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The NIU School of Music is home to some of the most unique instruments from around the world, and Associate Professor Greg Beyer has taken it upon himself to bring prominence to one of those instruments through contemporary music.
At first glance, the berimbau may resemble an archery bow, but the single-stringed percussion instrument has a long and storied history in Brazil, with roots extending to southern Africa. Dating back to the early 19th century, the berimbau has been integral in setting the pace for a game known as capoeira—or Brazilian martial arts. But Beyer says the instrument has a tremendous amount of artistic promise.
Beyer, who leads an ensemble of NIU students known as Projecto Arcomusical, said that their performances are unlike anything currently played.
“What we’re doing with the berimbau is unique,” he said. “There are a few other berimbau ensembles—in Brazil and Portugal—but their music by and large hews close to capoeira traditional music.”
Recently, Beyer was awarded Fulbright to teach in Brazil beginning August 2015. There, he will spend four months at the Federal University of Minas Gerais as a visiting scholar offering a symposium on contemporary performance practice of the berimbau.
In July, prior to his residency, Beyer will be joined by Projecto Arcomusical. The ensemble consists of School of Music students Alexis Lamb, Christopher Mrofcza, Abby Rehard, Kyle Flens and NIU alum Daniel Eastwood. The group will also perform at the Ciclo de Música Contemporânea, a festival of contemporary music at Instituto Inhotim. Additionally, they will perform at an International Foundation of Capoeira Angola conference in Bahia, Brazil.
“We’ll be traveling to Brazil to play in front of a Brazilian audience, so it behooves us to know how to play the instrument well,” Beyer joked. But before the group leaves the country, the ensemble will record an album of original music by Beyer and Lamb entitled MeiaMeia. The ensemble will record in May with a scheduled November release on the American Composer’s Forum label, Innova Recordings.
Lamb, a music education and a percussion performance major from Denver, Colo., said that she’s fortunate to have learned the berimbau while studying at NIU.
“Being able to have these opportunities to perform and go on tour, and even record an album this summer, is very mind-blowing to me and I’m very excited about it,” Lamb said.
“What we are doing is taking cues from the tradition, but we are expanding that tradition by looking at the instrument through the lens of contemporary classical music. The result is something truly new and different for the world to enjoy.”