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Dance and Music: A Spring Collaboration
Angela Cui '21 Staff Writer
May 29, 2019

This spring, the music and dance departments have joined together in another collaboration creating a performance of the jazz piece “Rhapsody in Blue,” composed by George Gershwin. A group of Deerfield musicians from the chamber orchestra, along with Joshua Fang ‘19 as the piano soloist, worked with the dancers to bring the piece to life. The orchestra has performed a shorter version of “Rhapsody in Blue” with the dancers for the Spring Dance Showcase as well as the full piece for their own spring performance.

Fang began playing the piano at age three and became involved in jazz during middle school. Upon hearing of the Deerfield Concerto Competition, Fang seized the opportunity to perform piano as a soloist with Deerfield musicians and chose this jazz piece for its revolutionary sound and history.

“It’s not your conventional classical piece,” commented Fang. “I find ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ to be such a beautiful piece because, not only does it perfectly capture that American, quintessential 1900s sound, it also incorporates many elements of jazz, proving that the style has a place in classical repertoire. It’s a fresh new twist on classical music.”

Fang’s unique choice in repertoire also garnered interest from the Dance department, ultimately leading to this collaboration. Lori Clark, Visual and Performing Arts teacher, created the choreography inspired by the vivid, urban characters portrayed in Gershwin’s piece.

“The legend is that Rhapsody in Blue was inspired by and written on multiple subway rides. I hear many narratives and characters when listening to this beautiful score and began with the image of a city sidewalk. I’ve chosen a few of the melodies and built individual characters through specific movement patterns. Those themes are then used to unify and juxtapose the dancers on stage,” said Mrs. Clark.

For dancers, rehearsing and performing with a live orchestra provides a different setting from the pre-recorded soundtrack and strengthens their connection to the choreography.

“When dancers and musicians perform together live, there is an electricity and depth of resonance both visually and aurally that cannot be replicated with recorded sound. But you don’t know that depth is missing if you haven’t experienced it for yourself. It’s important to provide more opportunities for this experience,” said Mrs. Clark.

Collaborating with a group of artists used to a consistent recording also creates a new environment for the chamber orchestra.

The musicians face the challenge of keeping a relatively regular tempo and meter, though, as with all performing arts, no run-through is exactly the same.

“In this case, [the musicians] are setting a backdrop for [the dancer’s] story as opposed to the music itself telling a story,” elaborated Fang.

When considering the improvisational nature of jazz, the challenge of consistency becomes more new and difficult for the musicians.

“In our first week together, the pianist was adding a couple of notes and the dancers couldn’t fit that in with the choreography. But these musicians are so well trained. They play really consistently, which Mr. Bergeron helps with a lot as well,” said Director of Dance Jennifer Whitcomb.

In the future, Director of Chamber Music and Orchestra Thomas Bergeron wishes to create more opportunities for music and dance to interact, perhaps through creating a class or co-curricular where musicians and the dancers work together and explore improvisation.

Mr. Bergeron  wishes to connect music to other departments through future collaborations.

“Music is a universal language, and making these connections between music and other subjects not only benefits the music program but also all the other programs on campus,” said Mr. Bergeron, “That’s what Deerfield is really all about: exploring and making these connections.”