Through the Living Room

Reylon Yount ’16, a resident of Lowell House concentrating in Environmental Science & Public Policy and East Asian Studies, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to attend the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing to study yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer) with master He Huang. Yount has performed on campus as a soloist at Harvard Foundation’s 2013 Cultural Rhythms, with The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers, at the Chinese Student Association’s Chinese New Year’s Banquet and at the 2013 Asian American Association’s event FEAST. Additionally, in the fall of 2013 he was a featured soloist with the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. After graduation, he plans to pursue a professional music career and development work in China.

Reylon Yount '16 in Beijing

Reylon Yount ’16 in Beijing

I walked through the modest gate of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, listening to the wet clack of my flip-flops against the muggy air. After I pressed a button at the base of his building, I could hear another student’s yangqin arpeggios emerge from the call box as he buzzed me in. I felt like I was in a time warp as the dim elevator sporting an advertisement I recognized from two summers ago took me swiftly upward (a different kind of rabbit hole). I waited quietly at the threshold of the apartment and finally heard the yangqin music crescendo as Professor Huang opened the door.

Huang He is a professor at the Central Conservatory of Music and a renowned master of the yangqin. Also known as the Chinese hammered dulcimer, the yangqin is a 400-year-old instrument that evolved from the Persian santur, which was brought to China along the Silk Road. The yangqin world is defined by Huang He’s work almost as essentially as the Chinese landscape is defined by the Yellow River, after which he is named.

Professor Huang has composed a significant portion of the standardized repertoire taught to students throughout China. As a tenth grader, having only seen him in instructional videos on YouTube, I was thrilled when my teacher in San Francisco, Yangqin Zhao, told me she could put me in touch with him. Throughout the summers of 2010 and 2011, I studied several pieces with him, two of which were his compositions. This summer, I’ve returned to Beijing to pick up where we left off.

He is more patient with me than he is with students from the conservatory, who have devoted their entire lives to studying, practicing, and performing yangqin. While I played, three of his students watched me, slapping away on their knees with weighted practice mallets, and in turn, I watched them when they played. There are few opportunities to watch people my age playing yangqin at that level in the U.S. Their renditions of brand new compositions often leave me breathless.

Reylon Yount '16 playing "Journey to Lhasa" by He Huang on the yangqin.

Reylon Yount ’16 playing “Journey to Lhasa” by He Huang on the yangqin.

It is exciting to know that tucked away into Beijing’s vast skyline is this small apartment, through which some of the best yangqin players in history have passed. This living room has suspended between it’s glossy walls some of the most immaculate and innovative yangqin music ever played. It is Huang He’s home – decorated with potted plants, portraits, and teddy bears – and he indeed takes care of his students as he does his family.

After the lesson, Professor Huang took me through the living room to the back window, where, bathed in the hazy white light of Beijing summer, we discuss our plans and prospects. During these chats, he invariably slides the door shut and lights a fragrant cigarette. After I get used to these confining conditions, a sort of whimsical intimacy sinks in; we discuss my strengths and weaknesses, important learning opportunities while I’m in China, and the responsibilities that come with being his only student from beyond Asia.

I can’t help but feel inspired as I sit there, cloaked in caterpillar smoke, and listen to the divinations of this legendary man.

A scenic setting for creating scenery

Christina Rodriguez ’15, a resident of Cabot House concentrating in Visual and Environmental Studies Studio Art Track, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to attend a scenic painting course at Cobalt Studios in Bethel, New York. Rodriguez has served as scenic designer and/or master painter for over 15 Harvard theater productions including Pirates of Penzance, Twelfth Night and Little Women. In the summer of 2013 she was a scenic painting and props intern with the Wolf Trap Opera Company. After graduation her goals are to work in the professional theater world as a scenic painter. This is the first in a series of posts written by Christina about her learning experience at Cobalt Studios this summer.

Christa Rodriguez applies paint to a backdrop using the "bamboo ballet" method.

Christina Rodriguez applies paint to a backdrop using the “bamboo ballet” method.

