What's New: Ashleigh Gordon + Jonathan Van Ness and More

News about NEC alumni and faculty members Ashleigh Gordon, Dara Hankins, Melissa Weikart, Daniel Hersog, Florence B. Price, Peter Couchman, Lei Liang, Mike Block, Hankus Netsky, and Balla Kouyaté.

Anthony R. Green and Ashleigh Gordon smile from the stage after a performance.

Violist Ashleigh Gordon ’08 MM appeared on Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness in an episode titled “Are We Hearing A Crescendo of Anti-Racism in Classical Music?“

Gordon is the co-founder of Castle of Our Skins, a concert and educational series devoted to celebrating Black Artistry through music. Van Ness is widely known as the grooming expert on Netflix's Queer Eye.

"I have a curiosity in myself, as does my co-founder Anthony R. Green—in trying to answer the same questions...which is: "why don't we know of more Black musicians? Am I really the first one in the 21st century?" And of course the answer is no, but through education and through marginalization, through erasure—through intentional erasure—our lives and histories have been left out of the story. And there's so much scholarship...over the centuries to validate that yes, we are an excellent people, and we have contributed, and we are contributing."

Listen now

Dara Hankins headshot

Dara Hankins ’12 was the featured guest for an episode of WKNO's Iris Orchestra Music Minute, offering reflections on her experiences as a Black classical musician:

We can make a difference today! The mood is tense, intense, and charged, but it is pushing us to move forward with urgency.

Do we honestly question our own presumptions, biases, and prejudices, about race?

What longstanding practices need to be uprooted because they perpetuate a lack of diversity in society?

What is the role of the arts in bringing about a change in race relations to heal the nation?

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Tufts Music Fundraiser for Black Lives

Melissa Weikart ’18 MM Tufts/NEC is working with fellow Tufts Music alumni as a co-organizer of a musical fundraiser for Black lives, with proceeds to be split between the NAACP, Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, and Castle of our Skins.

The virtual concert and fundraiser will take place on Sunday, July 19 at 3 p.m. ET via Zoom.

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Album cover of Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra: Night Devoid of Stars

Daniel Hersog ’16 MM has been reviewed in Downbeat for his new album Night Devoid of Stars, which features fellow alum Noah Preminger ’08, ’16 MM and NEC faculty member Frank Carlberg.

The 16-piece Daniel Hersog Jazz Orchestra was booked to perform at this summer’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival—with Preminger and Carlberg onboard—but the event was canceled due to the coronavirus. Let’s hope listeners eventually get a chance to hear this remarkable Canadian ensemble take on these gorgeous new arrangements under Hersog’s baton in a live setting.

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The cover of Rae Linda Brown's book "The Heart of a Woman: The life and music of Florence B. Price"

Rae Linda Brown's book The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price, was reviewed in ArtsFuse. NEC alumna Florence B. Price graduated from NEC in 1907 and was the first Black woman to be widely recognized as an American composer.

There’s no doubt that Rae Linda Brown’s thoroughly-researched, engrossing The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price would have been a welcome entry into the literature of American music had it appeared twenty years ago. But the book’s publication in 2020, as the United States seems on the cusp of a real reckoning with the complexities of its racist past on a number of fronts, makes this biography of the country’s first important Black woman composer particularly timely.

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Peter Couchman headshot. Peter wears a blue button-down shirt and is outside with a background of grass and trees.

Vocal performance alum Peter Couchman ’95 Tufts/NEC has been appointed executive director of Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve.

While still a teenager, Couchman began a career as a professional opera singer. Eventually, the baritone made solo appearances at New York’s Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall and Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral. Ever since he grew vegetables and flowers with his family at their Gettysburg home, however, Couchman has had a fervor for horticulture. While singing, he simultaneously earned a bachelor’s of music from the New England Conservatory of Music and a bachelor’s of science from Tufts University.


“I was good at opera, but I eventually realized I just wasn’t passionate about it,” he explained. “When I asked myself, ‘What am I passionate about?,’ I kept coming back to plants and the environment.” 

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Lei Liang stands in front of a colorful artistic background.

Composer Lei Liang ’96, ’98 MM has been named the inaugural holder of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Professorship V at U.C. San Diego, an endowed chair with a five-year appointment beginning July 1, 2020.

“This distinguished appointment is a direct reflection of the high regard in which Professor Liang is held by the UC San Diego academic community,” Chancellor Pradeep K. Kholsa said. “His current work helps society face one of its most-pressing challenges, addressing climate change by helping to educate and explore our Earth and its natural wonders in a unique and interdisciplinary way.”

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Contemporary Improvisation faculty members Mike Block, Hankus Netsky, and Balla Kouyaté were all scheduled to teach at Silkroad's Global Musician Workshop (GMW), which was to be hosted at NEC for the first time in summer of 2020.

All three have given "Community Meeting" performances—usually a key part of the in-person GMW experience—as well as Silkroad Home Sessions performances.

Watch and listen: GMW Community Meetings

Watch and listen: Silkroad Home Sessions

Contemporary Improvisation co-chair Hankus Netsky gave a performance and talk about Jewish music, klezmer history and revival, and his personal musical journey.

With four uncles and a grandfather who were Jewish wedding musicians and a great-grandfather who was a Yiddish theater performer, Hankus Netsky has Jewish music in his blood. A gifted multi-instrumentalist, composer, and scholar, Hankus is the Co-Chair of the Contemporary Improvisation Department at the New England Conservatory of Music. However, he may be best known as the founder of the Klezmer Conservatory Band and a cornerstone of the Yiddish/klezmer revival in America.

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