Skip to main content

“Stand Creatively in Defiance:” Matana Roberts ’03 M.M. Returns for Residency

Matana Roberts ’03 M.M. coaches, conducts, & performs during October residency
Matana standing in a vest and skirt in a room with students

Faculty and students from NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation (CI) and Jazz departments were delighted to welcome Matana Roberts ’03 M.M. for an October residency.

Roberts worked with students individually and with a 32-piece orchestra comprised of Jazz, classical, and CI students, to prepare for an October 18th Residency Concert of improvised music, with Roberts conducting and playing alto saxophone and clarinet.

Roberts’s residency also included a solo performance in Monk's Dream: Thelonious Monk at 100, an improvisation master class and a lecture/discussion between Roberts and Hankus Netsky, co-chair of the Contemporary Improvisation department.

What was it like to work with Roberts in rehearsal and performance? Melissa Weikart ’18 M.M. Contemporary Improvisation shared her experience:

We started off exploring textures as a group, then one of the most interesting parts for me was that she used words of self-affirmation as a framework for improvisation.

I had never experienced that, but it was an example of how she ties her identity and the way that she interacts with the world into the structures of her music. I was really excited to see this at play, and it gave me ideas for my own improvisation in the future.

Matana Roberts rehearses with students, including Melissa Weikart at the piano.

I’m a songwriter and pianist and singer, and I’m really interested in gender studies—I’m the co-president of Students Advocating for Gender Equality here at NEC—so that’s something that I try to investigate with my own music.

The fact that she was up there in a position of power was inspiring to me, and in terms of her music, she really emphasized self-love and self-care, which is just not a way I’ve interacted with free improvisation before. That really resonated with me, and I think a lot of others, too. It’s so often that as musicians, we’re beating ourselves up over our music. To take a moment to engage with self-love and self-affirmation through our music was new.

It was interesting for me that she’s also a classically trained musician, and I was a classically trained pianist. It’s been kind of nerve-wracking getting involved with improvisation over the years, and she was a role model in the sense that we made the same shift from classical to improvised music.

I’ve made that shift at NEC, and I’ve especially been making it this year, this semester. It’s been really exciting and empowering for me because I had this mental block, and then this year I decided, “Hey, I’m going to try new things,” because that’s kind of what CI should be. We should have an open mind because there are so many opportunities. So I felt like: “Okay. I’m going to embody that.”

I felt really seen and supported by her as an instrumentalist. It felt really great to play piano in the concert.