My first week at Cobalt Studios was simply incredible! It’s truly a one of a kind living and learning space. When I arrived on the first day I was given a tour of the residence, an old white house with peeling exterior paint and cracked walls. There was artwork everywhere. It nearly seemed as though the house was being held up by the artwork—artwork on the walls, doors, windows, floors, and in one bathroom there was a painting helping to hold the ceiling up. The visible age and texture of the house was nothing but pure inspiration for a brand of artists who are constantly trying to paint newly built structures to look as though they are very old or aging. And the location couldn’t be more picturesque. Cobalt is nestled among hay fields in the very, very small town of White Lake, New York, not far from the original Woodstock festival site.

This beautiful old house is a temporary home for the ten students who are here for a three-week course in scenic painting. We live together, paint together, cook together, and eat together. Each bedroom has its own theme or name. I am staying in the marble room, and in true scenic painterly fashion, every inch of wall in my room has been painted with a faux marble treatment. Each of the five panels on the door to my closet display an excellent execution of a different type of marble.

Behind the house is a short path that wends its way through a small wooded area and leads right to the door of the studio, where we work during the days. Inside the studio there is the most terrific library of reference books, an office space, a paint mixing room, and the paint deck, which stretches a massive 40 feet wide by 135 feet long. Our two instructors, Rachel Keebler and Kimb Williamson, are truly masters at their craft. Rachel was one of the founders of Cobalt Studios and has been teaching scenic artists there for the past 26 years. Kimb Williamson is not only a longtime professor of theater and set design at Scottsdale College in Arizona, but is also a wife and mother.


Practice paint piece created by Rodriguez, focusing on texture and techniques.

Our first week of classes focused on laying the foundation for a few of the pillars of scenic painting. We covered color mixing, the various pigments and binders that make up scenic paints, hue, value, geometry, and basic tools and techniques. We began the week by mixing paints to create our own color wheels, then practiced geometric drawing with highlights, lowlights, bounce light, and shadows, after which we all geared up for what the folks at Cobalt like to call the “bamboo ballet.” A great deal of scenic painting is done with brushes at the end of a long stick of bamboo so that painters don’t have to be on their hands and knees all day, and so that they can better see the larger picture.

This ‘Rhinoceros’ is a horn of plenty

July 24th, 2014 No comments

In rehearsal for Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre’s 2014 show, Rhinoceros, a lead actor—Dylan Peterson ’17—raises his hand.

“It says here I turn into a rhinoceros,” he says. “Onstage. Is that going to be symbolic, or…?”

“No,” says Guan-Yue Chen ’17, the show’s director. “We’re building some rhinoceros heads, with horns. You’re literally becoming a rhinoceros.”

Eugene Ionesco, the French avant-garde visionary playwright responsible for Rhinoceros, is not one for subtlety. If there is a message or a metaphor he wishes for the audience to pick up on, he blasts it across the pages of his play, and then repeats it, and then underlines it, twice. Throughout the show, which features a cast of eleven Harvard students in fifteen roles, characters repeat, debate, and reiterate pieces of information at a dizzying pace. The audience is swept up in this flood of stimulation—appropriate for a show that contains central themes of conformism, groupthink, and the fine line between humanity, a herd, and a mob.

Rhino poster (finalized version)

“I first read Rhinoceros in high school and found it fun and thought-provoking,” Chen explains when asked why the time was right for the play. “And Harvard audiences seem prone to thought. The show allows each person to take something different away from it.”

As mentioned, the show features multiple instances of humans inexplicably turning into rhinoceroses (in a fashion both symbolic and, as stated above, excitingly literal). The glaring exception is main character Berenger, played by David Sheynberg ’16, who is jolted out of a lifelong stupor to rage against the transformation of the townspeople around him. Featured heavily in all four scenes, Sheynberg carries the show—but help from his co-stars makes this a true ensemble effort.

“So far, my favorite moment in the show…is the dialogue after the first rhinoceros runs through the town square,” Chen reveals, referring to the first scene, in which ten characters take the stage at once in a massive comic set piece. “The chaos that ensues makes it one of the most dynamic in the show.”

Words like “dynamic” and “flexible” tend to pop up when discussing the summer theater process. The free environment and open schedule ensures that cast and crew have the time and energy required to bring their A-game to a demanding piece of absurdist theater.

