Chamber music a cultural experience


Carter Steger, Assistant Editor

Viterbo’s very foundations are rooted in music, and it is no surprise that the Conservatory is continuing Viterbo’s performing arts traditions. On Friday, Sept. 17, Dr. Mary Ellen Haupert hosted the first Out of Our Minds Chamber Music concert with distinguished special guest Magdalena Sas in the Starling Recital Hall on campus. The concert explored classical Indian songs from composers such as Claude Debussy, Reena Esmail and Shirish Korde.  

The Chamber Music concerts invite Viterbo students and community members to experience a variety of different artists, styles, and most importantly to learn and appreciate the talents of the performers. Most importantly, it aligns with Viterbo’s more recent initiative, “Seek first to understand.” Learning about other cultures in the classroom is one thing for students to do, but truly experiencing it is another. That is what the Chamber Music Series allows students to do at a much deeper level.  

Magdalena Sas is a talented cellist originally from Poland and has received the prestigious Fulbright scholarship and won several international competitions. Not only does she possess the credentials, Sas is an icon and inspiration for women seeking success in music. Sas spent some time in India studying and understanding Indian classical music. During the concert she performed several songs accompanied by Dr. Mary Ellen Haupert who played the piano for a number of the songs. Each piece carried a unique sound telling its own tale with each note. “Sonata for Cello and Piano” by Claude Debussy is described in the program by Meg Ryan as “a raw, heart-on-the-sleeve, dark humor.” The piece “Jhula Jhule” by Reena Esmail, which took inspiration from an Indian lullaby, contained a more eccentric sound that ebbed and flowed as the cello and piano balanced one another.  

The duet of Sas and Haupert clearly captured the soul of each piece they performed, not only honoring the culture but displaying the passion behind each piece through their playing. This concert was clearly more than just musicians performing songs that they like. It was a true invitation to experience music inspired from a culture different than that often encountered in La Crosse. Wis.  

After the intermission, student Rhiannon Baasch, who was accompanied by pianist Judy Stafslien, sang “Possession,” a song written by English suffragette Ethel Smyth. Baasch participated in Viterbo’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program exploring Smyth’s history and what she accomplished.  

Following the outstanding performances of Sas and Haupert was not a small task, but if Baasch had any nerves, they never showed. She took the stage with confidence and her voice filled the room. When the song concluded, Baasch treated the audience to a brief summary of the research she completed over the summer. Baasch highlighted Smyth’s struggle as a woman in the early 1900s fighting for gender equality, but also her trailblazing as an emerging female composer going against gender norms and criticism from her fellow male composers. Some called her work too feminine, while others doubted a woman could compose the pieces she wrote.  

Out of Our Minds Chamber Music at Viterbo is truly more than a concert series. It embodies the heart and soul of Viterbo’s foundation, empowering students and members of the community alike. The Chamber Music Series offers exquisite and intimate performances from Viterbo students, faculty members and performers. Most importantly, though, this concert served as a true invitation to seek out understanding first. The pieces performed Friday night are proof that our community is bigger than one small town, and serve as a reminder to honor the trailblazers like Smyth who paved the way so audiences big and small can enjoy performances from talented musicians.