Category Archives: Music

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

Profile of Music Minor Lizzy Stant ’19

As a neuroscience major and music minor, Lizzy Stant ’19 has forged her own unique path at Swarthmore. Four years ago, Lizzy came in with little formal music training, having taught herself the guitar, piano, and voice, with some guidance from music choir directors at home. Attracted to the subsidized voice lessons and encouraged by a music program that works to offer equity for students from diverse backgrounds, Lizzy found her passion for music at Swarthmore.

Over the past four years, Lizzy has participated in the Swarthmore Chorus, Garnet Singers,the staged opera Dido and Aeneas, and a number of smaller music ensembles; she traveled to Florence for a life-changing, three-week voice program; attended the Royal Danish Academy of Music her junior spring for a semester abroad; and embraced the challenges of taking music theory classes, though she’d never had any formal music theory training before coming to Swarthmore.

Lizzy spoke to the benefits of not being afraid to seek out resources, particularly for students who come from underprivileged backgrounds and, prior to Swarthmore, were unable to afford the expense of formal music lessons:

“Low-income students have a hard time asking for help since we’re so used to having to do so much on our own, but it’s something I’m working on. A few other students from low-income backgrounds and I are currently making a resource guide for low-income students at Swarthmore. It’s meant to be from students for students.”

Utilizing tutors and working closely with her vocal coach and teachers have been ways that Lizzy has navigated the rugged terrain of Swarthmore. Now as a senior, with palpable passion, Lizzy has achieved a confidence and direction that is so apparent in her day-to-day activities and conversations. Music and opera have become pervasive forces in her life, crossing over into other interests in environmental studies, neuroscience, and varsity athletics.

“[As a neuroscience major] I see how anatomy and physiology carry over into vocal pedagogy and the way our brains perceive sound. Being a student athlete particularly carries over into singing. I think being an opera singer is equal to being an athlete, since they have similar skills of constantly having to improve yourself with tiny changes in what you’re doing and constant muscle memory – athletics and music are hand-in-hand in that way.”

She continued to speak on the relevance of opera in the 21st century within the context of an environment warped by climate change: “I can picture opera taking on a bigger role in society as we see more tragedies, especially those fueled by climate change. It’s such an intense art form, but I feel that it can be utilized to help people grieve through some of the most difficult things our planet is going to see.”

Lizzy will be performing cross-disciplinary pieces that use music to convey notions of nature, emotional and psychological healing, gender, and sexuality in her senior recital in April. She will be singing opera arias and opera duets with friends and fellow vocalists Emily Uhlmann, Omar Camps-Kamrin, and Shelby Billups; a set by Schubert focused on loss and mourning; a set by other European composers whose works use abundant nature imagery; compositions by African-American composer Florence Price, whose work Lizzy found and fell in love with while doing research on female composers; a musical theater piece; and her token audition song, “Animal Passion,” a piece that uses animal imagery to describe sexual desire and female sexuality.

Her senior recital on April 13th at 3pm in Lang Concert Hall will be a culminating showcase of just a fraction of her accomplishments at Swarthmore.

Marion Kudla ’19

Lab Orchestra Takes On the Big Bad Wolf

This spring, the Swarthmore College Lab Orchestra will be performing Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” alongside a narration of the fairytale. Composed in the early 1930s for a children’s theater in Russia, “Peter and the Wolf” combines a children-centric approach with the musical nuance and variation that adult audiences can also find appealing. Professor Andrew Hauze of the Music Program hopes that the piece’s duality will draw an array of audience members to the 10am performance on April 6th, targeting college students as well as families with young children.

“The great thing about ‘Peter and the Wolf’ is it’s a piece you can enjoy at absolutely any age because the music is so terrific and unsimplified. Though the music is very clear and approachable, it isn’t in any way simplified. So if you’re an adult who’s been listening to music your whole life you’re still going to find it interesting and compelling,” remarked Professor Hauze.

Yet at the same time, as a narrated fairytale, “Peter and the Wolf” accesses a child’s imagination and delights in its colorful representation of characters. The outline of this peculiar fairytale begins with Peter, a young boy playing in the woods outside his house, and a bird and a duck who are constantly teasing each other. Peter’s grandfather, a rather grouchy character, scolds Peter for playing outside and warns him about wolves that might be prowling in the area. And as soon as Peter goes inside, a wolf does indeed show up. For the rest of the fairytale, Peter, the bird, and the duck devise a plan to distract and catch the wolf. Towards the end of the tale, hunters show up in pursuit of the wolf, but instead of shooting the creature, the entire group brings the wolf to the zoo; and there, the story ends.

