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KSPC, Pomona College team up for ‘live’ concert series

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Coronavirus’ smothering of live music has been felt across the country as in-person performances have all but disappeared since the pandemic began ravaging the United States in March.

Here in town one of the unfortunate byproducts has been the silencing of the Claremont Colleges’ always robust and wide-ranging programming. It’s been a major loss for this music-loving community.

Looking to help mitigate the shortfall, Pomona College and KSPC 88.7 have teamed up to form a new program, “Saturday Afternoon Concerts,” which will air six archived concerts at 1 p.m. every other Saturday.

The diverse series kicks off October 10 with “Music from Debussy to Today,” a show from April 28, 2019, featuring Mark Menzies, violin/piano; and Gayle Blankenburg, piano.

The idea for the new show came from Pomona College Concert Production Manager Elizabeth Champion and its Director of Student Media and longtime KSPC director Erica Tyron.

The series represents the first time 64-year-old KSPC has collaborated with Pomona’s music department on a joint archival broadcast program.

“We’ve definitely promoted the music department concerts for years, but not where they’ve  actually pulled things from the archive and now we’re producing a program around it,” said Ms. Tyron, who has been at KSPC for 28 years.

Pomona College Music Department Chair and David J. Baldwin Professor of Music Donna M. Di Grazia is gratified to be offering a free musical treat to the community in these otherwise desolate times.

“This project is our way of saying we miss you and we want to reach out to you whether you’ve come to our concerts or not,” said Ms. Di Grazia. “It’s how we can give back a little bit of our music while Little Bridges and campus have to be closed for public health concerns.”

The series concludes with LA Harpette on December 19. The full schedule is at www.pomona.edu, then search for “KSPC Saturday Afternoon Concerts.”

The featured concerts, recorded on campus from 2016 to 2019, represent a cross-section of Pomona’s music department.

“They’re really quite representative on the one hand and yet something’s missing, obviously,” Ms. Di Grazia said. “There are six concerts, so we can’t showcase the entire department’s performances. But that being said we have representation of students with the Pomona College Orchestra, we have many of our applied music teachers, our full-time faculty and emeritus faculty. It’s not often you get to celebrate an emeritus faculty who turns 90.”

The November 7 broadcast, “Karl Kohn at 90,” recorded October 22, 2016, celebrates the formidable legacy of the now 94-year-old W. M. Keck Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus. It features Rachel Rudich, flute; Cynthia Fogg, viola; Tom Flaherty, Eric Lindholm and Maggie Parkins, celli; Jack Sanders, guitar; Mr. Kohn, piano; and the Eclipse Quartet: Sarah Thornblade and Sara Parkins, violins; Alma Lisa Fernandez, viola and Maggie Parkins, cello.

That show comes on the heels of “A Mariachi Celebration” with Cal Poly Pomona’s Mariachi Los Broncos de Pomona on October 24, featuring director Jessie Vallejo. It was recorded February 24, 2018.

“To have those back to back, to have Brahms and Debussy, to have the LA Harpette, I mean you couldn’t ask for a more varied six concerts,” Ms. Di Grazia said.

The concert series also represents a foray into new technical territory for KSPC and Ms. Tyron. The station was for the first time charged with editing digital concert audio and adding voiceover by Pomona Assistant Professor of Music Melissa Givens, who will introduce the shows and make announcements throughout.

The fact that the college has had to go to such measures to present live music—even pre-recorded—to the community has weighed heavy on Ms. Di Grazia.

“It’s a loss on multiple levels,” she said. “Of course we’re here to engage with our students, and everything we’re doing, although we’re engaging through technology, it’s not the same. I would say any faculty member at Pomona College, and not just the music department, would say that.”

Pomona, just like most learning institutions across the country, has been forced to adapt to the new Zoom-centric model of instruction.

“Everybody’s doing their best and doing quite a lot of innovative things, but it’s not what we want and it’s not what we know as the signature of Pomona College education, which is in person, face-to-face,” Ms. Di Grazia said. “When your bodies are in the same room it just makes a huge difference.”

There’s certainly no way with today’s technology to truly match for the interplay between musicians reacting to one another in real-time, empathetic to what may occur in the moment.

Ms. Di Grazia’s classes include music history and choir. History is one thing, but trying to nurture an ensemble of 33 singers through a computer screen is another.

Her choir students have been working independently on a collaborative recording, and she met this week through Zoom with each of them.

“I could demonstrate for them and they could demonstrate for me, but when I have everybody together there’s no technology that would allow us to sing or play all together,” she said. “That’s the hardest part. Everything’s difficult in an online world, but when you’re trying to make music together the latency issues are severe.

“I’m using my experience and a lot of guesswork as to where they probably will have some trouble, but I can’t hear them and react to what they’re actually doing in time, and that’s what a conductor does.

“But on the other hand, doing something, creating something, is better than doing nothing.”

For information about Pomona College’s Saturday Afternoon Concerts series, go to www.pomona.edu.

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