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Musician Profile(s): Comps Extravaganza

November 10, 2016
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Katherine Connolly ’17 conducting an ensemble that’s having a great time

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Tom Cox ’17 playing drum set at the VI to a crowd that’s having a great time (photo by Emma Brown ’17)

This is a series in which we interview a student musician and talk about their involvement in music writing and performance. Today, we have a special profile about three superstars: Katherine Connolly ’17, Tom Cox ’17, and Andrew Perricone ’17, who all speak on their upcoming music comps.  Know a musician you want to see interviewed? Comment below!

What is the focus for your comps this weekend?

Katherine: For my comps, I’m doing a wind ensemble recital, and I’m conducting it. So we’re doing three pieces. There’s Arturo Marquez’s “Danzón Number Two,” which is this very fun and flirty mexican ballroom piece. “In Memoriam Dresden,” which is a little more somber, just a tad, which is about the bombings of Dresden. And then also, we’re doing “Be Glad Then America,” which is a traditional American bandfare kind of piece. I’m going to be presenting my paper as well, which focuses on analysis of “Danzón Number Two.”

Tom: Really just… okay, I’m not going to come up with something funny. I’m preparing a program where it’s half solo stuff and half jazz with a group. I’ve been playing a few of them for a few years, and there are a few I transcribed and rearranged over the summer. I’ve been listening to these songs and working with them for months, and I have some amazing musicians playing with me. One of the pieces was originally electronic, and it’s in a weird meter, but we’re having a great time playing it. Especially after tonight, I’m not stressed at all. I feel like comps can be overshadowed by stress and all that, so my goal with this whole project was just to challenge myself and really try and put together a repertoire that I can really get behind. I really think there’s going to be a lot of positive energy, I’m excited about it.

Andrew: I am conducting a choir of twelve singers in a concert of…songs. There’s a set of six songs by Paul Hindermith, who’s an early twentieth century composer, and then there are three other pieces in addition to those six. I chose a bunch of different pieces that I like from different time periods, but there is this overarching theme, at least in the six songs and two of the remaining three, which is about impermanence. I start with this Brahms piece that’s about the fall, and about how days get shorter. Then the last verse is about how people become more gentle and how this man sees the end of the year as the end of his life, and he’s crying, and it’s, you know, German 19th century poetry. Then the Hindermith songs are all about nature, about the changing seasons, and the shortness of human lives in comparison to the longevity of nature. And then the last piece we’re doing is a contemporary composition that’s the setting of a George Herbert poem. So, old poetry, very new composition. And the poem is about how all of these beautiful things, like the beautiful day snd the springtime and roses and how all of those end. The first three verses end with, “And all must die,” so that’s a little upsetting. The title of the poem is “Virtue”, and the last verse is about how only a sweet and virtuous soul can last beyond everything else. So they all do have sort of a them of things ending but also there being something beyond that, whether that’s other people continuing on, or nature renewing itself, or just living on beyond that.

How does the background of each piece go into your approach when conducting it?

Katherine: For the Danzón, you have to understand what makes the piece work. It’s written about this dance so you have to understand, “Okay, what’s the dance?” And if you look at Youtube videos of it, it’s very slow and stately, but it’s also light and seems very effortless. It opens with this overwrought section, you’re taking it very seriously. Then it goes into this snappier, funnier kind of things. So when the opening overwrought section comes back, you kind of see how dramatic it is, and there’s humor in that. So in terms of conducting, it’s very important to keep it sounding effortless and crisp and not labored. A lot of this is on musicians to do, but I can help them out by making my beats crisp and keeping my gestures light and small. With Dresden when the piece is very heavy, then it’s up to me to conduct slower and more intensely with a different style because it’s a slower, more somber piece.

Andrew: I definitely approached them differently, and I had a lot of help from Doc Locke, my advisor, on how to approach them differently. The other piece that I didn’t mention because it doesn’t fit with the theme is a high renaissance piece, so it’s more jaunty. It was originally written as one person singing with a lute, and then people just picked it up and sang it in four parts anyway. So that’s very jaunty and you have to sing it like you’re playing a lute, whereas the last piece, “Virtue”, is the most free with rhythm and meter and more about almost speaking the poem but with harmony and melody entwined with it.

What attracted you to conducting?

