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Concert band to honor late professor Elliott Schwartz

April 7, 2017

PHOTO COURTESY OF GEORGE H. MITCHELL DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
BITTERSWEET SYMPHONY Former Robert K. Beckwith Professor of Music Emeritus Elliott Schwartz. Schwartz’s life will be honored on Sunday afternoon at the Bowdoin College Concert Band’s final concert of the spring semester.

When former Robert K. Beckwith Professor of Music Emeritus Elliott Schwartz hired Director of the Concert Band John Morneau in 1988, he commenced 30 years of friendship and contemporary composition with the Bowdoin College Concert Band. On Sunday, the band will perform a concert in honor of Schwartz, who passed away in December 2016.

Director of the Concert Band John Morneau chose to dedicate the concert to Schwartz in honor of the late composer’s contributions to Bowdoin’s music department. Schwartz was a member of the Bowdoin Faculty from 1964 until 2002 and remained actively involved with the concert band and students in the music department until his death. Schwartz was also a renowned composer known for experimenting with traditional styles of classical music.

“[Schwartz] really challenged people to think outside of the norm and to think of pieces in a different way,” Morneau said.

The concert will feature several pieces that keep with Schwartz’ unconventional style, including a piece composed by Schwartz; however, Morneau designed the concert’s program to challenge audience members to expand how they perceive the composer by including more traditional pieces that reflect Schwartz’ interests and inspirations.

“Elliott was a contemporary composer,” said Morneau. “He pushed the boundaries for what’s possible in performing music and exploring music.”

The band will also perform a three-part suite composed by three Bowdoin alumni and former students of Schwartz, Francis Kayali ’01, ?Yui Suzuki ’01 and Scott Vaillancourt ’92. Each of the piece’s parts employs a compositional technique that Schwartz used: the composers assigned individual pitches to each of the letters in Schwartz’ name and used these pitches throughout the suite.

“It wasn’t just writing a piece for him, it was writing a piece of him,” Morneau said.

Suzuki is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Wellesley University and composes music as a hobby. He remembers a composition class that Schwartz taught as one of his favorite courses from his time at Bowdoin. Suzuki’s section reflects both his positive memories of Schwartz and sadness about his death.

“It’s got this mix of sadness and also happiness,” he said. “It starts off as sort of mourning and grows to convey the growing influence he had throughout his life, and it becomes bright and celebratory.”

The final piece in the concert’s program, “Pineapple Poll,” was composed by British composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. Morneau included it in the program to reflect Schwartz’ affection for British music and culture, as well as his residency at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. “Pineapple Poll” was especially difficult for the band to master because of its fast-paced tempo but has become the musicians’ favorite, according to Dhivya Singaram ’17, who plays the clarinet.

“It’s a challenge, and we’ve all climbed this mountain together,” Singaram said. “We’re going to play it and it’s going to be great.”

Morneau hopes that the concert will provide audience members with an opportunity to reflect on Schwartz’ life and legacy, whether they knew him personally or not.

“[Designing the program] has been a wonderful experience because it’s so personal,” he said. “We were friends and colleagues, and that has made it very special.”

The Concert Band rehearses twice a week and is comprised of a range of Bowdoin community members, including students, faculty and staff. Sunday’s concert is the third and final concert of the school year.

The concert will take place at 2 p.m. in the Studzinski Recital Hall on Sunday.

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