slice of life

Attending a birthday party for someone who died 300 years ago isn’t as weird as it should be

Xinran Xiao | Contributing Photographer

Students flocked to Setnor Auditorium to watch their peers, including organ graduate student Julia Tucker, perform some of J.S. Bach's most famous works.

The Setnor School of Music celebrated composer Johann Sebastian Bach’s 332 birthday Tuesday night in Crouse College by showcasing student performances of his extensive repertoire. But in addition to the music, Bach’s Birthday Concert was an actual birthday party, complete with a cake and party favors.

While this type of concert may seem out of the ordinary, it’s “not such a novel idea, actually,” said Anne Laver, university organist and professor as well as the main faculty coordinator for the event.

Laver performed at a similar Bach’s birthday concert in Boston last year, and they actually happen nationwide. This year marks the first one at Syracuse University. Laver thought it would be a fun and festive event to bring to campus.

While Laver first introduced the idea, students stepped up as the event’s main coordinators. One of those students is Julia Tucker, a second-year organ graduate student. Laver encouraged Tucker and others to reach out to people throughout the music department.

“It actually had a really positive response,” Tucker said. “I didn’t expect that much interest.”

Interest in performing was so enthusiastic that they had to turn some people down.

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Xinran Xiao | Contributing Photographer

In addition to recruiting performers, the students took the lead on adding the fun and quirky twists. Tucker bought a birthday cake Monday night, and the group is also making party favors. One student even came up with Bach trivia to entertain the audience between songs.

Tucker and Laver were surely excited to coordinate a welcoming and casual atmosphere, but they were also motivated because this concert afforded students in performance-based majors the opportunity to showcase their work – opportunities which can sometimes be scarce.

Performance major students practice 20-30 hours per week and three to four hours per day, but outside of junior and senior recitals, they don’t have many concerts. Laver is most excited to see students get excited about showcasing their hard work.

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Xinran Xiao | Contributing Photographer

As far as providing a performance opportunity goes, it also helps that Bach wrote music for every instrument.

“Everyone plays Bach,” Tucker said.

That means this concert can be cross-disciplinary when most Setnor concerts usually aren’t. Tucker explained that most usually center around just one instrument – piano or organ, for example. This is one of the few concerts that can incorporate multiple instruments into one night.

Twelve students, both undergraduate and graduate, performed on a variety of instruments, including organ, flute, harpsichord, bass, and voice. Four different instruments plus vocals can be highlighted specifically because of Bach’s universal work.

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Xinran Xiao | Contributing Photographer

Bach is the only composer that people really put on a whole birthday party for.

“We don’t do this for Mozart,” Tucker joked.

Mainly that’s because Bach wrote over 1,000 pieces, many of which are multi-movement. There’s plenty of material to choose from. But besides that, Laver muses that the attraction to Bach is more than just practicality.

“He’s such a special composer,” she said. “It’s easy to love his work.”

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