US Tour 2017: Oberlin and Penn State

By Christopher Verrette, violin

Tafelmusik is touring the US from February 28 to March 11, 2017, presenting Alison Mackay’s multimedia program J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation. This concert combines text, music, stunning projected video and images to explore the world of the artisans—paper makers, violin carvers, string spinners, and performers—who helped J.S. Bach realize his musical genius. Tour dates and other info at tafelmusik.org/Tours

Less than 24 hours after playing our final Visions & Voyages concert at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Tafelmusik set off by bus to the US for a two-week long tour. We experienced no difficulty with visas for musicians at the border, which was a relief, but the paperwork for our stage gear was missing a stamp from our last journey, so we had to double back to the Canadian side to attend to that. Our first stop was Oberlin, Ohio, home to Oberlin College and one of the finest conservatories of music in North America. The school was founded in 1833 by a couple of ministers as one of the first coeducational institutions of learning, and was open to African-Americans as well. Oberlin is otherwise a quiet town with its Ben Franklin Five and Dime store and Apollo Art Decoy movie theatre (which showed its first “talkie” back in 1928) still in use. The campus itself is lovely, and it was welcoming to see the maple trees on the central green being tapped for syrup.

Bobblehead Bach on stage in Finney Chapel, Oberlin, OH. Photo: Pat Jordan
Bobblehead Bach on stage in Finney Chapel, Oberlin, OH. Photo: Pat Jordan

Oberlin has one the oldest and best programs for historical performance, including a summer institute that is in its 46th year. A group of us were able to visit with one of its architects, Catharina Meints, and get a tour of the collection of violas da gamba and other instruments that she and her late husband, James Caldwell amassed over the years. They began collecting in the late 1960’s (she explained that their courtship consisted mostly of playing viol duets!) and the process was not merely one of accumulation of instruments but also of their restoration and of learning a great deal about different national styles of design and construction, and their relation to other arts. One detail she pointed out that has really stuck with me is the head of a 1740ish French instrument, which is a representation of a “noble savage”, a beautiful embodiment of that view of the North American peoples, especially as we come from last week’s Sesquicentennial project.

Bobblehead Bach with the Nittany Lion, Penn States official mascot. Photo: Pat Jordan
Bobblehead Bach with Penn State’s mascot, the Nittany Lion. Photo: Pat Jordan

Our next stop was Penn State University, our third recent visit there. Larger than Oberlin, it is still very much a college town, in fact, the name of the town is “State College”. The university has a deep history dating back to the 1850s, commemorated by many informative signs on the campus, and visible in many old, large trees. The Old Main is a beautiful stone building next to our performance venue. In addition to our performances of J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation, Tafelmusik players made contact with students in both places though performance master classes and visits to classes in other disciplines, as well as a visit to a high school. Given the academic nature of our audiences in both places, the section of the program concerning dress codes in Leipzig brought on much laughter, as university professors are referred to as “second class citizens” and students with master’s degrees as fourth class. Lawyers fall in between as third class…

Photo: Christopher Verrette
The Old Main, PennState University. Photo: Christopher Verrette

Tonight, the orchestra performs in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Corporación del Centro de Bellas Artes, followed by a stop in Winter Park, Florida. Watch for more photos and updates!

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