In the spotlight with the Mozart Society Orchestra

April 17th, 2014 No comments
Harvard Mozart Symphony Orchestra PHOTO: Courtesy MSO

Harvard Mozart Symphony Orchestra PHOTO: Courtesy MSO

As epic as full orchestras are, there’s something impersonal about them: a huge mass of black and white, with whole sections of musicians playing the exact same thing. In contrast, the Harvard Mozart Society Orchestra is sleek and idiosyncratic. It’s the smallest orchestra on campus, and it injects the individuality of the chamber setup into performances. The group will be playing its annual spring concert 8 p.m. Friday, April 18 in Paine Hall.

MSO is made up of 25 musicians, which puts more pressure on each individual to deliver. But it also provides a lot freedom: “Everyone has the chance to play individually instead of in a section of 12 people,” says president and cellist Sam Goldberg ‘16. “It allows for greater expression.” Think of MSO as a hybrid of sorts: power of a larger orchestra, expression of a chamber group.

And while the MSO may be noticeably smaller than the powerhouse Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, there’s no less talent. Friday’s performance will feature the winners of the organizations 2014 Concerto Competition: Goldberg and bassoonist Luke Fieweger ‘16, who has previously starred for HRO. Fieweger will play the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, a standard for nearly every bassoon student, and a nice change for audiences used to violins taking the spotlight. “Most people would be hard pressed to have ever seen a bassoon concerto before,” Fieweger says. “And the piece is really enjoyable. It has a sense of lightness.”

The rest of the program, including Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 and Haydn Symphony No. 104, cohesively captures a moment in late 18th century Vienna, when Beethoven studied with Haydn on the heels of Mozart’s death. The works capture the incredible renaissance that was happening at the time while showing off the diverse group of talented soloists the MSO brings to the stage. “Audiences connect with concertos in a way they might not be able to connect with symphonies,” Fieweger says. “People can really identify when they can see one person in the spotlight.”

Emerging Choreographers move with science

April 16th, 2014 No comments
Mariel Pettee in "Paperwing" choreographer Jill Johnson, Photographer Eric Antoniou

Mariel Pettee ’14 in “Paper Wing.” Choreography: Jill Johnson. PHOTO: Eric Antoniou

How does the body react to impact? How can dance and physical movement serve as research? This semester, three dancers have sought out the answers  through art. At the start of every new term, the Harvard Office for the Arts Dance Program selects a group of students as Emerging Choreographers. The residency provides the opportunity for student choreographers to develop choreographic skills through a semester-long mentorship with professionals. This spring, in celebration of women in science, three science-concentrating seniors will take the stage and present their projects at the Spring 2014 Emerging Choreographers Showing. The showcase will take place at 8 p.m. Friday, April 18 and Saturday, April 19 at the Harvard Dance Center. We asked the students to comment on their work. Their answers follow.

Jun Shepard ’14 (Environmental Science)
My approach to choreography is response-based. I like to explore ways the body (usually mine) react to the same impetus. The impetus can be a movement, a piece of music, a word, an event. I like to stand in front of my cast and try a few things with my body to see if they vibe. I like to set what feels best on my body while allowing flexibility of interpretation. My choreography sets differently in each dancer, which is the most exciting and integral part of the creative process. It fuels authenticity in the dance, making my works more accessible to a wider audience. The collaboration with dancers is not explicit during the rehearsals, but its results are evident in performance.

Mariel Pettee ’14 (Physics)
Dance, for me, captures a kind of intrinsic rawness that I find hard to replicate in other forms of expression. That’s why I felt it would be an appropriate medium to focus on for a project involving particle physics, as it nicely gets to the essence of an emotion or relationship without requiring extra steps of translation. That sleekness, that sensation of one’s mind or body being directly connected to another’s, as well as the validation of physical movement as a form of research have certainly shaped the way I approach my other interests, particularly in physics and in teaching. My dance and choreography training has helped me define what “understanding” truly means for me. Before I teach a new lesson or work on a problem set, I have to feel like I can dance through the concept with my eyes closed, so to speak. It requires an intense visualization element as well as being able to fluidly connect the dots that define an idea. Choreography is so useful in that context because the best choreography is the kind that can lie dormant in your body but pop right back into existence even after months of not thinking about it because, in your body, it just makes sense.

