Miki Sawada ’14AD brings music to rural audiences

Miki Sawada

Political divisions have had many musicians thinking about the artist’s role in society. “As a musician, what is the way forward?” pianist and YSM alumna Miki Sawada ’14AD began asking herself two years ago. “Playing piano like I’d always played piano was no longer an option.”

Sawada, an accomplished concert performer and music educator, decided that the way forward was to use the piano as an instrument of healing, a gathering place where people of all backgrounds could enjoy music together. The way forward was to bring performances to people who may not ordinarily have access to them. In August 2017, Sawada launched the Gather Hear project, which involved, to begin, touring Alaska for three weeks in a van with a piano and a filmmaker, documenting the journey and giving a total of 25 performances in the cafés, bars, parks, and schools of largely rural communities. Eventually, Sawada intends to tour all 50 states.

“Alaska has an almost mythical quality,” Sawada said. The state’s vastness and the sparseness of its communities appealed to Sawada, and the close-knit nature of people in rural areas allowed her to find collaborators. In addition to her own solo playing and engaging with audiences, Sawada connected with a young local musician at each venue. She ended up performing with students of all levels, from beginner violinists to high school pianists.

Booked into unorthodox and often noisy venues, Sawada’s biggest fear before embarking on the tour was that no one would want to sit quietly and listen. “The night before I left, I got cold feet,” she said. She thought, “What if no one wants to hear me?” But her experience was quite the opposite. “There was total silence,” she said, noting “a change in the room” when she began to play, wherever she was.

While the Gather Hear Tour was sparked primarily by a desire to connect with diverse audiences, Sawada had long been interested in taking classical music beyond the confines of the concert hall. “I always envied my friends who could take their instruments and perform in pop-up concerts,” she explained. While taking a piano on tour requires some extra labor, Sawada has shown that it can be done. The instrument with which she toured Alaska is a hybrid keyboard with no strings to tune, equipped with its own amplification. However more difficult the instrument is to transport than a flute, the piano is a necessary, central focus of the project — a gathering place where people are encouraged to stop and listen, and to participate in the music-making.

Following the Alaskan tour, Sawada turned her attention to West Virginia, where Gather Hear performances featured a new work by composer and fellow YSM alumnus Brendon Randall-Myers ’14MM, a West Virginia native. Randall-Myers’ new work, A Kind of Mirror, combines classical repertoire with original music. Created to reflect the mission of the Gather Hear project, A Kind of Mirror calls for audience participation, with theatrical prompts shaped with the help of director Daniel Pettrow. At one point, an audience member is asked to make tea on stage, and the ending of the performance involves a large amount of bubble wrap.

While performances of A Kind of Mirror are somewhat structured, there is room for collaboration. “The show is built in a way so that piano players in the audience could potentially, spontaneously take the stage,” Sawada said, “or if I meet a classical musician in town when I arrive at a tour stop, I could work a collaborative performance with them into the show.”

Sawada seems flexible when it comes to life on the road, which she has found enjoyable. States on the radar for future Gather Hear tours include Missouri, Michigan, and Florida. Sawada may even attempt to tour all three within the next year. She is in no rush, however. “If it takes 50 years, that’s fine,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how the project changes over time.”

MIKI SAWADA

Published November 6, 2018
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[ students + alumni ]

Yale Composers Featured at SONiC Festival in New York City

SONiC FestThe American Composers Orchestra’s SONiC Festival, focusing on composers ages 40 or younger, returns to New York City this month from Oct. 15–23. The second edition of the festival includes music by Yale faculty member Hannah Lash, current YSM composition students Michael Gilbertson and Molly Joyce, and YSM graduates Andy Akiho, Christopher Cerrone, Reena Esmail, Judd Greenstein, Ted Hearne, Missy Mazzoli, and Brendon Randall-Myers.

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Published October 13, 2015
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[ alumni ]

Invisible Anatomy, collective of YSM alumni, performs in Beijing

Invisible Anatomy

Invisible Anatomy

Invisible Anatomy, a composer/performer collective comprised of seven Yale School of Music alumni, will perform their original program Body Parts in Beijing this May and June.

The members of Invisible Anatomy are Fay Wang, voice; Brendon Randall-Myers, guitar; Paul Kerekes, piano/keyboards; Daniel Schlosberg, piano/keyboards; Ian Gottlieb, cello; Samuel Adams, double bass; and Benjamin Wallace, percussion.

