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The Music at Pitt Podcast

Author: Pitt's Department of Music

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Welcome to The Music at Pitt Podcast. Produced and hosted by Philip Thompson, the podcast features insightful conversation with University of Pittsburgh Department of Music faculty, students, and alumni on any aspect of music you can imagine and probably some you haven't.
19 Episodes
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For this episode of the podcast we feature three of our graduating seniors: Jordan Bender (pictured), Walt Yang, and David Zahniser. Jordan, Walt, and David are going to talk to us about their Senior Capstone Projects which, as you might imagine, are projects designed to capture what students have accomplished as Music Majors. Walt and Jordan are performing full solo recitals that will be livestreamed on the Music at Pitt YouTube Channel. Walt’s piano recital will stream on April 9 a 7 p.m. and Jordan’s percussion recital will stream on April 17 at 7 p.m. David is creating an album, featuring six of his favorite Disney songs from his childhood, where he tells the story of life as a student during the pandemic from the beginning up until now David will also talk with us about his album of original jazz based on research into Jewish and African-American communities residing in Pittsburgh’s Hill District from the late 1800s to the mid-1960s. That project, titled The Crossroads, was supported by a Brackenridge Fellowship. Walt Yang’s Recital Livestream - Friday, April 9, 7 p.m.Jordan Bender’s Recital Livestream - Saturday, April 17, 7 p.m.David Zahniser’s The Crossroads
Our guest for this episode of the podcast is Michael Heller, Associate Professor of Music for the Department of Music and editor of the journal Jazz and Culture published by University of Illinois Press. He’s the author of Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s which chronicles an explosion of experimental venues that sprang up inside of the city’s crumbling industrial buildings.Michael joins us today to talk about the newest issue of Jazz and Culture which is a tribute to the musical legacy of the late Geri Allen, Director of Jazz Studies at Pitt from 2013 until her death in 2017.  He’ll also preview his forthcoming second book titled Just Beyond Listening: Sound and Affect Outside of the Ear. The new book explores a range of human relationships with sound based on modalities other than listening. Find out more about the Jazz and Culture journal.
Our guest for this episode of the podcast is Rizky Sasono, a PhD student in ethnomusicology and a singer/songwriter who has performed around the world with his band Risky Summerbee and the Honeythief. He is also a member of a Teater Garasi/Garasi Performance Institute, a contemporary theater group based in Yogyakarta. His newest publication is a chapter in the newly released Bloomsbury book Sound Communities in the Asia-Pacific titled "Sounds of Political Reform: Indie Rock in Late New Order Indonesia." Rizky’s chapter traces the formation of the independent music scene in Indonesia (specifically in Yogyakarta) in the 1990's against the backdrop of student-led political activism. The "indie" spirit was expressed in both the DIY music making practice and a diversity of indie genres including grunge, alternative, thrash metal, prog, punk, and more. Indie music spread through campus-organized concerts, college radio, and mix tapes of popular bands. This new music expression was vibrant against the backdrop of increasing political tension in Indonesia that eventually forced President Suharto to step down. Prior to his studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Rizky earned his MA degree in Performing Arts and Visual Arts Studies from Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He completed another MA degree at the University of Pittsburgh (2019). His thesis, titled Aksi – A Soundscape of Political Protest in Indonesia, 1998, examines protests in Indonesia that led to the fall of ex-president Suharto in 1998. Musical excerpts in this episode are by Risky Summerbee and the Honeythief. First excerpt: “Slap & Kiss” from The Place I Wanna GoSecond excerpt: “Scherzo”All works copyright © M. Rizky Sasono and used by permission.
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt podcast is composer/pianist Eric Moe, the University of Pittsburgh’s Andrew Mellon Professor of Music and co-director of Music on the Edge. He is a composer of what the New York Times calls "music of winning exuberance,” and as a pianist and keyboardist, has premiered and performed works by a wide variety of composers. His playing can be heard on the Koch, CRI, Mode, Albany, New World Records, and Innova labels. Eric joins us today to discuss his recently produced, live-to-video piano recital of music by J.H. Kwabena Nketia and Akin Euba. Both Nketia and Euba served at Pitt as Professors of music in ethnomusicology and were Moe’s predecessors as the Mellon Professor. Nketia passed away in 2019 and Euba passed away in 2020.  Along with being leading scholars in African music, Nketia and Euba were renowned composers. Among their creative contributions is the development of a style of piano music they described as “African Pianism.” Eric’s program will include representative works by each composer such as Euba’s Themes from Chaka and Study in African Jazz 3, and Nketia’s Dagarti Work Song, Dagomba, and Volta Fantasy among others.The video and audio were recorded at Bellefield Hall Auditorium and will go live on the Music at Pitt YouTube Channel on Thursday, February 11, 2021 at 7:30 p.m.
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is Jazz Studies PhD student Lee Caplan. Lee is researching Jazz Aesthetics with a focus on 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke’s ideas of the sublime and how those in turn connect to theological ideas of the sublime.  He has presented his research on jazz and aesthetics at the Library of Congress, the University of Kansas for the Midwestern Research Collective, and at chapter meetings of the American Musicological Society in both the Pacific Southwest and Mid-Atlantic Regions. Lee performs primarily on double bass, composes in many different jazz idioms, and is proficient on piano, guitar and drums as well. He’s released an album of original compositions titled Marathon Sessions, and even a book of humorous one-liners he calls Wise Words and Other Exaggerations. 
This episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is a very special one as it will include as many of our ensemble directors as could possibly be here talking about the projects they and their students have been working on over the course of the semester. We will get to hear from Jazz Ensemble Director Ralph Guzzi, Bluegrass Ensemble Director Adriana Helbig, Heinz Chapel Choir Director Susan Rice, Men’s Glee Club Director Richard Teaster, and Orchestra Director Roger Zahab. We’ll also highlight projects by the Women’s Choral Ensemble, African Music and Dance Ensemble, and Afropop Ensemble. There have been many challenges to making music this semester, but we think you’ll be inspired by hearing how our students and directors have risen to the challenge. You can find links to all their projects, completed and upcoming, here. 
Our guest for this episode of the podcast is Nicole Mitchell, internationally acclaimed flutist, composer, and Director of the Pitt’s Jazz Studies program. She joins us today to talk about the 50th Annual Jazz Seminar and Concert which will be a celebration of the Seminar’s two previous directors, the late Nathan Davis, who founded the Jazz Seminar, and the late Geri Allen, who was one of Nathan’s most renowned students and his successor. The 50th Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert will take place entirely online this year and you can find out about all the events and how to stream them by visiting jazz.pitt.edu/jazz-sem. 
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is composer, sound designer, and software developer Phil Lamperski. Phil graduated from Pitt in 2007 with a BA in Music and a BS in Psychology. He went on to earn an MA in Music from UC Santa Cruz and has since been busy working on interactive music, software involving algorithmic composition, and sound design for video games. He is currently a senior sound designer at Crystal Dynamics where one of his most recently released projects is the Marvel Avengers RPG for which Phil created combat music and warzone ambient systems. He also develops real-time interactive computer music systems oriented toward live performance and has utilized this process for creating his own original compositions. In 2019 he released an album of electronic music titled Terrella which he created entirely in the Pure Data music environment. Terrella is available wherever fine music is streamed. You can find out more about Phil’s sound design in this interview with the Crystal Dynamics team from A Sound Effect and hear some his work on the trailer for the Marvel Avengers game. Musical excerpt: “Arrhythmia” from the album Terrella. Used by permission of the composer.
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is Deanna Witkowski, a Jazz Studies grad student who is new to the program, but certainly not new to the jazz scene. Deanna brings her experience as a nationally renowned pianist, vocalist, composer, and author to her doctoral studies at Pitt where she’s specializing in the music of Mary Lou Williams. Deanna is a noted Williams scholar, lecturing and performing Williams’s music at the University of Pittsburgh, Duke University, and most recently as a featured performer with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Her upcoming biography, Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul, will be published by Liturgical Press in 2021.  Not unlike Williams, Deanna has composed a great deal of sacred music, including choral anthems such as We Walk in Love and Where Shadow Chases Light, as well as jazz arrangements of classic hymns. She has also created resources to help congregational musicians of all levels engage with jazz as part of their worship experience.  Musical excerpts in this episode: “Wide Open Window” from the album Wide Open Window, and “All Creatures of Our God and King” form the album Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns. All music copyright Deanna Witkowski. Used by permission. Deanna has been active performing in Pittsburgh in both online and in-person events. You can catch her upcoming performances on October 18 in Foxburg, PA (in person, limited seating)October 21 in Pittsburgh (outdoors at Con Alma Restaurant and Jazz Bar)Visit deannawitkowski.com to find out more about her work and upcoming performances. 