“I’ve really liked being able to dedicate as much of my time as needed to the show,” Chen elaborates. “The absurdity…also lends itself to a lot of flexibility in character choices, in turn allowing for a more collaborative director-actor relationship.”

Along these lines, each Rhinoceros rehearsal begins with meditation and yoga, and includes a question-and-answer session in which Chen asks her actors to think about how their characters would respond to certain stimuli, welcoming any suggestions the actors or even staff might have. It’s an admirable example of a group of humans working together to transform themselves: the exact phenomenon Rhinoceros will display for its audiences, though admittedly with much less yelling, and, thankfully, a couple fewer horns.

Performances of Rhinoceros are July 24-27 and July 31-August 3 at 7:30 pm at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge. Visit the Harvard Box Office to purchase tickets ($12; students and seniors $10; Harvard ID holders $8), and go to the Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre website for more information.



Brutally honest, and encouraging

Phillip Golub ‘16, a resident of Dunster House concentrating in English and enrolled in the Harvard/New England Conservatory five-year joint AB/MM program, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to pursue studies in music composition and conducting this summer at the FUBiS program at Freie Universität Berlin under the tutelage of Juilliard professor and renowned composer Samuel Adler. Phillip has participated in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Composer Fellowship Program and the Young Artists Program of the Yellow Barn Music. A member of the Harvard Composers Association, his work has been performed by Harvard’s Brattle Street Chamber Players. He hopes to pursue a career as a professional musician and composer.

I have been in Berlin for six weeks now. The first large-scale arc of my summer just wrapped up, and I am now writing from Paris, where I am spending my week-long break between my composition program and my German language program.

Professor Adler and Phillip Golub after the concert

Professor Adler and Phillip Golub post-concert

The program has been amazing. I had twelve private lessons with Samuel Adler, roughly the equivalent of a semester of study with him, but condensed into half the length. We were given a lot of time to write so that we could bring material to our lessons. We also wrote one song very quickly, in the first two weeks of the program, that was performed in the last week by very, very skilled players and singers from Berlin. Adler is famous for his teaching, and I now know why. He is both brutally honest, always precise and clear with his comments, and also very encouraging. He will frequently say something as direct as, “I don’t like this B flat here, you should change it. How about a G instead, or an A?” It can even border on being absurd, compared to the much, much more abstract comments one usually gets from composition teachers, but it is so much more valuable. It was particularly exciting to work with him on setting a poem (by Charles Simic) because he challenged me to have a clear reading of the poem—pushing me to explain my interpretation of the poem—before writing the song.

However, I learned much more from Adler than where to change B flats into Gs and As. I found a lot of confidence in my own work over the course of the six weeks. In talking with him about music tastes, about his own life escaping Nazi Germany and later being in the U.S. Army, and about teaching for 30 years at Eastman School of Music and 18 years at the Juilliard School while being a participant in the harshest and most divisive ideological debates the music world has ever seen, I have found a lot of affirmation in that our views and approaches to thinking about both musical-political and geo-political issues seem to be quite aligned. Having your own opinions affirmed by someone of his stature really allows you to hold your own views more strongly, and be more confident in acting on them—using those views, so to speak.

Related to this is the remarkable way in which Adler is an “American.” There are sadly too many American musicians in the last century who imitated European ways, not feeling comfortable otherwise. Adler has never felt this sort of shame or smallness of not belonging to the “greater” German or French musical traditions, and has been a steadfast supporter of American classical music his whole life, and continues to be. I was particularly moved when I presented a piece to the class and he called the harmony “very American,” which to me was surprising to hear because it hadn’t quite occurred to me that there really was a tradition of approaches to harmony that were truly unique and American in the 20th century. But sure enough, in our next lesson he demonstrated to me the basis of the theory behind these approaches. All very excitng for me, for it seems rather often in the classical music world that we are constantly told that there is nothing truly originally American, and that we are only imitators.

