A piece of the Caribbean came to campus Monday, Sept. 30.
Maegan Pollonais presented “Songs of the Islands: Caribbean Art Songs,” by Dominique Le Gendre, a song cycle highlighting Caribbean music traditions. This was only the third time this cycle has been performed outside of the Caribbean.
Before the music began, Pollonais presented a lecture that covered the history of the Caribbean islands and the way different cultures influenced the region’s musical traditions.
“I never realized the amount of pain that happened in the Caribbean,” said Hannah Gerig, a freshman who attended the recital. “A lot of those songs were so painful but with so much hope.”
The lecture started with the region’s history of slavery and the way African traditions combined with French and English music. When slavery was abolished, indentured servitude brought in Chinese and Indonesian cultures that further diversified the region.
To represent this history, the first half of the song cycle was traditional folk songs, while the second half was original music by Le Gendre that drew inspiration from the earlier music. A variety of cultures can be heard throughout, as each song comes from a different background.
“Ultimately, I believe that is what this song cycle is about,” Pollonais said during the lecture. “It is about the past influencing the future but also the beauty that was created out of something that started off so negatively. We can see this message of triumph over darkness and apply it to our daily lives.”
Pollonais also said she saw the recital as a way to remind people that there is more to classical music than just the traditional styles of France, Germany and England. Her goal is to break the stereotypical ideas of Caribbean music and raise awareness of the region’s cultural contributions.
Associate Professor of Music Conor Angell organized Pollonais’s visit to campus. He had worked with her in the past and knew she was a committed singer who cared about sharing the stories behind her performances.
“These songs allow us to encounter a culture’s artistic expression in a form that brings them into the classical vocal orbit,” Angell said. “This makes them a good fit for an academic recital setting.”