Saturday, December 4, 2021

Faculty Woodwind Quintet Performs Live in the UM Circle

The woodwind quintet performs for a crowd in the UM Circle. Photo by Rachel West

With precautions and protocols in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, a live music experience may feel like a thing of the past. But five music professors at the University of Mississippi went out of their way to present music in a safe, outdoor setting on Tuesday (Oct. 13).

The UM Faculty Woodwind Quintet presented two pieces of music in the Circle on the Ole Miss campus, starting at 12:15 p.m. The free recital, titled “Music for Breathing”, lasted about 25 minutes.

“‘Music for Breathing’ seems perfect for an outdoor performance,” said Adam Estes, associate professor of music, who plays bassoon in the quintet, noting that the score for “Music for Breathing” reads “for woodwind quintet with additional natural objects.”

“The composer asks each instrumentalist to play conch shells that have been fitted for playing like a horn, to rub stones together and to play their instruments in both traditional and nontraditional ways.”

The quintet included flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon.

The performers stood in a circle facing one another, on either side of the sidewalk just east of the flagpole. They made sure to remain 15 feet apart to abide by the most recent guidelines for wind instrument playing, and a barrier was put in place to ensure that listeners remained at a safe distance.

“People should be able to stand anywhere in the larger area of the Circle, even across the circular drive from us, and be able to see and hear us playing, so there will not be a need for listeners to congregate to enjoy the performance,” Rowlett said.

Besides teaching French horn at UM, adjunct instructor Leander Star performs with The City of Tomorrow wind quintet, which premiered “Music for Breathing.” When the New York-based ensemble first rehearsed the piece, they didn’t know what to expect, he said.

“We got our hands on the five conch shells called for in the score and picked up some rocks in Central Park,” Star recalled. “We rehearsed late at night in a top-floor practice room during an intense thunderstorm. It was a magical moment; we kept looking at each other, struck by the beautiful effect.”

A member of the quintet plays a conch shell. Photo by Rachel West

When the Faculty Woodwind Quintet decided to stage an outdoor performance, Star immediately thought of “Music for Breathing” for two reasons.

It’s a work that feels especially connected to the natural world and perfect for playing outside. The sections played on regular instruments feel almost holy, and the conches sound like whales or wolves, Star said.

The combination gives the effect of connection and communion – not only within the natural world, but also with something more spiritual, he said.

The other reason Star suggested Nat Evan’s work was how it seems to celebrates the very act of performance.

“The score of this piece is a great balance of, on the one hand, dictated notes and melodies, and on the other, improvisatory freedom to choose when and how those notes and fragments occur,” he said. “This emboldens the performers’ natural musical sense and gives them freedom to react and respond to their colleagues.

“In this way, it is an especially refreshing piece to perform when you haven’t had the opportunity to play with other musicians in months!”

Other members of the quintet agreed.

“I was attracted by the title, ‘Music for Breathing,'” Rowlett said. “As we are all focused on a virus that primarily affects respiration, it seems timely to present a work with that title. Breathing is so fundamental to our being and, as wind players, it is the medium that we use to make our art.

“Now, more than ever, seems like the perfect time to share a piece that encourages reflection on life-giving air.”

By Lynn Adams Wilkins