Striking a Chord


This fall, MCLA students had the opportunity to hear from a variety of professional musicians before MCLA Presents! series concerts. According to Dr. Michael Dilthey, a professor in the college's music department, this series is particularly meaningful to his students when the performing artists bring their expertise to his classroom.

"They're not just providing entertainment at their concerts, but speaking directly to the students," Dilthey says. "They are helping to define what we can be as a music program inside a liberal arts college."

Among those speaking to students recently was jazz trombonist and composer Craig Harris (above) of God's Trombones. At the top of his field for 30 years, Harris spent a 12-hour day at MCLA, speaking with multiple groups of students, including those in Dilthey's advanced counterpoint course.

"He came in and described what he does in his composition and music-making, and reinforced what he says are the most important things to learn," says Dilthey. "This is how it comes out in practice and in the real world. It's vitally important for the students to see a rationale for all that we're teaching in the classroom."

Harris's visit had a big impact on Alex Massar '12 of West Boylston, MA, who attended two master classes. He was able to see how Harris did things and compare that to his own work.

"One thing that specifically stood out to me was that he justified something about my study that I had originally taken in a different way," says Massar. "He told us in the most nonchalant manner that music is not learned in a single fashion, but that we will all get to the same point with our own style in our own time."

But Massar says the best part of Harris's classroom presentation was when he described how he, too, had once been a college student discovering the same things the MCLA students are learning.

"He is where he is now, as a fully accomplished musician, because of it," says Massar. "His appearance was significant because it sort of proves that what we are doing is still worthwhile."

Watcha Clan, a world music band from Marseille, France, also visited Dilthey's Performance Workshop class. Plugged in to the classroom's Smart Desk system, Watcha Clan put their work up on their laptops for the students to see.

The group demonstrated how they could take various forms of music - such as ancient Arabic - and use technology to augment the sounds with bass, drums, and other modern instruments. The result? They turned old music into something the students might hear at a night club or concert.

"They demonstrated what they do live in concert and in the studio, which was exactly what we've been studying in class," says Dilthey. "It's the embodiment of all music and technology."