Dr. Ney Rosauro faced a roomful of rapt, silent band students at Southeast Bulloch High School on Friday, mallets poised over a marimba. He was giving a lecture on composition, walking the students through determining the primary melody for a piece, beating out a Brazilian-inspired melody. As he played, he lectured the students on the importance of keeping their creative muscles in practice.
“The important thing,” he said, putting the finishing flourish on the piece he was playing, “is to finish the projects you start.”
A few moments later, as Rosauro invited the students to ask questions, a young man in the front raised his hand.
“Did you just come up with all that — all that you just played — right when you came in here, or is that something you’d done before?” he asked.
“What, this?” Rosauro said with some surprise. “No! This was all improvisation!”
Performing and teaching
Rosauro was one of the international musicians brought in this week by Georgia Southern University’s Department of Music to teach master classes and perform at the Averitt Center for the Arts in events that coincided with the Ninth Annual International Festival at Mill Creek Regional Park, which took place Saturday. Rosauro was invited by Dr. Matt Fallin, the director of the GSU Percussion Ensemble, and Tim Chapman, the executive director of the Averitt Center. Rosauro, an internationally acclaimed percussionist and composer from Brazil, played and conducted some of his original works with Fallin and the ensemble in a Saturday-night show at the Averitt Center.
Additionally, GSU’s department of music welcomed Dr. Chiao-Ling Sun, violinist, and Dr. Fu-Chien Cho, pianist, from the National Taiwan University of the Arts to perform in the “East Meets West” International Music Festival, which took place Thursday through Saturday.
“This event is yet one more step to forging a collaborative exchange relationship between Georgia Southern University and the National Taiwan University of the Arts,” said Dr. Steven Elisha, the director of strings at GSU. He and his wife, Dr. Larisa Elisha, have been cultivating a relationship with the arts university since 2008 and have performed with its faculty on more than one occasion, including a performance in Taiwan. According to Steven Elisha, one of the goals of the strings department is to globalize its program and develop exchange relationships with arts schools across the world.
The universal language
Both the Elishas and their guests subscribe to a belief in music as "the universal language," bringing people of diverse cultures and backgrounds under its umbrella for a deeper understanding of both culture and craft.
“Nowadays the network becomes an important thing — that everyone can contact each other in every country, every city,” said Dr. Chiao-Ling Sun. “It’s not like before, where international means nation-to-nation.” Instead, she said, international relations can be conducting on the level of city-to-city.
Sun worked with the Honors Magnolia String Quartet, an elite, audition-based and scholarship-funded ensemble taught by Larisa Elisha. The quartet performed Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, “Emperor,” for Sun and she helped them dig into their technique.
Jennifer Latimer, the violinist in the string quartet, said Sun had the musicians working on their intonation and fine-tuning the way they stroked the strings with their bows to keep their sound and style consistent.
“I felt like she wanted to tell us a lot more than what we worked on,” Latimer said, “and what she told us was definitely beneficial.”
“I think it’s always great to have exposure to different views,” Elisha said. She later added, “I think they (the students) never imagined they would have this opportunity to perform for someone who traveled over 30 hours to come here and listen to them and share their expertise. I think it’s a great opportunity, and I think they’re very excited.”
While the strings students worked on Haydn, the percussion students delved into Rosauro’s Brazilian compositions. Because Fallin — who was a graduate student with Rosauro at the University of Miami — had previously exposed the percussion students to Rosauro’s work, Fallin said they were “starstruck” to get the chance to meet and perform with him.
The percussion department is not pursuing international collaboration as actively as the strings program is, but Fallin also believes in the importance of exposing music students to the musical traditions of other cultures. In percussion particularly, he said, the doors are wide open for exploring instruments from other countries.
“There’s such a huge interest in percussion to get into stuff like this — berimbau and just all of the international instruments,” Fallin said. “Because you’re so interested in percussion, you don’t just sit and play one thing, like you sit and play clarinet all the time. You play vibraphone, marimba, timpani, this and that. … There are so many different colors, techniques and stuff in exotic and international instruments.”
The local angle
Sun believes there are two levels on which international collaboration happens: the larger relationships between country and country, and the smaller, more intimate friendships that spring up between individuals, towns and organizations. She said her experience in Statesboro had been a very warm one and that she felt “attached.”
It is these smaller relationships between individuals that lay groundwork for greater relationships to form. That, at least, is the hope of Steven and Larisa Elisha as they work toward building an international reputation for their strings program.
“We wish this program to continue, and that the effects of our exchange collaborations with international artists and musicians can give Statesboro the highlight of being an international center,” Steven Elisha said. “It’s a college town, which makes it a perfect location for international events, and ideally, I believe that one of the goals of the university is to broaden its name and recognition in the United States and beyond its borders, to reach out to international communities as well.”
Georgia Southern, however, is not the only entity invested in bringing international artists in for both the students and the community. The “East Meets West” concert series has received support from groups across the community, going beyond GSU’s music and liberal arts departments and its Campus Life Enrichment Committee to include the Averitt Center, the city of Statesboro, the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority and Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department. Rosauro’s performance was also made possible by contributions from the Averitt Center and other organizations. If music is a universal language, it’s one that Statesboro seems proactive in learning to speak fluently.
“An event like this really brings a place together,” Steven Elisha said. “…I think that’s one of the things that makes Statesboro unique: There is interest and support for high-level cultural and educational activities.”
Cho was impressed by the level of support the city gave to the “East Meets West” program.
“I would like to say to the government that it is wonderful that they support the school event,” she said. “It’s important to have good support for universities to have good activities, especially this kind of international festival. … It needs very strong support, and I think they are doing a great job.”