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School of Music

BYU’s School of Music and Department of Dance Perform a Jazz Classic

Students From Mountain Strings and International Folk Dance Ensemble Share How The Experience Developed Their Understanding of Jazz Music

It is a daunting task to reinterpret any classic work of art. However, in a seamless fusion of rhythm and movement, the Department of Dance and School of Music joined together in perfect harmony to create a music video for the jazz song, “After You’ve Gone.” The collaborative video features Mountain Strings and International Folk Dance Ensemble. These groups perform and travel together, showcasing their talents on both local and international stages.

BYU’s Mountain Strings and Members of International Folk Dance Ensemble Perform
BYU’s Mountain Strings and Members of International Folk Dance Ensemble Perform. Photo Courtesy of BYU Mountain Strings on Youtube.

Students from Mountain Strings and International Folk Ensemble shared their experiences working on the video.

Emily Wall
Piano, Mountain Strings

“After You’ve Gone" was composed in 1918 by two African American musicians — Turner Layton and Henry Creamer. Over the course of the 20th century, the song was recorded by numerous greats in the jazz world, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Wynton Marsalis, each of whom, in the true style of jazz, adapted the classic tune to their own style. Considering the rich history this song carries, it was an exciting challenge to determine what Mountain Strings could contribute and how we could adapt the tune in a unique way while still honoring its roots.

Though I have played piano for many years, I realized I lacked experience playing jazz piano. I took a class — Introduction to Jazz — a few semesters ago, which introduced me to some basic jazz vernacular. This experience pushed me to gain a deeper, more personal appreciation for the complexity and beauty of jazz music. Each time you learn a new style of music, it’s similar to encountering a unique dialect — or even an entirely foreign language. In order to create a piano part for “After You’ve Gone” that complemented both the vocalist and the other instrumentalists, I had to become familiar with a new rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary while only using a chord chart and a recording. I am so grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with such fantastic musicians and dancers and to have had the opportunity to represent just a narrow snippet of the rich jazz music tradition.

Spencer Waddell
Choreographer and Dancer, International Folk Dance Ensemble

Ever since I became a part of BYU's International Folk Dance Ensemble (IDEF), there have been opportunities that shifted my perspective on the different cultures that surround us. "After You've Gone" is one of those opportunities. Mark Geslison approached Jade Madison and I about choreographing and filming a possible music video for Mountain String's rendition of "After You've Gone.” The video was followed by a live performance of “After You’ve Gone” as part of BYU’s Belonging Week. The filming and performing processes were unique experiences where Jade and I brought the story to life through the combination of dance and music. However, where I felt a real perspective change was in the choreographic process.

Mark Geslison proposed the idea of fusing manouche jazz with contemporary dance in our choreography. This was a challenging prospect as it is difficult to bring together two genres of dance — you do not want one to overtake the other. However, during the creative process, we realized we could rely on the story of the song to drive the relationship between the styles of dance and the emotions that were being evoked. I learned that we do not have to lose the uniqueness of a culture to create harmony with another. Rather, when we keep the integrity of both sides while coming together, we start to see unity within diversity.