Second curtain call at "Die Soldaten at Komische," Oper Berlin

Second curtain call at “Die Soldaten at Komische,” Oper Berlin

Lastly, confronting the sorts of issues I just expressed was especially exciting to do from the heart of European classical music. On the first day Adler said, “The reason I hold this program in Berlin is very simple. Berlin is the best city in the world right now for classical music, and I want you all to experience that.” For young people, classical music in Berlin is almost ridiculously inexpensive and accessible. There are seven orchestras and three opera companies, all with frequent performances. It is absolutely unbelievable. I went to nearly 20 concerts in six weeks, spending less than 10 euros for every single one. Being in a city and country that values classical music this much is not only a wonderful feeling, but it shows how much work can be done on our side of the Atlantic.

OFA Ceramics Program hosts contemporary ceramic art exhibition

June 5th, 2014 No comments

Ceramic Top 40: New & Selected Works, an exhibition of contemporary ceramic art, is currently at Gallery 224 in the OFA Ceramics Program Studio, 224 Western Ave., Allston. Featuring pieces selected from a broader survey of today’s leading ceramic artists, the exhibition was curated by Leslie Ferrin, director of Ferrin Contemporary in Cummington, MA, and runs through August 16.

The pieces are new and selected works by artists featured in the Ceramic Top 40 2013 show, held at Red Star Studios, part of Bleger Crane Yard Studios in Kansas City, MO. The Harvard exhibition combines invited and juried submissions representing a range of conceptual, utilitarian, and sculptural ceramics, and seeks to identify artists working on the cutting edge of current processes, ideas, and presentation concepts. Both up-and-coming and established artists who are breaking new ground are included.

Lauren Mabry, “Composition of Enclosed Cylinders” (2013), red earthenware, slips, glaze

Lauren Mabry, “Composition of Enclosed Cylinders” (2013), red earthenware, slips, glaze

“For over 25 years, Ferrin Contemporary has shown the finest ceramic art and studio pottery in solo and group exhibitions at the gallery, online, and at art fairs,” noted Leslie Ferrin. “With new technologies and collaborative methods of producing art, the time had come to take a closer look at the artists who are responding to and using these new opportunities.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, a day of educational events is planned for Wednesday, June 11, 2-5 pm, starting with a workshop demonstration with exhibition artist Lauren Mabry, recipient of the 2014 Emerging Artist Award from the National Council on Education for Ceramic Arts and the Raphael Prize Merit Award from the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, PA. The workshop will demonstrate expressive surface application techniques and concepts including the use of colorful slips and underglaze to achieve depth and painterly qualities in ceramic surfaces.

Also that day, Leslie Ferrin will give a curator’s talk 5-6 pm, and an opening reception follows, 6 to 8 pm. Events are open to the public; registration for the workshop is required (see information below).

Noted Kathy King, the Ceramics Program’s Director of Education, “We are pleased to host this important survey exhibition that explores current trends in contemporary ceramics including the use of new technologies, conceptual models of creative practice, and references to art history. With our new gallery space, this exhibition, workshop, and lecture will bring the local and New England clay community together alongside the academic Harvard students, faculty, and staff.”

Sean Erwin, “Whoopee” (2012), polished porcelain, bronze, resin,  glaze, oil paint, gold leaf, flocking fibers

Sean Erwin, “Whoopee” (2012), polished porcelain, bronze, resin,
glaze, oil paint, gold leaf, flocking fibers

The Ceramics Program has served Harvard University and the greater community with its broad range of educational offerings for more than 40 years, and moved to a new facility last fall. Known internationally for its leadership in the field, the Ceramics Program provides a creative learning environment for a dynamic mix of students and professionals from the University, greater Boston, and international communities.

Gallery 224 engages the public with exhibitions that showcase the work of emerging and established ceramic artists, research through academic collaboration, and the talent within the Ceramics Program’s studio community. Gallery 224 offers a 680-square-foot space with a full street-side view. Ceramics Program leaders King and Shawn Panepinto, Director of Studio Operations and Outreach, lead all programming for Gallery 224.

Click on photos for larger views. For more information on Lauren Mabry’s workshop and to register, call 617.495.8680 or email Kathy King.