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is recent graduate Mariam Shalaby. Mariam graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2018 with a BPhil in Music through the Honors College and Department of Music and a BS in Natural Sciences. She is a first generation Egyptian American now in her second year at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey. And though we’ve heard rumors that medical school can keep you busy, Mariam recently had her article “Qur’anic Recitation Among Pittsburgh Egyptian Muslims: An Ethnographic Field Study” published in the International Journal of Traditional Arts.
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is Deane Root, the music department’s newest Professor, Emeritus. Deane recently retired from more jobs than most of us hold in a lifetime, including being the Director of the Center for American Music, the Fletcher Hodges, Jr. Curator for the Center for American Music, and Professor of Musicology for Pitt’s Department of Music where he served multiple terms as Chair. For his “retirement” project he continues to serve as the Editor in Chief of Grove Music Online, the successor to the ubiquitous New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.Deane’s accomplishments throughout his career are so voluminous that it would take the entire episode to list them, but a few highlights include serving as President of the Society of American Music and helping to found the journal American Music, creating an educator’s guide to historic American song titled Voices Across Time, appearing on PBS documentaries on Stephen Foster and Antonin Dvorak, and consulting on numerous other documentary films on American Musical Theater. The list literally goes on and on.In Part 2 of our interview with Deane Root, we discuss the power of community, from coping with the trauma of the Tree of Life shooting to creating a more inclusive environment for music scholarship.
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is Deane Root, the music department’s newest Professor, Emeritus. Deane recently retired from more jobs than most of us hold in a lifetime, including being the Director of the Center for American Music, the Fletcher Hodges, Jr. Curator for the Center for American Music, and Professor of Musicology for Pitt’s Department of Music where he served multiple terms as Chair. For his “retirement” project he continues to serve as the Editor in Chief of Grove Music Online, the successor to the ubiquitous New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.Deane’s accomplishments throughout his career are so voluminous that it would take the entire episode to list them, but a few highlights include serving as President of the Society of American Music and helping to found the journal American Music, creating an educator’s guide to historic American song titled Voices Across Time, appearing on PBS documentaries on Stephen Foster and Antonin Dvorak, and consulting on numerous other documentary films on American Musical Theater. The list literally goes on and on.In Part 1 of our interview with Deane Root we discuss how the pandemic has changed how we approach music education and trends in American Music scholarship.
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is Jim Cassaro, Head of the Theodore M. Finney Music Library and Professor of Music. Jim is a librarian-musicologist who specializes in seventeenth-century French music, with a particular interest in Jean Baptiste Lully. He’s published several monographs and contributed articles to leading journals of both library science and musicology. For the Department of Music, Jim teaches a wide variety of courses ranging from Principles of Research and Bibliography to Operatic Innovations to Music and Queer Identity.This year, Jim will also be overseeing a Grammy Museum Grant awarded to the Finney Music Library for the purpose of digitizing music department concerts recorded between 1969 and 1989. The recordings are on reel-to reel tape and the grant will support transferring the recordings to the digital domain before the tapes deteriorate.
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt podcast is Devon Tipp. A PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, Tipp’s music draws influence from his Japanese and Eastern European roots, his experiences as a jeweler and painter, and his studies of gagaku and hogaku in Japan and the US. He received his BMus from Montclair State University, where he studied composition and microtonal music with Dean Drummond, and shakuhachi with Elizabeth Brown. His music has been performed by microtonal specialists Kjell Tore Innervik, Veli Kujala and Tolgahan Çogulu. He has also worked with Rarescale, the Thin Edge New Music Collective, the Sudbury Guitar Trio, and members of Avanti! Chamber Orchestra. His compositions have been featured at the Soundscape Festival, Bowdoin Festival, Atlantic Music Festival, Sävellyspaja Summer Composition Masterclasses, and the Tokyo International Double Reed Society Conference.Devon was recently announced as the winner of the 2020 Dead Elf Music Award for the best composition by a Pitt graduate student for his composition Tokyo Shift Response Shards and he has been named an Andrew Mellon Predoctoral Fellow for 2020–21.
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is Lily Turner, a freshly minted Pitt graduate from Blacksburg, Virginia. As a student at Pitt she was a double major in Computer Science and Music, specifically pursuing the Global and Popular Music track. Lily is particularly interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence. She’s previously done research into using convolutional neural networks for computational drug discovery and is now interested in applying machine learning to music. She’s passionate about music-making of all kinds, from old-time fiddling to playing baritone in the Pitt Band. She was very involved with a few student organizations, and was president of Urban Gaming Club. She also took part in the Christian Student Fellowship as well as Project Potter, a Harry Potter-themed service organization at Pitt that raises money for and volunteers with children in the Pittsburgh area. Lily also enjoys drinking tea and playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends.For her senior capstone project, Lily applied machine learning to replicate the playing style of renowned fiddler Mark O’Connor and summarized her findings in a paper titled, “Mark O’Connor Bot: Recurrent Neural Net Generation of Texas-Style Fiddling.”