The story’s visual imagery and clear narrative have helped Shira Samuels-Shragg ’20 lead the orchestra. As the only current advanced conducting student, Samuels-Shragg has had the opportunity to rehearse with the Lab Orchestra for two hours each week with Professor Hauze’s guidance.

“One of the challenges for a conductor is getting inside the piece and figuring out what the music is saying, and what is fun about this piece is that there is no guesswork; there’s the narration and it’s a very explicitly told story. We have very visual imagery to work with, so having a literal cornerstone is helpful and fun,” Samuels-Shragg said about the rehearsal process.

In addition to explicit visual imagery and a straightforward narrative, “Peter and the Wolf” has specific instrumental representations for each of the characters: the bird is played by the flute, the duck is the oboe, the cat is the clarinet, the grandfather the bassoon, the strings are Peter, the horn is the wolf, and percussion are the hunters. All of these instruments constitute a 25-piece orchestra this semester, in addition to narrator Josie Ross, and of course conductor Samuels-Shragg.

Since its inception three years ago, the Lab Orchestra has taken on a variety of fun and unusual projects, including playing in the  pit for dance concerts at the Lang Performing Arts Center and performing at the Pennsylvania Academy for Fine Arts. This spring’s project of “Peter and the Wolf” is another fascinating musical work to add to the Lab Orchestra’s diverse repertory.

“Peter and the Wolf” will be performed by the Lab Orchestra at 10am on April 6th at Lang Concert Hall at Swarthmore College.

Marion Kudla ’19

Amy Barston Takes the Stage with Ieva Jokubaviciute

Amy Barston began her Swarthmore College Featured Artist residency in fall 2018, hosting master classes with student chamber groups and playing the famous Dvořák Cello Concerto with the Swarthmore College Orchestra. On March 29th, Barston returns to Lang Concert Hall alongside pianist Ieva Jokubavaciute to perform a full-length concert program.

Barston is an accomplished solo and ensemble performer as well as an acclaimed private cello teacher, giving lessons both from her home and through the Juilliard Pre-college program. She regularly plays as a soloist with orchestras around the world, and is a member of the critically acclaimed Corigliano Quartet.

Shira Samuels-Shragg ’20, who played piano in a master class under Barston along with Herbie Rand ’21, gushed about Barston’s inspiring guidance: “With grace and enthusiasm, Amy Barston pushed us to see the piece and our respective roles within it from new vantage points. A particularly memorable breakthrough moment came when she gave us permission to ‘play against each other sometimes!’ We had been working so hard to operate as one unit that we had inadvertently smoothed over interesting textures and harmonies in the sonata. Once Ms. Barston helped us bring out an argumentative exchange here, an emphatically clashing rhythm there, the piece came alive in new ways.”

Since her graduation from the Curtis Institute of Music, Ieva Jokubavaciute has been wowing critics and audiences all across Europe and North America. Jokubavaciute is the pianist of the award-winning Trio Cavatina, and an assistant professor of Piano at the Shenandoah Conservatory.

Barston and Jokubavaciute have an extensive and exciting set of repertoire planned for the upcoming concert, starting with the classic J.S. Bach Arioso fromCantata no. 156, followed by a series of more contemporary works for solo cello, consisting of the fiddle tune “Julie-O” by Mark Summer, Giovanni Sollima’s “Lamentatio,” and “Poucha-Dass” by Francois Rabbath, rearranged from its original designation for solo bass by Barston herself. The first half of the concert is concluded with the lyrical and virtuosic Polonaise Brillante for cello and piano by Frederic Chopin.

The second half of the concert will feature Samuel Barber’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, and conclude with Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances.

Andrew Hauze ’04, who connected with Barston last summer and helped coordinate her visits to Swarthmore this year, expresses his excitement to see Barston in concert.

“I’m very much looking forward to Amy’s recital in Lang Concert Hall, a cornerstone of her residency here this year. Amy is such a communicative musician, and to hear her play with a fantastic pianist like Ieva Jokubaviciute in the intimacy and acoustic splendor of Lang Concert Hall promises to be an unforgettable musical experience for our campus community.”

