Celebrating the Speed of Sound
Acclaimed percussionist and Director of the UVA Percussion Ensemble I-Jen Fang has always appreciated the opportunities she gets as a faculty member to record and publish her work. With dual celebrations coming up for the University’s bicentennial and the McIntire Department of Music’s centennial, she wanted to provide students with the same opportunity by spotlighting their extraordinary work. The result is Speed of Sound, a recording project released in August that brings undergraduate and graduate students together with faculty and alumni to perform music created from 2014-2017. “I feel really fortunate to be able to perform a lot of student composer pieces here, so the idea was to document that work and to create a collaboration with our Percussion Ensemble,” she said. The record’s sounds are as fascinating and varied as the inspirations behind the pieces. Emeritus faculty member Judith Shatin’s inventive Khamsa, for instance, means ‘5’ in Arabic and is a symbol of protection shared by all three Abrahamic religions. Former student Kristina Warren (PhD CCT, College ‘17) employs graphic, color-based notation for her guided improvisation piece, Choose, which was commissioned and premiered bySō Percussion. Jon Bellona (PhD CCT, College ‘18) contributed #Ferguson, based on live tweets surrounding the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Alaskan-born composer and former McIntire Department of Music Chair Matthew Burtner’s Speed of Sound In An Ice Rain is for pitched percussion with a field recording of an ice rain crackling on the leaves of a magnolia tree. Each piece was created through an extensive collaborative process with the composers, Fang said.
"When Kristina won the competition that resulted in her "Sō Percussion" commission, she had maybe two days to work with the ensemble before the premiere. I think she felt that she was not able to convey her ideas as well as she had wanted to. She was there with us for every rehearsal, which was great, and allowed her to find exactly the sounds she was looking for with my students." In a reflection of the department's inclusivity, the project was not limited to music majors or graduate school students. Mark Panetti (College ‘18), who contributed his piece Live to Be Free, inspired by the iconic Canadian rock band Rush, was a computer and math major who graduated in three years at UVA. Fang is excited to shine a light on the project, which was created largely in darkness. "At the time we were recording in Old Cabell Hall, between 2016 to 2017, the lights were not LED, so they made noise. Basically, we had to record the entire project in the dark. If you look at the pictures in the liner notes, you will see that many of us are using lamps, as long as they were quiet lamps, to give us as much light as possible. It was quite an experience!" Speed of Sound was supported by the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts, the Mead Endowment, and the McIntire Department of Music.