Harmony and Understanding: Rock through the ages

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TJC’s Harmony and Understanding, a student song and dance group, has brought its energetic blend of jazz, Latin, and pop standards to audiences across the United States since 1970.

“It’s really a singing group that has some dancing,” said director Andrea Trent, Professor of Applied Voice. “Many of our members come with no experience or background. We start out with raw talent, but the group is known for getting out and performing in the community.”

Harmony and Understanding has performed at venues such as the Dallas Cowboys halftime show, military bases in Hawaii and Germany, and Yachiyo, Japan, Tyler’s sister city.

“We usually do two to four off-campus performance each month,” Trent said. “We’ve performed at the civic center, the Better Business Bureau, the Rose Festival, the state fair. The most rewarding part is watching the students you’ve auditioned, screened, and seen all aspects of their performance turn into lovers of arts and performing.”

The group demands much from its members, but brings great rewards as well.

“It’s definitely a struggle, but it’s a worth-it struggle,” said sophomore Tara Moore, a musical theatre major. “You learn a lot in this course. She (Prof. Trent) really pushes us. Besides getting to perform at the end, and it sounds silly, but getting a note right is the greatest reward. It’s exiting, and the end results even look good!”

At its heart, Harmony and Understanding is a musical group, which present a specific set of challenges.

“I think for me, the most difficult place is musically,” Moore said. “That is, theory, and I’m not singing my usual vocal part. I’m a soprano one, and I sing alto. But being with people is very helpful. Harmony and Understanding is challenging, fun, and worth the eight hours each week we put in.”

Dance is a critical part of the production, though.

“First, we think about the level of talent we’re going to have,” Trent said. “Second, I go to a publishing website, where all the music in public domain is available. I’m artistically driven in that I come up with all of the ideas. We have a Harmony camp the week before classes, and spend four hours each evening, with 20-25 songs. We pull together a 20-minute production in four weeks. I have high expectations, especially when it comes to performing. I like to approach it from a professional level as much as I possible can. I stretch them at all times, and I like to have the highest professionalism as I possibly can.”

In order to make each production as professional as possible, Trent searched out qualified dance instructors to assist with each show.

“I would have to say that my goals for the program are to help the students become well-rounded in fine arts, music, vocals and dance,” said Heather Samuelson, a professor of dance at Stephen F. Austin University and director of choreography for Harmony and Understanding. “Ms. Trent sent and email out to senior dance students looking for help, and I actually teach at SFA, and we had no summer classes, so I said I’d be glad to help. The greatest challenge is that we have singers usually who have no dance background at all.”

She said this made for intense practices twice weekly, but it pays off.

“They are so much fun and have great personalities,” Trent said. “We can play, but we can also be serious. We’re like friends and family more than teachers and student. It’s a good group to be a part of. We stand for something more than just getting together to sing.”

Each year, Harmony and Understanding performs a concert with the TJC Jazz Ensemble, composed of hits from the big band era in the 1930’s through the Motown hits of the 1970’s, and a few modern artists like Michael Bublé.

“We’re playing most of their things,” said Professor of Jazz Studies and Low Brass Heather Mensch, director of the TJC jazz band. “We’re also doing a few numbers ourselves. We’re doing a 70’s Latin number, “Sing Sing Sing,” “Carwash,” a 70’s funk song, and songs with two soloists. This is the only time through the year. We’ve done this annually as long as I’ve been here, so that’s 11 years at least. There’s a little something for everyone.”

Harmony and Understanding will join the Jazz Choir at 7:30 p.m., Thurs., Nov. 20 and Fri., Nov. 21 in the Wise Auditorium. Admission is free.

“I just want us to keep moving in the direction we are,” Prof. Trent said. “We want to remain professional, and also retain what we’ve studied – it adds momentum.”

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