Faculty recital reflects on pandemic

On Friday, Feb. 5, Assistant Professor of Music Tim Albright and Associate Professor of Music Mark Urness shared a collection of original compositions and arrangements called “2020 Reflections,” a dual effort project focused on the challenges of returning to improvisation during the pandemic. With Albright on the trombone and Urness on the double bass, the mood and timbre of each diverse piece in the performance were pleasantly and engagingly dynamic.  

Following the first piece on the program, “Thank You for Being Here,” Albright and Urness took some time to explain some of their methods and experiences in creating the project. They shared that the idea came about to fulfill a need for improvised music during this time of separation. Now, because of COVID, so much music is recorded separately and then subsequently threaded together, but, as Albright commented, that is far from the spontaneous experience of improvisation. Improvised music, the duo explained, is logistically much harder to recreate virtually or in a socially-distanced setting because of sound lags, expressed in their “Latency” arrangement of Bach’s “Invention No. 6 in E Major.”  

However, Albright and Urness certainly succeeded in creatively surmounting these pandemic-posed challenges, holding their first rehearsal on Albright’s porch (in much warmer weather!), balancing social-distancing with a close enough space to avoid sound delays as they improvised by ear. Urness stated that an element of this improvisation practice would sometimes include incorporating a list he created of words associated with quarantine and COVID. He and Albright would then improvise using the chosen word as a title without necessarily planning their musical interpretation in advance in order to produce something new and fresh. Some pieces, however, didn’t even have a title or word association at first and were improvised on the fly and subsequently assigned a meaning and title in context of the theme. 

In addition to these original improvisations, the program also included two improv-driven arrangements of baroque pieces by Bach and Vivaldi, which Albright and Urness felt fit their theme, titling their arrangements with the same method as original tracks. Still others, as Urness described in regard to his solo composition, “Still,” are straightforward, conventional jazz composition. 

Following the recital, Albright and Urness hosted a post-recital reception on Zoom. The concert is still available for belated streaming for those interested on Lawrence University’s Vimeo, and links can be found on the events calendar Feb. 5 entry. Over 250 viewers have already watched the dynamic and compelling program, with at least 90 attending live and leaving a comment section full of praise for the “extraterrestrial sounds” throughout the works. 

Albright and Urness are clearly versatile artists, evidenced by the diversity of energy and sound in this performance as well as the range of genres and approaches each practice and teach. Both have high-profile reviews and musical collaborations under their belts and continue to keep their musical approaches creative and relevant. The program represents yet another example of artists’ resilience and innovation in the face of the pandemic, producing new and valuable work that would not have otherwise been motivated.