowed fiddle), pipa, (plucked lute) yangqin (hammered dulcimer), dizi (flute), and percussion. Both the students as well as the co-directors, Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant and Professor Guowei Wang have rehearsed every week as an ensemble and individually in preparation for this day.

According to Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant the program lineup for this semester is “definitely driven by the individual and collective talents of [the] particular group of students in the ensemble.” At the beginning of each semester, Professor Bryant and Professor Wang assess the interests, experience, and abilities of the students and suggest pieces for them to practice during the semester and eventually perform near the end. However, nearly all of the students who performed in the Chinese Ensemble during the fall semester continued on this spring, so there was more room this semester to work on each student’s strengths.

Some special features this semester include solos by Josephine Hung’19 on dizi (bamboo flute) and Shirley Liu’22 on guzheng (zither), and a small group of erhu students, Han Chen’22, Rebecca Lin’22, Faye Ma’20, and Jeffrey Zhou’19, with Daisy Lee’22 on ruan (lute). Liu says it is a “great honor for [her] to perform the solo piece ‘Dawn in Spring on the Snowy Mountain’” and is striving to “present this piece at her best capacity this Sunday.”

If an audience member is familiar with Chinese music, Professor Bryant says that “there should be some recognizable pieces in [the] spring program to enjoy.” However, for an audience member who is not familiar with Chinese music, the hope is for such people to “enjoy the variety of pieces on the program,” to “understand what the individual instruments each sound like as well as how the ensemble sounds together,” and to appreciate the fact that “though the instruments in the ensemble each carry different histories in, into, and around China, the modern Chinese orchestra is something that emerged in the nineteenth century.” Audience members are encouraged to come and witness the Chinese Ensemble perform, even if they have attended the ensemble’s recitals in previous semesters, to see “different students featured, a new repertoire, and a continued development of [the] Chinese Music Ensemble at Swarthmore.”

The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 28th, at Lang Concert Hall.

Maria Consuelo de Dios ’21

Orchestra Tackles Symphony, Opera, and Student Composition

With the semester coming to a close, the Swarthmore College Orchestra is preparing for their final concert of the 2018-2019 season.

Coming off of their performance of the classic Dvořák Cello Concerto last semester with Amy Barston, director Andrew Hauze ’04 describes the SCO’s upcoming program as an “exciting mix of familiar and unfamiliar music.” The concert will feature Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony in E minor, debuted in 1896 as the first symphony ever published by a female composer. Beach herself was heavily influenced by Dvořák’s work, and wrote the “Gaelic” Symphony as her own take on the concept of a “New World Symphony.” “I’ve been wanting to program the piece for years,” writes Hauze, “but a new edition didn’t come out until 2017, finally correcting many errors and making the parts easy to read (they had previously been copies of old handwritten parts!). It’s an intensely powerful work, filled with Irish folk tunes blended into Beach’s own grand style.”

Along with the Beach symphony, the Orchestra will also be playing two operatic classics: Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville and “Micaela’s Aria” from Bizet’s Carmen featuring Rebecca Regan ’19, as well as debuting On Narrow Foot-Bridges, a tone poem by Swarthmore’s own Lili Tobias ’19.

“There were many lovely coincidences surrounding the first half of the program,” Hauze explains. “Lili has been a force for community building in our program over the last several years, as she has been regularly showcasing student performers in premieres of her own music and revivals of neglected works by women composers in Parrish lunchtime concerts and on her own senior recital. Lili’s comprehensive exam was on her specialty, the music of Amy Beach, so I was delighted to be able to include a new work by Lili alongside the Beach symphony.”

The coincidences don’t end there. Rebecca Regan, a soprano and Swarthmore’s 2019 Concerto Competition winner, regularly collaborates with Tobias to debut vocal works, and her original composition will be conducted by assistant conductor Shira Samuels-Shragg ‘20 on Saturday.

The Swarthmore College Orchestra will perform on Saturday, April 27th at 8:00 PM in Lang Concert Hall.

