Minutes into the first Music on a Friday Afternoon (MOFA) event of the semester, the audience sat in rapt attention as six Occidental students took their turns onstage. Harmonious melodies filled the air as these six solo artists — three vocalists, one pianist, one cellist and one violinist — each performed a selection of their choosing for the small audience Oct. 23.
The event, which began at 4:30 p.m. in the intimate, dark-wood-paneled Helen and Remsen Bird Music Studio, showcased first years Eliana Sternin and Shahar Amitay and sophomores Lani Cupo, Maya Mei, Rachael Park and Daniel Capparella.
This was the first in a series of five Friday concerts that will continue throughout the fall semester. Each MOFA event will feature a different collection of students who may or may not be directly affiliated with the music department. According to current Music Department Chair David Kasunic, any student practicing some kind of musical performance is welcome to perform.
Director of Instrumental Activities Dean Anderson was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, as he had not been sure what the attendance rate for a Friday afternoon event would be like.
“It was very nice to see [Bird Studio] three-quarters full,” Anderson said. “I thought [the event] was very successful.
Professor Irene Girton created MOFA in 2001 when she began serving as Music Department Chair, with the intent to provide students with a regular opportunity to perform in an informal setting. In addition to allowing students to gain valuable onstage experience, it fosters a greater sense of community among the musically inclined, according to Girton. Kasunic also feels that it highlights the diverse interests and talents of Occidental students.
While half of the music on the program for the first MOFA falls loosely under the category of classical music, performers treated audience members to a sampling of multiple other genres. Cupo performed one such non-classical piece, while Mei sang another — “Lullaby of Birdland,” a jazz number. Kasunic considers this widespread representation of styles beneficial.
“Because it’s so eclectic as a program, [the audience is] almost always going to be exposed to music that they wouldn’t have otherwise considered listening to,” Kasunic said.
Although music majors and students receiving music scholarships such as the Swan Music Award are expected to perform in at least one MOFA per semester, the majority of students who perform are not music majors or minors, according to Kasunic. For example, Cupo, who sang “I Wonder What Became of Me” — a piece from the musical “St. Louis Woman” — is a theater and cognitive science double major. Cupo takes weekly voice lessons through the music department and has participated in College Chorus in the past, but is not otherwise involved in Occidental’s music program.
In Girton’s opinion, the participation of students such as Cupo demonstrates that the value of performance surpasses merely meeting requirements.
“We see MOFA as one of the core elements of our mission: to share our students’ work within and beyond Oxy’s boundaries,” Girton said via email.
Anderson feels that regular performance opportunities are beneficial for students because their experience performing for an audience can never be completely replicated in practice sessions. And although Occidental’s musical ensembles have multiple opportunities to perform, events showcasing solo student musicians are few and far between. According to Kasunic, MOFA exists in part to combat this.
Mei agrees that opportunities to perform are important for musicians. To her, the prospect of a performance is the end goal toward which she works.
“I think when you’re practicing music there has to be a purpose or a place for you to show what you’ve got,” Mei said. “MOFA offers a stage for you to show everybody what you’re good at.”
Although Occidental students and staff comprised the majority of the audience, a few attendees were present from the greater Eagle Rock community. Kasunic noted that almost all of the concerts and events that the music department puts on are free and open to the public in an attempt to draw a wider audience.
“We want to have increasingly more members of our surrounding community view this as a destination for a variety of music-making,” Kasunic said.
Jackie Mercado, a teacher at Eagle Rock High School, is one such community member in attendance.
“I really enjoy classical music and I thought it would be interesting to come and experience it,” Mercado said. “I was very happy to find out that this will be happening every Friday.”
As a result of the intimate and informal nature of MOFA, Kasunic feels that students are able to perform in a safe, supportive space that fosters a spirit of inclusiveness and acceptance. For him, music is educational in how it exposes one to different religious and cultural traditions, but is first and foremost something to be enjoyed.
“I consider music to be one of the fundamental joys of life,” Kasunic said.