Enjoy Music and Literature Across the Decades with Three Concerts From SPSCC

by Molly Walsh

This March, the Music Department at South Puget Sound Community College will be hosting three concerts that traverse time and genre, showcasing elements of classic poetry, grand overtures and big band sounds through the decades. All three performances will take place at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Main Stage, beginning with “Poetry in Motion” from the SPSCC Choirs on March 15, “Beauty & Passion” from the Symphony Orchestra on March 16 and “Winter Jazz” from the Jazz Band and Jazz Combo on March 19. 

June 13, 2019 SPSCC Choir performance, photo credit Shanna Paxton

With the goal to make live music more accessible for the college and greater community, all three performances have a suggested donation of $15 at the door for community members and are no cost to SPSCC students, staff and faculty.

Poetry in Motion

“Poetry in Motion” from the SPSCC Percival Choir and the SPSCC Chamber Singers will bring classical poetry and compositions to life. John Guarente, professor for choral ensembles and music theory at SPSCC, said the setlist will span the centuries, including a piece by Josquin des Prez from the early Renaissance period.

“The work by him is a frottola, which is sort of a forerunner of the Italian madrigal, which are secular settings of poetry,” said Guarente. “It’s kind of a silly … poem about a cricket.”

When envisioning this winter concert, Guarente said he tried to develop themes that could serve as a springboard for education, while also encompassing a wide span of choral music eras, prominent poets and more modern musicians and lyricists.

Moving forward in time to the Romantic period, the concert will also feature French poetry and compositions, including work from Gabriel Fauré and Camille Saint-Saëns. Guarente is also looking forward to the show’s more modern compositions, including an original piece by Guarente, “I Didn’t Fall in Love With You.” There will be settings of Langston Hughes poetry, including “New Moon,” “Luck,” and “Joy,” from Ricky Ian Gordon as well as “A Wordsworth Haiku” from Hannah Ishizaki. The setlist also contains pieces from later in the 20th century from acts such as Sweet Honey in the Rock and Bob Dylan.

Looking ahead to the choral performance, Guarente is especially excited for the Chamber Singers’ performance of “The Times They Are A-Changin’” by Dylan. And from the Percival Choir, Guarente is enjoying the enthusiasm and rich sound that is produced from the choir’s many members, in particular during the piece “High Flight,” a poem written by John Gillespie Magee Jr.

“He was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force,” said Guarente. “And he had…just gotten home from one of his first missions and was really excited about it and…wrote this amazing poem that has been set so many times in choral music, but this is probably my favorite setting of it.”

SPSCC Symphony Orchestra’s Beauty & Passion

“Beauty & Passion” from the SPSCC Symphony Orchestra will feature guest conductor, Nickolas Carlson, who selected pieces with personal significance and that were suitable for a full symphony orchestra. Carlson said the orchestra he usually conducts is a smaller chamber orchestra, so he wanted to use this opportunity to pick pieces that would work well within a large group.

The Symphony Orchestra will take a fresh approach to Mozart through “Overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio).” Carlson said he enjoys the fun of Mozart, especially from this piece, which includes elements from Turkish janissary bands. Describing this overture as bright and energetic, Carlson was also excited for the percussion section to have a more prominent role for this piece.

“I wanted to give the percussionists something more to do,” said Carlson. “And so in addition to the timpani which is almost always included in an orchestra, there’s also a bass drum, a triangle and cymbals included in this Mozart overture, which is something different from Mozart. Usually, those extra instruments aren’t involved. So that’s a lot of fun.”

June 15, 2019 SPSCC Choir Performance, photo credit Shanna Paxton

Another highlight of the program is “Symphony No. 1 in G minor” by Vasily Kalinnikov. Carlson said Kalinnikov is a 19th century composer who is not often performed. And at 40 minutes in length, this piece has been a welcome challenge for Carlson, and he has enjoyed working with the symphony orchestra during rehearsals, in particular the strings and woodwinds sections, which have many notes to play throughout the piece.

“This symphony is just full of these romantic era, big lush string sounds, big brass choirs, and lots of very colorful woodwind lines,” said Carlson. “And the themes that show up in each of the first three movements all come back on a mix together in the last movement, and it’s just this wonderful culmination of everything that’s happened in the first three movements.”

The last time this song was performed locally was by the Olympia Symphony in the 1990s, according to Carlson. And during rehearsals, Carlson has started to see wonderful musical moments and looks forward to sharing this Kalinnikov piece with an Olympia audience. Carlson said this piece is the kind of symphony that lingers, that people will continue to hum as they exit the theater.

“You get these moments where…there’s this wall of sound coming at you that kind of overwhelms you all at once,” said Carlson. “And then you’ll get these moments of complete clarity and really gentle chamber music all in this one huge symphony. And at the ending, is just this grand picture, this grand architecture, bringing in everything from the earlier movements.”

Winter Jazz from the Jazz Band and Jazz Combo

“Winter Jazz” from the SPSCC Jazz Band and Jazz Combo will feature a sampling from the eras of jazz music. Brad Schrandt, professor of jazz ensembles and ear training at SPSCC said this diverse set of pieces from the 1920s, to the 1970s and into the modern day, allows for a well-rounded show that includes musical elements like swing tunes, different time signatures, or emphasis on certain instruments.

Schrandt also selected pieces for this concert that best matched the composition of the jazz ensemble, taking into consideration the band’s larger guitar and saxophone sections and smaller trombone section.

Classic swing pieces will be on the setlist, and Schrandt said audience members will get a taste of the jazz sound from the 1920s, including “East St. Louis Todalu” from Duke Ellington, which was recorded in 1926. Moving into the late swing era, the Jazz Band will perform “Back at the Chicken Shack” by Jimmy Smith. There will also be a vocal and duet performance featuring SPSCC choir members.

The band features students alongside community members, some of whom play within the group and some who also volunteer to support the student musicians. And Schrandt said the diverse set of musicians can learn from one another as they gather for rehearsals. Schrandt is looking forward to the transition from rehearsal to showtime, where he can introduce members of the jazz ensembles, interact with the audience and see the culmination of the bands’ work throughout the quarter.

“I am always glad to see like, how it all comes together at the end when it’s go-time,” said Schrandt. “And you know, the crowd who always cheers and clap, and all the students are smiling, and…that’s the fun. The result of the concert is what I look forward to the most.”

June 21, 2019 SPSCC choir performance, photo credit Shanna Paxton

Poetry in Motion from the SPSCC Percival Choir and the SPSCC Chamber Singers
Beauty & Passion from the SPSCC Symphony Orchestra
Winter Jazz from the SPSCC Jazz Band and Jazz Combo

Poetry in Motion, Friday, March 15, 7:30 p.m.
Beauty & Passion, Saturday, March 16, 7:30 p.m.
Winter Jazz, Tuesday, March 19, 7:30 p.m.

Kenneth J. Minnaert Center Main Stage
2011 Mottman Road SW
Olympia, WA 98512

Suggested $15 donation at the door

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