Andy Zhang ’22

Courtyard Dancers at New York Kathak Festival

In the context of the United States, Kathak dance, a classical North Indian dance tradition, occupies a marginal space within a larger landscape of dance cultures. That is why an event such as New York Kathak Festival has generated much excitement among patrons of Kathak dance. The New York Kathak Festival will be held from April 19th to April 21st, and Professor Pallabi Chakravorty will be bringing her company, Courtyard Dancers, as well as some Swarthmore students to the festival.

The New York Kathak Festival is a newly formed organization that aims to bring together the American Kathak community together for a dynamic and diverse exchange of movements and ideas. “It is the first time that such an inclusive festival is happening in America, although this is not the first Kathak festival happening in this country, since there have been other big Kathak festivals,” Professor Chakravorty said. “But it shows that Kathak is really growing in the diaspora as a dance form among various communities, so you could see that it is very vibrant and something that people want to be part of.”

The organizing of New York Kathak Festival defies the traditionally conceptualized model of cultural sharing; that is, the idea that culture is passed down from the older generation to the younger generation. This time, the younger generation is spearheading the movement to promote Kathak to a wider audience at the cultural center of the United States. “These are young Indian Americans who want to see their culture in this particular landscape of America,” Professor Chakravorty said. “They wanted to include various different choreographers coming from various different traditions within Kathak.”

Being that this festival brings together a diverse group of Kathak practitioners, Professor Chakravorty saw this as a good opportunity to expose Swarthmore students to the Kathak community that spans from the local to the global. “The students will be exposed to an international community of professional Kathak performers and choreographers, so this will be  like a cultural immersion, even though the duration will be short,” Professor Chakravorty said. “They will see how India’s diversity of religion, language and costumes are expressed through movement, gestures and sound. Altogether, I am hoping it will be a transformative experience.” All students from the Kathak technique class were invited to attend this festival, and those who signed up will be making the trip soon.

Kathak dance belongs to the North Indian music and dance culture and it is both an Islamic form as well as a Hindu form. “It is a very syncretic dance form, and the dance form itself has a lot of diversity woven into it in terms of identity and aesthetics,” Professor Chakravorty said. In general, Kathak dance is high-energy, featuring a lot of turns and a lot of footwork. Rhythmically, the dance comes from percussion tradition, giving the form that high-energy. Yet, it is the more subtle aspects that Professor Chakravorty is currently interested in exploring: “All of these aspects are exciting, but I have always been interested in the more subtle aspects of Kathak like the subtle breath that goes into the movement, or the subtle hand gesture, or the expressive aspects of the face and how that integrates with a tilt of the torso. These are very fine-tuned things that the dance has so the dance is so strong yet so delicate.”

Courtyard Dancers will perform at New York Kathak Festival on its opening day, April 19th. The company functions as a performing group and as a school to train people in Kathak, with Professor Chakravorty as the company’s Founder and Artistic Director. The company seeks to find the relationship between movement and sound, as well as to create choreographies that explore social issues such as violence between Hindus and Muslims in India, Partition, and the delegitimization of courtesans as dancers to name a few topics. “We are really trying to figure out how to tell stories of modern times using the idiom of tradition since the dance traditionally tells mythological stories or various kinds of spiritual stories,” Professor Chakravorty said.

At the festival, Courtyard Dancers will be performing a piece that they have already showcased elsewhere, called Find Metiabruz. The title of the choreography references a place in Kolkata as well as a glorious history lost by the violent processes of colonialism. “It is a historic place which has completely lost its identity, and through this performance, we try to invoke that particular history so people can know a little bit,” Professor Chakravorty said. “This history relates to the Muslim aspects of Kathak dance, which has been under attack because of Hindu fundamentalism going on in India right now.” Find Metiabruz is accompanied by recorded music, tambourines, and recitations from the dancers.

As of now, the members of Courtyard Dancers are rehearsing as much as they can, since every member has a busy work schedule. They are engineers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, and students outside of the company, but because each of them want to see the uplifting of Kathak within America’s cultural landscape, they volunteer with much passion. Professor Chakravorty concludes, “The dedication I have from them is stupendous, and we work with very little resources, without grants, or without space. This is truly a labor of love.”

