Get with the rhythm

The Choral and Percussion students from Université de Moncton’s music programs are teaming up for a presentation of composer Carl Orff’s popular work Carmina Burana this Sunday night at the Capitol Theatre in Downtown Moncton.

Created by German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982), Carmina Burana is a relatively modern work that was first performed in 1937. The piece is renowned for its changing time signatures yet is relatively simple in the stylistic sense, especially when compared to the complexities of many other classical works.

Michel Deschenes is a percussion professor at Universite de Moncton. He started playing the drums at age 12, quickly falling in love with the instrument. Helping drive his desire to become a musician was the fact that his father owned a hotel in St. Quentin where he often had the opportunity to see bands perform.

“When I was 17 years old, however, I got my first taste of percussion, seeing the band Repercussion live,” Michel says. “I immediately noticed that they were playing percussion that weren’t drums, instruments like the tympani and xylophone. It was then I decided that percussion was going to be my instrument.”

Michel has been teaching percussion for the past 22 years, and over the past two decades, he has seen enrolment in UdeM’s percussion program grow immensely.

Choral professor Monique Richard came on board at UdeM approximately seven years ago, after conducting the Beausejour Choir. With somewhere in the vicinity of 70 students under her wing, Monique says that any student enrolling in the university’s music program has to complete a minimum of three years in the choral program.

“I believe that students need to learn how to participate in ensembles,” she says. “Being in the choir allows the opportunity to work with different ensembles throughout the music program, plus it really helps to develop their repertoire of different musical styles and knowledge of other musical instruments.”

Unlike the percussion ensemble, which is made up entirely of students, Monique says the chorale also features approximately 10 members of the general public.

“The chorus is comprised of people at all different levels of learning,” she says.

“We have some students that can independently read music while we have others who love singing who simply have not had the formal training. It is a very collaborative atmosphere though; the more experienced members tend to help the beginners out until they are understanding things a little more clearly.”

Deschenes says the seed of getting the percussion and choral departments together for a show was planted more than five years ago.

“The whole idea behind performing Carmina Burana was that we wanted to present new challenge to our students,” he says. “It is a very demanding piece to sing and to play because there are a lot of passages that are in different time signatures.

“Our students are used to playing pieces by Haydn and Brahms but compared to their works, Carmina Burana is very progressive. It is challenging for the percussionists because they are dominant throughout the piece, plus the song tempos are all over the place. There is no opportunity for anyone to daydream,” Michel laughs.

“Fortunately for us though, we have a strong class of percussionists to work with.”

Monique concurs with Michel’s assessment that rehearsing Carmina Burana has injected new life into the chorus.

“Many students easily get bored in choir because it seems like we do not have a lot of choices when it comes to what we will be performing,” she says. “But working with the choir on this piece, they really seem to find it has been a little on the challenging side to learn but they are in turn invigorated by that.”

In addition to the percussion and choral ensembles performing, Monique says that Les Jeunes Chanteurs d’Acadie will be a part of the show, as will two of the university’s piano professors, Richard Boulanger and Roger Lord.

Prior to the performance of Carmina Burana, Michel’s percussion students will hold their ensemble concert of the year.

“The first half of the show will be the percussionists playing four different pieces, including one by Pierre Michaud who wrote his piece ‘In The Shadow Of Phaedrus’ specifically for us.

“We will also be performing a piece written by Darisuh Zarbafian, an Iranian professor living here in Moncton. We added our percussion instruments to his original music, which was initially like Oriental meets Occidental music. But when you add in marimba and vibraphone to his work, it ends up being a totally new kind of music. It is a very worldly piece.”

Article published in February 25, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript