In May 2014, two School of Music faculty members and six students will embark on a trip that will undoubtedly change their lives and their music-making forever.
Professors Mark Lusk (trombone) and Dan Yoder (jazz studies) will lead a delegation of Penn State students on a musical and cultural exploration of Cuba where they will perform, study, and experience a rich Cuban musical culture that has long been veiled by politics to the outside world, but is steeped in a tradition that has influenced countless American and Latin-American jazz idioms.
The faculty members, along with graduate students Jaren Angud (percussion), John Mauer (trumpet), Sean Durkin, David Kraus, and Wes Thompson (trombone); and undergraduate student Kate Anderson (saxophone) will join with faculty and students from the University of Richmond (VA) for the 10-day excursion.
The idea of a combined Cuban trip was the brain child of Mark Lusk and Professor Michael Davison of the University of Richmond, friends who work together at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp. Davison, a trumpet professor and an expert in Cuban music and culture, will lead the American jazz ambassadors throughout their itinerary, which begins in Santiago de Cuba and ends in Havana. While in Cuba, they will be assisted by Maestro Daniel Guzmán, conductor emeritus of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba, and Peter Loman, a musician and author who has produced a documentary on the blending of Cuban rhythms with American jazz.
The highlight of the tour will be a cultural-educational exchange between the American jazz musicians and the students at the Conservatorio Esteban Salas in Santiago de Cuba. The exchange will culminate in a joint concert combining faculty and students from all three institutions into one big band. This concert will be the first of its kind since the United States imposed its embargo on Cuba in 1960. After stops at Camaguey and Trinidad, the Americans will end their trip in Havana during its annual salsa festival. A visit to the famousTropicana Club in Havana will complete the Americans’ Cuban experience.
The Penn State music students are excited about this amazing and rare opportunity, and they became even more energized when Michael Davison visited Penn State in January to discuss the musical banquet that awaits them. To prepare for the trip, they are studying course materials that Davison created for his University of Richmond class titled “Salsa Meets Jazz.” They are also preparing approximately 30 Cuban jazz standards, many introduced to the United States by the Buena Vista Social Club, so that they can interact musically with the Cuban jazz players they meet along their journey.
Mark Lusk is also eager about the possibilities for future cultural exchange as a result of this inaugural trip. “The arts, music, and especially jazz music, have always exemplified the notion of international collegiality. Penn State has been involved with Cuba in the past, but this is the first time that the School of Music and the College of Arts and Architecture have investigated the possibility of making a connection with the Cuban artistic community. The success of this project should open doors for future projects with our music faculty and students.”