By Ashley Skowrownek
The College’s Wind Ensemble performed an impassioned concert on Friday, Feb. 24, on Kendall Hall’s Main Stage entitled “On Violence and Peace.” The concert illuminated the violence people face through musical interpretation of tragedies like the Holocaust, and the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as well as in Ferguson, Mo.
“Music has an amazing power to get inside us and move us,” said David Vickerman, the College’s Director of Bands and event’s conductor. “It gets us to think, to feel. This concert is about bringing people together.”
As the overhead lights dimmed, the stage was accompanied by two blue lights that soaked the adjacent walls — the color a presentiment of the melodies set to flood the auditorium.
One of the most compelling ballads of the evening was performed by cellist Natalie Spehar entitled “Elegy: Sandy Hook,” a piece written for Spehar by guest conductor Armando Bayolo.
As a current member of Washington D.C.’s Great Noise Ensemble and presenter of more than 45 world premiere performances, Spehar is an acclaimed artist who has worked with musicians like Michael Bublé, Chris Brown and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Spehar played atop a continuous stream of pre-recorded cello audio, a technique that invoked the sensation of multiple thoughts, fears and screams as the tempo escalated to a manic state. Each chord stirred a tremor of dread in the soul, both somber and beautiful, as the victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School were remembered.
“As artists we struggle with what to do about violence, and we sometimes feel like what we do isn’t good enough,” Vickerman said. “We need to start a dialogue with students and the community to shine a light on things that need a light shined on.”
Bayolo later addressed police brutality in the world premiere of his original composition “Last Breaths,” whose arrangement married the ensemble with the last words of six young men killed by police in the past decade.
Baritone Jean Bernard Cerin sang the lyrics “I can’t breathe,” “What are you following me for?” and “Please don’t let me die,” which were words originally said by Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Kimani Gray before their deaths.
The composition received a standing applause.
“I don’t write a lot of political pieces, but I’ve come to believe that the very act of being an artist in the 21st century is political,” Bayolo said. “We must play a role, but these are pieces I wish didn’t have to exist.”
Alumna Heather Freund (’16) made her triumphant return as a conductor for “Amazing Grace” after graduating last semester with a degree in music education.
“Sound waves are able to make us feel and move,” Vickerman said. “I think that’s pretty fantastic.”
The concert’s final message was spread through “Serenity’s” delicate harmonies, rekindling the human spirit and transmitting the power of hope contingent on a mutual understanding of one another.