Quest presentation to tap into Cuban percussion

OSWEGO — A SUNY Oswego student-faculty duo will demonstrate and discuss Cuban percussion, following a trip to the island nation earlier this month, as part of April 18 Quest activities.

Music faculty member Eric Schmitz and Nathan Felty, a double major in music and Spanish, spent much of their intensive week abroad studying with master percussionist Emilio del Monte, who is also a professor at the Instituto Superior de Arte.

The experience involves “dissecting specific characteristics of the various percussion instruments, and more specifically, learning how they are properly played within the context of the music itself,” Felty wrote in successfully applying for a campus Student/Faculty Collaborative Challenge Grant to help underwrite the trip.

Instruments such as the bongos, claves, conga, guiro and timbales “have specific performance techniques that are often misinterpreted in some way by the majority of musicians playing them in the United States,” Felty said. “There is no better way to understand how the percussion instruments in the music work in conjunction with each other than to watch it be performed by native musicians.”

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Daily lessons with the “absolutely amazing” del Monte were “two to three hours and very intense,” Schmitz said. “Lots to study and certainly more than enough for a Quest presentation.”

Schmitz and Felty also took in musical performances, which are plentiful and varied in Cuba. Felty’s Spanish coursework at Oswego helped facilitate their interactions and conversations with native musicians.

“Aside from the excellent bands present in just about any restaurant or cafe, we went to the most prestigious jazz club in Havana, the Jazz Cafe, where we saw a great group,” Schmitz reported during the visit. “We also usually stop to check out the many groups playing out on the street throughout the city. There is a very happening live music scene here and it’s been great to take advantage of our time here listening to so much of it.”

At Quest, Oswego’s annual celebration of scholarly and creative activities, they will demonstrate the Cuban percussion concepts and rhythms studied on the trip.

Felty and Schmitz also expect to work what they have learned into any upcoming Latin Jazz Ensemble performances.

“We look forward to sharing what we’re learning with the folks at Oswego,” Schmitz said.

The research could aid the future plans of Felty, who aspires to become a session musician for recording artists after finishing graduate work in commercial music performance. The experience in Cuba “would set me apart from the majority of other musicians learning that music,” Felty said. “I couldn’t think of a more constructive way to finish my undergraduate career and prepare for graduate study.”

The hundreds of Quest sessions are free and open to the public. For more information, visit