From experimental to classical, theater to jazz, and pop to country, this year’s round of senior thesis recitals brought Wesleyan’s flair for diversity to life. The series of performances began in Crowell Concert Hall with a performance by fiddle player Matthew Stein ’16. His show included a combination of experimental works, classical violin caprices, and Romanian fiddle playing.
“The pieces covered a broad spectrum of exploring different kinds of relationships,” Stein said. “The last piece in the program, ‘Coulrophobia,’ or the fear of clowns, that’s a very experimental composition for a kazoo army and contrabass rubber band. So we ended up having a little over 50 people in the kazoo army, and each of them was playing a kazoo that had a small sewing pin taped to the end of it.”
Each member of this army also wore a clown nose. Stein built a contrabass rubber band, a seven-foot piece of board with a rubber band stretched around it.
“The piece was all about two things really: exploring interactions between a performative and a non-performative audience group,” he said.“Because so many people were in that piece, more [people were] actually performing in it than were sitting in the audience at that time. This leaves the performers of the piece still as audience members, and they establish themselves as audience members by sitting through an hour and a half of the performance before that point. They then suddenly go on stage and become a performative audience in contrast to the audience [members] who are still sitting in their seats.”
The air of experimentalism continued with the second recital, performed by graduate student Ron Shalom. This recital consisted of a talk, during which Shalom provided audience members with an ethnomusicological account of the cult of the Illuminated Orifice, which he himself established a year ago, after being diagnosed with a medical condition. The cult has approximately five active members and ten more nominal ones.
During the talk, a number of organists played on instruments that either they had built themselves or that were built by graduate students. A 200-foot animated scroll unfurled along with a live-streamed projection of the audience.
“The cult is tasked with exploring orifices in the time continuum,” Shalom said. “We enact interventions into Wesleyan life, and it’s very much to do with its situation in the Wesleyan campus. Over the past year we have built an adult playground where you can go to a cubical and check your e-mail, or live the American dream where there’s a box for the spouse and a box for the child and you can either be the spouse or be the child and argue with the spouse and discipline the child.”
Matt Chilton ’16 showed his performance with ideals of experimentalism expressed in a mobile concert that brought music all around the campus. Beginning on Foss Hill, Chilton set out to explore the variety of sonic experiences derived from a multitude of spaces between Foss and the CFA tunnel.
Several students also chose to combine both their majors for their recitals, such as Nicole Roman-Johnston ’16. Her recital, entitled “Over the Falls,” was a sonic representation of the actions that take place in a biology lab and included three pieces made up of video collage and field recordings.
There were, however, some more classical performers in the mix, such as bass player Harim Jung ’16. The Memorial Chapel was the perfect setting for Harim’s performance, titled “Back to Bass-ics” and featured both Harim’s skills as a soloist and his ability to perform as part of a chamber ensemble.
Another classical performer was vocalist Enobong Etteh ’16, who filled the warm environment of Russell House with rich, operatic tones. Etteh’s show, “Let There Be Voice,” featured folk songs, arias, and even some self-composed popular music pieces. His phenomenal vocal skills, coupled with his linguistic skills and abilities as a guitarist, rendered the show both a dynamic and impressive piece. He performed in Italian, French, and Chinese, featuring each of these languages in his own compositions.
Yet the range of genre in senior thesis performances was not contained to experimental and classical: artists Monique Siaw ’16 and Angus Macdonald ’16 re-worked popular jazz compositions for their shows. Siaw’s included arrangements Ella Fitzgerald’s “Summertime” and Nina Simone’s “I’ll Put a Spell on You,” and her show also contained a visual aspect: an artist drew with charcoal on a canvas behind her throughout her entire performance.
“My recital revolved mainly around the written part of my thesis,” Siaw said. “I wrote a thesis that was about 102 pages long dedicated to how women of the African diaspora use their music to create new narratives to address historical traumas of slavery. I talked a lot in my thesis about menstrual images and the performance aspect where a lot of these negative characters about black women started to develop. I used the blues as a point of reference of how people of the African diaspora use art to address some of these negative stereotypes, and I used my performance to supplement that by choosing works by black female artists and doing my own arrangements of them.”
Macdonald, who is a jazz guitarist, also arranged jazz works, preparing them for a seven-member instrumental ensemble.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is writing something that’s interesting to me, as well as to my ensemble, something that they’re comfortable playing and excited about playing,” Macdonald said. “I was trying to do stuff that we would feel comfortable making our own of and improvising over. I wanted to do something that my whole ensemble could have fun with, because that’s what I thought would give the best results.”
Morgan Scribner ’16, who has been writing music since she was 13, provided more of a theatrical performance than a strictly musical piece. In terms of musical style, her show ranged from neo-soul to R&B to hip-hop, and it primarily involved arrangements of African-American spirituals, as well as two of her own compositions.
“I decided to use bits and pieces of different [performances] that I had worked on over the past four years and just combined everything collectively,” Scribner said. “Before I did that, I actually just asked random people if they wanted to be part of my senior project, and then I created a character around the people that I wanted to act in it.”
Finally, the recital of singer-songwriter Lindsay Starr ’16 brought a taste of the country music world to campus. She and her band performed eight pieces in World Music Hall, three of which were covers and five of which were original compositions. Starr hopes to move to Nashville after graduation to pursue a career in music.
“It’s such a nice bond that forms when you play music with people because it’s a deeper connection, and one you don’t share with people on a regular basis,” she said. “I feel like there’s a piece of musicians that non-musical people don’t understand. It’s a little bit of a strange bond that happens when you play your own music with people, because you really have to trust your musicians, since you’re giving them something that you wrote that’s so honest and raw and they are kind of with you in charge of presenting it to everyone.”
This year’s series of senior recitals aptly showcased the skill and talent of the University’s music students and conveyed the diversity of music around campus.