BMCC’s newly-formed faculty chamber ensemble offered a double treat at its first formal recital at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center on October 16, with works from both the chamber and operatic repertoires.
Joined by mezzo-soprano Christine Free, soprano Eugenia Yau and baritone John Uehlein, the group performed instrumental works by Bohuslav Martinu and César Franck and selections from operas by Mozart and Johann Strauss.
The musicians, all members of the Music & Art Department faculty, included pianists Howard Meltzer and Jin-Ok Lee, flautist Maureen Keenan, and cellist Robert Reed.
A dream becomes reality
While the group came into being this year, creating a faculty chamber ensemble has been a dream of Howard Meltzer, the department’s deputy chairman for music, for nearly a decade.
“When Maureen Keenan came on board this summer as a full-time assistant professor, we knew we could make this happen,” he says.
As a child, Keenan says, she took up the flute as a matter of convenience. “We had one in the house,” she recalls. “I wanted to learn to play an instrument, but my friends all had these icky rental instruments provided by the school. The one we had at home was in pretty good shape, so I went with it.”
Keenan teaches introductory courses in music appreciation as well as Music in Western Civilization, which approaches music in its historical context.
“I love exploring the classical repertoire with students who might not be familiar with it,” she says. “Hopefully, they come away with new skills in critical thinking and a new love for this kind of music.”
While BMCC does not have a major in music, the department’s academic offerings include a rich array of instrumental classes, as well as advanced classes in arranging, harmony and musicianship—and the musicians and singers who performed at the October 16 recital all agree that the opportunity to provide students with their first exposure to classical music can be especially gratifying.
To be sure, the themes and story lines of grand opera tend toward the tragic, but the scenes performed by Eugenia Yau from Strauss’s Die Fledermaus and Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte were light and funny, and that can be a key part of their appeal for students.
“My students love to sing and act,” Yau says, “and they’re especially drawn to musical theater and stories they can relate to.”
Finding the entry point
John Uehlein, who joined Yau and Christine Free in sparkling renditions of the Strauss and Mozart vocal selections, similarly finds it very rewarding to provide students with an entry point to classical music.
“I try to include as many as 25 pieces over the course of a semester,” he says. “There may be some initial resistance—but often it’s followed by an awakening of the students’ curiosity and a desire to hear and learn more.”
Christine Free, who also sang two arias from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, says that her experience at BMCC has been “a perfect marriage” of her passions for teaching and music.
“I love helping my students take every ounce of knowledge that I’m able to share with them and use it with such eagerness, excitement and ferocity,” she says. “Teaching at BMCC has been the most amazing experience of my life.”