Megan Murdock '14 in "Random Acts," choreographer Dwight Rhoden, Photographer Eric Antoniou

Megan Murdock ’14 in “Random Acts.” Choreography: Dwight Rhoden. PHOTO: Eric Antoniou

Megan Murdock ’14 (Neurobiology)
When choreographing, I typically think of the piece as a structure to be filled with movement. I usually begin with a piece of music and build a structure for the piece within the music and then create movement based on that scaffold. I will give the dancers a task to create a movement phrase based on a common vocabulary, which then is inserted into the piece. The Emerging Choreographer Residency has been an incredible opportunity to experiment with choreographic style and to have the chance to try new ways of choreographing. For this piece, I created micro-structures for each of the sections, without knowing the macro-structure of the whole piece and without first deciding the music for the piece, and then arranged those sections to create the final piece.

Buxtehude: Addressing the heart during Holy Week

April 15th, 2014 No comments

The Harvard University Choir

Dieterich Buxtehude’s greatest claim to fame during his lifetime was one of pedagogy. The 17th-century German composer was celebrated for his stylistic influence on the young Johann Sebastian Bach. Today, Buxtehude is regarded as one of the most important composers of the mid-Baroque period, and his organ works, chamber works, and his many cantatas are appreciated both in performance and as a subject of scholarship.

In celebration of Holy Week and in preparation for Easter Sunday, two of Harvard’s premier early music groups will collaborate to perform Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri, one of the most famed musical presentations of The Passion of the Christ. The concert, presented by members of the Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra and the Harvard University Choir, will take place 8 p.m. April 15 (TONIGHT) in Memorial Church.

Membra Jesu nostri (“The Limbs of our Lord Jesus Christ”) is a series of seven cantatas, during the course of which the imaginary observer of Christ’s Passion directs his gaze gradually upwards: starting at the feet, through the knees, the hands, the side, the breast, the heart, and finally the face. The work’s emotional center is Cantata 6 – addressed to the heart – and for this movement alone Buxtehude calls for a consort of five violas da gamba which creates a new musical intensity,” says Edward E. Jones, the Gund University organist and Memorial Church choirmaster, who will be directing the piece.

The HBCO and the Choral Fellows of Harvard University, 16 musicians who sing during the daily morning prayers service at Memorial Church, will collaborate to evoke the uniquely multifarious style of Buxtehude’s work. “The compositional style of Membra Jesu nostri draws on a variety of cosmopolitan influences: the delicate melodies, simple textures, and clear text declamation recall Italian models, while many of the cadential figures have a decidedly French accent. Buxtehude incorporates and amalgamates these influences, fashioning his own unique style in which the music glides gracefully from harmonic suspensions of great anguish, to moments of timeless, exquisite beauty,” Jones says.

The Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra and the University Choir have collaborated on many occasions, ever since Murray Somerville, Jones’s predecessor, co-founded the orchestra in 2003. Tonight’s concert is free and open to the public.

The ‘audacious integrity’ of Fred Ho

April 15th, 2014 No comments

It is with great sadness that the Office for the Arts at Harvard notes the passing of Fred Ho ’79, baritone saxophonist, composer, writer, producer, political activist and leader of several musical ensembles. Jon Pareles of the New York Times once praised Fred for his “audacious integrity,” a trait that was always evident in his prodigious output which included multimedia works, scores for dances, oratorios and operas, and several books. Speaking of his work, Fred always enjoyed quoting visionary composer, performer and band leader Sun Ra: “Everything possible has been tried and nothing has changed. What we need is the impossible.”

In a post on this blog, OFA Director of Programs Cathy McCormick reported on Fred’s final public performance: The Sweet Science Suite: A Scientific Soul Music Honoring of Muhammad Ali at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in October of last year.

In this clip, from the November 2009 ceremony honoring Fred as recipient of the Harvard Arts Medal, he offers his thanks with an extraordinary performance on his baritone sax.

