Music school features fiddlers and original tunes

Photo Courtesy of Steve Groves MediaWorks | Rachel Whitcomb is a professor, singer, songwriter and educator. She strives to make music for listeners to relate to.
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Duquesne marked its first weekend back with a concert featuring original music from associate dean and professor of music education at Duquesne, Rachel Whitcomb. The performance on Saturday, dubbed “The Flame Within You,” sought to provide both students and local residents with music intended to make them feel.
Whitcomb takes a country genre and forms her lyrics based on sharing personal experiences relatable to many different walks of life throughout the concert.
The “full band” consisted of guitars, a fiddle, keyboards and vocals. Each performer had a connection to Duquesne, whether being an alum or having a professional connection to Whitcomb.
One of the performers, Jacob Zang, played guitar during the event and is an alumnus of Duquesne.
According to Duquesne’s website, Zang can be seen on stage and in the studio playing in genres including funk, rock, blues, country, worship, acoustic, jazz and rhythm and blues.
“Something that is unique about this performance is that it will be with a full band. In a true sense, it is a showcase that allows the music to resonate fully,” Zang said.
“We have been practicing for this night for the last three weeks and we are excited to finally present our work.”
Other performers included well-known Nashville fiddle player Ryan Joseph, who currently tours with country music legend Alan Jackson while playing the mandolin and fiddle and singing harmony vocals. According to Duquesne’s website, he has also recorded or toured with artists such as Billy Ray Cyrus, Jimmy Buffet, Carrie Underwood, Marty Stuart and Zac Brown.
The concert featured original covers like “Can’t Say Goodbye,” “Promise” and “Diamonds are Forever.” Each song was a blend of country and contemporary rock. Over 10 songs were played, and each featured a different blend of instruments and vocals. The song “Diamonds are Forever” was especially popular as it expressed the rhetoric of love through the light of a high school baseball player.
“I liked ‘Diamonds are Forever’ the most because it was written by both Dr. Whitcomb and one of my fellow Classmates, Reece McCracken. This collaboration showed the unique relationship students get to make at Duquesne,” said Matthew Guadagnino, one of the students attending the show.
“It is also always really cool to see our professors performing their own music, and it reminds me of the talent that our faculty possesses,” he said.
Collaboration was key as Duquesne students and alum performed together as well. This allowed students the opportunity to showcase their talent in front of an audience.
Another performer and associate professor of musicianship, Joseph Sheehan, said the concert shows how their students can thrive after college.
“I think that having students perform in this endeavor speaks to the strength of the music school and shows how our musicians have been thriving with their futures,” he said. “Student success is multigenerational and seeing our students perform allows me to believe in the future of our graduates.”
Sheehan is a composer, educator and pianist in three music genres: classical, jazz, and traditional West African music. He has had 10 years of university studies in classical composition as well.
Zang said the original songs were great to have an opportunity to play.
“Each song is unique to Rachel, and when we perform it, it is really important to get each piece authentic,” Zang said. “For example, the song Diamonds are Forever is one song that Rachel wrote about her brother who played minor league baseball. It is challenging sometimes to express emotion through music, but that is the job of a musician.”
Other performers included 2019 alumni Dylan Bradley on guitar and singing vocals, 2018 alumni Maria Castellon on bass, Braden Ball on drums and Alex Barcic on steel guitar and dobro.
With more than 100 people in attendance and a standing ovation at the end, the authenticity of the performance resonated throughout the room.
“Personally, I am excited. There is something inherent about music that allows people to connect socially and emotionally, and I enjoy sharing that with others,” Whitcomb said.
“The songs that I have each highlight something. Perhaps one of the best examples is one I wrote about loneliness. If I can express a song that shows other people that loneliness is a shared experience, then I believe they will feel less alone. Ultimately, music is our way of being more connected as a society.”
For those who missed the performance, the concert was recorded on YouTube, which is the only way to listen to the songs online.
The performance is tentatively scheduled to occur again next year around the same time in January.
“This is the second year of the show with Dr. Whitcomb, and I am eager to attend another,” Guadagnino said.