MONMOUTH, ILLINOIS (April 20, 2023) — The world premiere of a piece commissioned by Monmouth College music professor Justin Swearinger will be featured during the Monmouth Wind Ensemble's final concert of the academic year.
Maxwell Lafontant's Paideia Fanfare will have its "soft premiere" three days prior to the Wind Ensemble's concert, when the group performs the six-minute work as part of the College's Scholars Day activities on April 25. Swearinger estimates that the work will be performed at 3PM, just inside the south entrance of the Huff Athletic Center.
Swearinger will then conduct the work again during the Wind Ensemble concert at 7:30PM, April 28, in the Kasch Performance Hall of Dahl Chapel and Auditorium. It is free and open to the public.
Celebrating the liberal arts
A graduate of three different universities, Swearinger is pleased to be working at a residential liberal arts college, which is the type of school that his best friend, Lafontant, attended. Lafontant is a graduate of Luther College, which, like Monmouth, is a member of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.
"Max and I were discussing the importance of a liberal arts education, especially now more than ever," said Swearinger of the idea behind the commissioned work. "From that conversation was born the idea of Paideia Fanfare."
Paideia Fanfare is a single movement piece for wind ensemble that celebrates the Midwest liberal-arts college experience in the vein of Brahms' Academic Festival Overture. It explores traditional academic formalities through a contemporary lens, giving audiences a fresh perspective on a classic form.
The concept of the ancient Greek word paideia is a training of the physical and mental faculties in such a way as to produce a broad, enlightened, and mature outlook, harmoniously combined with maximum cultural development.
After twenty years of collaboration, Lafontant and Swearinger — who met as fourth-grade students in Marion, Iowa — have a creative understanding and working relationship, which has a proven record of success. Between Lafontant's compositional experience and Swearinger's wind-ensemble expertise, Paideia Fanfare will put forth the best the genre has to offer.
The melodic material figures to be memorable, as it will draw from the Lutheran hymn singing tradition of Lafontant's upbringing that remains an important aspect of many Midwest liberal-arts colleges. The rhythmic material is active and ever-changing, as is the composer's style, giving Monmouth's players — and those in the future — a challenging and rewarding experience. The harmonic material pulls from Lafontant's love of the 20th-century Franco-Russian aesthetic of non-functional tonality, giving audiences familiar sounds in an unpredictable way.
"My mom was visiting me, and she talked about how cool and meaningful it was for her that Max and I are doing this," said Swearinger. "She's seen our whole journey from fourth graders to putting something like this together."
Other highlights of the April 28 Wind Ensemble concert will include "honoring and remembering our graduating musicians," said Swearinger. That will include a performance of a piece titled Reminiscence. Senior Kaitlyn McCullough of Springfield, Illinois, will be the "amplified soprano" on a piece based on a poem by e e cummings, and the ensemble will perform both movements of composer David Maslanka's "challenging" short symphony, Give Us This Day.
More on Lafontant
At Luther, Lafontant studied under Brooke Joyce. He received his Master's degree at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas under Virko Baley.
Now based in Minneapolis, Lafontant's music has been played both nationally and internationally, including premieres by the Nevada Chamber Orchestra, the Mivos Quartet, Aliro Voices, and the New Mexico Contemporary Ensemble.
His music has been described as "pithy whimsical" and "capricious to angsty and always with charming melodic material."
Lafontant will be on campus throughout the week of the premieres, and he'll interact with Monmouth music students on several occasions. His composition will be performed this fall at Luther during its homecoming celebration and at least two other members of the ACM-St Olaf and Ripon — plan to stage performances of the piece during the upcoming academic year.