Annie Baker and Sam Gold: On collaboration in art

April 15th, 2014 No comments
Annie Baker and Sam Gold talked are fierce and friendly collaborators. PHOTO: Henry Vega Ortiz/Department of English

Annie Baker and Sam Gold talked are fierce and friendly collaborators. PHOTO: Henry Vega Ortiz/Department of English

Obie Award-winning director, Sam Gold, and 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Baker visited Harvard April 11 as part of the Provostial Fund for the Arts and Humanities, in association with the Department of English and the Office for the Arts. In addition to the question and answer session in a packed Farkas Hall studio, the duo also attended a smaller meeting with students of the English Department’s playwriting courses. I attended both events. Here’s my takeaway.


Your collaborators should be your friends and you should have compatible aesthetics.

Baker and Gold have collaborated on Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation, The Aliens and The Flick (for which Baker won the Pulitzer Prize earlier this week), and the longtime friends and collaborators certainly anticipate a continued future together. What makes their collaboration so successful?

“We hated a lot of the same stuff,” Baker quipped. That is, a specific, complementary hatred of certain aesthetics has allowed them to have such a successful collaboration. Gold stressed the importance of finding collaborators and an artistic community who shares a vision. For him, “the danger of hatred” is a formidable force. “Not wanting your collaborators to hate something makes you push to be more specific about your own work,” he said. To that effect, the two have greatly influenced one another’s work, respectively. “I don’t know who I’d be as a playwright if I hadn’t met Sam,” Baker said. Similarly, Gold referred to the fluid directing process: “A lot of what people think I direct in the work was in the writing.”

While the pair clearly has a fantastic friendship in addition to a working relationship, that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect all of the time. Baker cited the tech rehearsal process as some of the worst and best moments of collaborations. “We’ve had some of our worst fights, and best ‘I love you’ moments during tech,” Baker said. Because the tech rehearsal process is so much about working as a team – a team that includes the playwright, director, designer teams, actors, etc. – has to figure out and effectively contextualize the space of the play together. That sort of expanded collaboration is difficult. Baker stressed the importance of working with collaborators with whom you would be willing to sit around and hang out with throughout the 12- to 14-hour days of tech rehearsals.

Creating community

Don’t schmooze. Ever.

Annie Baker won the Pulitzer Prize this week for her play "The Flick," which Sam Gold directed. PHOTO: Henry Vega Ortiz /Harvard Department of English

Annie Baker won the Pulitzer Prize this week for her play “The Flick,” which Sam Gold directed. PHOTO: Henry Vega Ortiz /Harvard Department of English

Baker started off this discussion by insisting that there is never any need to schmooze. But don’t get her wrong, “I was ambitious,” Baker said. However, the true way to find a community of artists, collaborators and friends is through shared aesthetic. Gold calls the process of community-building a sideways one. Artists ought to pursue endeavors that matter to them because of an interest, rather than to find someone who will give them a job. By pursuing the kind of art you want to make, you’ll find collaborators who believe in your work. “Set fire to everything,” Gold advised. “Don’t do the thing people are telling you to do.”

Creative Process

Be confident in your own aesthetic, and don’t be afraid to reinvent your creative process with each endeavor.

During the private session for playwriting students, Baker and Gold were more in-depth about their creative processes. Just like their shared hatred, the two also admitted to having very strong opinions as well as confidence in their own aesthetic. “Directing is about engendering trust in the people around me,” Gold said. You can’t create trust without being able to confidently convince people that your way is the right way. On multiple occasions, the metaphors of childbirth and child rearing came up.  Just like with a child, there is no one way – or even a “right” way – to bring a play to maturity. “I do feel like each play, if you try to apply the rules of what comes before it, is going to thwart you,” Baker said. Gold agreed, believing that too much planning can hurt the creative process. “I am really violently against preparation,” Gold said. “I do a thing where I’m trying to get into the vibe of a play, feel it’s soul …preparation can be an enemy of instinct.”


After the session for playwriting students, I had the opportunity to speak with Gold one-on-one. His best advice: “Study rigorously things other than art-making. Being a well-rounded person with lots of interests and passions has shaped me. I got much more out of studying other things and applying them to my work because I was bringing myself to my work.”


