Staunton Music Festival reflects the Caribbean
Staunton Music Festival’s upcoming Caribbean Reflections presents “a great mix of different genres, showcasing what a wonderful source of inspiration that region has been for musical composition,” says Artistic Director Carsten Schmidt. The concert will feature classical and traditional music from the Caribbean islands, Mexico, and Central America, demonstrating the region’s influence on many genres, including both jazz and European classical or fine art music.
At the core of the program is the world premiere of “Descarga,” a 40-minute jazz suite by Chuck Dotas, professor of music and jazz studies at JMU. Schmidt terms him “one of the best jazz arrangers in the country.” Dotas explains that “descarga is a Spanish term for an informal gathering of people who come together to sing and play, freely embellishing as they go.” His gathering includes three winds to take the melodies and lead improvisations: a trumpet and two saxophones, with the same performers doubling on clarinet and indigenous wind instruments. The ensemble is filled out by double bass, piano, and two percussionists, all of whom Dotas has taxed with taking into account the varied textures of his sources.
The concert also presents both the 16-voice Madison Singers and the full JMU Chorale of 72 voices. The two choirs unite to form the largest vocal ensemble the Festival has presented in its15 seasons, and one of the largest to perform in Staunton in recent decades. Both are directed by Jo-Anne van der Vat-Chromy, director of choral activities and assistant professor of choirs at JMU. JMU music faculty performing solos or duets of Caribbean compositions are Dorothy Maddison, soprano, and Lori Piitz, piano; Keith Stevens, guitar; Carrie Stevens, mezzo-soprano; and Eric Ruple, piano.
Each year the Festival partners with JMU’s Office of International Programs to create a concert featuring music from a world region selected by the OIP. And every year, Chuck Dotas explains, “I’m asked to create a piece that refracts the music of a particular culture through a jazz prism.” It’s a useful concept. A culture—like our own, for example—may have wildly varied musical styles, and jazz itself has always been a fusion of disparate styles, as the composer notes. For example, New Orleans jazz, which defines jazz for many Americans, is itself a fusion of European classical music and West African music, among other influences.
Dotas finds Caribbean music “joyful, lyrical, rhythmically infectious, and very tied into the music of our own culture,” particularly jazz. It’s traditionally performed by a small group similar in scale to a jazz combo, which makes it fit well with the SMF’s focus on chamber music. And it’s extremely varied. Dotas hopes that concert goers won’t be misled by “cruise ship commercials, beach spas, and steel pan ensembles,” which reflect only one aspect of Caribbean music, that from Jamaica.
The Caribbean Reflections concert is at 4 pm Sunday, September 30 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 214 West Beverley Street, Staunton. JMU music historian Pedro Aponte, a specialist in Latin American music, will give a pre-concert talk at 3 pm in Trinity’s parish hall. Tickets are on sale online at stauntonmusicfestival.com, by phone at 800-838-3006, at Bookworks (101 W. Beverley Street, Staunton), or at the door, at $20 adult/$18 senior/$8 student. Ages16 and under attend entirely free. For more information call 540-569-0267.
An abbreviated concert will be played at JMU’s Forbes Center on Thursday, September 27 at 8 pm.