KINGSTON, R.I. – April 18, 2022 – The University of Rhode Island Music Department wraps up its spring concert schedule in April and May with a lineup that includes two shows that celebrate a combined 75 years of service to the University by music professors Gene Pollart and Ann Danis.
Pollart, professor of music and director of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, joined URI in 1976 as an associate professor after serving on the faculties at California State University, the University of Wisconsin and South Dakota State University.
Along with being an accomplished percussionist, Pollart is the former conductor of The American Band, one of the oldest continuously active bands in the country. At URI, he was named director of bands in 1976, directed the marching band for seven years, and has conducted the Symphonic Wind Ensemble since his arrival.
“Gene is one of the leaders in band in New England and he is a masterful arranger,” said Mark Conley, chair of the URI Music Department. “Sometimes band music acquires a certain sound that is just universal. Gene’s always had this really interesting way of arranging where the palette of the individual instruments comes through in a great way.”
Danis, professor of music, teacher in violin and viola, director of orchestral activities and conductor of the Symphony Orchestra, came to URI in 1993 with more than two decades of conducting and orchestral experience. Danis, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music, has traveled nationally and internationally as a performer, clinician and guest conductor.
In 1991, she founded the Ocean State Chamber Orchestra, and from 1990 to 2019, she led all-state and festival orchestras in New England and in North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Georgia, and New York.
“Ann is one of the pioneers,” said Conley. “She’s been a woman in the conducting business for decades. Until very recently, you could count the number of female orchestral conductors on one hand. We’ve been very fortunate to have somebody who is a wonderful musician and a great teacher, but also created a pathway for a new generation.”
On Saturday, April 23, the Symphony Orchestra is expecting between 50 and 60 alumni to return for “Ann’s Last Hurrah,” swelling the about 40-member orchestra to as many as 100 musicians. To make room, the concert will be held in Keaney Gymnasium, instead of the Fine Arts Center’s Concert Hall. The concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the event webpage.
Alumna Catherine Gagnon, music director of the Warwick Symphony Orchestra, who plays regularly with the URI orchestra, helped organize the concert, collecting contact information months ago to build the lineup of Danis’ returning former symphony members. “It’s extraordinary,” said Danis. “I feel very blessed. It was a very big undertaking and Catherine got it done.”
The night will feature some of Danis’ favorites from her nearly 30 years leading the orchestra – Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture,” Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave,” and the final movement of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” The string section will also perform Mozart’s “Divertimento.”
The concert will close with Cecile Chaminade’s Concertino for Flute and Orchestra, with soloist Allison Parramore, a teacher of flute at URI and a symphony alumna. While a student at URI, she won a solo competition playing the Chaminade concertino.
In her time at URI, Danis said she’s seen the orchestra grow, with students more excited to be a part of the symphony, and also a growth in the ranks of female conductors, although she says, “There’s still the stereotype that who should be on the podium is someone in tails. But it’s getting better.”
“I will miss the students very much. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at URI,” she added. “People told me years ago, ‘When it’s time, you’ll know it.’ I kept thinking I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But now I do. It’s about that time.
“Catherine and I have a 2-year-old daughter. She’s wonderful and I want to spend a lot more time with her. And we have a house in France and we’d like to spend more time there. I’ve never been able to see it in fall because I’ve been an academic all my life. I don’t know what else is on the horizon yet. I’m open to all kinds of possibilities.”
On Sunday, May 1, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble will perform a half-dozen works for Pollart’s final concert as director. The concert starts at 3 p.m. in the Concert Hall. For tickets, go to the event’s webpage.
The 12-member ensemble will perform Sergie Prokofieff’s “Gavotta,” “Pursuit” by Robert Boughton, two movements from Percy Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy,” “A Moorside March” by Gustav Holst, “A Seal Lullaby” by Eric Whitacre, Henry Fillmore’s “His Honor (March),” and Luther Henderson’s arrangement of “Saints’ Hallelujah.”
Among Pollart’s highlights of his career, he said, is the growing reputation of the wind ensemble, which has been invited to perform at numerous regional music conferences.
“I feel very fortunate to have been named the director of bands in 1976,” said Pollart. “I have loved every minute of my work here, watching the band program evolve into a significant New England university program, and my Symphonic Wind Ensemble grow into one of the superior wind groups in the New England region. I would not trade my experience at URI for anything.”
More spring shows
In between the two tributes, April is full of concerts from the University’s other major ensembles. Tickets for all shows are $12 for general admission, and $7 for seniors (60 and over), students, faculty and staff.
Instead of a goodbye, the Wednesday, April 27, concert of the University Chorus will welcome the ensemble’s director, Carrie-Atla DeChamplain, who joined the University last fall as a lecturer in amplified voice. The chorus will present a tribute to legendary American composer Stephen Sondheim, who died in November. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall.
DeChamplain, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Toledo and a bachelor’s degree from the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, has directed numerous choruses, including church ensembles and college choirs. Since joining URI, the chorus’ 21 singers have been welcoming and enthusiastic to her somewhat different approach, she said.
“My background is a bit different than many choir directors as I specialize in jazz, R&B, and gospel music,” she said. “Since I have this experience, I decided to steer away from traditional, classical music that is often the standard repertoire for choirs. I wanted to share music that I love, so that I could lead with enthusiasm and energy.”
The following night, Thursday, April 28, DeChamplain will team up with the Jazz Big Band, under the direction of Emmett Goods, for an assortment of jazz selections from different eras. The concert starts at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall.
On Friday, April 29, the Concert Band, directed by Brian Cardany, will perform a medley of John Williams compositions to mark the composer’s 90th birthday – “Cantina Band” from “Star Wars,” the main theme from “Catch Me If You Can,” and “Swing, Swing, Swing” from “1941.”
The concert will also feature J. Clifton Williams’ “Dedicatory Overture,” Carl Strommen’s “Prairiesong,” “Hands Across the Sea” by John Philip Sousa, “Rest” by Frank Ticheli, Brant Karrick’s “Bayou Breakdown,” and “Alchemy” by Andrew Boysen Jr.
The concert starts at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall.
On Saturday, April 30, the Concert Choir rounds out the month with “In Sickness and For Health,” a concert featuring music and poetry with a connection to past times of pandemic. The concert starts at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall.
The lineup will include a 1350 piece by Guillaume de Machaut that was written during the bubonic plague, a Schubert composition based on the 23rd Psalm for sopranos and altos, and a 1660s composition written around the time of the Great Fire in London and a plague that killed 20 percent of the population.
The concert will close with “How to Go On,” a contemporary, multi-movement work by American composer Dale Trumbore that was written several years before the COVID-19 pandemic. “How to Go On” is about letting go of a friend who has died, but like the other selections, it carries a double meaning when set against a pandemic.
“Once again, in tough times the arts teach us not only how to cope, but how to hope,” said director Mark Conley.
For a list of all upcoming URI music events, visit: uri.edu/music/events/ .