Electric Lady: Janelle Monáe at Harvard

April 15th, 2014 No comments

220755_1294887.jpg.797x1200_q95_crop-smart_upscaleJanelle Monáe stands at five feet and zero inches,  made only marginally taller by her slick updo. But her presence and charisma are huge. The R&B singer and rapper rocked an energetic Yardfest crowd on April 13 with a barrage of songs, skits and dances, proving herself to any doubters who previously may not have known her name. On April 14, Monáe was awarded the inaugural 2014 Award for Achievement in Arts and Media by the Harvard College Women’s Center and was also recognized as the 2014 Woman of the Year by the Harvard Black Men’s Forum at their 20th annual Celebration of Black Women Gala.

We caught up with Monáe after Yardfest and asked about her Harvard experience.

Were there any surprises at Yardfest?
It was electric and memorable. Everything exceeded my expectations. I know there was a lot of “who is Janelle Monáe?” Which was awesome, because I got the opportunity to feel like a new artist. I took that as an opportunity to share my story and get people familiar with I’m about as a human being, as a daughter, a sister and a black woman.

What are your thoughts on the I, Too, Am Harvard movement?
When I speak about androids, I’m always drawing parallels to the minorities, to women, to the other. And I think we’ve all felt ostracized at one point in our lives, whether we’re black, white, red, yellow. So it touched home. I support the dialogue.

Your shows seem so spontaneous and organic. How much of your sets are really improvised?
There are things that are programmed already in my system, but I am huge on the element of surprise and choosing fearlessness over fear. I try to treat every performance as its own: to go in to each one just to give, without expectations, and do the unexpected.

You’ve worked with so many legends, from Prince to Big Boi. Where do you fit in to that lineage?
I’m a student. I always learn a lot when I’m around Prince and Big Boi. They’re just like, family. I don’t take that lightly. I look up to people who have opened up doors and they’ve been through the rooms that I’m trying to go in. So I’m always trying to soak up any wisdom I can get. And they love my ideas. They ask me questions and are inspired by performances, so it’s just a mutual love we have for one another.

What’s next for you? Do you have any big plans?
I’m looking to release energy out into the world. I’m working on a new project with some amazing talent, and we’re not playing fair. We’re gonna be throwing a lot of curveballs.

Vijay Iyer: Listening and teaching at Harvard

April 13th, 2014 No comments


Vijay Iyer could be could be touring the world and cementing his title as the world’s best jazz pianist. (He is the back-to-back Jazz Journalists Association Pianist of the Year and the 2013 ECHO best international pianist.) He could be in the studio with his trio, working on a follow-up to 2012’s Accelerando, which was awarded with an unprecedented quintuple crown in the DownBeat International Critics Poll and a quadruple crown in the JazzTimes extended critics poll. Or he could take some time off. He has certainly earned it.

Vijay Iyer

Vijay Iyer

Instead, he’s working at Harvard, as a newly minted professor and MacArthur “genius.” While many visiting artists or scholars are content to drift in and out of Harvard, bestowing celebrity to the campus and leaving with a notch in their belt, Iyer is invested in Harvard’s musical future and has become a leader in pushing for jazz to take a greater role on campus for the long term. “I wanted to start thinking about building a community, and not just be a ‘resident jazz expert,’ because I’m not,” Iyer says. “The culture needs to shift here.”

Iyer speaks in slow eloquent phrases, often swapping out one word in a sentence for a more descriptive or accurate one. He has taken the same care and composure to the class he’s teaching, Music 173r: Creative Music: Critical Practice Studio (which I’m currently taking). I’m a jazz pianist who’s listening to Iyer’s music for years, and I excitedly applied to the course, thinking it was going to be a master class workshop. It’s been a little bit of that and far more: a fusion of a workshop and a jazz ethics seminar, in which we’ve gone deep into readings by Amiri Baraka, George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith and many others to investigate the origins of jazz and the narratives rarely told.

“A lot of people learn ‘jazz’ through this really cheap and kind of emaciated imitation of something that happened in the 50s,” Iyer says, referring to the bebop-centric approach of many music schools and conservatories. “But this music has been characterized by constant change – discontinuities and ruptures, and local versions that had their own distinct character and identity. And young musicians in your generation haven’t had access to any of this other stuff that happened in the last 50 years. This music is 100 years old, and for some reason we’ve failed to account for at least half of it.”