And the band plays on ARTS FIRST

Among the theatrical events, film screenings and dance performances, many student collaborations will perform during ARTS FIRST May 1-4. During Friday’s Party on the Plaza,  Alex McCue ’14, Luke Anderson ’14, and Chris Heller ’12 will perform for the Harvard community on the Science Center Plaza. I spoke with Alex and Chris about how they met, their influences, and what’s next for the budding musicians.

1) When did you guys first begin to collaborate?

Alex: Chris and I sang together since my freshman year (I’m a senior now) and have continued to make music after leaving a cappella. We started getting together to jam at the beginning of the semester, and then got the band together soon after that. We had worked on a song just voice and piano and so I asked Jackson (drums), Kevin (bass), and Ritse (sax) to come jam with us and that song became the first original song of our band

2) What kind of music do you work on together?

Alex: The genre, I’d guess, is rock/blues/soul. We’re also working on some rap songs and some covers of old soul and rock songs.

3) What are your influences?

Alex: Dr. Dog, Kid Cudi, Lupe Fiasco, Westbound Train, Frank Sinatra

Chris: John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Allen Stone, Stevie Wonder

4) How do you see yourself fitting into (or changing!) the Harvard music scene?

Alex: We’re part of a new upswing of bands, and I hope that this new trend of people making live music continues after we leave.

Chris: This is the first year I’ve been working with a lot of different musicians on campus making our own music, and I’d really like to continue that trend. Though I’ve graduated, living here still offers a chance to connect with so many talented students on campus, and I look forward to working with more of them in the coming year.

5) What will you be doing for ARTS FIRST weekend?

Alex: We’re performing at Party on the Plaza from 5-5:30! Also we are doing another gig on the plaza on the May 13.

Chris: In addition to those performances, I’ll be playing an acoustic set in Lowell Lecture Hall on Saturday May 3 at  1 p.m.

6) Do you have any ARTS FIRST picks, such as performances you’ll be attending that you recommend to other Harvard students?

Alex: Party on the Plaza and a cappella shows!

Chris: Agreed! And the Intrinsics.

7) What’s up next for your collaborations?

Alex: More gigs, potentially recording, and then continuing to make music all the way through graduation.

Chris: I’m releasing a 4-song EP in the next few weeks with a band that consisted of four Harvard students! Excited to share that. Other than that I’m going to continue to play around Boston with them, write more songs, and hopefully record another EP over the summer!

ARTS FIRST Weekend will run May 1-4. Check out the Office for the Arts website for a complete listing of events. 


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The Music Lover’s Guide to Arts First Saturday

I’ve always been a bit overwhelmed during ARTS FIRST weekend—so many performances, so little time. As a music lover, there’s a chance for me to see literally every a cappella group on campus and an array of countless impromptu cover bands. To help you (and myself) get through the weekend sanely, here’s a schedule to follow on Saturday, May 3 to ensure you see a sampling of the best music Harvard has to offer.

10 am-1 pm: Performance Fair Kickoff, The Plaza
It’s a treat to see John Lithgow ham it up as he always does for ARTS FIRST, but also be sure to catch three staple acts of the weekend: The Harvard Sunday Band (at 11), the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (11:45), and the Harvard Marching Band (12:30). If the weather is nice (fingers-crossed), the kickoff will be a joyous, laid-back affair.


1:30 pm: The River Charles Ensemble, Sanders Theatre
One of Harvard’s youngest classical ensembles, the River Charles Ensemble made a splash last year at AF13 when they were “conducted” by Professor Gregory Mankiw on the plaza. They’ve moved to Sanders this year, and combine virtuosity with impressive unity and vision considering they play without a conductor.

2:30: Bach Cantata, Adolphus Busch Hall
AF weekend offers the opportunity for some of Harvard’s most talented artists across campus to join forces in creative ways. Here, opera star Liv Redpath ‘14 will perform some of Bach’s timeless cantatas with HRO heavyweights (Jess Rucinski ’13, Sumire Hirotsuru ’16, Taiga Abe ’17).


3:30: iiii, Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub
iiii is unsurprisingly made up of four excellent musicians, and is fronted by Laila Smith ’17. The cross-college group explores the commonalities between modern jazz and R&B. The talent of each member is readily evident, and their grooves are exuberant and unpredictable.

