Sheet music? Check.
Breakfast? Not quite yet. First, Leah Dunbar ’20 has practicing to do.
Each morning, Dunbar, a music major from Hillsborough, New Hampshire, rises early to squeeze in every minute of playing she can on Kenyon’s marimba before she heads to class. The marimba, a large wooden keyboard instrument with warm, rich tones, is Dunbar’s preferred percussion instrument, and in her two years so far at Kenyon, Dunbar has deployed it in a variety of settings — with Kenyon’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble, and recently with the Knox County Symphony.
Dunbar was featured earlier this month as one of four winners of the Knox County Symphony Young Musicians Competition. Winners of the annual contest, open to high school and college student musicians from the Knox County area, audition in the fall to earn the opportunity to perform as a soloist with the orchestra. Other winners this year include Jim Finley ’21 from Silver Spring, Maryland.
For her featured appearance, Dunbar played the third movement of “Sugaria,” by composer Eric Sammut — a piece with “a lot of variety and spice,” Dunbar said. Her performance with the orchestra was a high note for Dunbar, who as a high school student was drawn to Kenyon’s music scene for its welcoming environment.
“It’s definitely not exclusive, and everything is open,” she said. “It has been really nice to be able to be in an environment with people of all majors and to be able to collaborate.”
Finley, a violist interested in majoring in English or film, agreed. “If you’re looking for a school where you can take classes you’re interested in and keep your music up at the same time, Kenyon is a good place for that. It certainly allows for a lot of flexibility,” said Finley, who performed a movement from Ernest Bloch’s “Suite Hébraïque” with the orchestra.
Eleven extracurricular singing groups and more than a dozen instrumental ensembles are open to students at Kenyon. For those who want to take a more aggressive approach with broadcasting their musical talent, the Pealers, a longstanding student group, can be heard across campus each Friday afternoon as they ring the bells of the Church of the Holy Spirit.
Numerous concerts each semester by senior music majors as well as venerable artists from around the country ensure that even students who can’t tell a French horn from a flute can engage in Kenyon’s music scene. The Horn Gallery, a student-run arts and performance venue on campus, often hosts a variety of campus bands. Student musicians are encouraged to experiment with forming their own ensembles, and Dunbar recently embraced this challenge, forming a trio with flutist Clara Yetter ’18 and accordion player Oliver VandenBerg ’20.
“We’re calling it the Weird Instrument Ensemble,” she said.