A Look at a Music Department Recital Workshop
By Ennis Tran
The Music Department held its first performance workshop of the year, which brought in new and old students to provide an encouraging and supportive spotlight.
Moments before the workshop began, students were either promoting the event outside the Faculty Dining room, thinking of their upcoming performance, commenting on the smell of the chicken and mac n’ cheese waiting for them afterward, or having lively conversations. This workshop was one of the biggest in recent years, especially after the pandemic and online classes. While the energy in the room was bright and ever-evolving, some were more outwardly nervous than others, and some were ready to get their performances over with entirely.
Workshops like this help with the openness and enthusiasm of the students. Not only does it help the class improve performance ability, but also other aspects of their college life. It offers a space to be creative while being in charge of their learning and the quality of their college life.
The performance workshop’s music students for this recital covered many various artists, composers, genres, and exemplifying standards: “Racing into the Night” by YOASOBI, “Pearls” by Sade, “First Began” by PJ Mortin, “The Ballad of Jane Doe” from Ride the Cyclone, “There Will Never Be Another You” by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, “Holy Spirit” by Jesus Culture, “Yesterday” by The Beatles, “How To Save A Life” by The Fray, “Blue in Green” by Miles Davis and William Evans, and “Waving Through A Window” from Dear Evan Hansen.
“It just felt good to play,” said Terrell Springer regarding his song choice. “I would’ve picked the song Blue Monk, but it didn’t feel as good as playing over Blue in Green.”
From the beginning of the semester, students are accountable for rehearsing or practicing their chosen pieces with their fellow musicians or a backing track. Some pick their songs as Springer does, while others find they are more deeply connected to a song out of their comfort zone and would like a challenge. And there are others who play a piece that they have always wanted to perform.
Every week, assigned students presented themselves and performed their pieces twice in front of the class. This practice was done in room LL01, as Milton G. Bassin Performing Arts Center has been out of commission for years, and the requested reconstructed rooms for a better practice setting for these music students is a slow work in progress. Despite this, students used the classrooms in the basement and the piano practice rooms in LL03. Students gave and got feedback through discussion boards and completed meta-cognitions on their own executions. These were all guided by Professor Thomas Zlabinger, who fostered an environment that provided room for mistakes, improvement, and a safe space to support their performances.
Springer said he was not confident he would play his piece right before performing. But to the surprise of many on the Facebook live stream and after the recital ended, his performance had completely stopped the lifestream due to copyright issues.
“The best part is that everyone has a very different performing experience, so you get a lot of different perspectives whenever you get feedback,” said Kylian Elliot right before his performance.
Elliot is a first year in this music department and took the stand for their first official recital performance. He not only baffled the audience with his technique but also drew the attention of some onlookers peeking inside the faculty dining room.
There was a complete focus from the audience, rising eyebrows, sudden widened eyes, and even nodding that indicated approval and how impressive these students were. Earlier, Elliot had expressed how this class could bring out his stage presence, and they proved it for this recital. Compared to the Brooklyn Treble Choir, which could be rather rigid, the performance workshop encourages movement and expression. Even with the surprise peaking volume of the mic that startled Elliot and the audience, the show continued. These little gimmicks and performances are truly what make it a live performance.
Any performance isn’t perfect, but it is a unique experience every time. Even the experience of putting on a recital may give insight into the process, especially since last-minute changes may occur.
All students agreed that this class’s feedback and performance experience is above the most useful for their goals. The ability to give feedback is just as important as receiving and using it. With no experience with the instrument or listening to the genre, it may be difficult for a vocalist to comment on the performance technique of a pianist. The same goes for other variations in students’ feedback with each other. Consuming and listening carefully to a performance is a tool to train like a palette. The ear is better refined as they listen and understand the performance of others, even if it sometimes just focuses on whether or not someone may be breathing well or at the right moments at first. There is a wonderful perfection to the imperfection of a concert. Not every performance can be the same, and unexpected changes are what make it the most unique and memorable experience.
After every performance, performers can expect applause and vocal encouragement from fellow students and audience members.
After the live stream was turned off and the ‘stage’ broken down to return to the basement, students took a moment to breathe or celebrate with food. CJ Wright said he felt much better and was ready for sleep. Richard Chow nodded and packed his things to head out after a quick picture. Lahens smiled proudly, all sleek in his all-black performance attire. Some students convened in conversation, laughing and giving one another pats on the back.
One of the audience members, Christopher Galicia, is friends with some students who performed. Coming into it, he hadn’t even realized that this was a class at York College. However, he said it seemed fun and was like a professional music event. “If I had the urge to perform, I would,” he said after the event, “It was great and had lots of diversity.”
Zlabinger’s tips for improving performance experiences are to play with the best people you can find and play the best music.
“This workshop is full of cool people, they give serious critiques that are constructive and very useful, and sometimes it is easy to forget that this is a class.”