Amy Barston and Ieva Jokubavaciute will perform in Lang Concert Hall on Friday, March 29th at 8:00 P.M, and Barston will give a master class with Swarthmore musicians on April 5th 4:00 P.M., also in Lang Concert Hall.

Andy Zhang ’22

Senior Recital: Rebecca Regan ’19

Rebecca Regan can’t remember a life without music. She smiles, trying to recall the moment when she discovered her musical passion, and eventually gives up. “I’ve been so surrounded by music for such a long time that nothing comes to mind, I guess.”

Growing up in a musical family, with a grandmother who taught out of her own piano studio, it was always a given that Rebecca would play music. Even as a toddler, she remembers toying with a little recorder, and she began taking piano lessons shortly after starting school. In middle school, she began playing the French horn in orchestra. However, Rebecca really found her calling as a singer. “Even as a freshman when I wasn’t taking lessons here I would go to practice rooms just on my study breaks just to sing. I would sing just any random things, like folk songs, pop songs Broadway, hymns, a bit of classical music, just anything that was in my head.” Despite all of this, Rebecca explains, “except for preparing audition pieces for country and state music competitions and festivals…I had never formally studied solo voice before coming to Swarthmore.”

Regan has taken a number of music-related courses, some of them academic, such as The Art of the American Musical with English Professor Eric Glover, and Opera History with Professor Barbara Milewski. She has also taken more practical classes, such as the private voice lessons offered through the Music 48 course, Modern Dance with Jumatatu Poe, and participated in various musical recitals and groups, including the Swarthmore Chorus and Garnet Singers (of which she is the soprano section leader).

“When I came to Swarthmore I wanted to audition for Chorus, and didn’t really expect it to go beyond that,” says Regan. “But I had always loved singing and sang a lot in my free time, and someone had suggested to me that I look into whether it would be a possibility to take voice lessons. So after my freshman year I decided I would give the Music 48 program a try. As I took voice lessons and got to know more and more people in the music department, I found myself involved in more and more projects, typically through the Fetter Chamber Music program and things like Monday lunchtime concerts.”

Regan specializes in Western art music – as she defines it, “art song, opera, and sacred music from the Baroque period into the early 20th century…my recital program, for instance, is all 19th century or very early 20th century, with a Handel aria included for a very different sound.”

The Fetter Chamber Music Program has allowed Regan to explore her musical interests; she has been regularly involved in the program since Fall 2017, and was in the ensemble of Dido and Aeneas in her freshman year. This year, she is part of the Opera Ensemble. In addition to classical music, she is interested in musical theater, and has performed in Drama Board’s Broadway Miscast event (a cabaret-like show) and the Fetter-funded performance of the opening number from Into the Woods. Regan continuously proves that all students, no matter how packed their schedules are, can be involved in Music and Dance.

In her last few comments, Regan warmly praises the Music Program, describing how

“On the whole I feel incredibly grateful for all the opportunities I have had to perform while at Swarthmore…the Music [Program] has been incredibly supportive of me from day one – especially as a non-major…and it makes me really happy to see the work that the department does to create opportunities for…students and community members who are less intensely focused on music or dance – there are so many people who are involved in an ensemble or take a dance class (like I did) or come to a workshop or performance who aren’t ‘part of the department’ but still collectively are a vital part of the arts at Swarthmore.”

“So I guess my advice to students at the beginning of their Swarthmore experience would be to keep an eye open for these experiences and take a chance on themselves. Sign up for that class! Audition for that thing! You may have a really memorable experience. And you may, like me, end up getting more involved than you ever expected and transform how you understand yourself in the process.”

While Rebecca’s plans for her future are far from concrete, she knows that she’ll keep pursuing what she loves. “Music is an integral part of my life and it would be hard to imagine not having music there at any point in the future. I mean at the end of the day,. I sing for myself. I sing because it brings me joy.” As for her future in English, she’s committed to continuing her education, but is looking for a few years of life experience outside of academia first.

Rebecca Regan’s senior recital will be on Saturday, March 23rd, at 8:00 P.M. in Lang Concert Hall. The program is composed of art songs by nineteenth and early twentieth-century composers such as Reynaldo Hahn, Ernest Chausson, Franz Schubert, Paolo Tosti, and Amy Beach. She will also perform opera arias by Georges Bizet and George Frideric Handel.

