A harp and a trombone may seem like an unusual combination, but two Southwestern faculty members are proving that the two can make beautiful music together.
Eileen Meyer Russell, an associate professor of music who plays the euphonium and trombone, and Delaine Fedson, a part-time faculty member who teaches the harp, have teamed up to both perform and record music, as well as expand the repertoire for harp and low brass.
Russell said the partnership came about after she heard the principal trombonist in the Philadelphia Orchestra, Nitzan Haroz, perform a recital with his mother – who happens to be a harpist – at the 2004 International Trombone Festival in Ithaca, New York. Inspired by the sound, she asked Fedson if she would perform a piece with her at her faculty recital in the fall of 2007. Fedson took the piano part for a composition titled Salve Maria by Saverio Mercadante and arranged it for harp. Russell had previously arranged the vocal part of the composition for trombone.
Encouraged by the positive response they had to that performance, and by the fact that they enjoyed performing together, the two decided to continue the collaboration. Russell believes they are one of only three teams of harp and low brass collaborators in the world.
Since the 2007 recital, Fedson and Russell have arranged three other pieces for harp and trombone, and they are in the process of formatting them for submission to publishing houses. They also are seeking grant funding to commission additional compositions they can play.
Their goal now is to land invitations to perform at national venues such as established chamber music series. To land such performances, they need to have professional-quality promotional materials.
“People who run these series get 20-30 packages of promotional materials a day, so our materials really have to stand out,” Russell said.
Russell is spending a sabbatical that was split between last spring and this fall developing a set of promotional materials that they hope will earn them invitations to perform at new venues. The two met every Monday for an entire year to rehearse and plan the CD that is part of the package.
Russell and Fedson call their duo and their CD “Unique Conversations,” both because it is unusual for low brass and harp to perform together and also because they both hold music degrees from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). Russell hopes to eventually release a commercial CD that will include some of the songs she has performed with Fedson, as well as songs she has performed with other Southwestern colleagues.
Russell said that even though she has a full schedule of teaching and performing, it is important to take on new projects such as this.
“Someone like me who tries to maintain a professional performing career in addition to teaching full time must have goals,” she said. “Our goal of getting invitations to perform at established chamber series is something that keeps me practicing even on days when I am exhausted.”
Fedson, who is president of the American Harp Society for 2011-2012, said she is looking forward to a long and prolific collaboration with Russell. “Harp is often a solo chair in large ensembles like symphonies and opera orchestras, so having chamber music collaborators is refreshing,” she said. “I have long enjoyed collaborating with unexpected combinations of instruments, and am deeply committed to expanding the chamber music performing opportunities for the harp.”
Fedson and Russell said they also hope to expose people to instruments they might not otherwise be exposed to. “An established chamber music series will have patrons who might never hear a trombone recital, let alone the unusual combination of harp and trombone,” Russell said.
Russell will perform with Fedson, as well as several other Southwestern colleagues, in a faculty recital that will be held on Thursday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. in the Alma Thomas Theater.
She and Fedson have been invited to perform in Jamaica in June 2012. For this performance they will be doing arrangements of some Texas-themed songs such as “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You” and “All My Exes Live in Texas” that have been arranged for them by Austin composer Gary Slechta.