Joesph Higgins is the Director of Bands for the music program. - Photo via

The Rowan University Department of Music is ready to strike (chords) again this week with two free, virtual concerts. 

The Rowan Wind Ensemble has “Masks & Machines” in store for March 11 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., and the Rowan Symphony Orchestra will be presenting “Simply Folk” on March 13 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. While audiences can view these shows safely from home, the musicians themselves are able to deliver their performances in safe, new and fascinating ways.

Joseph Higgins, director of “Masks & Machines,” said that this concert will be like a reunion since the wind ensemble musicians have not performed together in over a year. Since safety is clearly a priority for the ensemble, each performer will be wearing a mask with a small opening so that they can access their mouthpieces and using a cloth covering over their instruments’ bells. This is an entirely new experience for the players.

“There are many challenges to performing wind instruments during a pandemic,” Higgins said. “Though these safety guidelines make it much more difficult to play an instrument, we are grateful that it is still possible for us to make music together safely.”

Higgins also pointed out that he selected pieces that could be performed by relatively small groups. Along with keeping the room’s capacity to a minimum, this will allow for the players to be physically distant from each other. The largest group in this concert will feature 23 musicians, which is atypical for the wind ensemble. 

“For reference, a typical wind ensemble concert would feature an ensemble of as many as 45 players, while our concert band has been as large as 85!” said Higgins.

Along with the excitement of the musicians getting to play together again, the title of the final piece (and of the program), “Masks & Machines,” has a special meaning. Composed by Paul Dooley, the piece’s name refers to the contrast of its two blended styles.

“One, Renaissance-era brass music and Baroque virtuosity, and two, machine-like modernism,” according to Higgins. There is also a more literal interpretation of the title, which refers to the players’ “masks” and their instruments — “machines.”

The symphony orchestra’s concert “Simply Folk” is also set to feature unique musical styles and cultures from their original composers. Director Jiannan Cheng stated that the band will be performing works from famous national composers Béla Bartók of Hungary, Jean Sibelius of Finland and Antonin Dvořák of the Czech Republic. 

“What makes this concert special is that all three composers have a deep connection to their own country and culture, and have incorporated many folk music materials and nationalistic elements into their music,” said Cheng.

While not many people will be physically together for either of these presentations, the music will be able to connect everyone on a different level. The players can connect with the composers, audience and each other even during a pandemic.

Click here for the full list of virtual performances that will be hosted by Rowan’s music department this semester.

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