Group photo of UM-Flint Jazz students at Conservatorio de Music de Puerto Rico with Professora Gretchen Omahoney

Summer 2018 Jazz Students Play in Puerto Rico

In the words of UM-Flint guitar student Michael Abbasspour, the highlights of the trip to Puerto Rico by the Jazz Combo:

"In the days following our trip to Puerto Rico, it seems the process of settling back into the familiar ways of life back home brings out the many differences, and even similarities, between our cultures. I came back with a new perspective on music and life itself. Their way of life taught me the importance of being close as a family, a friend, a community, or even a nation as it gives us strength to get through our hardships, together. They taught me how important and precious the youth are in shaping our communities, our culture, and our way of life. Furthermore, they taught me that music has a way of making these things achievable.

The Youth

One of the biggest and most prompt impressions was that of Puerto Rico’s strong and gifted roots of its youth. As we visited each school of music and heard the children perform, I realized more and more how music was such an integral part of their lives. We first visited La Escuela Libre de Musica Ernesto Ramos Anronini, near San Juan. It was packed full of talkative children of all ages getting ready for their end-of-the-semester concert. However, it was a concert much different than its typical setting as it was entitled “De Puerto Rico Para del Mundo” (From Puerto Rico to the world). The theme was to show to the world the music of Puerto Rico by displaying its diversity, its influences to and from other cultures, and its place in Puerto Rico. The auditorium was filled with rich diversity and talent, for two hours! Ensembles of jazz, strings, oboes, cuatros (Puerto Rico’s national instrument), guitars, singers, dancers, and percussionists passed through the stage until the grand heartfelt finale of a mass group ensemble.

The second school we collaborated with was the Conservatorio de Musica de Puerto Rico. We were joined by Orquestra Avanzada, the student orchestra of the music conservatory’s prep school, who played pieces by Mozart, Holst, and Bach. Though they were a student string ensemble, they held a deep sensitivity in their performance as a group and as individuals. Their bassist, Andres, was kind enough to join us as our bassist the performance. He hopes we will return so we can play together again.

The last school we visited was La Escuela de Música Jesus T Piñero of Cidra. Here I had the chance to experience, for the first time, the wonderful sound of La Tuna music. With the foundation of a driving latin-rhythm section, it was fronted by a group of singers who danced and sang in joyful unison. They played the repertoire of their recent semester. During this time, one moment there has been one of the most profound memories of this trip. After one of the songs by the La Tuna group, our group leader, Dr. Matos, asked one of the singers to tell us about the song in English. The singer, Felix Collazo, a boy of 15 or 18 years old, explained that the song was about the flag of Puerto Rico. He spoke passionately and full of pride about how the flag symbolized him and his people. It seemed so daunting to me to see such a young person speak with such certainty and pride about his nation, let alone his flag.

That seemed to be one of many moments of great insight to the people of Puerto Rico people. It was a moment that gave me something tangible to latch on to in order alleviate my questions and fascination of their inherent and profound talent. It was all so simple: Music was a part of everything. It was a teacher of their ways. It was the colors of their flag. It was a voice for their joy. It was a voice for their sorrow. 

Each group we watched over the trip seemed to be so tight when they played, like the music they made was an ambient conversation of a big family gathering. However, with their great talent they didn’t sacrifice their humility. I mean this in the fact that they were willing to not only listen to us, but also to join us in playing music. We made many friends this way; a friendship made through music is a special friendship.