Emilie Hautemont ’20 and Andy Zhang ’22

Christopher K. Morgan & Artists Explore Homeland in Upcoming Performance

On Friday, March 22, Christopher K. Morgan, founder of the dance company Christopher K. Morgan & Artists (CKM&A), will arrive at Swarthmore College to perform Pōhaku, a solo dance theater piece that combines storytelling, hula, modern dance, classical music, and projection design to explore themes of the native people of Hawaii like land loss and fractured identity. Morgan will also take part in a residency on campus where students will have a chance to interact with him, learning about the Native Hawaiian culture including dances like hula.

Pōhaku is Morgan’s first work integrating mele (music) and hula with Western practices, leading him on a far deeper and richer understanding of his multiracial identity than anything he could have ever dreamed. Professor Olivia Sabee of the Dance Program and Professor Alba Newmann Holmes of the English Department found inspiration in Morgan’s experiences as a Native Hawaiian growing up under more Western influences, and wrote a grant to bring CKM&A to campus based on the idea and themes of homeland. This grant aims to bring together students, faculty, guest artists, and staff members to create dialogue and performances that engage with one another’s understanding of homeland.

According to Professor Holmes, “[they] were drawn to the idea of an interdisciplinary collaboration that would invite students, faculty and staff to think about the different ways in which we understand the places of our personal or ancestral origins and how, or if, our sense of homeland connects to our creative as well as our political lives.” Professor Sabee knew of CKM&A and believed that inviting Christopher K. Morgan was “a very natural fit, as his work explores his geographical cultural inheritance from Hawaii, and how he makes that inheritance his own.”

Their hope is that CKM&A will give audience members “the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which embodied experience can be both a means to connect across cultures and a way to create new knowledge.”

Morgan will also hold a modern dance master class on Friday, March 22, at 11:30 a.m. Professor Sabee says she is “excited for students—some of whom already met and/or worked with CKM/A in the fall—to deepen their connections with the company and its artistic staff, to experience what a range of types of work a company might present, in both terms of thematic and movement material, and to think about what it means to tackle serious themes in dance.”

These events are co-sponsored by the President’s Office Andrew W. Mellon Grant, and the performance will take place in the Lang Performing Arts Center on March 22 at 8 p.m.

Maria Consuelo de Dios ’21

“In This My Singing:” Women Composers Represented at Musicology Conference

On February 23rd, Music and Linguistics Major Lili Tobias ‘19 presented her paper titled, “‘All my heart, in this my singing:’ Amy Beach and the Women’s Clubs of New England,” at the American Musicology Society – New England (AMS-NE) Chapter’s winter meeting. The AMS-NE Chapter’s winter meeting invited proposals for roundtable sessions or workshops (pedagogical, performative, and/or scholarly). Successful proposals would position the author’s contribution with respect to previous scholarship, and suggests the paper’s significance for the musicological community.

The paper that Tobias presented at AMS-NE began as her senior comprehensive paper that she wrote for her music major. Under the guidance of Professors Barbara Milewski and Jon Kochavi, Tobias chose late 18th to early 19th century American composer, Amy Beach, as her research topic. “My main argument is that her music is best discussed and analyzed within the context of other music written and performed by women,” Tobias said. “This is because Beach wrote most of her music to be performed by musicians in women’s music clubs throughout New England, which is clear from her choice of instrumentation (piano and voice, mainly).”

Tobias further noted that Beach’s choice of instrumentation matches the skills of the women musicians in those music clubs. “From a theoretical perspective, too, Beach’s harmonic language matches that of other music written by women during this era,” Tobias said.

It was not a difficult choice for Tobias to research Beach’s music for her senior comprehensive paper, since Tobias enthusiastically exclaims that Beach is her favorite composer. Not only that, Tobias saw a point of intervention to previous scholarly research on Beach’s music. “I wanted to address the problems with many accounts of Beach’s music, since they often focus on her large-scale compositions,” Tobias said. “By writing about her songs, I hoped to emphasize that these small-scale works were integral to her career as a composer, specifically because they brought about social music-making within women’s music clubs.”

Tobias was grateful to have had the opportunity to share her research with the public and to be a part of this year’s AMS-NE conference. Tobias highlighted the fact that this year’s conference had so many presentations on music composed by women. Because of this, many presentations overlapped with topics that Tobias discussed in her paper, creating highly engaging conversations.

