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UW-Eau Claire percussion ensemble invited to perform in South Africa

A UW-Eau Claire percussion quartet has been invited to perform at the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival in Stellenbosch, South Africa, this summer.

The group is one of only three musical ensembles that have been invited to perform at the festival. The other two ensembles are from the United Kingdom and Austria, said Dr. Jeffery Crowell, associate professor of music and director of the quartet.

Members of the ensemble are Joe Hujet, a junior music liberal arts and business administration major from Appleton; Elliott Rittenberry, a senior music education major from Chippewa Falls; Andrew Bocher, a junior liberal studies major from Evansville; and Jack Donovan, a senior music performance major from St. Louis Park, Minn.

The four students are thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the festival, Crowell said.

"The chance to meet, interact and make music with other students from around the world is something just fantastic," said Dr. Jeffery Crowell, associate professor of music and the ensemble's director.

The four students were chosen to perform at the festival because of their musical experience and overall involvement in both the percussion studio and the music and theatre arts department at UW-Eau Claire, Crowell said. This is the first time the group has worked together as a quartet.

"This is obviously a great chance for our music department to gain popularity worldwide, so I am incredibly honored to be such an important part of that process." said Hujet, who has participated in the Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, drumline of the Blugold Marching Band and the jazz studies program at the university. He also is vice president of UW-Eau Claire's chapter of the Percussive Arts Society and a percussion instructor for the Chippewa Valley Youth Symphony.

The quartet's performance will feature six diverse pieces, including one that requires three players to perform simultaneously on one marimba and another consisting only of boards being played by bare hands.

Preparing for the demanding concert is now his first priority, said Rittenberry, who is the principal percussionist for the Wind Symphony, secretary of UW-Eau Claire's chapter of the National Association for Music Education and president of the university's chapter of the Percussive Arts Society.

"It is some of the more challenging but most exciting percussion ensemble music I've come across, but it's a blast playing with some amazing musicians that I get to call my best friends," said Rittenberry, who aims to become a high school band director after graduating and currently acts as co-director of the Menomonie High School Winter Drumline, is a teaching assistant for the Chippewa Falls High School marching band and teaches private percussion lessons. He also has participated in the Minnesota Brass Indoor Drumline, the Blugold Marching Band, Jazz Ensemble I and Percussion Ensemble.

Bocher, who participates in a jazz combo and the Chippewa Valley Symphony, said his involvement in the music department has created meaningful experiences that have shaped him as a student. He described his initial reaction to hearing the news of their invitation to Stellenbosch as one of honor and gratitude. However, that transformed into a sense of duty to represent UW-Eau Claire, and on a larger scale, the United States, he said.

"Because of this sense of responsibility I'm rigorously preparing the music we will be performing with hopes to provide a meaningful and inspirational experience for the audience," Bocher said.

Donovan also has been actively involved in the music and theatre arts department during his time at UW-Eau Claire. During the past four years, he has participated in Wind Symphony, Symphony Band, Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Band, Percussion Ensemble and Blugold Marching Band. Additionally, he has been a part of the music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, Chippewa Valley Symphony, Minnesota Brass Indoor Drumline and Drum Corps International.

"I first went into Dr. C's Office to tell him about a summer internship that I had applied for a few hours beforehand," Donovan recounted. "After I told him about it, he told me to close the door and take a seat. I thought I was in trouble. After he told me about this trip, I knew what my real plans were this summer."

The Stellenbosch festival invited the UW-Eau Claire quartet to both attend and perform as part of a deepening relationship between Stellenbosch University and UW-Eau Claire, Crowell said. An international music student exchange program between the two universities is a future possibility, he said.