School is back in session, and for University of Scranton student musicians and singers, their upcoming performances make for teachable moments with the greater community.
The fall schedule features a variety of U of S ensembles, bands and choirs teamed up with nationally renowned music professionals for a slate of free concerts open to the public.
Cheryl Boga, conductor and director of performance music at the university, said she strives to bring in not just great guest performers but also artist-teachers who can impart wisdom to the young soloists and players.
“One of the things I do is look over the long term — not just a season, but over the four years my students will be here,” Boga said. “My philosophy for the program is really one of (acknowledging that) these are the students that are going to make sure live music is supported in communities, our schools and our country, so how do we give them a background of real understanding and appreciation of great music and what it takes to make it?”
In addition to the student recitals, the season’s highlights include concerts that cover a variety of musical genres and bring in talented music professionals, one of whom — trumpet soloist and sideman Jumaane Smith — has a “long and storied history” with U of S, Boga said.
Smith was a member of the bands for crooners Michael Bublé and Harry Connick Jr. and also performed with pop stars including Stevie Wonder, Justin Bieber, Natalie Cole and Alicia Keys. Locally, Smith gave his talents to the U of S as a composer for its concert band and mixed choir, a teacher for brass seminars, conductor and soloist.
“It’s so delightful to see the amazing professional he has become,” Boga said. “His contributions here at Scranton have been unending at every stage of his career.”
Later in the season, guest soloist Kenny Rampton, a member of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the trumpet voice on “Sesame Street,” will join the U of S Jazz Band for a concert and offer a free master class to students plus amateur and professional musicians 16 and older. With touring credits that include the Ray Charles Orchestra and Matchbox Twenty, Rampton’s expertise spans multiple styles.
Sherrie Maricle and the all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra also will offer a public master class in addition to a performance that showcases their history as one of the longest-existing professional big bands in the country.
“Sherrie is just wonderful, and she’s led clinics on rhythm for Scranton brass,” Boga said. “She is a gifted and committed teacher, a spectacular drummer and runs a hell of a band. For us to be part of their 25th anniversary tour, coming off amazing venues like the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center, I still kind of can’t believe we’re going to present them.”
U of S also will mark the 50th year for its annual Noel Night concert, which invites alumni to return and rehearse to be part of the show, Boga said.
“It’s kind of the kick-off for Christmas season for us, musically,” she explained. “It has always been University of Scranton’s gift to the community. We open the doors well over an hour early for seats and have started prelude music for a full hour before the concert even starts because of all the people sitting there.”
Noel Night focuses exclusively on sacred music and also includes remarks from university leaders and readings of the nativity narrative, which students have dubbed the “Peanuts” speech since Linus made it famous in the animated classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Providing a well-curated concert season that also is presented free is crucial not only to musical students but to the public, Boga noted.
“The arts are our nation, our world. It’s both a mirror and a window,” she said. “They’re a way to reflect back who we are and who we want to be on every level, from a small community to a wider circle. Music is important to understanding and expressing, acts as a catalyst and spurs communication. Everybody is part of this process.”