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Senior independent study explores intersection of classical and modern music

Cami Culbertson
Senior Julia Nguyen discusses her research and introduces her opening piece, “Popper Polonaise de Concert.”

“Looking back, I realize that collaborative piano has always been essential to who I am,” senior Julia Nguyen wrote in her artist statement. 

This Interim Term, Nguyen explored her love of music and inherent draw to accompaniment in her independent study titled “Sharing the Stage: A Chamber Recital.” 

Juggling a statistics and data science internship at the University of Houston and college applications, Nguyen chose to focus her January afternoons on her passion for chamber music.  

Nguyen’s inspiration behind creating her chamber recital came from many different sources. One of her inspirations was a recital titled “Sharing the Spotlight” performed by Rice professor Jon Kimura Parker.

“I saw how he was able to seamlessly combine classical, modernist, and pop music,” Nguyen said. “He played [Led] Zeppelin right after [Aram] Khachaturian, and I thought, ‘Okay, it is possible to blend both classical and pop music into one recital.’”

Nguyen chose to incorporate this idea of the connection between pop music and classical music into her own chamber recital. The opening piece of the recital was Nguyen’s own arrangement of “Polonaise de Concert” by David Popper, also known as the “Popper Polonaise de Concert,” a piece she witnessed firsthand during a trip to Europe. 

Nguyen said composing and preparing this part of the performance was the biggest challenge she faced. 

The “Popper Polonaise de Concert” was Nguyen’s second composition and one that was far more complex than her first composition of the music in the musical “The Hello Girls.” 

“Having to transcribe the really difficult cello solos onto Finale Notepad was pretty painstaking,” Nguyen said. “Working with the different harmonies was difficult as well. I remember putting a bunch of crazy double stops in the viola part and then having Dr. Oliveros tell me you should probably rewrite this part.” Dr. Mauricio Oliveros is an assistant orchestra director at Kinkaid. 

Once the quintet was composed, Nguyen began rehearsing with the other members of the group: sophomores Abby Ahuero, Ayla Patel and Maureen Min and homeschooled student Nathan Russ. One challenge in the preparation process was adapting to varying skill sets.

“I learned to adjust expectations and give appropriate feedback for each person depending on their skill levels in music,” Nguyen said. 

The last three songs of the recital were well-known contemporary songs from artists ranging from Laufey to Coldplay. When preparing for this portion of the recital, Nguyen met with each vocalist, sophomore Irene Pletcher and senior Claire Hartung, for a short duration and worked to blend her piano accompaniment with the singer’s voices. For Nguyen and the vocalists, this was a relatively easy part of the process. 

“It was so fun,”  Pletcher said. “Julia is incredible, and she learned everything so fast. She was really stylistic with it and good at relating back to what I was doing, so it went really well. My favorite part about the process was getting to see it all come together and seeing it be cohesive despite all the different styles.” 

Even beyond the music that was presented, the musicians who played with Nguyen praised her ability to create a space where musicians and vocalists alike could connect and bond over the process of preparing and performing a recital. 

“One of my favorite memories from the experience was getting to meet and know the people in my quintet and some of the people at the school, who were all nice and welcoming,” Russ said. 

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About the Contributor
Cami Culbertson
Cami Culbertson, Multimedia Producer
Cami Culbertson serves as the Multimedia Producer for The Falcon. This is her second year on staff. When she is not working with the journalism team, she is dancing and singing on Kinkaid's stage. She is a member of the Fine Arts Leadership Board, Student Affairs Committee, International Thespian Society, and Honors French Society, and is the Secretary of Dance Company and President of Creative Writing Club. She cannot wait to contribute to The Falcon online this year with podcasts and videos!

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