Q&A with resident artist Daniel Bernard Roumain
The Daily Cougar: What does it mean to be an artist in residence?
Daniel Bernard Roumain: That means that I am working with the Mitchell Center towards a creation of new work. It’ll be a series of new projects — the first one is “En Masse Studies & Etudes,” which is 12 five-minute pieces for musicians ranging from five to 500. We’re going to be doing “En Masse Studies & Etudes” with the marching band here at University of Houston. And I think that being in residence means that I’m coming here — I’m on campus, working with the campus and also doing projects off campus — connecting deeply with the community and surrounding communities. As is the case with “En Masse,” because we’re doing it at Discovery Green Park, and because it’s four hours long, a free event, this is a really good example of how this residency is taking performing arts work and making it relevant and accessible. And — I don’t think it’s an unfair word — easy.
TDC: What has working with the Mitchell Center done you and your art?
DBR: First and foremost, you have the support. We have a wonderful staff, and you have an organization that can help you build relationships with other organizations — so you have access, and with all that comes great responsibility, of course, but I think being in residence here lets me dream and discover. … I’ve always wanted to do a piece that was big and kind of brash and bold, and to put it in a public place — in some ways like an installation.
TDC: Last night the students of the UH marching band performed at Mid Main; how did that go?
DBR: It was fantastic. You had a dozen or so, really brave students out there playing their music, and for me, it was important to see the reactions of people. … The reactions were everything from laughter and wonder, to excitement. You know, a sense of ownership, but in a good way — a sense of recognition. There’s something about the uniform, those instruments, the sound that I think a lot of people — myself included — find very reassuring. The uniform of a marching band, the instruments of a marching band, the music and cadences of a marching band, it’s just very reassuring, and it somehow speaks to nationalism, community, identity — for something that’s essential. I don’t think an orchestra or a ballet company walking down the street, doing their thing, would have quite the same response — it would have a response, but I don’t think it’d be the same one; it’d be something different. And that’s something important for me as a composer to recognize, and be able to account for in the piece “En Masse.”
I can say, I think I have accounted for it, because the very first piece in “En Masse Studies & Etudes” is very difficult — it’s very fast, but it’s very up-tempo — and it’s designed for everybody to be playing in unison. So I hope that actually happens, because it’ll be good for the piece.
TDC: What has it been like working with the UH students?
DBR: They are so fearless — I saw that last night. They are really great performers. It’s such a different thing, because I work a lot with orchestras and classical musicians, and there tends to be a certain distance — even coldness in some ways. But these marching band kids, you tell them to do something — they go into a bar and play and get everyone’s attention and trust, and they’re just brilliant. It’s so great to write music for musicians who can deliver — and they can really deliver. I didn’t even realize that as much as I did last night. It’s very cool to witness that.