With this in mind, Champlin has assembled a group of talented musicians who also play with passion. The group includes his wife, the band’s vocalist and guitarist Helen Avakian, violinist Sabina Torosjan, guitarist Vilian Ivantchev and percussionist Chris Connors ’12. The group is performing a faculty guest recital, Terry Champlin and Friends, on Saturday, February 9 from 8-10 p.m. in the Skinner Recital Hall.
A composer and guitarist, Champlin has written the majority of the music that will be performed, and with the current band members in mind. “This is music with friends, but it’s deadly serious,” he said. “That’s what it is, and that’s what it’s always been. I specifically wrote this music for the people who are playing it,” he added.
When asked what the band’s musical style is, Champlin asserted that he really does not know. Champlin blends elements of classical and folk music, and feels that blurring the division between the two is of utmost importance.
“All music that we value has folk influence, but the idea of ‘folk music’ seems patronizing to me. It’s implied as music by poor people, and therefore seen as less valuable than classical music. But separating folk and classical has negatively impacted American music,” he expounded. According to Champlin, in many other cultures the division is not as stark, and therefore the music can have more heart.
Keeping this philosophy in mind, Champlin has developed a unique style for his band that incorporates elements of both classical and folk, and breaks down the often strict barriers that many perceive between the two. Connors feels that Champlin’s music is innovative and different than what you may expect to hear in Skinner Hall.
“I think with a lot of the performances in Skinner Hall, you might know what you’re getting into before going,” said Connors, “whether it’s going be a jazz quartet, classical piano recital, or something else. But Terry challenges you a little more to think about what classical music means today , and he fuses a lot of those classical elements with folk songs, sort of in a different and interesting way,” Connors explained.
Connors, who graduated only this past spring, has already gone on to gain success in the music industry. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, and works with music production and sound design. Connors’ has a variety of musical skills, though he specializes in percussion and guitar. “I do a little bit of keyboard and vocals, and whatever else I’m called on to do,” he explained.
Connors is a member of Yes Noyes, a band comprised of Vassar alumnae, known as The Body Electric while still at the College. Connors and Champlin got to know each other while Champlin gave Connors guitar lessons. Champlin later had Connors play with his group to see how he fit, and was elated bythe results.
“We sort of auditioned him,” said Champlin. “We had him play with us, and he just fit with the group so naturally.”
Champlin clearly admires Connors greatly, and attributes much of his skill to his strong education in jazz. “Chris has a substantial jazz background. Instead of playing patterns, he listens to the other players and picks up on them,” he explained. “He plays very organically, always changing with the music and working to highlight the other musicians.”
Champlin has produced five albums. Eventual Spring, released in 2012, features this group, and much of Saturday’s performance will include works from it. In turn, the group will perform pieces by other composers, such as Schubert.
“I always play a lot of Schubert,” said Champlin. “I love Schubert. He is capable of writing incredibly simple music, which is actually much harder to do than write complex music,” said Champlin. “He’s very direct, very human.”
Though Champlin’s group is made up of his friends, each musician is an integral part of the band, not only because of the group’s tight-knit circle, but also because of musical talent. “Each of these people is an incredible musician,” said Champlin, “and we work very smoothly together. There are no weak links, and that is what makes it work.”
Avakian, a successful singer/songwriter on her own, is pivotal to the band’s stage presence. “Helen has quite a career under her own steam, and I knew I needed someone to front the band with presence,” said Champlin. Champlin also expressed his admiration of the other band members. “Sabina plays with a lot of heart, and she owns the lines that she plays. It’s just very personal playing. And Vilian is a very powerful guitarist,” he said.
Because of the group members’ diverse musical backgrounds, they are able to mix aspects of folk and classical while also bringing forth their own personalities. “If your music is not an extension of yourself, then it is of no worth,” said Champlin. “Any music that is worth anything comes out of an individual’s personality and who they are.”