As the end of the 2018-19 school year approached, one could hear a symphony of instruments from outside the Conrad Prebys Music Center.
The red curtains of the auditorium hung grandly behind the ensemble of students as they set up their sound equipment for the sonic experience that followed. This group of undergraduate musicians were a variable bunch; coming from diverse fields of study and varying levels of experience, they exuded a curious hybrid of dignity and nerves.
The Undergraduate Forum is a quarterly event revived in 2016 by Sherry Zheng, a student dedicated to providing a platform for the arts. Zheng shared with us her intentions for organizing the program.
“When I entered UCSD as a freshman music major in 2016, I was a little surprised by how few dedicated performance opportunities there were for undergraduate students,” Zheng said. “There are studio and class performances every quarter, but not a lot of chances to create your own program or showcase your own work outside of those settings. I saw the Forum as an opportunity that would allow me and other undergrad musicians in the department to develop as independent musicians outside of a class setting.”
Zheng emphasized the values and lessons that the program provided for undergraduates who participated in it.
“Performing regularly is such an important requirement for musicians, especially those hoping to make a career in performance,” Zheng said. “There are some students who participate every quarter, and the amount of growth they show (in both technique and stage presence) is really incredible. The Forum also provides a unique freedom to explore pieces and collaborations that might never otherwise be performed. I’ve gotten to experiment with harpsichord, prepared piano, original compositions, and various collaborations, which have been so much fun—and the projects that my colleagues bring to the show are insanely creative and cool too.”
The Forum had an almost discordant sequence of acts; an upbeat jazz piece was followed by an experimental song with droning feedback loops. Yet, the almost inharmonious transitions between the acts—the rumble of rolling equipment, soft whispers, and coughs that echoed during the intermittent breaks—made the performances tangible and intimate for the audience.
The concert was an impressive display of artistry, precision, and dedication. It revealed a diversity of musical acumen and interest, from the quintessential compositions of Debussy to the debut performances of students’ original compositions.
Savanna Dunaway, a neuroscience/physiology and music double major, performed for her third time at the Undergraduate Forum. With incredible attention to the cadence and emotion of the piece, Dunaway blew away the audience with her performance of Thème et Variations by Oliver Messiaen. Her haunting violin strokes delivered the painful serenity of Messiaen’s original composition. Like many dedicated musicians in the forum, Savanna played multiple pieces, including one with her peer, Tino Tirado.
Music major Tino Tirado performed his first original composition, waking… parts 1 and 2 with Dunaway. The composition was Tirado’s musical interpretation of the quotidian routine of waking up and falling asleep. Part 1 began as an assignment for creating harmonies for an existing song of his choice, Illusion by Tigran Hamasyan. The violin and piano shock the audience with a jarringly loud note in Part 2, mirroring each other in melody until each runs off into its own sequence. Savanna’s quick strokes effortlessly switch from staccato to legato while Tino’s steady arpeggios lay out the groundwork of the tune. This contemporary classical piece is available online for those who weren’t able to witness it in person.
Zheng anticipates growth in this special event, since the show expanded to over 20 acts from the shorter 7 acts during her first quarter. “I’ve been talking to the department about the possibility of doing multiple shows per quarter,” she said, “possibly grouped by theme, like the last one was, but I also kind of like the crazy diverse mix that we’ve had in previous quarters. Also, maybe new venues?”
Amongst the plethora of student art events on campus, the Undergraduate Forum is one that showcases the different musical tastes and backgrounds of musicians who are highly committed to their craft. As an avid attendee of these shows, I am excited to see the expansion in genre, technique, and instruments that the forum has in store for the future.
The next Undergraduate Forum will take place in the Conrad Prebys Music Center’s Recital Hall on Friday, November 22, 2019. Admission is free.
Heather Lim is a Senior Staff Writer for The Triton.