In the restaurant industry, fusion has been an inescapable buzzword. Television-friendly poster boy chefs like Ming Tsai, riding the East meets West tsunami to success, have demonstrated that breaking down the barriers between different culinary genres has become a surefire way to draw attention. One could literally throw some soy sauce over a healthy piece of filet mignon and end up with a chic dish worthy of any trendy Soho restaurant.
William Glasspiegel ’05, Ross Tiefenthaler ’05 and Richard Ross ’05 want to do the same for the music scene at Yale. They’re the type of people that wonder what you would end up with if you stuck 50 Cent and Yo-Yo Ma in one recording studio, asking the rapper to freestyle as the classical musician improvised on his cello. Some might dismiss the possibility as just asking for a jumbled cacophony of incompatible genres. To these three juniors, however, such a collaboration would be music at its finest.
The trio, with financial support from the Morse College Sudler Fund, set out to create a project called “The Yale Sessions.” They envisioned a 10-track album created by exclusive ensembles that had never played together before, drawing musicians from as diverse genres and corners of the Yale music community as they could find.
“The Yale Sessions is born from the need to unite musicians across traditional boundaries,” the three wrote in an e-mail soliciting participation from musicians throughout the Yale community. “From a cappella — to folk, the music scenes at Yale often feel segregated and boxed-in.”
Glasspiegel said inspiration for the project came naturally considering how central music was to their lives.
“We’re all friends, and our friendship has been very music-based, and we’re constantly trying to surround ourselves with music,” Glasspiegel said. “We’ve come across so many talented people at Yale that don’t necessarily know about each other. We wanted to serve as the connectors, the organizers.”
Tiefenthaler said the prospect of doing “Sessions” became all the more real with recent changes in the Yale music community.
“This year they finally started having live bands at parties on a pretty regular basis,” he said. “[We saw] the vast array of musical talent that comes together randomly. And it made us realize that there is so much else out there and wonder what they could do together.”
Glasspiegel and Tiefenthaler explained that this year, they kept things on a smaller scale because they are “just testing the waters.” They hope to distribute the “Sessions” CD at low cost at their upcoming release party in the Morse Dining Hall on Thursday, April 29, and use that money to fund an expanded continuation of the project next year. Yet in spite of the practical necessity of limiting the scope of the project this time around, the three managed to achieve a considerable range of diversity on this year’s tracks.
“[So far] we have a folk track, two hip-hop tracks, a funk track, a track with Hindustani vocals and a blues track. I think there’ll also be something with — reggae,” Glasspiegel said. “There’ll be about eight new ensembles.”
Musicians participating in “The Yale Sessions” expressed excitement about being given the opportunity to work with such an eclectic array of musicians. According to Matthew Traldi ’06, who has been consulting Glasspiegel, Tiefenthaler and Ross on the recording process at the Digital Center for Media Arts (DCMA), the three have left the creative process largely open-ended for the musicians recording the tracks.
“I think that in most cases, Will, Ross and Richie would help, approve of some suggestions and say that others weren’t so practical,” Traldi said. “But that was really their only active role — they wouldn’t force [their ideas] on the project.”
Lauren Curtis ’05, a member of the a cappella group the New Blue who provides the vocals to a cover of a B.B. King blues song, agreed. She said that she and her ensemble, comprised of one graduate student guitarist and a guitarist, bassist and drummer from the band Milo, enjoyed a considerable amount of creative freedom and ran with it.
“We even wrote a verse about Whalley Avenue which is really funny,” she said.
Curtis said it would have been boring if they had just redone the classic note-for-note.
“It’s scary in that [B.B. King’s] so amazing, so I didn’t want to mess anything up,” she said. [But] I can play with any notes that I want, and you can do that in blues. You can hit all types of weird harmonies and it still sounds right. I really like to explore my range. You really get to do that here. It’s kind of addicting.”
“Sessions” musicians also say that the project will continue to have an impact on their lives outside of the recording studio. Drew Alt ’05, the leader of salsa band Sonido Unidad, who is playing on a hip hop track and the funk track, said that the ability to network with musicians one probably would not have contact with otherwise is indeed powerful.
“I think that the coolest part would be for musicians who didn’t know each other to start playing together in groups — creating a bigger network of musicians who know each other and collaborate in the future,” he said.
Curtis said participating in this project has also given her a new perspective on music.
“This has inspired me to think outside of the box,” she said.
Traldi suggested that “The Yale Sessions” has the potential to have an influence larger than the musicians and even beyond the scope of the music community.
“Everyone profits from having music on campus. It’s good for everyone to have more live music and more music that’s from around here,” Traldi said. “The product will be good for the Yale community, but the process will be too.”