The Mentors

I’m truly grateful for the warm welcome and dedicated collaboration we had with the instructors and students of Puerto Rico, along with the hospitality of Dr. Miranda. As a musician myself, I can only partially relate to how busy and sporadic the lives of professional musicians are, especially ones that have been through a hurricane, have families to tend to, students to teach, and performances to practice for. Even with a relatively short time frame to prepare for this trip, they were able to give us a very intimate and insightful experience into their lives and their music. I was grateful for the cooperation and enlightenment from Alexis Velazquez, an instructor at La Escuela Libre de Musica Ernesto Ramos Anronini, the conductor for Orquestra Avanzada, and a violinist in the Puerto Rico Symphony orchestra. Gretchen O’Mahoney’s, an instructor of the conservatory and violinist in the Symphony, was graciousenough to show us around the Conservatorio de Musica de Puerto Rico and to tell us her impressions of music and the hurricanes. I also thank Professor Garcia, an instructor at La Escuela Libre de Musica Ernesto Ramos Anronini, for letting us play with his student big band. And of course, I am grateful to have worked with Walter Alberghini, a violinist of the Symphony and an instructor at the Conservatory. I am also grateful for the collaboration with instructors of La Escuela de Música Jesus T Piñero of Cidra. Each of these people, and more, were incredibly welcoming and generous for setting up the collaborations and giving us their insight on how the hurricanes and music affected them and their students.

Being able to work as a duet with any musician is a very intimate experience of music. Working with Walter Alberghini on our guitar-violin duets was rewarding not only for the fact that he is a very sensitive and reactive musician, but also because the welcomed me into his home, met me with his family, gave me rides, and gave me some mangoes to eat. Though we are from very different parts of the world, we were able to come together through music more than anything else. 

The Hurricane

Everywhere we went throughout our trip, there seemed to be an underlying mark left by the hurricanes. The mark could be seen in both physical forms and nonphysical forms. Some of the schools we visited still had water damage, broken windows, or fans in place of air-conditioning in small rooms - packed with kids, on a hot day. A lot of the vegetation of the land had scars from being torn up by the wind and rain. A large highway sign the size of a bus lay idly on top of a small, crushed-in building. These were the physical marks, obviously.

 Nonphysical ones weren’t so easy to find. Each of the schools explained how it took a while before they could open up for their students because of damages to the buildings. At Escuela Libre de Musica, Alexis Valazquez explained how the government almost shut them down for lack of student capacity due to students moving away or not being able to attend the school in general. Even simpler than that, there was a story of a girl who had lost her instrument during the storm. She was part of Orquestra Avanzada. Her mother explained how she was deeply distraught until she was able to play her instrument again.

The loss of power and clean water was and impact for every school. Everyone, period. 

The Impact

 I feel Puerto Rico showed us how powerful music can be as an alleviator of pain. Since they are already strong as a people through music, they were able to use it for subsiding the effects of the hurricanes and to keep their spirits and bond strong. I feel it keeps the younger and older generation connected as a versatile language for all Puerto Ricans. A great example of this would be the festival we attended in Salinas. A plaza full of vendors had a stage at that front of it. Given the familiar aesthetic, it seemed like the typical place where a cover band would play songs everyone would know and dance to. The group we saw completely undermined my impression. All of their music was written by the musicians and set to lyrics written by local high school students, who were recognized at the festival. All the lyrics dealt with the effect and aftermath of the hurricanes. Almost nobody danced, everyone listened. I feel this moment symbolizes the connection that is strong between the youth and older generations of Puerto Rico – an utmost important but difficult connection that is important for any culture. 

With a town like Flint, it seems we need that cultural glue of music or some kind of artistic vehicle to become closer and more aware as a city and between generations. I feel this is already prevalent within Flint in many small circles of the community but not really anything as a whole. As a diverse town and nation, it seems Puerto Rico has the opportunity to utilize music more as it has more of a centralized culture as opposed to the states. Still, we can at least learn from them the importance of the arts, especially in less fortunate communities. As opposed to cutting them from education, we need to find ways to accommodate the arts. Granted, many of our leaders do not see the impacts we see every day through the arts, let alone music - let alone in Puerto Rico. They are simply and sadly unexperienced of these special moments in music.  I hope to use my experience and memories of this trip to help convey to others, who are not so familiar, the beauty and power of music for our youth and for each other. We need to learn to use music as more than a solitary hobby or a one-hour class or even a hobby of only friends. To have it in more households and schools will bring people closer together.