Tobias also had the opportunity to attend and support another Swarthmore student paper presentation at a different musicology conference. Recent graduate Rachel Hottle ‘18 presented her paper titled, “Influences of Bluegrass and Radiohead on Metric Complexity in the Punch Brothers,” at the 2019 Rutgers University Musicology Society (RUMS) conference. The Punch Brothers is a progressive bluegrass ensemble. In the paper, Hottle “proposes a comparative genre analysis of metric complexity in Punch Brothers, which highlights the influence of metric conventions common in bluegrass and the progressive rock style of Radiohead.”

Currently, Tobias does not have any specific plans to expand her own paper, however, she does want to do more research on the topic. Particularly, Tobias said “I would love to expand on the theoretical section, since I’m more of a theory person than a musicology person. I only got to collect data from three of Beach’s songs, so it would be great to do an entire corpus study of all her songs in order to provide better support for the main argument of the paper.”

David Chan ’19

Profile of Music Minor Navdeep Maini ’19

It was the summer before his senior year of high school and Navdeep Maini ‘19 heard “How to Save a Life,” by The Fray, being played on a piano. The beautiful music moved Maini and planted a desire within him to learn the introduction of the song. Without access to a keyboard, Maini turned to his tablet, and downloaded an app called “Piano Perfect.” With a “piano” available in the palm of his hands, Maini learned to play the introduction to “How to Save a Life.” Because of that experience of playing the piano, Maini signed up for “piano lab” at the beginning of senior year of high school.

Although that moment seems like a pivotal point in Maini’s musical training, Maini jokingly says, “My musical-training truly began around third grade with the recorder, going ham on some Buns, Hot Cross Buns.” Maini is referring to the English nursery rhyme, which is also an Easter song.

When it came time for his freshman year at Swarthmore College, Maini already knew he wanted to incorporate music into his studies, declaring a minor in the subject. With jokes aside, Maini exhibits a genuine interest in music, especially when it comes for his future. “I think a part of me felt like I had to complete something (major or minor) in music because getting a music or audio related job might be kind of cool,” Maini said.

Additionally, maintaining that same drive from his pivotal moment, Maini wanted an avenue to continue playing the piano. “I had interest in wanting to learn about how composers keep their audiences’ interests during long pieces and I also had interest in performance,” Maini said.

After taking many music classes for his major, Maini highlighted his interactions with Professor James Blasina and Professor Andrew Hauze. “Their teaching styles and methods are wonderful, and it feels like they do not mind teaching you beyond the scope of a class,” Maini said. “For example, when I was in Music 2b (Reading and Making Music: The Basics of Notation), Professor Blasina introduced me to the idea of moving to the relative minor in the middle of a song.”

Furthermore, Maini attributed his Music 48 voice lessons, his time in chorus and gamelan, and discussions with other students as other crucial learning moments. “Dr. Nancy Jantsch, my voice teacher, Professor Tom Whitman of Gamelan, and Professor Joe Gregorio of Chorus are all personable in their own ways and will work with you to not only create the best sound possible, but to enjoy music.”

Maini has written some original pieces, which he calls “simple amongst this land of complexity.” During two Parrish Lunch Hour Concerts, Maini has performed some of his original pieces. As for the near future, Maini is searching for a job in the software industry, but maintains that his interest in music will remain with him. “Music seemed interesting and theory seemed cool. Should I keep exploring this interest? What if I start hating computer science in the future? Is there something I could switch to? I think these questions fueled me towards more music and not less,” Maini concluded.

David Chan ’19

Charms, Riddles, and Elegies of the Medieval Northlands

On Friday, March 1, the renowned medieval music ensemble Sequentia will perform a series of Medieval Northlandic charms, riddles, and elegies at Swarthmore College. In this world-premiere performance, director, harpist, and vocalist Benjamin Bagby and his colleagues, vocalist and harpist Hanna Marti, vocalist Stef Conner, and flutist Norbert Rodenkirchen, will chant and sing these songs in Old English, Old High German, and Old Icelandic, displaying English Professor Craig Williamson’s original translations. Professor Williamson’s translations are taken from his recently published book The Complete Old English Poems, and these translations largely inspired Bagby to construct the musical lineup.

