It would have been understandable if Gavin Ard was nervous the day he played for legendary trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis. “Oh man, it’s the guy,” he recalled thinking during a master class. But he kept his cool, attuned to the way Marsalis was connecting with everyone around him.
“I immediately got the vibe that his focus was more about being with people through music than being with musicians. He was focused on the humanity aspect of everything,” says Ard, a senior Music Performance major from St. Petersburg, Florida. “He’d put his hand on your shoulder and say, ‘You just played, we’ll talk about it, but let’s remind ourselves we’re not just trumpet players, we’re people.’ It was a big thing with Wynton. I played a classical piece and all of his comments were based on things not on the page.”
The opportunities to learn from masters like Marsalis are hitting a high note for Ard and other students at the John J. Cali School of Music, where ensembles and solo artists are rotating through a series of professional residencies.
The visiting musicians cross boundaries and a variety of genres, from a classical rock-star duo to a vocal band evoking emotional sound palettes to an experimental string quartet. The spring roster includes an evening of immersive music with Grammy-winner James Blachly conducting the Experiential Orchestra and Montclair State University Symphony Orchestra. (This free public event on Saturday, March 26 will allow the audience to experience the sound with creative seating among the orchestra).
“We’ve tried to keep the artists diverse in every possible way,” says Anthony Mazzocchi, director of the Cali School. “It’s important that students from all walks of life see a part of themselves up on stage, and at the same time to have students exposed to musicians who play a genre that they never thought of, has opened up a lot of eyes.”
Nick Scafuto, a lead tenor with the University Singers, recently had the opportunity to workshop with composer, vocalist, playwright and actress Kamala Sankaram on an a cappella commission, Let My Country Awake, based on the poetry of Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. “It’s extremely evocative,” Scafuto says of the piece. “Being able to work with interesting meter changes and tonalities is not something you see in the choral space.”
An open rehearsal in early February with the Harlem Quartet, Montclair’s quartet-in-residence, pulled back the curtain on the ensemble’s creative process as they worked through String Quartet in C Major K. 465 “Dissonance” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a piece they will perform this spring.
The musicians worked on tempo, “leaving room to breathe” between notes, creating space for their imaginations to come through. “We have a plan, but we change and react in the moment,” Harlem Quartet cellist Felix Umansky explained.
Ard says he takes those lessons on interpretation to heart. “Slowing down, pushing through, dynamics that aren’t on the page, there’s a part of me as a young musician that thinks that’s not what the composer said, when in reality that’s what separates incredible musicians from people who play just what’s on the page.”
Ard is preparing for a residency pairing percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and composer Michael Daugherty. The week will culminate on Friday, March 4 in the world premiere performance of the wind band version of Daugherty’s Dreamachine by the MSU Wind Symphony with Glennie as soloist.
“It’s incredible that we get to work with the musicians and evolve with them,” says Ard, who plays with the University’s Wind Symphony and Jazz Band. “It reminds us why we’re artists and why we’re musicians, to see these people who are out there doing what we want to do at the very highest levels.”
See the full list of performances and classes at Cali Immersive Residency.
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