4:30: THUD, Sanders Theater
For an immersive and visceral finale, go check out The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers, who will no doubt provide an intriguing contrast to the statues of stately scholars that flank Sanders’ stage. These noisy rule-breakers have incorporated buckets, trash cans, glass bottles, and even the cups routine into their performances, so expect the unexpected this Saturday afternoon.


April 28th, 2014 No comments

af_fb_coverAt the Office for the Arts, we’re counting down the days until the Yard busts open with the  ARTS FIRST Festival, Harvard’s annual celebration of students artists and community life in and around the campus. This year’s festival, which takes place May 1-4, presents major events such as LITFest (April 29-May 1), the Harvard Arts Medal Ceremony honoring Margaret Atwood (Thursday, May 1), a dance party with live bands (Friday, May 2), a daylong Performance Fair (Saturday, May 3) and a hot jazz concert by Vijay Iyer and his sextet under the Plaza tent (Sunday, May 4). These featured events are all free and open to the public. A handful of additional events are ticketed (inexpensively) and are also open to the public.

There are well over 200 performances by some 3,000 students in the course of four days, and the amplitude can be overwhelming.

“Plan ahead,” advises Jack Megan, director of the OFA and the festival producer. “There is a lot going on at dozens of locations across the campus. So have a plan of attack. Grab the festival guide and create a schedule or, if you have a smart phone, download the app and use the My ARTS FIRST option to create a personal schedule.”
We asked members of the OFA team about their favorite events at ARTS FIRST. You can trust their tips and picks. The festival has been around more than 20 years, thanks to John Lithgow ’67, its founder and the esteemed Master of the Arts at the festival each year. And the OFA folks have been on the scene for a long time. Take their advice. And then create your own arts experience by dancing ballroom, listening to opera, making a mural, hearing to a fairytale, being part of our community. Bring the kids. Bring your sweetie. Bring the artist in your life. And above all: Make arts first. (And pray for sun.)
Mariachi Veritas de Harvard

Mariachi Veritas de Harvard

Jack Megan, OFA director and ARTS FIRST producer: 

“One of the great pleasure of ARTS FIRST is discovering Harvard itself. Make a point of attending some of the events in out-of-the-way spots that you may never have visited: Adolphus Busch Hall, Holden Chapel, Memorial Church, the living room in Phillips Brooks House. Visit the Plaza early and often. It will be the epicenter for much of the festival, with massive performances such as The Rite of Spring by HRO (May 3), DanceFest (May 3) and the Vijay Iyer Sextet (May 4).
Sunken Garden Theater

Sunken Garden Theater

Christine Bennett, assistant dance director, OFA Dance Program
“In addition to festivities on the Plaza – including $5 brown-bag lunches – I’ll be making my annual trip to the Sunken Garden Children’s Theater (May 1-4, Radcliffe Yard). Last year my kids especially loved Mark Mauriello ’15, Alex Willis ’14 and performers tumbling into the fountain during an improvised chase scene.”

Tom Lee, director, Learning From Performers and OFA communications:
“Theater is my passion, so I’m looking forward to the original student productions Daisy and HERO, the Freshman Musical. Since I’m a big ham, I can’t wait to strut and fret my way though Your Solo Is Waiting, Get in on the Drama, an interactive acting experience presented by Hyperion Shakespeare Company. And if I get booed off the stage, I’ll go drown my sorrows at the Harvard Organ Society’s recital (May 3) at Adolphus Busch Hall.”

Ruth Polleys, program manager, Memorial Hall:
“In the midst of a frenzied performance fair afternoon (May 3), I look forward to choral events in Adolphus Busch Hall. Whether it’s the eight-part Renaissance polyphony of Camerata Obscura (2 p.m.) or contemporary a cappella harmony of the Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones (3 p.m.), it’s calming to be transported by  voices blending amid the Medieval statuary and resonating off the stone.”

Mark Olson, interim director, Harvard University Bands:
“I often look for a group or a style of music I do not often see or hear. I have not had a chance to hear RecKlez, Harvard’s klezmer band (2 p.m. May 3),  but I do enjoy listening to Klezmer music. This may inspire me to learn more about the genre.”

