Stuyvesant Music Association Hosts First In-Person Student Concert

Stuyvesant musicians put their skills on display at the chamber and solo concert hosted by the Stuyvesant Music Association.

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The Stuyvesant Music Association (SMA) hosted their first in-person chamber and solo concert on March 16 with student attendants from all grades. The concert was held in the Murray Kahn theater, where 60 students listened to the student-run concert’s piano, double bass, violin, clarinet, and cello performances.

Founded in 2020 by senior Co-President Cyrus Cursetjee and senior Co-President Christopher Dou, the SMA provided a space for student musicians to teach their peers certain instruments and was fueled by hopes of raising funds through concerts to improve the quality of Stuyvesant’s string instruments. Though this is the second year the SMA has held this event, Cursetjee and junior SMA Co-President Zoe Buff organized this to be the first concert held in-person after multiple cancellations due to safety concerns regarding the pandemic.

The seed of planning a concert was first planted in 2021 after Cursetjee noticed the lack of musical performance in face of technical difficulties that came with remote learning. “Virtually, we were missing [concerts] because the idea of putting on a concert as a group was almost impossible,” Cursetjee said.

After managing to host a virtual concert last year, the event had an overall successful turnout, considering the variety of performers who participated in the event and its increased accessibility after being uploaded to YouTube. “We had voice, we had piano, we had jazz stuff, classical stuff. We had Tamosaitis perform a double bass piece and [...] we even got alumni to come and play, and I was really happy with how that went,” Curstjee said.

Being provided the opportunity to choose and change their own pieces and music allowed the musicians to practice their instruments beyond their comfort zones. Junior Jaein Ku, who learned the double bass over the course of three and a half months, initially chose a folk piece but instead ended up performing a transposed version of Beethovan’s Sonatina. “I liked how the phrases were reiterative, so I got to play around with them. I also repeated a section [...] and made it an octave higher because I wanted to challenge myself,” she said.

Senior Kai Mandelbaum had a similar experience where, despite being in charge of improvisation on the piano, he prepared with jazz tunes instead, such as “Tea for Two” (1942) and his self-composed tune, E-High Flat.

Through an annual concert, some performers emphasized how the concert served to track their improvement from the previous year. Senior Felix Bransbourg reflected on his experience playing the same piece this year and last year. “[It] was a great opportunity to showcase the many improvements we’ve made on our instruments, with intonation, phrasing, vibrato, and a lot more,” he said.

For other musicians, the concert provided a unique platform to exhibit their passion, but in a more relaxed environment. “This was a good opportunity because I probably wouldn't have been able to practice performing at a recital for bass for another couple years,” Ku said.

Some shared Ku’s sentiment, believing that the concert highlighted the performer’s musical creativity and technical skills. “Of course, Stuy has SING! and STC, but in terms of classical musicians, there’s no real opportunity for most of them to show off everything they’re doing in a concert for students and teachers,” Cursetjee said.

Performers were also able to adapt when faced with unexpected circumstances. Originally scheduled to perform Saraste’s “Navarra” alongside Cursetjee and Buff, junior Christina Pan had to change her plans due to Buff’s last-minute absence. In response, Cursetjee and Pan chose to perform Handel Halvorsen’s “Passacaglia,” which the pair transposed into a violin duet.

However, as SMA shifted to an in-person setting, securing the theater posed a challenge when planning for this year’s concert, especially in comparison to a concert through Zoom. “The main difficulty was [...] finding a day to reserve the theater, which during COVID grew to be a really difficult problem. There were always some events that were always going on, and the school couldn’t just give us the stage,” Cursetjee said. “We switched the date around a lot, but [Music Department Coordinator Liliya] Shamazov was able to reserve the stage. [...] Without her, I don't think we could have gone on the stage at all.”

This challenge was due to conflicts in scheduling amid limited time and a multitude of school events. “It's a big school and there’s a lot of events happening, so we don’t want to [have] any kind of conflict as a result of not careful planning. So we try to carefully plan and make sure we’re not impeding on anybody,” Shamazov said. “I’m realizing now that for something like this, we would have to schedule very early in the year for the entire year.”

Being able to rapidly garner the attention of the Stuyvesant community regarding the logistics of the concert proved to be difficult as well. “I really had to do a lot to get people to come because it's classical music and just two weeks after SING!,” Cursetjee said. “We printed out flyers, I put them in all the teacher’s mailboxes two days before, we hung up posters around the school, [and] we put it on the announcements and on Facebook.”

Despite being under time constraints, recruiting 10 total performers in the concert was more straightforward, with around half of the performers being SMA members and others being mutual friends. Overall, many audience members were impressed by the performers’ talents and musical interpretations. “The classical pieces were also really cool. You can really tell the musicians were thinking about it—it wasn’t just reading notes off a page. They were interpreting it,” freshman Milo Smulansky said.

With most of the performers being SMA teachers, there is also an increased support for more SMA students to be featured in these performances during the next concert. “I think we should get more students to participate in this, [...] because it’s also about showing how much you were able to improve in the past couple of months,” Bransbourg said.

Similarly, there are hopes that these concerts will continue in order to allow students to frequently practice their talents and achieve an objective. “It makes them build their skills, it makes them do what they do—which is perform in front of humans,” Shamazov said. “I very much believe in the message and the point of such events. I think they’re very necessary and create a very nice atmosphere, and I think it helps kids be featured [...] in a very unique way.”

Moving forward, the SMA plans to hold these concerts annually in hopes to give Stuyvesant musicians more opportunities to perform in front of an audience. “Obviously, I don’t have control over this, but I’m pretty sure it’s gonna happen again in the future. There are always going to be talented students at Stuy no matter what,” Cursetjee said. “It’s such a big school, and even though it’s very academically focused, there are a whole lot of very talented musicians that work really hard. [...] We just need to have the right people take initiative and push it forward.”