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Uncommon music composed to honor president

The live music for Susan Hockfield's inauguration combines multicultural, ancient and modern elements thanks to four diverse works commissioned for the event Friday, May 6, in Killian Court.

"Sabar Gong," featuring MIT's Gamelan Galak Tika and members of MIT's Senegalese Drumming Ensemble, Rambax, will open the ceremony, which follows the inaugural procession.

Gamelan Galak Tika, founded in 1993 by Evan Ziporyn, Kenan Sabin Distinguished Professor of Music and head of MIT's Music and Theater Arts Section, is based on the small orchestra of mostly metallic percussion instruments--gongs, xylophones and hand drums--that is the primary source of all religious and concert music in Bali, Indonesia.

Rambax, an ensemble dedicated to the art of sabar, a vibrant drum and dance tradition of the Wolof people of Senegal, West Africa, is currently directed by Senegalese percussionist Lamine Touré, an MIT artist-in-residence.

Ziporyn and Toure collaborated for the first time in composing "Sabar Gong." Their goal was to "find common ground, build a piece around that and make a joyful noise," Ziporyn said.

The inaugural theme-Uncommon/In common--also inspired Ziporyn, he said. "I thought it would be nice to use it to represent all the non-Western performing traditions at MIT. 'Sabar Gong' also represents the spirit of collaboration and the unusual results that come from putting diverse minds together," he said.

Rambax and Galak Tika share rehearsal space in MIT's World Music Center in Building N52.

"Chorus From Pindar," Institute Professor John Harbison's piece for unison chorus and brass quartet, will be performed by the MIT Chamber Chorus under the direction of Lecturer William Cutter, MIT's Director of Choral Programs, just prior to the presentation of President Hockfield.

Harbison's two-minute piece was inspired by Pindar's odes of two millennia ago and composed especially for the inaugural ceremony. Pindar, renowned lyric poet of ancient Greece, praised victories achieved in the Pythian, Olympic and Nemean games with songs of joy and thanksgiving.

Harbison joined the MIT faculty in 1969 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 in music for The Flight Into Egypt, a choral-instrumental ensemble.

Lecturer Elena Ruehr was also inspired by poetry in composing her piece, "In Time of Silver Rain," a two-minute fanfare to be performed by the ensemble Mass Brass under the direction of Lawrence Isaacson at the opening of the ceremony.

The title comes from a Langston Hughes poem by the same name that Ruehr says is "a celebration of spring and new life and is full of rhythmic energy."

A lecturer in MIT's Music Section since 1992, Ruehr is also composer in residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.

Music Professor Peter Child will also be contributing to the inaugural ceremony. His "Fanfare and Fugue" will mark the beginning of the recessional.

Scored for brass and timpani, the three-minute piece is the composer's second commission for an MIT inaugural ceremony; the first was for the inauguration of President Charles Vest in 1991. Child has composed award-winning music in many genres, and has been a member of MIT's music faculty since 1986.

The ceremony will also feature the a cappella group The MIT Chorallaries singing the national anthem and the school song, "In Praise of MIT."

In reviewing the musical lineup for inauguration day, Associate Provost for the Arts Alan Brody commented, "MIT musicians have always had a significant role to play in major MIT events and in campus life. We are all thrilled at the way in which President Hockfield has embraced and supported all the arts as components of her inauguration week."

Steven Lerman, chair of the Inaugural Committee, agreed. "The wide inclusion of the arts into the inauguration week events reflects the committee's deep interest in showcasing all the talents that are at MIT."

"We're known globally for our world-class research and academic programs in engineering, science and management. What is less well known is the extraordinary strength of the arts programs here. We are privileged to have extraordinary composers on our music faculty, and the Inaugural Committee wanted to honor President Hockfield with some special music composed for this occasion," Lerman said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 4, 2005 (download PDF).

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