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Jess Chen ‘20: Mapping Arcidosso’s Spaces Through Sound

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2020

My original plan for the Benenson Award was to participate in the Clazz music festival in Arcidosso, Italy. Because of the pandemic, I shifted my plans to creating a portfolio of recordings across multiple styles.

About the Project

I planned to attend the Clazz Music Festival in Arcidosso, Italy, which runs from late July to August. As the title suggests, Clazz provides training in classical and jazz idioms, as well as non-Western traditions and experimental practice. Each day consists of a combination of technique and theory classes, chamber music rehearsals, and informal, open-air performances.

Clazz is an opportunity to work with some of the most renowned musicians in the field of classical, jazz, and new music. For example, I would have the opportunity to work with Nancy Stagnitta, a virtuoso classical and jazz crossover flutist who has performed with orchestras in the United States and China, and is an artistic ambassador to sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, I would learn from the other musicians in my cohort, many of whom are at the top of their field. In the past, students at top conservatories, as well as professionals performing in regional orchestras, have attended Clazz.

Since I was unable to carry out this plan, I opted to stay in Durham and work with my flute professor, Carla Copeland-Burns. While I am not a music major, I hope to continue flute performance in some form throughout my life, whether through orchestras, chamber music ensembles, or other groups. As such, we decided that creating a portfolio of recordings for future music auditions or festivals would be a great way to sharpen my ability to play music from different time periods (i.e. Baroque, new music, Classical) and prepare for my musical journey after Duke.

Reflecting on Art Amidst Covid-19

With all of my friends scattered across the country, unstable employment prospects, and a postponed graduation, playing flute was a way for me to set aside my anxieties and focus with full attention on making music.

I credit my professor, Carla Copeland-Burns, with keeping me engaged in the material and supporting me every step of the way. We were even able to record in a concert hall near Duke—with COVID-19 precautions, of course (double the usual distance from the pianist, wiping off every surface, etc.). I also owe a shout-out to Jules Odendahl-James, for her supportive check-ins about the development of our Benenson projects—I always felt like I had someone to turn to.

The summer was full of challenges, but I couldn’t be more grateful for the financial security afforded by the Benenson that enabled me to pursue my musical interests every day.