Paul Vaillancourt, a French-Canadian by birth, has been teaching at the Columbus State University Schwob School of Music for 10 years.
In those years, he became fascinated with the American Civil War. So as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War approached, he wanted to do a program of music, not necessarily from the era, but of the essence of the era.
Sunday’s concert, featuring the CSU Percussion Ensemble, features special fife and drum music and works by Pulitzer Prize winners Jennifer Higdon and George Crumb to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Faculty artist and voice professor Michelle DeBruyn will perform in Crumb’s piece, wearing a Civil War-era dress, CSU art faculty member Elizabeth McFalls will present a pre-concert exhibition and CSU history professor Gary Sprayberry will narrate throughout the concert.
Vaillancourt says Crumb’s “The Winds of Destiny,” has never been performed in Columbus before and features 110 percussion instruments played by four students -- Brian O’Connor, Brandon Smith, Kelsey Adams and Alissa Carter.
DeBruyn said while the spirituals and folk songs interwoven in Crumb’s piece are familiar, “the settings are very strange and it’s very challenging.”
“There are nine movements (in the Crumb piece),” Vaillancourt said. “It’s a big piece. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time. And for personal reasons.”
Those personal reasons is his fascination with the Civil War.
Because the Columbus Museum has a huge exhibit running right now, he collaborated with the museum, as well as the CSU art and history departments.
DeBruyn, in Crumb’s piece, plays a woman left by herself during the devastation of the war, particularly in the south. The stage will be left dark for much of the time, he said.
Besides the percussionists, pianist Liliya Ugay, a 20-year-old freshman, is performing.
Her playing style will be different -- she will stand during much of the piece, often muting the strings with her hand while simultaneously playing the notes with her other hand. Other instruments include a plastic ruler, a mallott, pieces of paper and a rubber eraser to get sound effects normally not heard on the piano.
Ugay said while contemporary pianists often use these techniques, they are not normally used in classical pieces.
“It is very inventive,” Ugay said of the piece. “It’s very interesting to work with and so unusual, so inventive.”
Sophomore O’Connor, 20, said it’s the first time he’s playing so many instruments during one piece. “There are lots of techniques that are unique and I’ve never done this before,” he said.
Smith, who is also a 20-year-old sophomore, said he’s getting “weird” sounds out of his instruments. He expressed surprise that so many instruments were being played until he started counting the ones he’s playing.
Adams, 20, a junior, calls the piece “pretty insane.”
“It is the hardest piece I’ve ever played. You have to choreograph everything.” she said. “I’ll probably never get a chance to play this again.”
All four musicians said it takes anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes to set up the instruments.
“It’s pretty wild,” Adams said.
Carter, a 22-year-old junior, said using a bow to play percussion instruments is different. “There are so many things to bow, and some of them give off a very creepy sound. It’s crazy contemporary music with a historic foundation,” Carter said of the Crumb piece.