Written by John Preer
Sunday was another chance for the VSU Pan-American Ensemble to showcase its musical prowess.
The ensemble consists of talented musicians who boast a myriad of instrumentation varying from piano and accordion to cello, trumpet and guitar.
VSU’s Pan-American Ensemble was founded in the spring of 2009. The ensemble gives its 15 musicians a chance to play music from different cultures including Bluegrass, Salsa, Brazilian Choro, western Swing and Mexican Mariachi.
Sunday night’s selection was a combined effort by Dr. M. Brent Williams and senior members of the ensemble. Keeping with their Pan-American roots, the ensemble’s musical selection took the audience on a syncretic journey from the northwestern United States to Mexico and Brazil.
The first set was a rendition of Robin Pecknold’s “White Winter Hymnal” and “Mykonos.” These two numbers featured a majority of the instruments on stage and set the tempo for the night’s performance.
They followed the first movement with three a cappella versions of “Long Time Traveler” and “Parting Glass” by the Wailin’ Jennys as well as a tambourine-assisted performance of Grace Potter’s “Nothing but the Water.”
After Leah Powers, Kaitlin Aufenthie and Alex Lipsky gave a strong representation of northwestern American music, the ensemble transported the audience to Brazil with a song entitled “O Leaozinho” by composer Caetano Veloso. “O Leaozinho” was performed in Portuguese by lead vocalist Eduardo Farias.
This Latin American departure continued with a solo performance by Dr. Williams. Dr. Williams provided vocals and guitar to his performance of Tomas Mendez’s song “Cucurucucu Paloma.”
The next two numbers were also composed by Veloso. The composition entitled “Pulsar” was an interesting piece because of its relatively short length and varying vocal pitches that were represented by a different instrument. For example, the lower pitches were represented by the bass while the higher pitches were represented by the violin.
The other Veloso movement was entitled “Enquanto O Lobo Nao Vem” and was originally composed as a song of rebellion against the dictatorship in Veloso’s native country of Brazil.
The next movement consisted of works by three different composers including Francisco Conaro, composer of “El Triunfo”; Angel Vilolldo, composer of “El Choclo”; and Homero Manzi, writer of “Gota de lluvia.” These three numbers featured music with a heavy Folk-music influence represented by the accordion and violins.
The ensemble concluded the performance with a medley of popular North American songs infused with sounds common in Americana and Mexican Mariachi. The first was a combination of the famous Beatles track “Yellow Submarine” and the traditional tune “Mariachi Loco.”
The second piece in the closing set was a rendition of Percy Mayfield’s “Hit the Road Jack” that was popularized by Ray Charles.
The final number was a fitting combination of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Dubose Heyward’s “El Cascabel.”