David Chan ’19
Photo by Sasha Fornari

Tamagawa Taiko Returns for Annual Concert

Returning for its annual performance on Monday, April 15th, the Tamagawa Taiko Drum and Dance Group enters the nineteenth year in its close relationship with the Swarthmore Music and Dance Department. Since 2000, the Tamagawa Taiko Drum and Dance Group has garnered annual attention, loyalty, and enthusiasm from Swarthmore faculty and students, as well as members of the surrounding Greater Philadelphia region, with a performance each spring in Philadelphia’s Cherry Blossom Festival.

This close-knit relationship began when retired Professor Kim Arrow of the Swarthmore Dance Program met Tamagawa Taiko director, Isaburoh Hanayagi, at a Philadelphia dance festival in 1999. Since this first serendipitous meeting, Tamagawa Taiko’s presence and influence on students has grown tremendously. Professor Joseph Small, Swarthmore’s new taiko dance professor since Professor Kim Arrow’s retirement, remembers first hearing about Tamagawa University back when he was a student at Swarthmore in 2002. That spring during Tamagawa Taiko’s visit, Small and a few other taiko students learned the piece “Shin-Tamagawa Daiko,” now a mainstay of Swarthmore taiko’s repertory.

“As a member from 2003-2004, along with Alex Hudson ’05, I recall both the physical intensity and vigor of playing, as well as the intricacy of choreography occurring both at the individual level and between the group – sometimes relying upon pinpoint precision, sometimes asking for personal flair and character,” says Small.

It is precisely this vigor and intricacy that Tamagawa Taiko is known for. Small characterizes Tamagawa Taiko’s quintessential and unique style as bright, energetic, and heartfelt, with works consisting of both traditional folk rhythms and wholly new, contemporary choreography. This versatile repertory emerges out of the group’s diverse music and dance training at Tamagawa University. When Small did a semester abroad there, the training involved classes in Japanese folk dance, classical dance known as Nihon Buyo, and the more traditionally Western styles of ballet, contemporary, modern, jazz, tap, and hip-hop.

The students at Tamagawa Taiko however, are not only involved in music and dance training, but also in the production component of their tours and performances. During their first year at University, they are required to work as staff in production and stagework to learn the realities of what goes into a performance. With this kind of investment in their touring, the students in the Tamagawa Taiko group care deeply about what they share with their audiences.

Small hopes that both the students at Swarthmore as well as those in Tamagawa Taiko will have an opportunity to share and exchange culture and passion, taking note of the vast possibilities of taiko and its transnational dimension with Japanese cultural roots. In addition to the formal performance on April 15th in the  Lang Music Concert Hall at 7:30pm, there will be a smaller public performance by Swarthmore taiko students – to “drum up interest” – at 12:30pm in front of Parrish Hall.

Marion Kudla ’19

Gamelan Rings in the Spring

On Sunday, April 14 at 3pm, Gamelan Semara Santi will perform in Lang Concert Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali in Indonesia, and is made up of primarily percussive instruments. Gamelan does not use notation, and is instead memorized by members of each ensemble. Written music does exist, but only serves to preserve specific pieces. The tempo is controlled by a hand-played drum called kendhang, while other musicians play a variety of traditional Indonesian xylophones, metallophones, flutes, and gongs, as well as several bowed and plucked instruments.

Central to Gamelan music is the idea of collectivity and community; there are no solos, and while musicians do rehearse in individual sessions, emphasis is placed on group participation. Professor Tom Whitman, who co-directs the Gamelan Semara Santi along with I Nyoman Suadin and Ni Luh Kadek Kusuma Dewi, says that community is one of the things that makes Gamelan so special: “I think it creates a real sense of bond that most of us really treasure.” He says that he’s observed something that he, somewhat jokingly, calls “Gamelan ESP:” “If I’ve got four people, and not one of them could play through a pattern by themselves, when they sit down together, they transmit it to each other and somehow they’re able to do it.” Gamelan, he says, allows people to do things in a group that they couldn’t do as individuals.

Gamelan instruments carry immense significance. Most of the keyed instruments are made of bronze which, Professor Whitman says, is considered very spiritually powerful. In Indonesian culture, bronze is said to retain the spirits of every person who has owned it. “I tell them they’re joining a community of people that has been playing the same instruments for more than twenty years. I sort of feel like everyone that’s been a part of it, stays with it.”

