Debussy carnival presents diverse set of events to celebrate composer

Rose Nelson

The Lawrence community celebrated the 150th anniversary of French composer Claude Debussy with a daylong carnival last Sunday, Oct. 28. This was not the first anniversary celebration of a famous composer, but it was the most comprehensive. The coordinators decided that a day-long carnival was necessary so that Debussy’s numerous influences could be explored through a variety of mediums.

The celebration commenced at 11 a.m. with an introduction by Professor of Music and Chair of the Keyboard department Catherine Kautsky. She discussed the ways that Debussy took inspiration from other art forms, such as visual arts and literature. She also talked about his languid style and his tendency toward sarcasm.

Following the introduction, Associate Professor of Music Julie McQuinn and Assistant Professor of Music Sara Ceballos presented some of Debussy’s works in relation to dance. They described the dances that influenced Debussy’s composition, which ranged from aristocratic styles to the Cakewalk. An aristocratic dance was demonstrated and the Cakewalk was discussed in greater detail later in the day.

At 12 p.m., a Gamelan demonstration took place. While the Gamelan may seem unrelated to Debussy’s music, the gamelan was an important influence after DeBussy first experienced this instrument at an 1889 Paris exhibition. It seems that he admired the composition styles of the East because he incorporated these influences into his own compositions.

The faculty recital, which featured performances by Kautsky, piano; Associate Professor of Music Steven Paul Spears, tenor; Instructor of Music Joanne Bozeman, soprano; and Associate Professor of Music Wen-Lei Gu, violin displayed a variety of Debussy’s compositions. These pieces included a wide range of styles from quite a few periods of Debussy’s life including “Ariettes Oubliees” from 1888 to “Sonate pour violon et piano” from 1916-1917.

As a change of pace, the next event provided cake and a Cakewalk dance contest. This involved pairs of participants performing a prepared dance in the style of a Cakewalk, a dance that was originally danced by slaves and then adopted by the French.

The winners, sophomores Laetitia Lehman-Pearsall and Le Kong, won their own cake while all other participants received cupcakes. “It feels awesome to have won the cake walk after our hour of preparation,” said Lehman-Pearsall. Her dance partner, Kong agreed: “the whole carnival is so inspiring, I love hearing such a variety of Debussy’s music.”

Following the dancing contest, two professors lectured about other topics related to Debussy’s music. The first, given by Kautsky, addressed the history of the Cakewalk and the second, by Associate Professor of Music Anthony Padilla, discussed Humor in the music of Debussy. This included musical patterns within the pieces as well as parodies of other composers’ works, and even some five-finger exercises.

Following the talks, contortionist and freshman Meghan Clark performed a circus act set to Debussy’s “General Lavine-Eccentric.” Debussy drew a large amount of influence from circus acts and clowns and this aspect of his inspiration was mentioned many times during the carnival.

Later in the day there were two more presentations. One of them involved images juxtaposed with the music and the other included fairy tale readings accompanying more pieces by Debussy. A third program later in the evening was titled “The Virtuoso Debussy.”

Planning for the event began during the end of Spring Term of last year. In May, the piano department began planning the different components including the Gamelan, the art exhibit, various presentations, and the Cakewalk. Kausky and Padilla planned the event, and the Cakewalk and dancing were handled by fifth-year Allison Shinnick and freshman Gabriella Makuc.