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College Row
Brentano Quartet
Brentano Quartet violist Misha Amory guides (from left) Margaret Shiu ’06, Albert Lee ’05, Alexander Tew ’07 and Miwa Kiemiya ’06 during a Music Department master class.

Making music together

One of the most powerful experiences for any music student is the opportunity to work with a professional musician, and Professor of Music Jenny Kallick is making the most of that idea with a new program that aims to break down any barriers between student and professional. To initiate the program, Kallick set up a residency for two internationally acclaimed ensembles: the Peabody Trio and the Brentano Quartet. As in a typical residency program, both ensembles gave concerts: The Peabody performed Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the Amherst College Orchestra, and the Brentano premièred and discussed String Quartet Number Four by Assistant Professor of Music Eric Sawyer in a composer’s workshop. But Kallick and Director of Instrumental Music Mark Swanson asked the artists to go beyond concerts and lectures, to become active members of the students’ chamber-music groups, not as teachers, but as equals. “If you were a tennis player,” Kallick says, “and you could get on a tennis court and play with Andre Agassi, and it was a real partnership, both talking about it and playing together, that’s what this would be like. Before this, it was hard to have a ‘game on’ feeling around here if you were a musician, and that’s what we have now.”

Although this level of involvement is new at Amherst, the Music Department has long emphasized contact between professional musicians and students. The artists who perform in the Music at Amherst series often visit classrooms or give master classes. “We really try to balance bringing in great performers and great teachers,” Kallick says. “We want to be a department that offers all kinds of opportunities to all the students who might like to do music on any level. That can be someone who is very ambitious about their music or someone who is just curious about what it is to be a professional musician. We want visiting artists who will not just be seen and heard but who are engaged with students.”

In February, baritone Nathan Gunn followed his Music at Amherst concert with a daylong master class for voice students. Rather than focusing on vocal technique, however, he emphasized feeling and emotion. After Julia Fox ’07 sang a selection from Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land, Gunn talked with her at length about incidents in her own life that might help her understand what Copland’s character was feeling, so that Fox might bring more genuine emotion to the song. And after Jarrad Mills ’04 sang Stephen Sondheim’s “Johanna,” Gunn helped him achieve a less deliberate approach by having him pantomime a tennis game while he sang. “Don’t listen to yourself when you’re singing,” Gunn said. “Just sing. If you think about ‘What do I sound like now?’ you communicate nothing.” Holding up a piece of staff paper, he said to the students in the audience, “This isn’t music…you are the music.”

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Photo: Frank Ward

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