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USC Wind Ensemble Pays Tribute to Dr. King During Black History Month

“Gratifying, impactful and convivial.” 

These three words are how second-year doctoral percussionist Julia Ross describes the University of South Carolina Wind Ensemble's invitation to play on Feb. 15, 2023 at the College Band Directors National Association Conference (CBDNA) at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA.  

Performing at CBDNA is an extremely high honor. As one of only ten university ensembles chosen to perform at the 2023 conference, Wind Ensemble director Dr. Cormac Cannon says the invitation comes at a great time.  

“This is the first time since before the pandemic the ensemble is playing as a full ‘normal’ ensemble,” says Dr. Cannon.  

Music education senior Jesse Winslow is excited about showcasing the ensemble’s talent to an audience outside of South Carolina. 

We finally have an opportunity to show a much larger community of students and musicians what we are capable of as an ensemble. This trip is giving us plenty of opportunity for outreach which is critical for our ensemble.

– Jesse Winslow, Senior, Music Education

Before heading to Athens, the Wind Ensemble are performing outreach concerts at several Atlanta area high schools. 

“This tour will ensure that we are getting our name out into the scene and put ourselves with the top ensembles in the nation,” says Jesse. “We will be visiting high schools around the Atlanta community to give them a chance to see and hear what music at the highest level can be.” 

 The purpose of these community concerts is to inform students about what it means to be a collegiate musician, learn what they enjoy most about music and hopefully inspire them to keep performing beyond high school.  

The centerpiece of these concerts, New Morning for the World, is based on the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. School of Music students Alyssa Santivanez and Deshawn Stevens narrate texts from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech and other writings by Dr. King in the performance. The piece was selected to demonstrate the impact music can make and that it is more than just instruments being played.   

This piece “features inventive compositional techniques and layering of musical nuance,” says Julia. “It features all of the USC Wind Ensemble students plus two guest narrators, four faculty members and one graduate student as soloists.” 

Narrator Deshawn Stevens is a senior pursuing a B.A. performance certificate and minoring in business will be reciting texts from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Deshawn wants people’s experience with this performance to recontextualize the different time that we live in today and how listening to the words of Dr. King can still be applied to the current problems today. 

Even with the chaos that has surrounded us, we still choose to get up every day against it, because we understand and refuse to believe that better days won't come in our future. 

— Deshawn Stevens, Senior, Performance

With extended rehearsals and extra meetings, the ensemble is determined to make this piece superior and inspirational.  

Although Alyssa Santiváñez is pursuing a Master of Music Performance in Flute, she says she was intrigued when Dr. Cannon proposed the idea of a student narrating the piece.  

“I took a chance and auditioned for the narration role because I want to be a voice for students and audience members who can relate to my background and possibly be the guide for them to see Dr. King's message through their own eyes,” says Alyssa.  

These students recognize this performance is an opportunity for them to be the agents of change in how people perceive the world and music.

“My primary goal is to move our audience members just as much as this piece has already moved me and to show that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s strength and courage is a forever an example and reminder that we all can strive towards human kindness and empathy towards our surroundings each day,” says Alyssa.  

Performing on the road presents unique challenges.

“Along with musical execution, stage space, venue acoustics and equipment transport must be addressed. These challenges come with the highest reward of sharing our music with a wider audience,” says Julia.  

The tour is just one step closer to the “real world” when ensemble members become artists doing what they love, whether traveling to play or staying in one place.

“I am extremely proud of these students. The invitation to perform at CBDNA demonstrates the talent and commitment of our students, the fine teaching of our faculty and the great support of our administration,” says Dr. Cannon.  

Topics: USC Wind Ensemble, Dr. Cormac Cannon, CBDNA, University of Georgia

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