UTSC musicians welcome spring with jazz thunder

To many, April brings thoughts of warmer and sunnier days.

But for some music-loving University of Toronto Scarborough students, their minds were on the sounds of sweet thunder.

Sweet melodies and iconic jazz could be heard at UTSC’s Leigha Lee Browne Theatre on the weekend. The UTSC Jazz Orchestra and Vocomotive, an a capella group, showcased their talents at the annual year-end concert, Spring Awakening I.

UTSC jazz group Vocomotive sings its rendition of Bruno Mars’ hit Just the Way You Are at the Spring Awakening performance March 31. The a capella group was inspired to cover the song when fellow students requested the group perform it for Valentine’s Day-themed singing tell-o-grams.

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The first of a three-part concert was held March 31 and was followed by performances all weekend. The orchestra paid tribute to jazz great Duke Ellington and his Such Sweet Thunder Suite, while Vocomotive performed renditions of popular music both past and present.

Mark Laver, the orchestra’s musical director, worked with his students all semester to prepare for the Ellington tribute. The kickoff event didn’t come easy, he said.

“This is a culmination of our year,” Laver said. “We rehearse a couple of hours a week … plus all of the sectionals that the students do themselves, plus all of the practicing that they do at home.

“It’s a lot of work to pull this together.”

Paying tribute to Ellington’s music allowed students to have fun while learning about one of the genre’s greatest composers, whose work has directly shaped today’s jazz music, he said.

First-year university student Luke O’Brien has played the trombone with the Jazz Orchestra for two semesters. Playing with the band has given him the chance to hone his musical talent while allowing him to perfect multiple instruments, he said.

“I joined because I was looking for a bit more of a challenge in music,” O’Brien said. “I play the flute but I also double on the trombone parts.”

Unlike much of the orchestra, which consists of students specializing in music, Vocomotive features a group of music enthusiasts from different areas of study who simply love to sing.

Jennifer Gordon, an environmental science major, has been singing with the group since it started four years ago. Vocomotive, she said, is a “serious hobby” for her.

Like Gordon, psychology major Deston Johnson doesn’t have any vocal training. He said he joined the group two years ago after a friend discovered his singing ability.

“I liked the people because they were all full of energy and it was really fun,” Johnson said.

Over the past year, Vocomotive has performed in a variety of shows, including a Christmas concert and a small-ensemble competition, where they won the People’s Choice Award. The group even performed singing tell-o-grams for Valentine’s Day.

Laver said he hopes the jazz-themed event will do more than just showcase the students’ talent and passion for music. He hopes the weekend’s event will give back to the community he grew up in, he said.

“One of the things we’re trying to do here is to make this area and the UTSC campus a hub for arts and culture in Scarborough,” Laver said. “That’s one thing we hope will develop through events like this and will grow over the next few years that we continue to do this.”