Another important aspect of Gamelan music is the dancing that goes along with it. Professor Whitman says that one of the things he likes to tell his students is that, “to do Balinese Gamelan without also doing dance is like performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony without the chorus – you kind of miss the point.” The upcoming performance will feature both musicians and dancers, all of whom will be dressed in traditional costumes.

Gamelan Semara Santi is made up mostly of Swarthmore students, but other community members have become involved as well. When asked about what one can expect from the upcoming concert, he says:“Beautiful, shimmering, bell-like sounds, great costumes, and a lot of stylistic variety. There’s a tremendously varied musical culture there [in Bali], and every one of the pieces we play sounds remarkable different from all the others.”

Gabriel Hearn-Desautels ’20

Let the Fetters Begin!

As Swarthmore slowly crawls into springtime, bringing with it all-too-brief snatches of warmth, rain showers, and allergy attacks, dozens of students across campus are preparing for one of the most important musical events of the year: the Fetter concert series, which this spring will take place on April 12, April 28, and May 4.

Dr. Michael Johns is the coordinator and director of the Elizabeth Pollard Fetter Chamber Music Program; as he explains, the Pollard family’s history is closely tied to that of Swarthmore. Elizabeth Pollard Fetter ‘25 and her husband, Frank Whitson Fetter ‘20, funded the original program in 1975 in memory of Elizabeth’s mother, also an alumna (Emilie Garrett Pollard, class of 1893). Dr. Johns has been directing the program (originally known as the Pollard Scholarship Funds) “since it expanded to support the coaching of multiple chamber music groups in 2001.”

“One of my fondest memories is from 2004, the hundredth anniversary of Elizabeth Pollard Fetter,” says Dr. Johns. “ In cooperation with her family, we invited every former Fetter participant, going back to the program’s inception in 1975, to return to campus for a day of celebration. People came from all over…groups reformed; friendships were rekindled. The highlight of the day was the concluding concert, which featured a mass performance of Mendelssohn’s String Octet.”

This year’s concerts feature a variety of genres and groups, including string and saxophone quartets, piano trios, and jazz combinations. Reuben Gelley Newman ’21 will be singing with Critical Mass, Swarthmore’s medieval and Renaissance a cappella group. This semester, they will be performing “…a variety of liturgical music dedicated to the Virgin Mary: a piece of a 9th century Byzantine chant…a chant by 12th century mystic, abbess and composer Hildegard von Bingen…and the credo from the 14th century French composer Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame.”

This is Gelley Newman’s fourth semester performing with Critical Mass as part of the Fetter series. As he explains, “I love the joy of working with students and faculty on challenging and interesting music, especially since you don’t hear medieval and Renaissance music performed very often. I’m tremendously grateful to Professor James Blasina for helping us delve into the history and performance practice, and to get advice from the famed medieval music group Sequentia when they did a residency at Swarthmore last February.”

Another student, Eleanor Naiman ‘20, is performing Joaquin Turina’s Piano Trio no.2 in B minor, which she describes as “a short but beautiful piece written in 1933, that is both challenging and extremely fun to play.” Naiman describes how “…the Fetter program provides chamber music groups with professional coaches…while also giving us the opportunity to meet weekly by ourselves to develop our own interpretation of the music. Fetter has been one of the highlights of my time at Swarthmore. It has made me a better musician and has also led to some of my closest friendships.”

As for Dr. Johns, his favorite aspect of the program is “…hearing the growth of the ensembles through the rehearsal process. The emphasis is on quality, not quantity…the goal is not to simply pick a difficult piece and rehearse it until you can be reasonably confident that it won’t break down in performance; it is to go beyond the notes to a point where the players understand what the composer had in mind and intuit how the piece works, culminating in a performance that is a musical conversation.”

