Student group earns right to perform harpsichord concert in David Gardner Hall

You would think it wouldn’t be hard for a bunch of performance majors to get access to performance space. But that’s what happened when Fine Arts majors David Fox, Paul Hill and Emily Lohner decided they wanted to play the Baroque music they love for an audience.

Lohner and Hill, piano performance majors, and Fox, an organ performance majo,r started kicking around the idea of a free harpsichord concert in July but met resistance in finding somewhere to perform and instruments to perform on.

They were initially denied rehearsal space and access to the School of Music’s harpsichords, which are normally reserved for graduate students, according to Hill. In order to use David Gardner Hall’s performance space, the students were told by their own department that they would have to pay a $350 fee.

The three found allies in their professor Pam Jones and assistant dean for Undergraduate Affairs Liz Leckie, who helped the students organize into an ASUU-recognized student group and go through a lengthy grant application process.

“Early on, we wanted to call ourselves the Student Group for Equal Access to Performance Spaces, but we decided not to fight the system because we were about to ask the system for money,” Hill said. The students settled on the name the “Baroque Student Group,” a subtler protest and play on words because they are broke students.

On Oct. 25 in the Thompson Chamber Hall, a gold-leafed room in David Gardner Hall befitting the opulence and drama of Baroque compositional style, the Baroque Student Group played 90 minutes of turn-of-the-18th-century jams in a free show they called “If It Ain’t Baroque, Don’t Fix It,” and you could tell they were enjoying it. Hill said his favorite piece he performed was Bach’s “Fugue in G Major” from The Well-Tempered Clavier II, played on the smallest of three harpsichords.

“It sounds like joy and sunshine. I’ve worked so hard on it. It has become a part of me,” said Hill.

Despite some early tuning troubles, met with humor from Fox, the concert was well-rounded and filled to the brim with 11 different pieces from a range of Baroque composers like Le Roux and Scarlatti.

The harpsichord is a 500-year-old instrument that is much more delicate than other keyboard instruments. Widely considered the piano’s predecessor, many of the Baroque period’s greatest composers wrote for harpsichord, though their pieces are now played on piano, which wasn’t invented until around 1700. Hill thinks the harpsichord “is vital” to understanding the likes of Bach, Scarlotti and Couperin, who mostly composed in a pre-pianoforte Europe.

“This was a very valuable experience for me,” said Lohner, who performed a beautiful Boccherini sonata with partner and guest viola player Joshua Lohner. “As a pianist, my training has been only on the piano, even as I studied and played music that was originally performed on the harpsichord. I feel this was important for me as a musician to study harpsichord music and play the instrument itself.”

“Even though we were met with lots of obstacles, it was really fulfilling. I wish arts students knew about making their own opportunities. It’s important as an artist to work for yourself,” Hill said.

Red tape has always been a barrier to artistic expression, and these talented and determined students have learned to navigate a bureaucratic system early, ironic though it is that the system was their own College of Fine Arts.

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@ChronyArts