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is musicology doctoral student Larissa Irizarry. Larissa is receiving significant recognition for her research into 21st-century opera and 1970s rock where she explores depictions of gender-based violence, interracial intimacy, and queer intimacy. She will be a Mellon Fellow in 2020–21 and was recently awarded Pitt’s Don O. Franklin Prize for Musicology for her paper on Kaija Saariaho’s opera Adriana Mater which explores rape-related pregnancy. Her forthcoming article “Queer Intimacy: Vocality in Jesus Christ Superstar” is set for publication this year in the journal Women and Music, and she was set to give papers on how Janelle Monáe’s work has shifted from the technological to the fleshy and how it relates to the rise in white nostalgia and heterosexism.
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is composition and theory doctoral candidate Wang Xinyang. Born in Guangyuan City, Sichuan Province, China, Wang Xinyang is a composer of classical music, currently based in Pittsburgh. He holds a bachelor's degree from Sichuan Conservatory of Music and a master's degree from Manhattan School of Music both in music composition and theory.Xinyang takes inspiration from a broad spectrum of influences, such as traditional Chinese arts and its Western concert music. He’s been awarded numerous prizes in composition and has worked with many eminent interpreters. Recently he was announced as a finalist in the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award for his orchestral piece Boréas. The piece is scheduled to be performed on May 31 by at the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall in a performance by conductor Yasuo Shinozaki and the Tokyo Philharmonic. Like everything else in the time of a global pandemic, this event may be postponed, but we still thought it would be a good time to talk with Xinyang about his composition.Excerpts heard in this podcast:Gan-Jiang, Mo-Ye for orchestra, 2018; performed by Suzhou Symphony under the baton of Zhu Qiyuan.A Celestial Inscript for soprano and Pierrot quintet, 2016; performed by various artists in Italy.
The Music at Pitt Podcast has been on hiatus while Pitt has been transitioning to remote learning, but we’re back and recording from the Lawrenceville Offices of the Department of Music (aka host Phil Thompson's home studio) and conducting interviews over zoom. Our guest for this episode is Emma Lebo, a senior Music Major who has been playing trumpet for 13 years and double bass for 12. During her time at Pitt, she has performed with the Varsity Marching Band, Symphony Orchestra, Symphonic Band, and Gamelan Ensemble. She is also a member of the national band fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi.Emma began composing during her senior year of high school and is focusing on the Composition Track for her major. She has had several works performed, such as Awakening, Elements, and a setting of the Margaret Widdemer poem The Women’s Litany.For her Senior Capstone Project, Emma is focusing on New Discipline music and its fundamental characteristics such as interdisciplinarity, performers as people with bodies, the concert hall designation, and the disregard for having their music fit into what is expected or considered to be correct. Her project comprises extensive research into primary and secondary sources related to New Discipline and earlier related movements such as Fluxus and Dada. She interviewed three composers whose work represents aspects of New Discipline: Cullyn Murphy, Laura Schwartz, and Emerson Voss. Each of these composers is also a Pitt graduate student or PhD graduate. As part of this episode we’ll hear excerpts from works by each of these composers.Works heard in this episodeMurmur by Laura Schwartz, performed by the University of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestrawhereas by Emerson Voss, performed by TAKdisappearance of  by Cullyn Murphy, performed by TAK
Our guest for this episode of the Music at Pitt Podcast is Charles Lwanga, a composer, theorist, master drummer, and ethnomusicologist. Charles completed his PhD in composition and theory here at Pitt in 2012 and recently completed his second PhD in ethnomusicology. At the 2019 meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Charles’ paper, "We’re Fighting for Freedom: Singing for Change, Contesting Greed in Uganda," was recognized as the best student paper in the African section, marking the second time he has received this award.  In the past year he’s also published reviews in the Journal of Ethnomusicology and the Journal of Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies.Charles remains active as a composer as well having recently released a recording of his duet for tenor trombone and percussion, One Buzzy Evening, including his own analysis of the piece, in the Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa.He served as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Psychology at Pitt where he conducted research with Professor Kirk Erickson on the effects of African dance and education intervention on brain and cognition among African American seniors living in Pittsburgh.In 2020, Charles was appointed Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. 
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