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Engaging music


They’ve played for friends and faculty at Furman. They’ve played for music fans in a private home. They’ve played for middle and high school students. They’ve played for two communities of senior citizens. And that’s all in less than one week.

Nine Furman students are on a mission: to share their love of chamber music with audiences of all ages and musical backgrounds.

As part of a new May Experience course, “Engaging Music,” students traveled across Greenville for live chamber music performances featuring the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Claude Debussy.

Their visits brought more than just concerts, said cello professor Christopher Hutton, who also serves as coordinator of string chamber music.

As they performed, students included historical context and demonstrated concepts of music theory in their conversations with audiences. They took elements in each selection to demonstrate the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary, Hutton said.

Their three-week course started with a study of the book and CD series, What Makes It Great? In the series, pianist and composer Rob Kapilow takes a piece of music, pulls it apart, and puts it back together again to show what truly makes a masterpiece.

Using that model, students developed presentations in which they combined live performance with discussions of how the music is richer and better because of decisions made by composers in terms of rhythm, melody, harmony, and structure, and how to hear these elements. The first 11 days of the course were spent on campus, after which they began making daily visits to other venues around Greenville.

“We really hoped to show the audience what to listen for,” said Jessica McDowell ’17, a double major in music and elementary education. “Active listening can really change the experience.”

Stops along students’ Greenville tour included three performances at Beck Academy, two performances at Wade Hampton High School, a house concert on East North Street, a concert at the Woodlands at Furman, a CLP concert event at Furman, and a performance at the Cascades at Verdae. Their audiences included both connoisseurs and music lovers who may not have the same technical vocabularies.Photo of Engaging Music Class outside the Woodlands at Furman

For students, talking and explaining was as much of the performance as playing.

“This course gets you out of your comfort zone for sure. I’ve gotten a lot better at public speaking,” said Paul Haraala ’17 of Morganton, N.C. “I’m not only playing the notes, but I’m able to share my thoughts about the piece with others as I perform.”

James Johnston, a professional violinist with the Greenville Symphony and the orchestra director at Greenville and Wade Hampton High Schools, was excited to host Furman students during his strings classes at Wade Hampton High.

“I hope this will give my students a different perspective on music,” he said. “I hope it will encourage them to engage with music in a new and interesting way.”

“Their voices are really unique. I really enjoyed hearing the Furman students perform,” said Na Nguyen, a strings student at Wade Hampton High and a rising sophomore. “I liked how they got us involved.”

After their performances, students also took time to answer questions about themselves, their music backgrounds, and their college experiences at Furman.

“We hope everyone left with positive feelings about Furman,” said Hutton. “We wanted to make music feel approachable for all of our listeners.”

McDowell described the course as a great opportunity. “I’ve been able to focus on something I’m passionate about and share it with others,” she said.



Learn more about the Furman Music Department and May Experience.



Last updated June 29, 2015
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director