Katherine: I’ve always wanted to be a conductor because it’s really fun to conduct. You feel like you’re waving a magic wand and music’s just coming out. And I don’t know, it’s just really enjoyable inherently. But also, it was really enjoyable for me to repay the music educators in my life who conducted marching band in high school and really just music throughout my life, and who made music this really fun thing full of joy, and I wanted to spread that and foster that community somewhere else, and give someone else that feeling of joy that I had because my conductors in high school were so passionate.

Andrew: Since the beginning of high school I’ve been doing choral singing, and I think I just sort of fell into it. I was in a couple different choirs in high school, and for one of them there was the chance to arrange a pop song for Valentine’s Day. I arranged some of that stuff because I play piano and I’m decent in theory and things like that, and I had to conduct them and teach them to people. Then, my sophomore year, with three of my other friends we started Männerchor, and so I was the best at playing the piano so I was sort of de facto music director, so I had to at least keep the beat for that. Then second semester sophomore year I took the conducting class and actually learned what to do. From then it’s been more focusing in on actually directing.

Tom, how would you characterize the repertoire?

Tom: The range is pretty wide. Within each written piece, there are interesting moments or aspect of the piece that can be explored. There seems to be a light from within the piece from even before I approach it, which is really cool. Like in one of the pieces, which is the only group piece that’s from the original 50s jazz repertoire, even within that there are sections that call for all the musicians to improvise freely. We don’t know what’s going to happen for those eight bars and then we’ll go back to what’s written. There are just moments like that within each piece where either something new comes from it each time we play it, or there’s something written within the score that individualizes it and goes on a tangent. I don’t think anyone’s going to be bored watching it. I think that the pieces themselves are engaging enough.

Tom, you’re a percussionist. How many different instruments do you play in the recital?

Tom: I’m doing a snare drum piece, I’m doing a timpani piece. I’m doing a piece that requires a lot of different kinds of percussion rearranged into an individual set, and then the rest is drum set. I’m mainly a drum set player. I didn’t start reading music until I got here, because I had mainly been doing rock stuff before that. I’ve been playing drum set for 11 years.

What’s been your biggest takeaway from working on your comps?

Katherine: My biggest takeaway is that conducting is something I care a lot about. Whenever you care a lot about something, you’re going to have some anxiety about how well it’s going to go. But it’s something, ultimately, that I love to do. And whether the concert on Saturday goes amazingly well like the hearing did, or it just goes okay, it should still bring me joy either way. It’s a cool thing that I get to do, not a scary thing that I have to do. So I think it’s reminded me why I care so much about it. When I was feeling so anxious about it, that sort of emphasized its importance, but now that I can feel more joyful, it’s that same sort of thing. I’ve learned that conducting is important to me, and how to remember why for the right reasons.

Tom: It’s been incredibly rewarding because with a few of the pieces that I transcribed, I’d been listening to them for a year or two. I’d be like, “This piece fascinates me so much, this is such an incredible expression,” so going through the process of translating that over to something we can read or work with was something I hadn’t really had to do. So going through that whole process of taking something that seems so distant and challenging and translating it to something we can work with is really exciting.

Andrew: Comps is hard. It’s now in three days, and I’m still thinking, “Oh, when I do my comps, I’ll do this,” like I have a far-in-the-future, “Someday when I do my comps,” sort of thing. So I think I didn’t approach it as if it were real for a while, and now it’s only in the last two weeks that I’ve really been like, “I can’t just stand there and keep the beat, I have to, you know, create art through my hands and their voices.” So I think really realizing how to take the steps from the basics to actually creating something that’s worthwhile has been a big step that I didn’t really realize that I had to take. I didn’t really realize that I was just doing the basics by skating through it, and now I have to put something into it.

When and where is the concert?

Katherine: 4:00pm Saturday in Rosse Hall, and everyone should go to Andrew’s at 1:00 and Tom’s at 8:00. Just marathon in Rosse Hall! Er, actually Andrew’s is in Brandi, but just be around, you’ll see!

Tom: The concert is at Rosse in Saturday at 8:00. Everyone should come! Let’s see… Oh! I’m going to bring my lava lamp, so worse comes to worst…

Andrew: It is this Saturday, November 12th, at 1:00pm in Brandi Recital Hall.

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