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Jazz initiative orchestrates music competition

The 360° Jazz Initiative Ensemble is jazzing up the Kenan Music Building.

Tonight, it will premiere six pieces of music in a free concert featuring the skills of UNC Music Department faculty and a composition from sophomore Trevor McPherson.

The concert is part of the ensemble’s annual Score Submission competition. It invites composers to submit their work — which,  if selected, will be performed by the esteemed faculty musicians. 

This year, the ensemble received 33 submissions, and McPherson’s “Contra Mundum” made the cut.

“It’s going to be extremely cool for me because I’ll hear what I hear in my head,” McPherson said.

Written this summer while dealing with family struggles, “Contra Mundum” — which means “against the world” in Latin — comes from an emotional place for McPherson.

Although music has been an important part of his life for years, McPherson began training as a jazz pianist upon coming to UNC with music professor and ensemble member Stephen Anderson. 

Anderson, a strong force behind the founding of the Initiative, said the mission of the group was musical progression and innovation.

“We’re at an interesting point in the history of jazz where there’s already now 100 years of jazz that has taken place,” he said. “And we want to draw on that history of the past, but not just repeat it.”

The Initiative hopes to expose the greater community to new and cutting edge works of music like another winning piece called “Poor Elephant” by New England Conservatory student Chris McCarthy, from Seattle.

The piece was inspired by a workshop McCarthy attended this past summer, as well as the music of the Pygmées Aka, a Central African tribe whose music relies mostly on percussion and voice.

“The particular chant that Poor Elephant is based on is the chant and dance that the tribe does after they’ve killed an elephant, so I felt bad for the elephant, and that became the title,” he said.

The concert tonight will also feature work from composers across the country and one piece from Venezuela.

But the concert tonight isn’t the only way the ensemble highlights new compositional work — the group also produced a CD in June called “Distracted Society,” which hit No. 67 on the national radio charts.

But Anderson said the music that will be performed is worth listening to because it’s not what’s normally heard on the radio.

“People should come check this out because it’s art music,” he said. “It’s a lot more harmonically rich than your top 40 hits.”

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