While the Fetter programs are, according to Dr. Johns, “geared toward students who have advanced beyond the beginning stages and reached a certain level of achievement,” and students are required to audition, the primary requirement is a passion for and desire to practice chamber music. Students of a variety of instruments are welcome, not limited to the Western chamber musical canon. This semester’s concerts will take place on Friday, April 12, at 8 pm; Sunday, April 28, at 3 pm; and Saturday, May 4, at 3 pm in Lang Concert Hall.

Emilie Hautemont ’20

Wind Ensemble Performs Epic Works for Spring Concert

Andrew Hauze, director of the Swarthmore College Wind Ensemble, is excited for audience members to hear the ensemble’s energy and heart in their upcoming performance. The spring semester Wind Ensemble Concert will be held on April 13th, at 8:00 PM in Lang Concert Hall. Over the course of the fifty-minute program, audience members will experience a huge range of musical styles and cultures.

This semester, the Wind Ensemble will be playing Alfred Reed’s epic Armenian Dances, a new arrangement of a piano piece by Clara Schumann called Romanze, and Michael Gandolfi’s Vientos y Tangos. During the planning process for the upcoming concert, Hauze recognized that several students of the ensemble expressed an interest in playing some longer works, which led to Hauze’s decision to program Armenian Dances, a suite in four movements. “I’ve long wanted to program Alfred Reed’s multi-movement Armenian Dances, a work that incorporates many traditional tunes from Armenia into quite a symphonic texture, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity,” Hauze said. “I’ve also been meaning to program Michael Gandolfi’s Vientos y Tangos, a contemporary take on the tango, for quite some time, and it seemed like a nice counterbalance to the Armenian Dances.”

Kevin Medansky ‘19 of Haverford College is participating in this semester’s concert and he has experience playing Armenian Dances. “I had actually played Reed’sArmenian Dances on contrabassoon, and playing that part was so much easier compared to this time around!” Medansky said. “I expected this trombone part to be a breeze, but I’ve had to work so hard to get all the notes right.”

Medansky has been a member of the Swarthmore Wind Ensemble since the beginning of his sophomore year, playing the trombone. However, Medansky’s background in music goes all the way back to fourth grade, when he first began playing the trombone. For Medansky, Wind Ensemble is like a family and he is delighted to have another opportunity to perform onstage with the rest of the group. “Ultimately, I joined the Wind Ensemble because I love the music that goes into concert bands, and I wanted to join a community that had always been so impactful for me since I started trombone,” Medansky said. “I absolutely adore the community and I’ve gotten to know so many more people in the other sections, even though we’re not sitting next to each other in rehearsal, which feels really nice.”

This upcoming concert will feature work from an artist that the Ensemble has not performed before: Clara Schumann’s Romanze. “Professor Tom Whitman was interested in arranging Clara Schumann’s Romanze for our group, which I was thrilled to have him do, and it makes a nice contrast with an otherwise quite modern program (the other works were all written in the last 50 years),” Hauze said.

Medansky echoes Hauze’s excitement saying, “I really hope that people fall in love with Schumann’s Romanze just like I have. It’s such a beautiful piece, and it’s so different from what we normally listen to. With those three final chords, one achingly leaning toward the next, there is nothing I love more in our repertoire right now.”

The Wind Ensemble has been practicing three hours each week to prepare for this upcoming concert, and they are ready showcase all of their hard work. Join them on April 13th at 8:00 PM as they take their listeners on an emotional journey through their music.

David Chan ’19

Jazz Ensemble Plays Swarthmore and Beyond

Swarthmore’s campus is always bustling with students’ musical performances, from the Parrish Parlor concert series to senior recitals. This spring the Jazz Ensemble will not only be performing their usual semester concert, but will also be taking their talents to the outside world and treating the patrons of Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia to a musical evening.

The Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble is holding their spring semester concert on April 7th, at 7:30 PM in Lang Concert Hall, and ensemble director Andrew Neu says that it will be a musical and emotional journey for those in attendance. The Jazz Ensemble performs a varied repertoire for each concert, with this upcoming concert featuring pieces from Count Basie, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Charlie Chaplin, Gordon Goodwin, Stan Kenton and Christina Aguilera. Furthermore, they will be playing the jazz standards “My One and Only Love,” “One Mint Julep,” and “Smile.”

