Temple jazz performance major Andrew Carson stopped arranging music for traditional instruments on the night of Jan. 17 – he had something else in mind.
Arranging tunes for jazz ensembles is nothing new for the sophomore trumpet player, but a ground-breaking new instrument, the Seaboard GRAND, provided him with a fresh perspective.
The Seaboard GRAND by ROLI, a London-based technology start-up company, is an instrument inspired by the standard keyboard. The Seaboard GRAND can be programmed with different instrumental sounds by the user and has the ability to mimic sounds and techniques typically performed on traditional string, woodwind and brass instruments.
Carson’s alma mater, Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, is the first high school in the world to own ROLI’s new Seaboard GRAND. The new keyboard is changing the landscape of live performances in both professional and educational musical settings.
After receiving the Seaboard, Neil Delson, the band director at Central Bucks West, approached Carson about participating in a concert showcasing the instrument.
The high school celebrated the newest addition to its music program with a showcase on Jan. 17, featuring musicians from around the district performing alongside Cory Henry, of Brooklyn-based fusion group Snarky Puppy. Carson arranged a Snarky Puppy song, “Lingus (We Like It Here),” for the school’s big band featuring Henry on the Seaboard GRAND.
“Henry is featured for the last five minutes of the track,” Carson said. “When Mr. Delson said he would be trying to get Henry on the gig, it was pretty much set in stone that we were going to do ‘Lingus’ because we had to feature him.”
Preparation for the event began months prior. Students helped fundraise for the event, while Carson prepared one of the high school’s big bands for the showcase.
“I started working on it a few months ago,” Carson said. “I’ve done straight transcriptions of Snarky Puppy tunes that flesh out what they are playing with more horns, therefore making it a big band arrangement. I wanted to have the original Snarky Puppy tune in and add my own twist. The point of this arrangement was that Henry on the Seaboard last half of the tune.”
Freshman English and German double major Sam Auman helped coordinate the event while she was still a student at Central Bucks West.
“My mom was a part of the original committee of contacting ROLI and getting the Seaboard over [to West],” Auman said. “Eventually the committee and Mr. Delson came up with the idea for the concert to thank ROLI for giving it to a high school.”
Like many others, Auman stayed in contact with Delson after graduation, leading to her involvement in the event as a Temple student.
Auman wrote the press releases for the event, which she submitted to music magazines around the city. During the concert, she worked as the stage manager and made sure the show ran smoothly.
In addition to his duties as band director, Delson worked in setting up the collaboration with Henry.
“I reached out myself first,” Delson said. “[Henry] is one of the few musicians who has spent extensive time on the Seaboard prior to now, so it seemed natural to ask him. Plus, both I and my students think his playing is fantastic. The folks at ROLI have a relationship with him, so they helped put us in direct contact.”
Delson noted the importance of the event for not only students and alumni, but ROLI, the creators of the Seaboard GRAND.
“This was really the first event of it’s type to feature music written specifically for this instrument,” Delson said. “We were excited for not only the community to see this and to see how creative our kids and our alumni have been, but for the company that made the instrument. This is what they envisioned. They created a piece of technology that is meant to create art. This was one of the first events to do that.”
As a member of Central Bucks West’s jazz ensemble, Carson said he was inspired by Delson and his fellow musicians to continue playing music while learning at Temple.
“Being in the jazz band at C.B. West definitely pushed me forward,” Carson said. “For one thing, it was the other people in the jazz band who were insanely talented, and being able to play with them. Mr. Delson always got us really excited about the music. He always encouraged us to stretch ourselves so that we could take music to a whole new level. He was, no pun intended, instrumental, in pushing us forward as musicians and letting us find out that music was our passion.”
Carson hopes the Seaboard takes Central Bucks West’s music program to new heights. As the first high school to own the new instrument, Central Bucks West has the opportunity to showcase the Seaboard in events around the area.
“The Seaboard is an absolutely revolutionary instrument but it’s not really known what its capabilities are, or what it is most useful for yet,” Carson said. “Hopefully it inspires the kids to really find a love for modern music and find a love for doing things with this incredible instrument.”
Tim Mulhern can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org