Student-organized ensemble has high hopes

By Connor Yearsley


The student-organized ensemble Renew Music Group will offer audience members a different experience not typically heard in the School of Music at its upcoming concert.

“This sort of thing hasn’t really happened at Baylor in a long time,” said Mark Utley, Fredricksberg senior and percussionist in the group.

The concert will take place at 10 p.m. Nov. 6 in Jones Concert Hall in the Glennis McCrary Music Building.

The program includes “Fratres” by Estonian sacred music composer Arvo Pärt, “Unto the Hills” by American composer George Crumb, “Third Construction” by American experimentalist composer John Cage and “Variation Strand” by Baylor music student Jim Simmons.

Simmons, a master’s candidate in music composition and guitarist in the group, said he was inspired to write “Variation Strand” after listening to his girlfriend play Mozart incorrectly. He said something about the way she repeatedly stopped and started caught his attention.

“The piece is lighter in its tone, but it has a lot of rhythmic complexity,” Simmons said.

He also said the piece is lyrical and jazzy and that it’s rhythmically similar to djent music, which is a relatively new style of music that has become especially popular with progressive metal fans, and is characterized by both ambience and heaviness.

“Variation Strand” is scored for flute, violin, electric guitar, piano, two marimbas, drum set and bass.

Simmons said he is also excited about the world premiere of his arrangement of Pärt’s “Fratres.”

“Unlike a lot of the music of the 20th and 21st centuries, it is very lyrical, very beautiful,” Simmons said.

Crumb’s “Unto the Hills” incorporates Appalachian folk songs.

“’Unto the Hills’ is really nuanced and requires finesse,” Utley said. “It’s very subtle. It’s hard to put together.”

Janna Martindale, senior university scholar and violinist in the group, said “Unto the Hills” will also be visually stimulating for the audience.

Cage’s “Third Construction” is a percussion quartet that uses everything from log drums to conch shell.

“Third Construction is crazy hard” Utley said.

Renew Music Group was started after several of its members went to the Fast Forward Austin music festival, which featured new music. Utley said he left wondering why Baylor didn’t have the kinds of things he heard at the festival.

“Baylor is a traditional music school,” said Matt Shaver, senior composition major.

Utley said the School of Music focuses primarily on the classical repertoire from the 1700s to the 1800s.

The group was formed as a small, chamber-like ensemble dedicated to the music of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Shaver and Martindale were also members of another student-organized ensemble, Precipice, formed in 2009 to bring new music to Waco audiences.

Precipice served as a springboard for Renew Music Group.

Martindale said another objective of creating the group was to allow its members the chance to learn the business side of music.

She said the group approached professors in hopes of making the ensemble an actual class, a goal that is still ongoing. She also said William May, dean of the School of Music, is very supportive of the group, which was allowed to play as part of the Music Convocation at the beginning of the semester.

Utley said another goal of the group is to give everyone interested the opportunity to experience this musical process. He said a lot of the group’s members have performed this style before.

There are some logistical challenges facing the group.

“Since it’s all student-led there’s no class for it, so organizing rehearsals when everyone can meet is challenging,” Shaver said.

The group has plans for the future.

“Our next project will involve collaboration with students from other art disciplines,” Shaver said.

The group members are looking forward to the concert.

“Everyone has been spending the semester working very hard on it and we are very excited to see the whole program come together,” Martindale said.

Utley said he thinks the program is a good survey of new music, beginning with the early 20th century avant-garde with John Cage and continuing to George Crumb and contemporary composers like Arvo Pärt and arriving at the present with Simmons’ piece.

Shaver said the pieces were chosen to fit the intended timeframe and to match the personnel available.

Each of the four pieces on the program will use a unique group of musicians, depending on the instrumental demands of the piece. In total, 16 musicians will perform.

The audience will sit on stage for the concert.

“It’s an intimate setting,” Utley said.

“This is something that many people may not have experienced before, but we encourage anyone to come with an open mind,” Martindale said. “Everyone will be able to experience something new in a welcoming environment and be able to take something home with them.”

The concert is free and open to the public.