Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet schedules special April 4 concert prior to South African tour

The Smoky Mountain and Balsam Mountain brass quintets perform during the “Africa Campus Theme Showcase” on Tuesday, March 28, in Blue Ridge Hall.

Western Carolina University’s Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet will perform a special concert on campus Tuesday, April 4, before embarking on a month-long tour of South Africa.

 The free performance, to be held in the recital hall of the Coulter Building, begins at 7:30 p.m. The program will feature the debut of “Mountain Sojourn,” a four-movement composition by Bruce Frazier, WCU’s Carol Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music. The piece was commissioned especially for the South African tour.

For both the WCU concert and the South African tour, the quintet will be joined by Will Peebles, WCU professor of bassoon, as a featured soloist, and by the Balsam Mountain Brass Quintet. A WCU student ensemble, the Balsam Mountain Brass Quintet features Spence Howell and Ty Kiaku II on trumpet, Courtney Stiwalt on horn, Brandon Kassab on trombone and Andre Thacker on tuba. The Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet is a faculty ensemble made up of Bradley Ulrich and David Ginn on trumpet, Travis Bennett on horn, Mike Schallock on tuba and Zsolt Szabo on trombone.

Frazier, who will conduct the debut, described “Mountain Sojourn” as a programmatic composition for double brass quintet that celebrates the beauty and uniqueness of the Western North Carolina region. “In the opening movement, the two quintets portray the panoramic beauty of the mountains in ‘Majestic Vista’,” he said. “The tradition of 19th-century shape note singing is evoked in the simple harmonies and lyric melody of ‘Hymn.’ The third movement, ‘Sacred Lands,’ honors Native American tribal life, and ‘Celtic Spirit’ concludes the narrative with a lively jig, which could inspire some old-time mountain clogging.”

Bruce Frazier

Bruce Frazier

The work was written as a cultural exchange offering for the Smoky Mountain and Balsam Mountain Brass quintets’ trip to South Africa, Frazier said. The South African tour is a part of the two-year campus learning theme of “Africa: More Than a Continent,” which is culminating this semester. The tour is supported by the WCU School of Music, the College of Fine and Performing Arts, the Office of International Programs and Services, and the WCU Campus Theme Committee and WCU Friends of the Arts.

“When Carol Burton (associate provost for undergraduate studies) announced the campus theme two years ago, the Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet was brain-storming for our next international tour, and we decided to support the Africa campus theme,” Ulrich said. “The quintet, in addition to promoting WCU, is interested in performing on all seven continents, and this will be our fourth.

While in South Africa, faculty and students will be teaching, as well as performing, he said. “The teaching will take place as private lessons, sectionals for various bands and orchestras, and chamber music clinics. Americans are regarded as the best brass players in the world and we are hoping to pass on some of the knowledge we have on the subject,” Ulrich said. “We also are hoping to strengthen WCU’s relationship with Stellenbosch University there. Our International Programs and Services is trying to make that institution one of our sister schools and promote study abroad exchanges between the two universities. We have found that cultural exchanges such as this one have really helped to foster relationships between universities.”

Members of the student ensemble have individual goals for the tour that reflect the collective goal to reach others through music and musical instruction. Stiwalt, of Bessemer City, said she is looking forward to the opportunity to connect as well as teach within another culture and continent. “It is always nice to see and learn about others cultures. I’m really looking forward to that aspect of the trip, not to mention an all-day safari,” she said. “And I hope we can come back and share those experiences and what we learned.”

Kiaku, of Raleigh, agreed. “It’s really exciting that we are going to be able to go to the top universities and high schools of South Africa, to be a part of that, to perform and teach there and be able to put that on the resume. We’ll be able to share and gain from the experience, which is amazing,” Kiaku said.

Kassab, of Charlotte, said the most important opportunity for him with the tour will be the chance to learn firsthand about another culture through music, specifically at the South African Conservatory of Music. “Students there are proficient on native African instruments, so it will be interesting to get their perspective on their instruments while we give perspectives on our instruments,” he said.

For more information, call the WCU School of Music at 828-227-7242.