MCLA

Allegrettos study with jazz trombonist Craig Harris

10/23/2013

It's Saturday afternoon in the MCLA Church Street Center, and students who belong to the Allegrettos a capella group are rehearsing for an upcoming performance. But it's not just any performance they're preparing for, and not just any instructor who's working with them.

Throughout the semester, these students have met with renowned jazz trombonist and composer Craig Harris, a major figure in the jazz avant-garde movement for nearly four decades, as they prepare to premiere some of his newest compositions before he takes them on tour across the world.

At 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, the Allegrettos will perform with Harris and his band, Nation of Imagination, as they present several of his latest works. They center on events such as the March on Washington, the Vietnam War protests, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and President John F. Kennedy.

Their performance will be part of the MCLA Presents! presentation of "50 Years after the Fire," co-presented with MCLA's music department and the College's "Creating Equality" series. It is this fall's Margaret A. Hart '35 Scholarship Concert, which raises money to support a scholarship in honor of MCLA's first student of color.  

According to Jennifer Crowell, program coordinator for the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center (BCRC), true to the MCLA Presents! mission, the performance will be an authentic collaboration between the artist and the students.

Each year, students - including those who study performing arts, such as theater and music - have opportunities to attend master classes taught by artists who perform at MCLA Presents!

"The MCLA Presents! series is always rich in combining what's going on in the performance world with teaching real-life experience and skills in the classroom. This collaboration will be an amazing transformation for the Allegrettos and Craig's work," Crowell said.

Jenny Beers '14, an arts management major from Sandwich, Mass., is one of the Allegrettos who has been working with Harris this semester.

"Craig has been inspiring for all of us," she said. "The group responds well to him and listens to the advice he gives us. He has techniques of teaching that the group have not seen before, so we are learning to expand our musical knowledge and skills, which has been wonderful to see.

"We are learning to blend our voices and to pay attention to dynamics, as well as rhythm," Beers continued. "Craig has been great to work with. He is brilliant."

Emily Schiavoni, the Allegrettos' advisor, said the music the students are working on with Harris is different from the music styles they typically perform.

"He brings a jazz, bluesy perspective to the mix. They're going to be able to use those skills later on when they're competing or performing. They're really learning a new style that they're able to incorporate into the work that they're doing already, which is really cool, and makes them unique and stand out in a crowd," Schiavoni explained.

"I feel like I have a new insight for this kind of music," Beers said. "I have never worked so intensely on jazz and R & B. I am learning about this genre and how to use my voice with it."

"To be able to add this to the mix of the skills in their pocket is just phenomenal," Schiavoni added. "It's really about having this experience of having this rock star to work with you as a college student."

For more information about the Allegrettos' upcoming performance with Craig Harris, go to www.mcla.edu/Academics/academicaffairs/creatingequality or www.mcla.edu/presents .