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The power of music to tell narrative; “Music Re:” concert series

Trinity CommunicationsMarch 31, 2018

Since the beginning of the school year, the Trinity music department has been hard at work with this year’s music concert series, “Music Re:” With performances scattered within both the fall and spring semesters, the series not only provides the performers with a chance to hone their musical talents but provides a venue for the music department to serve the Trinity community and beyond.

Headed by music department professor and Trinity Community Philharmonic Orchestra (TCPO) conductor Eli Chen, “Music Re:” is inspired by the narrative of music.

“The ‘re:’ in ‘music re:’ refers to the way we head our emails or official documents to indicate what issues the letter addresses or what it concerns,” Chen said. “I believe the power of music goes beyond the craftsmanship of the notes themselves and into its ability to challenge the way we listen, change the way we think, and ask questions about our life and our role in this world.”

Chen began working with his fellow faculty on the project a number of months before the 2017-2018 academic year began, looking at ideas that would work well for the series. While the series is primarily for the TCPO, there are instances, such as the upcoming finale to the series on April 29, where the Trinity choir and orchestra work together to choose what pieces best suit the theme for both groups.

Once the theme was decided, and the general layout for each concert established, Chen started talking with people he wanted to see perform at the concerts. Even though the events feature the TCPO and sometimes the choir, both the March and April concerts feature musicians outside of the normal list of performers.

Adjunct Professor of Piano and Music Theory Eugenia Jeong remembers Chen contacting her in the fall to consider performing in the March concert, and gave her the opportunity to pick a piece she felt fit the theme, “Music Re: Endure.” She had considered a number of pieces to play, including Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major.

Ultimately, Jeong chose the latter piece, despite the fact that she had never played it before for a concert.

“[Eli] shared his desire to program works that captured the spirit of the human struggle, whether through the biographical events surrounding the composer’s life, or expressed in the composition itself,” Jeong said. “The expressive character of [Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23] in its beauty and purity sits like a kernel of hope with the rest the program.”

Prior to each concert, the musicians prepare at least a month in advance to ensure they are familiar with the material and ready to perform well. In the case of the TCPO, which consists of a mixture of Trinity faculty, students and community musicians, Chen said, it is especially important for the group to have time to come together in a series so they can be unified in their performance.

“Great music, when performed well and made intentionally, changes lives,” Chen said. “This is true whether you have a “named” concert series or not…these people come together every week from different lives and different ways of thinking for the sake of great music.”

For the individual performers, the process was similar. Jeong familiarized herself with her piece in the fall and practiced it more intently the month before the March concert.

However, even though the practicing element is important to concert preparation, the performers also value time spent away from their instruments. As is reflected by the title and meaning of this concert series, the musicians at Trinity made sure they understood the narrative of their pieces as much as they understood the mechanics of the performance.

“For classical musicians, the score is equivalent to the script for an actor,” Jeong said. “Performing on the piano is like delivering a musical speech…the more I understand the language/meaning of what I am speaking, the more convincingly I am able to deliver the speech.”

For Jeong in particular, there are a number of ways she claims help her best study her musical speech.

“Sometimes I’ll listen to a recording while flipping through the score to get a sense of the larger musical structure. Other times I’ll pay close attention to a short passage within a movement to notice the changes of color underlying the melody,” Jeong said. “This sort of process helps me understand how the phrases, or musical sentences, work together to build the overarching story of the work. Additionally, reading about the composer and listening to other works produced by the composer from a similar time period can provide valuable insight into the inspirations that breathed life into the composition.”

Once the practicing is completed, the performers are ready to share their musical talents and their selected pieces with the Trinity community. The concert series itself serves as a culmination of the TCPO and choir’s abilities, but also gives a voice to the music itself.

“I want the concert hall to be more than a place where people come to listen to great music; I want people to come and wonder and ponder and think and be challenged and discover,” Chen said. “Composers and musicians are people. Whether it’s a response to the Divine, or to personal struggle, or simply a desire to make beautiful sounds, all of the music that we know comes through the hands of tremendously gifted and creative but also flawed and imperfect people. It’s because of this that music speaks so deeply to us and makes us want to share it with others.”

The last concert in the “Music Re:” series, “Music in Time of War” will take place in the ATO Chapel on April 29 at 3 p.m. The concert will feature Haydn’s “Paukenmesse,” translated loosely as “Mass in a Time of War,” and singers Malia Ropp, Sarah Ponder, Christopher Joyner, and John Hacker. Tickets are free for Trinity students, faculty and staff, and general admission tickets are $8. Student and senior tickets are $5.

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