On September 30, a quintet of classical musicians called the FUSE Ensemble took place outside the Koger Center Plaza to perform.
The program skipped familiar names like Bach and Beethoven in favor of pieces by more modern composers like Miguel del Aguila, Jaquay Smith, Astor Piazzolla and Vinicio Meza. About 70 people watched the ensemble, made up of USC graduate students, perform as images were projected on the wall at the Koger Center for the Arts.
The event was the first in a series of concerts presented by the FUSE Ensemble entitled “Ears Wide Open”. Its purpose is to bring classical music to the student body at USC. The ensemble, consisting of Roya Farzaneh, flute, Pedro Falcon, oboe, Carmen Borregales, clarinet, Alexandra Castro, bassoon and Hunter Poe, horn, formed earlier this year with the aim of raising awareness of USC’s School Of Music.
“For the past two years our flute teacher Jennifer Parker-Harley has wanted to work on this community engagement initiative,” said Roya Farzaneh, “and she was able to create these positions for five graduate students to come together as a group. . and playing music at a high level, and also doing community outreach.
Parker-Harley, Farzaneh and Ears Wide Open Artistic Director Pedro Falcón started meeting last summer to plan a concert program that would appeal to young ears.
“We have 33,000 students,” Falcón said, “and they actually don’t really know we’re here; they don’t know that the Music School exists. We’re used to playing in a concert hall, so how do we get into this community that we have? How to give them music in an immersive way?
The FUSE Ensemble planned the series keeping an eye out for other USC ensembles. While handling the first performance in September, FUSE hosted USC’s mixed instrumental ensemble, The Collective, for the second, “The Haunting Of The Horseshoe,” on October 27 at the Russell House Patio Stage. The third concert, “Look Up: Music Of The Night Sky”, featured the Duende Flute Quartet and took place at the Melton Memorial Observatory.
None of these events took place in a traditional concert hall, and Farzaneh said that was the whole point.
“We titled this idea ‘Adventurous Learning and Adventurous Listening’,” said Farzaneh. “So that’s the idea of going out of the concert hall, because classical music has this stigma of being boring and generic and you just sit there quietly while you watch something on stage. So we try to break that wall and create a more interesting experience for people.
FUSE took care to ensure that the list of composers for their performance and subsequent concerts was both accessible and obscure.
“We try to be very careful that we are trying to reach an audience that doesn’t normally go to classical music,” said Farzaneh. “We don’t want them to just sit there and listen to a complex and crazy 20th century Schoenberg song. We want something that is easy to digest, but still something that people can learn and benefit from. So we’re trying to merge this world of newer songs with this world of people who don’t know music.
The FUSE Ensemble itself won’t be performing until March, leaving two other events for other ensembles instead. The USC Flute Studio will perform on January 27, and members of the USC Wind Ensemble will perform at the Columbia Museum of Art on February 24.
And going forward, Falcón says he expects collaborations with groups outside of USC.
“Ultimately, we plan to establish partnerships with musicians who are not part of the School of Music,” he said. “We want to open a jam session to have musicians from other places.”
Regarding the response to the concerts so far, Falcón and Farzaneh have been pleased with both the turnout and the level of audience participation. Sometimes viewers made Tik Tok videos of the shows and after the first 70 participants there were 50 to 60 at the group’s collective concert, they explained.
For the group, spontaneous accessibility is part of their objective.
“That’s the idea: how to introduce new sounds, new music to teenagers,” Falcón said. “I don’t expect them to sit there the whole performance. I expect them to sit there and listen to a song and maybe experience music in a different way than we do in a concert hall.