Music Faculty Members Showcase Talents

“Please stay for the second part,” joked Professor James Dale Wilson, co-chair of the music department with Professor John P. Anthony, before the start of the concert. “It’s just as important as the first part in that it’s great.”

No one was going to leave Evans Hall, anyway. The music hall in Cummings was nearly full for the Music Faculty Showcase on Sept. 22  and contained surprisingly more students than colleagues, friends, and family members of those playing that night. But then again, all music department events are free for Connecticut College students.  

“Our showcases give our performance faculty the opportunity to perform for our students, especially our newest students, and display their tremendous skills on their various instruments and voices,” explained Anthony on the concert’s purpose. “These showcases also give us an opportunity to present something festive right at the beginning of the new year.”

Nine music professors and instructors at Connecticut College performed that Friday evening, and they each had something unique to offer to the curious listener.

The first piece was by Professor Peter Jarvis on percussion. The wooden stage was dark, except for a corner lit up in gold, illuminating the four clay pots placed on a table. For his performance, he recited a Homeric Hymn titled “To the Earth” while rhythmically and fluidly hitting on the clay pots with percussion mallets, sometimes even spinning them around the inside of the pot’s rim. The hymn is about giving thanks to “the Earth, Mother of all” for all that it offers. The last line is “Hail to you, Mother of life, you who are loved by the starry sky; be generous and give me a happy life in return for my song so that I can continue to praise you with my music.”

It was mystical, exotic, almost religious, and a very powerful kick-off to the show.

Next came the baritone singer Professor Maksim Ivanov singing “Ah, per sempre io ti perdei” (Ah, forever have I lost you) from Act 1, Scene 1 of Vincenzo Bellini’s Italian opera I Puritani, with Professor Patrice Newman flawlessly playing piano accompaniment. According to Ivanov, the piece is about “impossible lost love, forever lost love…” In the play, his lover is now in love with someone else. His reverberating aria was somewhat ironically upbeat, with an essence of sadness and thoughtfulness at certain parts.

After his say, soprano Jūratė Švedaitė Waller came onstage in a long black dress and her sad and aching aria “Pace, pace mio Dio” (Peace, peace my God) from Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino.

Surprisingly, Ivanov came in once again to perform the Violetta / Germont duet from Verdi’s La Traviata. They both seemed to play out a scene, with the man attempting to speak to the woman, who has her head turned away and arms crossed. Finally they fight and confront, ending with “Germont” taking off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose and the woman crying. It ends, however, with both of them clasping hands.

“I went to this concert last year and I especially loved listening to the opera,” said attendee Natasha Strugatz ’20, an Art History major and English minor. “I was excited to go back to hear the opera again this year.”

To severely contrast with the opera singers’ ringing voices, Libby Van Cleeve, Kelli O’Connor and Rebecca Noreen played a trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon, respectively, by George Auric. It was lively, fun music that made one think of a fall festival. Even the faculty members playing were animated with their bent knees and rapid fingering to keep up with the tempo.

After intermission, the warm stage light came on again to showcase Professor James McNeish and his classical guitar. Without any sheet music, he played soothing Renaissance pieces including “Can She Excuse” and “Mrs. White’s Thing” by John Dowland (1563-1626) with strong and quick picking.

Kelli O’Connor then graced the stage again with her oboe. With Patricia Newman playing piano, O’Connor performed a lovely, flowery, romantic “Moderato” and “Poco allegro” in “Sonantina for Clarinet and Piano, H.356” by Bohuslav Martinů, which perfectly matched the festive red dress she was wearing.

To close the faculty showcase with a bang, Professor Joshua Thomas saved his saxophone and his light green button-down shirt for last. The dramatic, deep “Sonate for Alt Horn (or saxophone) and Piano” by Paul Hindemith recalled memories of rainy nights spent indoors by a fire with the instrument’s slow and holding notes.

Then came a surprise: Thomas explained that the composer Hindemith penned a poem for the piece, which is meant to be recited by the horn player and pianist before the final movement. Instead Asa Peterson, a saxophone student of Thomas, recited the poem to an intrigued audience. The poem itself describes the sound of the horn/saxophone as evoking the yearning for the distant past, and therefore must be played meaningfully and slowly “amid [the] confusion,” which is symbolized by frantic piano playing on the part of Patrice Newman.

It was a unique ending that mirrored the beginning, thus tying the whole concert together.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the faculty Concert,” Strugatz said after the performance. “I like how the students are able to see what the music faculty do outside of the teaching in the classroom.” This enthusiasm was apparent in all attendees that Friday evening.

“We deeply appreciate the enthusiastic audience at the Showcase concert last night,” commented Anthony onSaturday afternoon.

And how long did these faculty members practice to perform so skillfully, outside of classroom time? “They often use some of the time during the summer to prepare these concerts.  That is partially why we program them early in the semester,” said Anthony, whose birthday was announced by the performers at the concert’s end. “Happy Birthday” was played on the piano and saxophone, with the audience’s voices guiding them. It was even revealed later that it was Kelli O’Connor’s birthday as well. After the show, marble birthday cake was waiting for all in the foyer.