Today: Jul 17, 2024

Haven String Quartet performs a variety of African-influenced music

Photo Courtesy Eliezer Santiago
The Haven String Quartet held a pre-concert discussion an hour before the actual show.

After at least three months of rehearsals four days a week, the Haven String Quartet performed in the Charles Garner Recital Hall at Southern. The event, entitled “Out of Africa” showcased music that captured the style of traditional African music and its evolution upon merging with American genres.
Cellist Matt Beckmann opened the concert with a lecture explaining the purpose and theme of the performance.
Mark Kuss, SCSU music professor and one of the composers whose music was featured during the concert, also spoke about how African influences came to the United States through the slave trade. Consequently, many songs that were distinctly West African combined with Christian gospel music to create many of the tunes Americans are familiar with today.
Just before beginning the performance, Beckmann and colleague Colin Benn demonstrated a brief clapping rhythm that showed the distinctive genre of Steve Reich, the composer whose music would later close the show.
Stan Ward, a junior music and elementary education double major in attendance, really enjoyed this portion of the performance.
“The clapping thing was cool,” he said.
Ward, like several other students in the audience, attended “Out of Africa” in order to fulfill a class requirement.
Shortly after 8 p.m., the musicians, matching in solid black attire, began the concert with a piece by Justinian Tamusuza called “Mu Kkubo Ery ‘Omusaalaba.’”
They were conspicuously passionate as they played; Beckmann and Benn tapped their feet while the two female violinists, Yaira Matyakubova and Tina Lee Hadari swayed along with the peaks in the composition. The musicians truly seemed to experience every note and the audience members could sense their underlying emotions.
This first piece was the favorite of Daniel Sigetti, a former music major who switched over to the biology department.
He said he felt the movement and intensity of the piece made it particularly entertaining. Sigetti also appreciated the performers’ expressiveness and enthusiasm.
“As they perform,” he said, “you can tell they’re completely into what they’re doing.” The gestures and motions of the string quartet made “Out of Africa” feel like a theatrical experience as much as a musical event.
The second piece was Professor Kuss’ personal composition, “Gospel Songs: 1855.” The silence that remained among the attendees between movements showed the respectfulness and admiration that the crowd felt for this beautiful music.
Before the quartet broke for intermission, they performed Kevin Volans’ String Quartet No. 1, “White Man Sleeps.”
This piece, as Beckmann explained at the beginning of the event, has a specific historical significance. This kind of composition was originally performed by Africans during all-night festivals in the summers.
The changes in dynamics thus reflect the courteous moments that the performers had for their sleeping white masters; the stark, abrupt variances in volume symbolize the moments in which the dancers would use only the rattles on their feet to keep the rhythm of the music.
During the intermission, Justin Ellenberg, a music major, said that he couldn’t really express his overall reaction to the performances.
“All the pieces are amazing and they’re playing fantastically,” Ellenberg said. “Mark Kuss is a professor of mine so this is really relevant to what we’re doing in class,” he added.
Many faculty members, including the majority of the music department and the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Dr. DonnaJean Fredeen, were also in attendance for “Out of Africa.” Fredeen was one of several administrators involved in bringing Music Haven to campus at the beginning of last semester.
“I heard them perform last year at an event,” she said, “and I was really impressed.”
The musicians returned to the stage shortly thereafter for their final piece, Steve Reich’s “Different Trains.” As Beckmann explained prior to the performance, Reich was a composer at the forefront of modern music in the 60s who helped introduced electronic music and sounds.
“He pre-dated sampling and DJing…and pioneered the idea of phasing,” Beckmann said.
The quartet’s rendition of Reich’s “Different Trains” incorporated a variety of audio clips and speech recordings along with the live musicians.
The overall effect was spooky and suspenseful; the song truly seemed to tell Reich’s story through a variety of elements – dynamics, tempo, and the electronic clips. The looping phrases including statements like “one of the fastest trains,” and “from New York to Los Angeles.”
Benn, who performed on viola throughout the night, admitted that this piece was the most difficult to coordinate.
“Lining everything up with the tape…to get the music to sound like the voices [was really challenging],” Benn said.
Whatever difficulties the musicians experienced during their preparations, the final product was exceptional.
The sequence of songs throughout the evening reflected well the integration of African and American music and resulted in a unique and entertaining concert.

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