According to Professor Williamson, he and Bagby became interested in each others’ academic work on Beowulf about ten years ago. Since then, they’ve built a friendship centered on passion for medieval studies. After Professor Williamson published The Complete Old English Poems in 2017, Bagby was “overwhelmed” with its “beauty and its depth,” and, after corresponding with each other in the same year, Professor Williamson and Bagby planned this performance to showcase both Sequentia’s and Professor Williamson’s talents.

Among the pieces that Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia will perform are Old English riddles. Though Anglo-Saxon riddles are not set to music, what makes them special are their humor and sexual suggestiveness; they are the modern day equivalent of “dirty jokes”, except Old English Riddles have both a clean and “dirty” answer. In addition, the group will sing the Anglo-Saxon magic charm of Nine Herbs, a story of healing; the Old Icelandic Song of Grotti’s Milestone, the narrative of the rebellion of two slave girls against their king; Deor, the lamentation of a tribal singer rejected by his chieftain; the lament of the last survivor from Beowulf; and  Wulf and Eadwacer, a mysterious lament of a woman cut off from her lover, and some of the oldest recorded songs from the German-speaking people.

Listening to Sequentia’s performance, even if one is familiar with medieval music, is still worthwhile because no two performances of the same Medieval song will ever be the same. We usually think of music based on a certain song’s melody. However, medieval songs are “based on beats,” explains Professor Williamson. “We don’t really know the tunes. Music was never really written down in any of the Anglo-Saxon and Old Germanic languages…we have to reconstruct the melody.” So, one singer might perform the same song in a completely different way than another performer. This is especially true of Benjamin Bagby who, according to Professor Williamson, takes a more “storytelling” and “acting” approach in his performances.

In fact, Professor James Blasina of the Music Program hopes that his students will be inspired by Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia’s unique performance and see “the strong links between academic study and musical performance.” Professor Blasina says that it is tempting sometimes to try to to separate “history and context” and “ what is often referred to as the ‘music itself,’” when, in reality, “there is no such thing as the ‘music itself,’ and in order to understand the music, you have to understand more than just the notes on the page.” Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia, Professor Blasina says, exemplify just that. “To have them here is pretty spectacular,” Professor Blasina says, and he along with the Music Program feels so fortunate to be able to hear them perform live and interact with them in the classrooms.

If one is not familiar with Medieval music, however, Professor Blasina says we can still “appreciate the beauty of [the music] and find it interesting” simply by “listening to the aesthetics of the sound.” He also suggests paying particular attention to the humor in the text as a way to relate to these songs that might seem out of reach for some. Professor Blasina says that in much Medieval music, there is a “very strong sense of reverence, but also a very strong sense of irreverence.” Though it may seem ironic and paradoxical, this opposition is essential in portraying the humor and Professor Blasina says “if we can find the humor in that music” and “find the same things funny…that is one way to connect to other human beings.”

Professor Williamson is also a firm believer that, even though the songs Sequentia will be performing are from centuries ago, “there are elements of [the music] that cross the bridge between cultures and between times and between genders.”

“They were human beings,” Professor Williamson says. “Maybe they lived a different kind of life than we lived, but they had lovers, they had children, they had sorrows, they had joys…there are many ways in which they are like us.” In listening to Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia’s performance, Professor Williamson hopes that the audience will be able to see “what’s shared and what’s human between two times and two people” and form a profound connection that “crosses the bridge across time.”

The event is sponsored by the Cooper Foundation and will take place on Friday, March 1, in the Lang Concert Hall at 8 p.m.

Maria Consuelo de Dios ’21

Creativity Off-Campus: A Spotlight on Faculty Projects

Whether it is addressing the Latinx experience through music and performance, crafting a contemporary stage performance for taiko drumming, or teaching children how to live in the world through the practice of gamelan music, Music & Dance faculty members Belle Alvarez, Professor Joe Small, and Professor Thomas Whitman are making strides in their respective involvements.

belle alvarez

Belle Alvarez is a visiting Associate of Performance at Swarthmore College, where she also instructs Modern II. As a teaching artist, Alvarez aims to offer a joyful and healing experience that catalyzes reflection, unity, and collective transformation. In 2016, Alvarez was honored with a scholarship from the Bartol Foundation. Through the Bartol Foundation, Alvarez educates K-12 children in the award-winning Pierre Dulaine’s Dancing Classrooms and Friends Central School. “Students learn and create collaboratively, engaging the imagination, while learning foundational dance vocabulary to refine motor skills, discover movement potential, and to attain sound knowledge of the body,” Alvarez said.