The group describes Body Parts as “an exploration of the human body as the most fundamental aspect of performance.” The concert of seven compositions, written by the members of the group, “dismembers, transforms, and reanimates the performing body.”

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Published May 19, 2015
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Christopher Cerrone ’14DMA wins ASCAP’s Leonard Bernstein Award

Cerrone_Christopher

Christopher Cerrone

Composer Christopher Cerrone, who was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music, received the ASCAP Foundation’s Leonard Bernstein Award. Leonard Bernstein’s daughter Jamie Bernstein presented the award to Cerrone at the ASCAP Foundation’s 19th Annual Awards Ceremony, which was held on December 10 in New York City. MORE

Published December 11, 2014
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[ students + alumni ]

Yale School of Music alumni receive Morton Gould Young Composer Awards

Garth Neustadter '12MM

Garth Neustadter ’12MM

On March 31, 2014, the ASCAP Foundation announced the recipients of the 2014 ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards. The program grants monetary awards to composers up to 30 years of age whose works are selected by a national jury.

Yale School of Music alumni and students Christopher Cerrone ’09MM, ’10MMA; Garth Neustadter ’12MM; Brendon Randall-Myers ’14MM; and Daniel Schlosberg ’10BA, ’13MM, ’14MMA received awards. They were among 27 composers selected from nearly 630 submissions. MORE

Published April 16, 2014
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[ in the press ]

Grunge Meets Classical: Gleb Kanasevich ’13 MM

New Haven Independent
By Lucy Gellman

Gleb Kanasevich is a man of many talents. The extraordinary clarinet player of the local group Cantata Profana, he is also the master organizer of an exciting and ambitious new CD, Refractions Vol. 2. A collaborative venture that fuses referential strains of electronic, industrial, grind, grunge and more, the CD offers a glimpse into the lives of several Yale-trained musicians after Yale, and a pursuit that has reunited them.

Refractions Vol. 1 was more concert-art oriented.” Kanasevich explained in a recent interview about the new CD. “I think this one … I don’t want to call it crossover, but maybe more referential. And more modern because of the surplus of information, of art, of different styles of music that we have right now. It’s really fun to have pieces that are referential to things we hear.” MORE

Published February 28, 2014
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Yale Philharmonia plays New Music for Orchestra Dec. 12

philharmonia2

The Yale School of Music presents the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale led by conductor Shinik Hahm on Thursday, December 12, 2013. The concert takes place at 8 pm in Woolsey Hall (500 College Street, New Haven).

The concert features music by four composers currently studying at the Yale School of Music. On the program are Bálint Karosi’s Dancescapes: three dances for orchestra, James Rubino’s Shall Efface, Benjamin Wallace’s Five Gifts for an Old Friend, and Brendon Randall-Myers’s Indefatigable Optimism.

Admission is free, and no tickets are required.  MORE

Published November 22, 2013
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[ concerts ]

New Music New Haven presents music by Aaron Jay Kernis, Hannah Lash Oct. 3

lashThe Yale School of Music presents the first New Music New Haven concert of the season on Thursday, October 3, 2013. The featured faculty composers are Aaron Jay Kernis and Hannah Lash, whose music will be featured alongside new works by graduate students in the school’s composition program.

The program opens with Benjamin Wallace‘s Birthday Suite, a collection of seven short works for mixed ensemble written for friends on their respective birthdays. Brendon Randall-MyersFor Ronny is written in memory of the composer’s grandfather for the ensemble of piano, electric guitar, violin, viola, and cello. MORE

Published September 16, 2013
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New Music New Haven features faculty composer Aaron Jay Kernis in Apr. 30 concert

kernis

The Yale School of Music presents a New Music New Haven concert on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. The concert features faculty composer Aaron Jay Kernis and his 2011 piece da L’Arte della Danssar, written for the unusual combination of soprano, flute, viola, harp, and percussion.

The concert also features new music by graduate composers in the School of Music’s prestigious composition program: Stephen Feigenbaum,  William Gardiner,  Michael Holloway,  Bálint Karosi, and  Brendon Randall-Myers.

Kernis’s piece, translated in English as From the Art of Dance, is inspired by the music and dance of Renaissance Italy. Kernis said, “Over the course of my composing life I’ve been repeatedly drawn to dance, and my works are full of references to it. This most recent group of works draws upon my fascination with mid–15th-century texts and music of that time (and slightly later), which I very happily channeled.” MORE

Published April 12, 2013
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