In the key of excellence: A look into the music department

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Music can be an excellent source of relaxation and entertainment for students, and the University of Saskatchewan music department is a great source of live music and other amenities for students outside the department, as well as those within it.

Despite being a relatively small department when compared to others on campus, the department of music is quite active on campus and in the Saskatoon community. From scholarly activities such as lectures, to concerts and recitals, the department has plenty going on for the average student from any college to enjoy.

Starting with the faculty, of which there are eight, department head Gregory Marion listed some of the ways in which the faculty itself is involved in music.

“Our faculty are very involved in giving performances of either solo natures or as part of larger ensembles both at home, throughout the province and internationally … We have faculty that are afeature crossover between the more article-driven and the performative. We have, for instance, a composer faculty member, which obviously is about composition as is suggested, but obviously has a performative aspect to the back edge of that as well,” Marion said.

Marion explained the outreach engagements that the music department puts on with the help of their students.

“Our outreach engagements vary, but principally they amount to an array of performances that go on over the course of any academic year and those performances involve our student ensembles that are led by our faculty members,” Marion said.

The music department currently runs seven ensembles each year, with others being offered depending on the availability of resources. The seven ensembles that have become a staple for the music department include the Greystone Singers, Wind Orchestra, University Chorus, Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble, Chamber Ensemble and Music Theatre.

The Greystone Singers and the University Chorus are both choir-style vocal groups, with the distinction between them being that the Greystone Singers are available to join via audition, while the University Chorus does not require an audition and allows for non-students from the community to join. However, those who join the University Chorus must still be willing to commit to one rehearsal per week.

Another ensemble which does not require an audition is the Concert Band, which was the first instrumental ensemble to be sanctioned in the department in 1961. The Wind Orchestra was established out of the Concert Band due to growth in 1974 and has been chosen to perform at the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles, the Canadian Music Educators Association and the Texas Music Educators Association.

Also noteworthy is the Jazz Ensemble, and aside from their reputable touring history, they have released six CDs as part of their “Bumper Crop” series. Students from the Jazz Ensemble have also played with the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra, a professional group.

Rounding out the U of S’s extensive ensembles are the smaller Chamber Ensemble and Music Theatre. The Chamber Ensemble is based around forming duets, trios and quartets, while Music Theatre takes eight to 14 students to create a musical in an opera, operetta or Broadway style.

Carlos Munoz Pimentel, first-year political studies major and a first tenor in the Greystone Singers, explained some of the benefits of attending one of their shows.

“It supports the arts and usually that’s a very big thing because a lot of people benefit. It’s a cultural benefit as much as it is a personal benefit. It benefits Saskatoon [and] it benefits our university,topleftfeature and you have a group of people who are able to joyfully sing music and it spreads their love of music through their voice,” Munoz Pimentel said.

To denote the level of talent found within these student ensembles, Marion provided an example of how these students are involved in the Saskatoon music scene outside of the U of S.

“We have a number of our students, current students, who are members of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. One of our fourth-year violinists is the assistant concertmaster with that group and when he earned that position — and it is an earned position — he was the youngest person in the country to have that kind of a position,” Marion said.

Ensembles are not the only way in which students can get involved in or simply appreciate the musical work of U of S students, as there are also recitals performed by music majors that are free to the public. Recital length for students varies on their year in the program, with first-years performing for 10 minutes and fourth-years generally performing for an hour.

Marion described the types of music that patrons can expect to hear at any given recital.

“A wide array of pieces will be heard on any of these concerts. Principally these feature either solo instrument, in the case of one of our piano students for instance, or in the case of say, a voice student, there will be the singer and as well the person that is their collaborative performer on piano,” Marion said.

Marion explained that the focus is not wholly on one student at any time during these group recitals.

“Similar to any of the other instruments, there will be not only the focus on the solo instrument but as well the piano accompaniment. Sometimes at these student-based recitals, students will play in small groups as well,” Marion said.

Ensembles are not the only way in which the music department can be an asset to students, as they also offer a lecture series.

“We have a very longstanding and active fine arts research lecture series, FARLS in Music for short. For a long time, this has been promoted and supported by the office of the vice-president research at the U of S, now Karen Chad, but this is reaching back into the 1990s as one of the longest standing lecture series on campus,” Marion said.

bottomrightfeatureThis lecture series allows for students to get a taste of the more academic side to music on a variety of topics, from music theory to how music relates to culture. Presenters vary and topics change from lecture to lecture within the series, so each event is different.

Following the academic side to music, the music department also offers classes to students that do not require them to be a music major to take, allowing students to academically pursue music without committing to a full vocation in music.

“We have a music theory class that’s online [and] we also have a class that’s geared towards popular music online. Then for those students who don’t wish to be a music major, there’s a number of other classes that our music majors will take if non-music students have some experience in music and some love of continuing on,” Marion said.

These classes can often fill a fine arts requirement in many majors, so students can fill the requirements for their respective majors while still pursuing music.

Overall, the music department at the U of S is an excellent source of music, be it through academia or purely from an appreciation standpoint. This can be of great value to students who enjoy music that would like the opportunity to support their fellow students or simply because finding music on campus is convenient. Either way one looks at music is valid, however, which Marion explains is one of the best aspects of music.

“Music is such a wonderful art form because one can engage at whatever level one’s comfortable engaging with music. Be it from somebody who just has a love of listening to music and that’s their connection, music is welcoming that way, to someone who loves to think about how music is put together in very, very intense structural ways.”

All Graphics by: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor