June 15, 2017

Musicians Provide Rare Performance During SEC Faculty Travel Visit

The quartet rehearses before the performance at Alabama.
The quartet rehearses before the performance at Alabama.

By: Bryant Welbourne
SECU (Twitter: @TheSECU)

All collaborative musical pieces need the right elements to come together during a performance. Whether it’s a choir performing a gospel song or a band playing its favorite hits in a garage, the musicians and their instruments must synchronize for the piece to come to life. This is especially true when the piece takes around 30 minutes to perform.

During an SEC Faculty Travel Program visit earlier this month, Rose Sebba and Jason Baker from Mississippi State University and Kevin Chance and Tim Feeney from the University of Alabama collaborated to perform one of music’s most difficult pieces of work at their respective universities, Bela Bartok’s “Sonata for 2 Piano and Percussion.”

Aside from the length, a major hurdle to performing the piece is combining the right instruments and skilled musicians. Bartok’s work requires two pianists and two percussionists.

“Tim and I have talked about doing this piece for several years but we never had the perfect storm of having the right people in the same place at the same time,” said Chance. “We had to think outside of the walls of our university because most universities have only one percussion professor.”

As fate would have it, all four musicians had talked to at least one other person in the group about their interest in the work. When Sebba learned about the SEC Faculty Travel Program, she saw a golden opportunity for the quartet to collaborate.

“Our individual schedules wouldn’t have allowed us to do the performance,” said Sebba. “The support from the SEC provided us a vehicle to make all of this happen.”

Prior to their first performance at Alabama, the group met several times to rehearse the piece and spent countless hours preparing individually.

“With school being out, we were able to set up our own little summer camp,” said Baker.

“Sonata for 2 Piano and Percussion” provides many obstacles for those who accept the challenge and perform it. The complexity of the movements requires the musicians to be on top of their games.

“The energy of the rhythms divide unequally and its tricky for everyone to synchronize,” said Feeney. “All of us have to fully concentrate on our part for a 30 minute timespan.”

According to the musicians, the performance was the first time in nearly 40 years that the piece was played on Alabama’s campus and the first time it was ever performed at Mississippi State.

“I’ve told my students to take advantage of any opportunity to see this piece played because they can probably count on one hand the number of chances they’ll get to see it professionally performed in their lifetime,” said Baker.

Although Bartok’s work was challenging, all of the performers said they would do it again. Some even said the performance was on their bucket list.

“The opportunity to work with this group gave me a chance to refine my ears and learn from colleagues,” said Chance. “We’re all lifetime learners and musicians must look at different ways to solve problems. The conversations I had with the group during this time will benefit my teaching and performing skills.”

The group’s collaborative efforts were supported by the SEC Faculty Travel Program that is administered by SECU, the academic initiative of the Southeastern Conference. The SEC supports and promotes the academic endeavors of the students and faculty at its 14 member universities.