MNSU Music Department to host Contemporary Music Festival

All-day event offers free performances from diverse campus ensembles

For many years, the Music Department at Minnesota State University, Mankato put on an annual Jazz Festival for campus musical groups to host outside musical ensembles and celebrate jazz music. Recently, the focus has shifted to more contemporary themes to allow students more artistic freedom; coordinator Dr. Douglas Snapp is looking to “meet the needs of today’s musicians” by hosting the Contemporary Music Festival in the Centennial Student Union on Wednesday, March 30.

This year, the festival will focus on the university’s diverse musical ensembles, with performances running all day in the Centennial Student Union. Events will be held in both Ostrander Auditorium and the CSU Ballroom from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. All performances are free and open to the public.

Special guests R.W. Enoch, Alex Nester, and Elmer Demond of the L.A. based The Urban Renewal Project will be visiting Minnesota State University, Mankato to host an educational clinic and accompany a few of the ensembles. Campus musicians will enjoy spectating some interesting collaborations and hearing about the life of a working musician. For more information on The Urban Renewal Project, visit

Shifting the festival’s focus away from jazz allows more campus ensembles to showcase their music. Vocalist Emily George says that “contemporary music is much more relatable and that makes it easier to be able to perform.”

“…as a performer, I have to connect to the music,” she added. “The contemporary and modern song choices definitely aid in the connection that needs to be made in order to perform well,” Thursby said.

Professor Michael Thursby works with the Maverick Machine marching band and pep bands, but he is also directing the Percussion Ensemble as they prepare to take the stage on Wednesday.

“[MNSU’s] ensembles are so unique. We are offering musical programs that no other program can offer. The rock bands and electronic groups truly make MSU-Mankato unique from any other music program,” Thursby said.

Allowing students a wider swath of programs and ensembles to choose from means that students are given a better education and opportunities to experience music from multiple points of view.

“It is exciting to work with music from around the world and see how it relates to our culture and music in our country,” Thursby said. “The most unique element is the use of world music and improv. Music from around the world is so raw and organic. In many countries music is a way of life and a part of daily living—this is something we don’t necessarily have in our country and it is amazing!”

Introducing EMIC
This year, the festival will focus on the campus music ensembles, including the brand-new Electronic Music Instrumental Collective, lead by Dr. Michael Olson.

“If I were to describe the ensemble, it would be part EDM, part classical new music, and part post-noise rock,” said Olson. “As a director (and member of the ensemble!) It is exciting to work with students in creating music that integrates technology, instruments, and multimedia,” Olson said.

According to Olson, much of the music performed by the group is new material created by members:

“This is a unique ensemble,” Olson said, “so there isn’t much music available for us to perform. We have to write and arrange our own music, program our own software, and build our own videos. We also have to make sure that the technology always works!”

Unlike traditional instrumental groups, EMIC will be performing covers of bands like the Pixies and Radiohead with visual accompaniment from multi channel video projection.
(EMIC) member Elias Pohren-Everett is also looking forward to the group’s performance, as it offers students a chance to explore new avenues of musical expression:

“Contemporary music ensembles are great!” Pohren-Everett said. “They bring in people who would never think of themselves to make music in college, and gives us music majors a break from all the classical stuff.”

Festival Schedule

  • Vocal ensemble Tone Down For What will start out the festival at 10:00 a.m. in Ostrander Auditorium, featuring the music of Daft Punk, Michael Jackson, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. As a large fusion ensemble, Tone Down for What is accompanied by a percussion section for a portion of the concert.
  • Competitive a capella ensemble Elision takes the Ostrander stage at 11 a.m. with a full set of popular music tunes that will feature vocalist Alex Nester. This festival occurs the day before Elision flies out to take part in SingStrong D.C., a national a cappella music festival that offers concerts, classes, and coaching opportunities for more than 30 participating groups.
  • The Safe Sextet Jazz Combo will perform in Ostrander at 12 p.m.
  • The Percussion Ensemble will be performing in the CSU Ballroom at 12 p.m., featuring a special performance with the Chamber Singers.
  • At 1 p.m., don’t miss the premiere performance of Electronic Music Industry Collective (EMIC).
  • Big Gnome Rock Combo takes the Ostrander stage at 2 p.m.
  • The Lab Jazz Band will play the CSU Ballroom at 2 p.m., followed by the Jazz Mavericks Big Band, featuring R.W. Enoch (sax), Alex Nester (vocalist), and Elmer Demond (rapper) from LA Urban Renewal Project Band at 3 p.m.

If you are interested in getting involved with the groups featured in this festival, be sure to reach out to program directors for information.

“All of our ensembles (including our marching band, orchestra, choirs, wind ensemble) are open to students,” said Olson. “We love having participation from across campus. If you come to the festival, and you think “I’d like to try that!”then stop by the PA and talk with someone! We are always here, and always excited to meet new students.”

Photo: (Yohanes Ashenafi/The Reporter)

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