In class, we’ve watched videos of Sun Ra, delved into the histories of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and Horace Tapscott’s Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, listened to Albert Ayler and the Shaggs, and even read a scholarly piece on embodied cognition and musical perception – written by Iyer. It has been a challenging, eye-opening ride that’s presented jazz in an entirely new way to me, which is exactly what Iyer intended for his students. “To build a sense of community on campus, students need to critically engage with this field, this history … and feel empowered to act,” he says.

It hasn’t been a one-way exchange. Iyer has been critically engaging with and learning from many parts of the university. He attended colloquia at the Humanities Center and at the African and African American Studies department, interacted with professors such as Tommie Shelby, and gave a talk at the Graduate School of Design. “It’s been very energizing for me as an artist,” Iyer says. “Stuff I wrote last week, I wrote it because of what I’ve been doing here.”

Iyer brought this energy and and cross-disciplinary impulse with him to Sanders Theatre on March 14, when he performed with his trio and poet Robert Pinsky. While performing with Pinksy, who read a set of poems including one about Charlie Parker, Iyer used his laptop to create swells and spooky ambient noises. With the trio, Iyer hacked away at the keys, jumping in and out of pulsating grooves that shook Sanders to its core.

After the ensuing standing ovation, Iyer thanked his audience, saying, “We can hear your listening.” Professor Iyer has been listening closely to the community at Harvard, and by doing so, has already deeply affected the music world here.

Find out more about Harvard’s ARTS FIRST Festival, May 1-4.
Read more about Vijay Iyer in a New York Times interview.
Listen to Vijay Iyer talk about Accelerando.
Check out this comprehensive lineup of Vijay Iyer stories from JazzTimes.



For the joy of it: HRCM welcomes Joyful Noise

April 11th, 2014 No comments

By Maura Church ’14
Guest Blogger

HRCM with Joyful Noise PHOTO: Courtesy Joyful Noise

HRCM with Joyful Noise PHOTO: Courtesy Joyful Noise

On April 11, I’ll be reunited with some of my newest friends. We met in July, when I traveled with Andrew Clark, Director of Choral Activities at Harvard, and Mike Pfitzer, Harvard’s Choral Administrator, to New Jersey. This mid-summer trip had the purpose of introducing us to Joyful Noise, a choir composed of adults, ages 17-70, with physical and neurological challenges and acquired brain injuries. I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first time representing the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, one of Harvard’s mixed-voice choirs, as its newly-elected president, and I was nervous. A few hours later, I was boisterously singing along to You’re a Grand Old Flag at a Joyful Noise performance, forgetting my role as president and remembering my role as a singer.

Our reunion is tonight’s Boundless Realms of Joy, a collaborative concert with HRCM, Joyful Noise and the Brattle Street Chamber Players, 8 p.m. at Sanders Theatre. A related symposium Beyond the Concert Hall, about the neurological, therapeutic and social benefits of community singing, will take place 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 12 at Lowell Lecture Hall.

My time in Collegium has been marked by spectacular masterworks. From the Rachmaninoff Vespers, to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, to the Bach Saint Matthew Passion, many of our concerts have involved famous composers, foreign languages and multi-movement works. When Clark mentioned a potential joint concert at Harvard with Joyful Noise, I imagined what it would be like for Collegium to look outward, to reach beyond Sanders Theatre and collaborate in brand new ways. My collaborative choral experiences had so far been very homogeneous in that all the groups were of similar size and performed classical works. Singing with Joyful Noise would offer the opportunity to create a completely new kind of choral experience–but would my peers understand my excitement about this kind of project?

Joyful Noise with HRCM PHOTO: Courtesy Joyful Noise

Joyful Noise with HRCM PHOTO: Courtesy Joyful Noise

Collegium was traveling to Washington D.C. in February to sing at the Eastern Division of the American Choral Directors Association when we made the stop in New Jersey to meet Joyful Noise. Seeing my friends sharing music

and stories with the members of Joyful Noise convinced me that this collaboration was important. We talked with members of the choir, learning of the significant role music plays in their lives, as it plays in ours. While I shared why choir was an important escape from daily Harvard life, members of Joyful Noise told me about how music connects them to others and makes them feel loved.

