Students interact regularly with professional artists through the Dayton Artist-in-Residence program
The room was silent as Professor Daniel Lee picked up the fragile-looking baroque violin. He then began to play masterfully, accompanied by the soft, rhythmic plucks of another period instrument, the harpsichord. In the small, packed room, the sounds blended beautifully, allowing students to imagine themselves enjoying a private concert in the early 1700s.
The event was one in a series of lectures, demonstrations and masterclasses designed to help students understand and appreciate early music, and give them an opportunity to interact with the musicians and experts who play, make and study the instruments and the pieces written for them.
When the violin was invented, “the idea of a large concert hall was centuries away,” explained luthier Karl Dennis, a Rhode Island-based maker of both early and modern violins. The original violin was designed to play chamber music in small rooms, Dennis said, and the instrument evolved with the venue.
As Dennis described the difference in design, Lee, a period violinist with degrees in violin performance from Yale and Juilliard, demonstrated the variation in sound between the original violin and its descendant, the louder, modern violin of today.
“The modern violin is meant to imitate singing, whereas the baroque violin is made to imitate speaking,” explained Lee, an adjunct professor of music at Connecticut College and co-leader of the Sebastians, an ensemble that specializes in music of the baroque and classical eras. “It has qualities that give a little more nuance to the sound.”
Without a chin rest and with a shorter, straighter bow, playing the baroque violin also requires a different technique to play.
Maggie Cavanaugh '15, a human development major and music performance minor, said she has been working on three baroque pieces – two in class and one in her individual lessons (Connecticut College offers students free music lessons) – but she could never quite understand the draw.
Lee’s demonstration, she said, “really contextualized what it is to play period music in a modern world, and why making it as authentic as possible is so rewarding.”
The Early Music Series is part of the College’s Dayton Artist-in-Residence program, which enhances the curriculum with a variety of opportunities for students to interact with and learn from professional artists. The residency is hosted by the departments of music, art, theater and dance, with each department planning a full year of events every four years.
In addition to the lecture and demonstration by Lee and Dennis, students have already been treated this year to a harpsichord masterclass taught by Linda Skernick, an adjunct professor of music at Connecticut College, and a lecture on the meaning and purpose of historical performance by musicologist Eric Rice, a music history professor and director of the Collegium Musicum at the University of Connecticut and the artistic director of the Connecticut Early Music Festival, which takes place each summer on the Connecticut College Campus.
Other events in the series include:
Nov. 1: Fortepiano Masterclass with Yi-heng Yang, prize-winning pianist and a member of the Davidsbund Piano Trio and Elbereth Duo; 4 p.m. in Evans Hall in Cummings Arts Center.
Nov. 1: “The Composers’ Instruments” concert, featuring works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and CPE Bach performed on period instruments by Yi-heng Yang, fortepiano; Daniel Lee, violin; and Hannah Collins, cello; 7:30 p.m., Evans Hall in Cummings Arts Center. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $5 for students and seniors and free to Connecticut College students, staff and faculty with a college ID.
Nov. 5: Lecture and demonstration on period wind instruments by baroque oboist Meg Owens, an adjunct performance faculty member at George Mason University; 5:30 p.m., Cummings Arts Center Room 224.
Nov. 14: “The Vivaldi Project,” a concert by the Sebastians and Connecticut College students; 7:30 p.m., Evans Hall in Cummings Arts Center. Four Vivaldi concertos are interwoven with interludes composed by Robert Honstein. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $5 for seniors and students and free to Connecticut College staff, faculty and students with a college ID.
Nov. 21: Connecticut College Orchestra Concert; 7:30 p.m., Evans Hall in Cummings Arts Center. Assistant Professor of Music Mark Seto will conduct the orchestra in works by Georges Bizet and Maurice Ravel. Students will be joined by the Sebastians on pieces by Jean-Féry Rebel and Antonio Vivaldi. Tickets are $5 for general admission, $3 for seniors and students, and free to Connecticut College students, staff and faculty with college ID.
Nov. 23: Masterclass with soprano Jolle Greenleaf, artistic director TENET, one of New York’s preeminent vocal ensembles; 11 a.m, Evans Hall in Cummings Arts Center.
Nov. 23: “ODES: A St. Cecilia Celebration,” a concert by TENET, one of New York’s preeminent vocal ensembles, and the Sebastians; 4 p.m., Evans Hall in Cummings Arts Center. The concert will feature works by Henry Purcell and a special performance of Benjamin Britten's “Hymn to St. Cecilia” in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $5 for seniors and students, and free to Connecticut College students, staff and faculty with college ID.