SPOTLIGHT ON the arts, music majors edition: Jim Rockafellow
Having already featured two of the five music majors in the class of 2010 (Kelsey Jones, and Kathleen "Parsifallon" Fallon), I thought I would end the last issue of the Echo for the year with the remaining three majors, a m'nage a trios, if you will, of talent. As a fellow music major, I have been able to take classes with all three featured students and have had the distinct pleasure of creating musical fusion with Jim and Devon.
Emily Wolf is a phenomenal pianist. She started playing a very long time ago, and got serious about the piano at a very young age. "I realized in the fourth grade, if I want to get good at this I'm going to actually have to practice and put in the effort," she said. At the College, Emily has focused primarily on building her solo repertoire, playing in department recitals, winning the concerto competition her sophomore year, playing the third movement of Saint-Saens' Concerto in G minor with the Colby Orchestra, and this past weekend she gave her senior recital.
Playing the concerto was one of the most musically rewarding experiences Emily has had at Colby. "I need a lot of time to polish a piece and feel comfortable with it. If I want to do something big, I work on it a good deal of time in advance. I worked on my concerto for a full calendar year," Emily explained. "I get nervous on stage when I'm alone, but I had the whole orchestra [when I played the concerto]. The concerto was a packed house, which was rewarding, since the chapel was standing room only. And having an orchestra makes so much more sound."
Emily thought she would make a career out of collaborative piano (playing in ensembles or as an accompanist), but she recently found her passion in piano pedagogy. She taught for the first time over JanPlan during her first year at Colby, and steadily increased the number of students in her studio.
"At the end of last summer, I realized that teaching was what I wanted to do. That's what I got the most enjoyment out of, rather than performing collaboratively. If I was having a bad day, when I taught the lesson, I would feel better and focus on what I was doing. Nothing else mattered," she reflected. After changing repertories and auditioning for a number of programs, Emily will attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to continue her studies. However, if you think Emily is a princess who plays the piano, you would be dead wrong. She is an avid hunter and outdoorswoman.
Jim Rockafellow is a trained classical baritone, choral singer and a member of Broadway Musical Revue (BMR), serving as one of the directors this past year. In addition, Jim has been the musical director of a number of Powder & Wig's musical productions. He was both the guitarist and the musical director in the original rock musical The Deadline created by his friends Nic Robichaud '09 and Andy Bolduc '10, and he will be reprising that role in the new Robichaud/Bolduc production "Scooby Doo: The Musical Experience" set to premiere May 7 and 8.
Jim also started singing and playing guitar at an early age. Vocally, he finds himself in his element in choral and ensemble singing (although he gave a stellar senior voice recital with a very unusual but refreshing program this past weekend).
"Choral singing is great because you're a part of something [bigger than yourself] and you're standing in the middle of the sound. And being able to travel and sing in the Vatican and this small church in rural Argentina [with this electric crowd] was exciting," Jim said, speaking of his time with the Colby Chorale and the spring break trips the group has taken.
Jim has been involved with BMR since his sophomore spring, tracing his first encounter with musical theater to middle school. He has gotten involved in the more technical aspects of musical theater, musical directing from the pit and co-directing BMR this past year. Of working on The Deadline, Jim said, "[The Deadline] was the first pit band I led. I had a pretty freaking awesome band. I couldn't get musicians of that quality together anywhere else and have them tolerate me," he joked, (but not really). As musical director of a brand new musical written by his friends, Jim said, "I had a lot of freedom to change a lot of things, and if I didn't know something I could literally call the composer." Having worked on the other side as an actor, Jim described his approach to musical directing as "something that sort of came to me from being in shows and knowing as an actor how I wanted to be treated by the pit."
Of BMR Jim said, "BMR has been awesome. It's a nice group of kids with a common interest who have a hell of a lot of fun and do something somewhat musical. It's fun, and it's purely student run." Describing BMR's sensibility, Jim explained, "It's theater, it's not a recital. It is spectacle, it is camp, it is vaudeville in a modern way, but with less racism." Choral singing is "one kind of fun, and The Deadline and BMR are a more self-indulgent kind of fun."
Devon Rook is also a phenomenal pianist, whose start in piano has a funny story. "My brother started taking lessons, and I wanted to do everything he did. We were really little," he recalled. "So we went to a music school in Washington D.C., and we auditioned for a teacher. She only wanted to take my brother, but my mom said they're a packaged deal. My brother quit a year later; I stayed for 10 years with her." It's funny how things turn out that way.
At the College, Devon has worked on his solo repertoire but has also branched out into collaborative piano and playing percussion in the African Drumming ensemble, a far cry from classical piano. "It's strange for a redheaded Irish boy to be playing African drums" Devon joked. Of the different musical aesthetic, Devon said, "[the beats] have some kind of intrinsic power. It just really gets your body moving. [West African drumming] is based on poly-rhythms." He explained, "It's how different beats line up at certain points and then go astray. So there are different parts playing different beats in different meters, but at certain points they meet, and that's where the power of the music lies."
The African Drumming ensemble recently recorded a CD, in which Devon took part. He gave a phenomenal senior recital incorporating these varied musical interests: his solo piano playing, his collaborative piano work with a piano quartet (an ensemble consisting of piano, violin, viola and cello) and a portion with the African drumming ensemble.
Devon has also won the Concerto competition for this year and will be playing with the second and third movements of Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor with the Colby Orchestra. "You have to be so aware of different parts [in ensemble playing] where solo work is an introverted thing," Devon said of playing with an orchestra.
"The music is flowing and you have to catch it; it's like riding the tide. In solo work you have to create a lot of that on your own." In addition to playing the piano, Devon is also a member of the Colby Track and Field team, joining the spring of his junior year. He spent his junior fall studying abroad in Australia, where among other things, he hunted sting rays with the indigenous people of the continent.