As for our impact onto Puerto Rico, I was admittedly nervous of what exactly our impact may be. I had many people ask why we wouldn’t use the funds to send straight to the people of Puerto Rico instead of sending ourselves to them. However, there were also many who supported and anticipated our trip. I would say I was nervous about not reaching the people of Puerto Rico in a way that would provide a tangible sense of support. I was afraid I wouldn’t give them my best performance to help with their pain. But I was wonderfully wrong, thankfully. I feel our presence and concern alone was a great impact. Due to the lack of initiative and concern from our government, they do not feel the states represents or cares much for them. But I hope that our travels showed them that they do have people in the states who care about their troubles. People who want to know more about their music, their culture, their history, their food, their story. For them to have been isolated so long without power or internet, it seems they were taken back to come back to the virtual world to find that their government had not acted caringly and that the media had not respectfully conveyed the true effect of the hurricanes. They were eager to tell of the hardships they went through and we were eager to listen. I feel our mission was a success due to the fact that we made many friends who want us to return someday to make music, collaborate, and learn from each other once more. 

 

 

Other Noteable events

We had a few sidetracks to fill our time in Puerto Rico.

 We played for people in the waiting room of COSSMA, Inc Medical Clinic in Cidra. They were happy have an unlikely bunch of entertainment from so far away.

Our final concert was at Parroquia Nuestra Senora de Fatima (Our Lady of Fatima Parish) in Cidra. Here we were joined by a local Cidra resident, Alexis Joel Morales Arroyo, who played the Cuatro. Here there especially many sparks of tears from the audience as this was the place where our trip organizer, Dr. Matos, had promised she would bring musicians back with her to show that people from the states care about them. This was also where we would have an incredibly insightful percussion masterclass from Freddie Santiago Campos, a music professor and native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, studied at the Escuela Libre De Música in Ponce and at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in San Juan. He has also performed with many international artists. Here we were immersed into the dancing polyrhythms of Puerto Rican/Latin music. "

UM-Flint Student Volunteers at Haiti Music School

For two years, UM-transfer student David McEachern has traveled to Haiti as a volunteer teaching euphonium at the Ecole de Musique Trinité in Grand-Goâve hosted by Haiti Arise. David directed small group sectionals and taught lessons to students ranging from 8-to-18–years-old.  While in Haiti he performed with L’orchestra Philharmonique Sainte-Trinité, directed by Steven Huang, Associate Professor of Music at Ohio University and Janet Anthony of Lawrence University. Of his experiences David said, “It was inspiring to work alongside professional musicians from all over the world, performing music from many different cultures and musical styles.” 

David McEachern poses with Haiti musicians

UM-Flint Student Performs at Emory University

Summer was not lost on UM-Flint's student musician David McEachern who in June played at the International Euphonium Tuba Festival held at Emory University in an ensemble directed by James Gourlay of the River City Brass.  He attended recitals and master classes by world class performers such as Brian Bowman, Adam Frey, and Glenn Van Looy.  David said, “One of the highlights of the festival was a private lesson with Earle Louder, one of the greatest virtuosi of all time on euphonium.” 

Student Michael Abbasspour accompanying vocal concert selection

Student Michael Abbasspour, Sound Track Composer for Model Railroaders Convention Promotion

Michael Abbasspour, a junior at UM-Flint from Otisville, is the composer, arranger and the talent behind the music sound track for the promotional video for the S-Gauge Model Railroaders Convention in Novi, Michigan August 10 - 14, 2016. Abbasspour, who is majoring in classical guitar, said his composition for the model railroaders began with a "western-folkish style."  "I continued in that direction," said Abbasspour, "using the violin to bring out the western feel. I tried to create elements of wide landscapes of fields, hills and wild horses while riding on an old locomotive."  Abbasspour played several percussion instruments, classic guitar, and mandolin on numerous mixed tracks.  He called on friend, Peter Kent, to play the violin part.  UM-Flint Theatre student Matthew Coggins narrates. You can hear the final composition by selecting here, or watch the complete video for the S-Gauge Model Railroaders at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HroBrGiCm1Y.