For more information about ARTS FIRST, download the app or read the Festival Guide. All events are open to the public. Nearly all the events, including the Arts Medal Ceremony with Margaret Atwood, the Dance Party, the Performance Fair and the Vijay Iyer Sextet, are free. 

RCE returns to Sanders during ARTS FIRST

April 26th, 2014 No comments
Unlike most orchestras, the River Charles Ensemble has no conductor waving a baton to guide the music of concerts.

The River Charles Ensemble performed Beethoven with Professor Gregory Mankiw at ARTS FIRST 2013. Usually, RCE performs without a conductor.

The River Charles Ensemble performed Beethoven with Professor Gregory Mankiw at ARTS FIRST 2013. Usually, RCE performs without a conductor.

Founded in 2012, RCE has played at numerous venues around Harvard and recently enjoyed its first Sanders Theatre performance. The group will perform during 1:30-1:50 p.m. Saturday, May 3 during Harvard’s ARTS FIRST Festival, May 1-4. The group was also featured at a performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony at last year’s ARTS FIRST Performance Fair Kickoff on The Plaza. I spoke with Max Tan, RCE artistic director, about rehearsals, Sanders, and their upcoming tour.

Since RCE is student-run and conductorless, how are rehearsals structured differently than if there were a faculty member or conductor in charge?
Usually, orchestra conductors are the ones who lead rehearsal. They are the artist who drive forward every dimension of the orchestra’s performance and their job is to inspire in all of the musicians a vision and interpretation of the music and to unify the orchestra in this way. In RCE, there is no conductor. What this means instead is that the individual musicians must take the responsibility to become their own “conductors” and to engage with everyone else in the orchestra to unify it.
RCE rehearsals are just like chamber music rehearsals. There is a conversation amongst all the musicians in the orchestra and they all decide together (only after lengthy discussion) about the musical interpretation they want to pursue as a group. Often there are arguments and debates about ambiguities in the score and about technical elements of getting the right sound and phrase, but at the end of the day, everyone comes together and the group becomes a more cohesive community as a result, focused on the music.
What kinds of students participate in RCE? Are all accomplished musicians, or are some just looking for a community in which to further their knowledge of a particular instrument?
The background of the RCE musicians is extremely diverse, and I mean that in many ways. The majority, not all, of our musicians have had some sort of high-level, conservatory-level training in the past. Some have decided to continue that path of study with lessons throughout their Harvard years, many have decided to pursue other fields of study in the sciences or the humanities but still keep music as a big part of their life. While RCE aims to perform at a very high level and is dedicated to rehearsal processes and techniques that are used at conservatories and in professional music groups, the main objective of RCE is to create an environment that supports development of artistry. One need not be aiming for a professional music career to develop a sense of artistry through music or otherwise. However, the experience of music is to emote and to communicate, and we embody that very much in RCE.
Not all of RCE musicians are strictly confined to the classical genre. We have quite a few musicians who are proficient in jazz, blues, and other genres. Some of our musicians direct musicals and others are composers. The composition of the RCE community is quite diverse.
What has the “road to Sanders” been like for RCE, a group that has only been around for two years? How has preparing for a large-scale concert been different than others?
The road to Sanders has certainly been a difficult journey, but it was quite a rewarding experience for the entire organization. Going from the Choir Room in the basement of Memorial Church to Sanders Theatre made such a noticeable difference in the sound and energy of the entire group, and by the end of the performance, I think we all realized how much we appreciated the opportunity to perform in a concert hall that’s heavily entwined in Boston’s rich musical scene.
The preparation of the music wasn’t that much different from usual – in general, there isn’t really an excuse for not preparing to the best of our ability, and there’s no reason for changing that expectation depending on the scope of the concert and the venue. Administratively and logistically, the production was a much bigger challenge, simply because the hall is so heavily managed by the Harvard Box Office and the staff involved with tech automatically adds layers of complexity. Despite the size of the production, the excitement and the meaning behind the performance was extremely emotional and touching for all of us. It is such an achievement that such a new group that’s relatively small is able to accomplish such a feat.
What’s coming up next for the group?
RCE has many exciting projects coming up. Many of our musicians also study with a private instructor and have lessons on a weekly basis. These musicians are interested in putting together a recital project where student musicians who study solo repertoire can have an opportunity to perform in a public venue, as performance is always a very important part of the learning process. Additionally, RCE and Harvard College Piano Society musicians continue to expand on our existing partnership by collaborating on these performance projects. A few musicians are working towards a recording project of sonatas and chamber works.The idea of artistic development and chamber music is at the core of many of these projects.
RCE also publicly announced its plans for its inaugural international tour to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Taipei, which highlights a big concert in the Shanghai Oriental Art Center, one of the most treasured concert halls in the entire world. This is an incredible announcement as HRO has been the only orchestra in Harvard history to consistently travel internationally for performances. We are excited that RCE is about to embark on this journey and we feel that our aims to share our horizontal leadership model with the world, especially in China and Taiwan, will inspire creativity and innovation in the performing arts, business and beyond.