This concert has afforded Collegium singers the opportunity to connect with a broader community of musicians and not ones we would typically perform alongside in Sanders Theatre. Sure, we’re still singing Handel, but we’re adding in folksong arrangements by Alice Parker, who will be conducting part of the concert, and we’re also singing joint pieces with Joyful Noise. Singing with Joyful Noise reminds me of why I sing in the first place: to become a better musician through learning significant masterworks and a capella repertoire, but also, above all else, for the joy and the community that singing creates.

Joshua Holden, “The Pillowman” and the power of puppets

photo (13)“The first duty of a storyteller is to tell a story.” In the opening scene of The Pillowman, playwright Martin McDonagh emphasizes the importance of narrative with these words, uttered by the play’s protagonist. The Pillowman follows Katurian, a young writer, and his mentally handicapped brother, Michal, as two policemen in a totalitarian dictatorship accuse the brothers of child murders resembling Katurian’s macabre tales.

Director Lily Glimcher ’14 has explored a new aesthetic to the text with her production. “The world I hope to create for this version of the play is a semi-futuristic, totalitarian police state, that most often feels very cold, rigid, and lonely. It is a world in which those with power can do whatever they want, and those without it are essentially helpless,” Glimcher says.

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The set of HRDC’s “The Pillowman”

Such a change in aesthetic has certainly not caused the team of directors, actors and designers to shirk Katurian’s mandate. Storytelling remains the heart and soul of the play, and Glimcher has chosen to bolster the narrative with the use of puppetry. “The puppetry enhances The Pillowman because it gives us insight into the mind of Katurian. The puppets represent his imagination, so we get to see what that looks like,” says Glimcher.

Glimcher and the cast worked with award-winning puppeteer Joshua Holden to bring puppetry into the world of The Pillowman. “From Joshua and from trial and error, I have learned so much about puppetry and object theater. I have learned that there are no rules, and that it requires a similar vulnerability and focus as acting onstage, as well as the precise attention to detail required of choreography,” Glimcher says. Harvard students had the opportunity to learn about the practice, too. In March, Holden held a puppetry masterclass sponsored by the Harvard Office for the ArtsLearning From Performers program. I exchanged emails with Holden about the use of puppetry as a narrative device in theater and puppetry as a tool in this production. The Pillowman runs through April 12 on the Loeb Mainstage.

What’s excites you most about puppetry? What possibilities do puppets provide for you as a performing artist?
Everything excites me about puppetry.  I love how the art form challenges me to be a better and stronger storyteller.  I love how many skills one must master to become an excellent puppeteer: acting, movement, visual art, animation and witchcraft.

For theater in general, how might puppetry be used in plays as a storytelling tool?
No matter how old you are, puppets grab your attention and possess the incredible power to speak directly to your heart and soul. Using puppets, as opposed to humans, makes stories more whimsical — they’re engaging and allow the audience to feel deeply vulnerable. Puppets facilitate real human connection by inspiring transformation in our

Joshua Holden

Joshua Holden

personal lives and the world at large.  There’s no subject matter that’s off limits, and the possibility of theatrical moments when using puppets as storytelling devices is limitless.  With puppets, truly anything is possible.

More specifically, how do you see puppetry enhancing the storytelling in The Pillowman?
The puppets enhance the visceral nature of the show without distracting. At least that’s what we are going for. The process has been so exciting and in some ways, difficult.  Whenever you create new work, there are times when beautiful theatrical moments must be cut for the sake of the story. For instance, we had a pair of nun puppets that were pretty darn cool, but they won’t be making their Mainstage debut because when we stepped back and looked at the story as a whole, they didn’t enhance the story like we originally thought. Oh those poor nuns! I still feel bad about it. They were so pissed.

What is most important to keep in mind when puppeteering? How did you work with the cast of Pillowman to help them achieve that?
BREATHE!!! This beautiful expressive breath that we take for granted is the foundation of puppetry and storytelling.  Breath tells us volumes about the emotional life of a creature, and through this glorious vital breath, a puppeteer can absolutely channel his or her energy, thoughts and life into the object.  It’s one of the most beautiful, vulnerable and magical things to watch.