 

Photos of the annual Faculty vs Students kickball game

2nd Annual Kickball Game - Students vs. Faculty

Students were victorious, 6-3, in the Second Annual Department of Music Faculty vs. Students Kickball Game held on the lawn of the White Building May 5.  The warm-up game pitted the Orchestra against the Wind Symphony and vocal students. Orchestra won 7-6. Both faculty and students are already looking forward to next years match with faculty vowing to research ball kicking techniques before the Winter arrives. Students were heard teasing the faculty with the words, "Practice, practice, practice!"  

The 2016 Midwest Intercollegiate Band photo

3 UM-Flint Music Students Selected to Play in Intercollegiate Band

Three UM-Flint students traveled to Ames, Iowa in February to be part of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA)  North Central Division Intercollegiate Band. 

Alesha Akins, flute;  Zach Smith, french horn; and Jacob Yencer, trumpet performed under the direction of Eugene Corporon, Director of Wind Studies at North Texas College. Corporon is regarded as one of the finest wind conductors in the country. 

Join us in congratulating the musical accomplishments of our own UM-Flint music students!

UM-Flint Students Zach Smith, Alesha Akins and Jacob Yencer

Three UM-Flint Music Students Selected for Intercollegiate Band

Three UM-Flint students will be headed to Ames, Iowa  in February to be part of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA)  North Central Division Intercollegiate Band. 

Alesha Akins, flute;  Zach Smith, french horn; and Jacob Yencer, trumpet will be performing under the direction of Eugene Corporon, Director of Wind Studies at North Texas College. Corporon is regarded as one of the finest wind conductors in the country. 

Join us in congratulating the musical accomplishments of our own UM-Flint music students!

Photos of Maize and Blue Scholars Desmond Sheppard and Elena Sobrino

Two Outstanding Music Majors Are Maize and Blue Recipients

Elena Sobrino and Desmond Sheppard are the recipients of the Maize and Blue Distinguished Scholar Award, the highest academic award bestowed upon the graduates of the University of Michigan-Flint.  These awards will be presented at the commencement program on May 3, 2015.  Please join us in congratulating these outstanding students!

Photo of Music Department April 2015 Graduates

Congratulations Music Graduates!

Join us in congratulating our newest Music Graduates who will soon be teaching or performing near you!

(From Left) Emily Carter, Owen Ananich, Elena Sobrino, Miranda Mooney and Desmond Sheppard.

UM-Flint Music Student Elena Sobrino with Chancellor Borrego

Music Student Elena Sobrino an Angell Scholar

University of Michigan-Flint Music student Elena J. Sobrino was awarded the James  B. Angell Scholar designation, after seven semesters of all "A" grades.  Students who achieve an “A” record (all grades of A+, A, or A-) for two or more consecutive terms are recognized as James B. Angell Scholars. From the University of Michigan-Flint, 145 students were honored but only two students have been recognized for seven semesters of excellent grades.

“Having the opportunity to visit at lunch with Angell scholars Rebecca DeJonge and Elena Sobrino (both 7 term Angell Scholars) and their families was great. To hear them describe their experience working with faculty, traveling abroad to study, and of campus support for student achievement was such a powerful example of the Flint difference—small classes, excellent faculty, and student research opportunities,” said Chancellor Borrego.

 

The UM-Flint Chamber Singers photo

UM-Flint Chamber Singers Shine at Festival

On Sunday, March 22, our Chamber Singers were the shining stars at the annual Flint Festival of Choirs, hosted at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Grand Blanc. Choirs from the Flint area gather together for a weekend of rehearsals and a concert performance under the direction of a guest clinician. The Choirs perform individually and together in a mass choirs. The University of Michigan-Flint Choirs are invited to participate in the this significant community event of choral singing each year.