The Jazz Ensemble Concert happens in both the fall and spring semesters, but Neu points out that it is easier to know the strengths of the ensemble for the spring concert. “Generally in the spring semester, we have a better idea of the personnel returning to the band and it helps knowing the strengths and personalities of the musicians when choosing repertoire,” Neu said. “That being said, we still devote a good amount of time sight reading music to find the best matches and I always look for input from the students and ask their opinions on the music we read.”

Neu states that there is always a “get to know each other” period when band membership shifts each semester. “Andrew Hauze (College Orchestra and Wind Ensemble Director) inspired us to start having a ‘juice break’ during rehearsal,” Neu said. “This breaks up a three-hour rehearsal and allows the band to socialize and connect outside of the rehearsal. It’s made a huge difference in the chemistry of the group.”

Pianist Jordan Ando ‘22 will be participating in the upcoming ensemble concert and agrees with Neu about negotiating the group dynamics in any new band. “A jazz big-band has four distinct sections, each often doing their own thing,” Ando said. “As you might imagine, there’s a lot of moving parts to fit together in each piece and it can take a lot of patience to run the same section over and over again but it’s worth it in the end.”

Having played jazz since he was twelve years old, Ando knew he wanted to join the jazz ensemble when he chose Swarthmore College, despite not majoring in music. Ando is most excited to showcase his own original pieces in the combo. “In addition to big-band, I’ll also be playing with a smaller group, currently consisting of Joe Scott ‘22, Owais Noorani ‘21, Peter Wu ‘22, and myself,” Ando said. “We’ll be performing the Hank Mobley standard ‘This I Dig of You,’ an arrangement I did of Nick Drake’s ‘River Man,’ and two original pieces I wrote. The four of us recently debuted this set in a lunch hour concert, and were pleased how it turned out.”

Last semester was the first time that the Jazz Ensemble Concert included student vocalists; Neu decided to expand that part of the program for the spring concert because it was a big hit with the previous audience.

Ando will have a role in the vocal component of the concert, playing some of the tunes to accompany the vocalists. “There’ll be some vocal features in there as well, including renditions of ‘Come Fly With Me’ and ‘Genie in a Bottle’ (the latter wonderfully arranged by Swarthmore’s own band director, Andrew Neu),” Ando said. “I’ll be playing half the tunes—there’s plenty more than are listed here—and the other half will be covered by the brilliant Leo Posel ‘22.”

Veronica Yabloko ’22, one of the vocalists, is on her second semester performing with the Jazz Ensemble. A passionate singer, she also takes vocal lessons through the Music 48 program, and is part of both the Swarthmore College Chorus and student a cappella group Mixed Company. However, “I’ve always been most drawn to jazz,” says Yabloko. “It’s my favorite style to sing by far. I also sang with my high school jazz ensemble so when I came to Swarthmore and heard that there was a jazz ensemble here, I right away asked if I could join it.”

Discussing her favorite pieces done as part of the Ensemble, she notes that “Andrew Neu is a great director, and the students who play in the ensemble are so talented…It’s quite an adrenaline rush to sing with a phenomenal ensemble backing of you. I really enjoyed singing ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ last semester, but some of this semester’s repertoire is a close second.”

The upcoming show at Chris’ Jazz Cafe, according to Professor Neu, “will be the first time we’ve taken the band off campus…I’m thrilled that more jazz fans will hear the amazing things that Swarthmore musicians can do.” The cafe itself, as he explains, “…is a mainstay in the Philadelphia jazz community. It’s one of a handful of full-time jazz clubs and has been around the longest. I’ve performed there many times over the years and built a good relationship with them.”

The performance will showcase songs from both the last and the current semesters’ repertoires, featuring music from a variety of artists – from jazz classics such as Ray Charles and Miles Davis to more contemporary music by Christina Aguilera. The show will take place at Chris’ Jazz Cafe (1421 Sansom Street, Philadelphia) on April 16, from 7:00 to 10:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased at To see the Jazz Ensemble at Swarthmore College, come to Lang Concert Hall on Sunday, April 7th at 7:30 PM.

David Chan ’19 and Emilie Hautemont ’20