ARTS FIRST: Dancing in the Yard

April 26th, 2014 No comments


"SEESAW" by Jill Johnson will take place 10 a.m. Saturday, May 3 on The Plaza.

“SEESAW” by Jill Johnson will take place 10 a.m. Saturday, May 3 on The Plaza.

ARTS FIRST, Harvard’s annual celebration of student arts and community life, takes place May 1-4 in and around Harvard Yard. The dance presentations, like much of the festival, are free and open to the public, and are guaranteed to get you moving. Below are some highlights of what the Office for the Arts Dance Program and many of the dance troupes on campus have in store for Saturday, May 3 on The Plaza near the Science Center. If you’re more into dancing freestyle when the spirit hits you, live music at the Harvard Yard Stage, an outdoor venue near the John Harvard statue in the Old Yard, will take place throughout the day. Download the full ARTS FIRST guide and the app to plan your full day of dance and more than 100 performances.

A dance installation created by OFA Dance Program director Jill Johnson with students of the Harvard Dance Project, this piece explores the tension between artifice and authenticity. (Stick around afterward to hear Harvard Jazz Bands rock out with jazz and the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra perform The Rite of Spring.)

1-5 PM: Dance Fest on the Plaza

DanceFest is an all-day, non-stop lineup of excerpts from groups and performers. The action is continuous with two programs (listed below). Here are a few highlights:

Harvard Bhangra serves to “meet the artistic and cultural needs of students who express interest in the Punjabi dance form of Bhangra.” As you can see in this Cultural Rhythms performance in 2012, this group is certain to entertain with lively

Harvard Ballet Company will perform at DanceFest during Program B 3-5 p.m. May 3 on The Plaza.

Harvard Ballet Company will perform at DanceFest during Program B, 3-5 p.m. May 3 on The Plaza.

music and dance. 

The Harvard Ballroom Dance Team is a competitive dancing team that promises to shake things up with some old-fashioned twirling on the dance floor. If you’re inspired by these moves, the team will be offering social dancing lessons for anyone interested.

The Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company, a student-run dance company that often teams up with visiting choreographers, will be performing their original choreography Saturday afternoon. Check out some of the company’s most recent work from their spring show, Enough Space, here.

Program A, 1-3 PM includes pieces by Harvard Bhangra, TAPS, Harvard Ballroom Dance Team, Corcairdherg, Mainly Jazz Dance Company, Youth: A Concept Video, Ballet Folklorico de Aztlan, Harvard South Asian Dance Company, performers Michelle Luo and Juan Aparico, Ankita Jain, Harvard College Hellenic Society, and Harvard Passus.

Program B, 3-5 PM, showcases Harvard Bhangra, Harvard Breakers, Harvard Ballet Company, Turkish Gypsy Folk Dance, Mainly Jazz Dance Company, Asian American Dance Troupe, Expressions Dance Company, Harvard Capoeira Club, Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company, Harvard Crimson Dance Team, Harvard Middle Eastern Dance Company, High Pressure with Arthur Moore, When the Sun Rises, and Harvard Passus.

ARTS FIRST, Harvard’s annual celebration of students arts and the community around the Yard, takes place May 1-4 at various venues around the Harvard campus. Click here more information on specific performances and events. Saturday’s Performance Fair is free and open to the public.