Currently, Alvarez has been collaborating in performance and activism with a Philly-based artist: Ximena Violante ‘14. Violante graduated from Swarthmore College with a major in music and is now a part of a futuristic fusion band called Interminable. Interminable explores the modern diasporic experience, performing covers and originals, both in English and Spanish. “I first met Ximena at a fundraiser for an immigrant rights coalition,” Alvarez said. “We had common interest in music with roots in son jarocho and are both from Central America—she is from Mexico and I am from Honduras.”Ultimately, it was the chemistry and the shared desire for social change through art that drew Alvarez to Violante. “I wanted to collaborate because of the synergy and dynamism I felt with our respective approaches to music and dance,” Alvarez said. “We build community and tell the stories of our communities through our art.” Most recently, Alvarez performed for Interminable’s music video, Buscando Un Futuro.

joe small

Professor Joe Small is involved with two professional taiko drum ensembles during his time outside of Swarthmore College: TAIKOZ (Australia-based) and Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai (Japan-based).

Small met TAIKOZ members in Japan at various points in 2007 and 2008, while doing an apprenticeship for the professional group, KODO. Most recently, from October 2017 to July 2018, Small began working with TAIKOZ in a more regular capacity in an extended residency. Activities included daily training, performing at various concerts, hosting taiko classes and workshops, and doing a school tour.

As for Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai, Small came to know the group after purchasing Eitetsu Hayashi’s DVDs and CDs at a taiko drum conference. Eitetsu-san is a solo artist with a professional supporting ensemble named Fu-Un no Kai, which translates to “The Society/Gathering of Wind and Clouds.” It was not until 2006 when Professor Small would encounter Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai at their four-day workshop during his Fulbright Fellowship in Japan. “Having already seen Eitetsu-san and the ensemble live, it was an absolutely incredible experience and I left both intrigued and in awe of their artistry and virtuosity upon the taiko,” Small said. Small became an official member of Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai in September 2012, training, performing, and touring with them across Japan and overseas.

“In both cases, I hope to continue working, learning, and being involved in order to continue to forge my own path with taiko, and to share it with the Swarthmore College community,” Small said. “Particularly I want to follow Eitetsu-san’s approach (which TAIKOZ has made use of for their own artistic projects) to consider taiko drumming in terms of a creative contemporary art form for the stage, that receives wide influence from cultures around the world as well as from Japanese traditional folk and classical arts.”

Currently, Small is still putting together plans, especially for this coming summer. “I will be teaching at the bi-annual North American Taiko Conference in August, and it’s possible Eitetsu Hayashi and Fu-Un no Kai may have a concert in the midwest a few days later, still to be confirmed,” Small said. “I might be performing, or I might be assisting/translating, so it depends on the lineup and program.”

Chester Children's Gamelan Project

Professor Tom Whitman teaches Balinese Gamelan performance to local elementary school children in a program he created in 2004. Whitman initiated the program at Chester Community Charter School. Later on, he moved the program to Stetser Elementary School, staying there for about ten years. After that, for another couple of years, Whitman again coordinated the program at Chester Charter School for the Arts. As of fall of 2018, Whitman moved the program to North Philadelphia, at the William Kelly School, where he can spend more time with the children.

In the program, students learn to play gamelan instruments as a group. Gamelan refers to a traditional Indonesian ensemble of percussion instruments—mostly bronze-keyed xylophones, and some gongs and drums. “Gamelan music does not really have soloists,” Whitman said. “It is a group/community that comes together and everybody contributes an element to the overall texture.”

“So learning gamelan is also about teaching kids how to live in the world,” Whitman continued. “It is about cooperating and being polite and being able to be a productive member of a group that is really rewarding without stepping on anyone else’s toes.”

Additionally, students learn about Indonesian culture, though Whitman said, “I think a much more important piece of cultural exchange is that the kids get to meet college students. A big part of what I want to do is get little kids thinking about the possibility that college is a place where they might see themselves. Both in Chester and North Philly a lot of kids grow up in homes where it is just not something that they ever encounter.”

Without the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Whitman would not have been able to start his program, so he is extremely grateful for their help and support. Furthermore, Whitman is always looking for more Swarthmore student volunteers to assist the program, so interested students should inquire through email ( As for next year, Whitman is brainstorming possible new iterations of his current program.

David Chan ’19