By Jamie Rogers
Three student percussionists from George Mason University jammed with and learned alongside their Costa Rican counterparts during a one-week stay in the Central American country this spring.
The percussionists, led by John Kilkenny, director of percussion studies at George Mason, traveled to San Jose in April to work with students studying at the San Jose Music Conservatory.
Mason senior Max Fahland, junior Oliver Delotto and music student Kanako Chikami collaborated with Kilkenny in a series of master classes, and performed a variety of new and classic percussion chamber music with the students at the conservatory. They also observed classes and orchestra rehearsals, and spent time touring the country.
Beyond the formal interaction, the Mason trio found plenty of time to commune with Costa Rican student musicians during several practices and jam sessions, which happened mostly between rehearsals and classes.
Delotto, who is majoring in music education, says he was able to demonstrate some snare drum techniques used by American drum lines.
The Costa Rican students weren’t very familiar with American corps style marching bands, Kilkenny says. And the Mason students were amazed at the musical versatility of their Costa Rican counterparts.
“They have students that stand up and play classical snare drum solos or orchestral excerpts that we do, but then they sit down behind the congas or the timbales and play this incredible stuff,” Kilkenny says.
Students, community members and professional musicians all practice their craft under one roof at the conservatory. The same thing is happening at Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. Mason students are learning artistic skills in the college, while students and professionals take to the stage at Mason’s Center for the Arts, a performance venue that’s been integral to the Fairfax community for 25 years.
“It opened my eyes quite a bit to see what the rest of the world is doing,” Delotto says. “I thought it was really remarkable to see the cultural discourse of how the students view music.”
The San Jose conservatory students use equipment that is somewhat older than what American students might use, but there was no question about their enduring interest in music, Kilkenny says.
“There is a deep and longstanding cultural appreciation for the arts, and the value of an arts focused education. This is something that more American programs can learn from,” he says. As a result, he adds, their approach to the process was much more pure.
The entire Costa Rican experience gave the Mason students a global perspective on what’s happening in music, Kilkenny says. They returned with a slew of music from Costa Rica, some of which will be played in the fall by Mason ensembles.
The students were able to take the trip thanks in part to a grant from Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research.