During Pillowman rehearsals we would first start workshopping the scenes with no puppets – just the actor’s physical bodies in space. Lily, the director, and I would watch the scenes play out and boil down what we saw to the essence of the characters and the action of the scene. Once we had a clear understanding of what needed to happen, we would add in the puppets. When moments became unclear or muddled, the actors would again return to their own bodies and work it out until it was clear what moments were being missed. It was tedious, but so worth it.

Harvard’s battle royale For Yardfest

March 31st, 2014 No comments
Harvard rock band Semi-Serious performs at the Battle for Yardfest

Harvard rock band Semi-Serious performs at the Battle for Yardfest

The Battle for Yardfest happens every year, but it isn’t always an event. Two years ago, I played in a band in the competition, which decides the student performer who gets to perform at the annual concert Yardfest, and it took place in the SOCH. There were probably 35 people there at the most. This year, Harvard turned it up a level. Battle for Yardfest took place in the Queen’s Head Pub and featured five talented acts performing for a packed, rowdy audience. Harvard doesn’t have the live music scene that other campuses have, but the night displayed that a scene is growing from the ground up. Here’s a narration of the events.

Hot Breakfast
Hot Breakfast takes the stage just after dinner. I’ve seen Hot Breakfast a couple times, at very dark and sweaty dorm parties, and I wonder how they’ll translate to an earlier crowd. They do just fine, ripping through the Strokes’ Last Nite and the Beatles’ I Feel Fine with zip and physicality – and much indebtedness to the original recordings. The group shows its songwriting prowess, however, with a new, ridiculously catchy song written by frontman Michael Senter-Zapata ’14 narrating a typical disappointing weekend night on campus. “Oh, no! She’s going to the Owl,” Senter-Zapata sings, and the crowd, filled with guys, roars with approval.

Zak Aossey – Aoss
The next performer, the rapper Zak Aossey ’14, saunters onstage and implores the audience to come back over from the bar, but technical difficulties get in the way from him commanding the crowd fully. He has a nice sound, though: Drake-like in terms of its sampling,a relaxed feel and reliance on punchlines. At the end of the set, he turns his back to the crowd and whips out his phone: “We’re gonna take the most epic selfie ever,” he announces.

L.A. Jeff
Aoss goes off, and a group of men in jeans and leather jackets take the stage, using their first 10 or so minutes to tune up and jam aimlessly. “Someone spilled a beer on my amp,” frontman Nico Schwalbe ’14 announces to explain the delay. Yep, this is definitely rock and roll. When the band finally plays, it pays no mind to the previously fist-bumping audience, instead letting a bluesy grooves simmer; the musicians then build, with Schwalbe wailing into the mic about chatting with Jesus, as three electric guitarists attack two chords with abandon. Much of the crowd nervously stands a little back because of the loudness, but the diehard fans whoop and headbang. Schwalbe appears to break the mic before the last song, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the band’s demeanor.

The next performer is a freshman wearing a basketball jersey, and he takes up much less of the stage than his predecessors. But Ary Swaminathan furiously attacks the mic and aggressively interacts with the audience, pointing to individual members and even putting the mic into their faces. He wins over the crowd easily with his antics and rapid-fire flow; soon the crowd is chanting, “Hell, yeah!” and “Everybody in the pub getting tipsy!” The set is fearless and nearly flawless, and the rapper goes off to raucous applause.

The Battle ends as it started: with an energetic cover band playing early ’00’s rock and pop. Semi-Serious’s song choices, including the Fray’s Over My Head and Third Eye Blind’s Jumper, are a little more somber than one would expect from band named Semi-Serious: Jumper is about suicide, after all. But the band does the most with its prime-time slot, turning each song into an anthem. The music is barely audible over the crowd, but that means the musicians are doing their job, as the audience jumps up and down and sings along fervently. Semi-Serious brings the house down with a clever, tempo-warping version of Twist and Shout, leaving little doubt as to who is going to garner the most votes.

In the end, Semi-Serious and Hot Breakfast are declared the winners and will perform before Janelle Monae at Yardfest in a couple weeks. I leave the pub with my ears ringing, excited and generally jealous that the event wasn’t like this two years before. With any luck, the scene will grow, and before long we’ll likely have the next Weezer in our midst.