Appalachian-style musicians coming to ECU

By Jamitress Bowden and Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

Two multi-talented musicians will perform traditional Appalachian-style music for the East Carolina University community and the public Feb. 10-12.

James Leva and Riley Baugus will host an open class on Appalachian culture from 2-3:15 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10 in Fletcher Recital Hall, room B136. They’ll then present “African American Banjo & Fiddle Artists: Musicians & Music” from 7-9 p.m. that evening in the Fletcher Recital Hall.

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, they’ll host two sessions at the Tipsy Teapot, 409 S. Evans St. The topics are “Round Peak Reflections: Tommy Jarrell and Old-Time Music” from 3-4 p.m. and “Rural Sacred Music: Styles & Songs” from 7-9 p.m.

Their residency will conclude with another open class from 2-3:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12 in Fletcher B136.

“James and Riley are just incredibly gifted and engaging performers and speakers, with a great deal of experience in all kinds of formal and informal settings,” said Marc Faris, assistant professor of music theory in the ECU School of Music.

“If you’re curious about the roots of American folk and popular music; if you’re interested in learning about the musical traditions of rural religious communities; or if you’re simply looking to expand your musical horizons in unexpected ways, these events are certain to be of interest.”

Their residency is part of an Honors College seminar on “Appalachian Culture,” co-taught by Faris and Leanne Smith, assistant professor in ECU’s Department of English. The seminar focuses on many aspects of the Appalachian culture, including the origin of common stereotypes associated with Appalachia.

“The content in the class will be similar to the evening performances, but we’ll have more time for questions and answer interaction with the artists,” Smith said.

James Leva developed his fiddle and banjo skills at the feet of traditional Appalachian musicians such as Tommy Jarrell and Doug Wallin. Through exploration of the African history rooted in Appalachian music, Leva also worked with Joe Thompson, a traditional African-American fiddler.

Riley Baugus began playing the banjo at a young age and later switched to the fiddle. He grew up in the Baptist community will perform music styles traditional to that community.

The artist residency is sponsored by the ECU Fine Arts Funding Board, Folk Arts Society of Greenville and the ECU Student Forum for Musical Organizations.


ECU music student wins two orchestra competitions

Mary Catherine Cox

Mary Catherine Cox

Mary Catherine Cox, ECU junior violin performance major studying with Ara Gregorian, won both the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra and the Durham Symphony Orchestra concerto competitions Jan. 11.

She recently won the 2013-14 ECU Concerto Competition Ron and Patty Allison Prize, and the opportunity to perform as soloist with the ECU Symphony Orchestra.
Cox has been awarded All-State Honors Orchestra and has attended the Music Teacher’s National Association state auditions and international music festivals in France, England, and Italy.

Last summer Cox was awarded a fellowship to study at the Madeline Island Chamber Music Festival in Wisconsin. She will perform with the Raleigh Symphony Feb. 23 and the Durham Symphony April 6.

She studies piano with ECU’s Keiko Sekino. Her older sister, Caroline Cox, who graduated in 2012, also is an accomplished violinist. Younger sister Sarah Cox is majoring in music. They are the daughters of optometrists Carson and Valerie Cox of Southern Pines.


ECU Chamber Singers win in international competition

The ECU Chamber Singers perform in international competition in Spain.

The ECU Chamber Singers perform in international competition in Spain.

The ECU Chamber Singers have been named one of the winners of the international Tolosa Choral Contest in Spain, and as winners, they will perform at the winners concert today in Tolosa.

The ECU group was competing against other invited choirs from Germany, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Indonesia, Russia, Spain and Sweden. ECU was the only representative from the United States competing at the event.

In the chamber choir category, the final results are as follows:

POLYPHONY COMPETITION:  1st place St. Jacobs Ungdomskor (Sweden), 2nd place Saarbrucken Kammerchor (Germany), 3rd place East Carolina University Chamber Singers

FOLKLORE COMPETITION:  1st place St. Jacobs Ungdomskor (Sweden), 2nd place East Carolina University Chamber Singers, 3rd place Saarbrucken Kammerchor (Germany)

With these awards, ECU will receive a silver medal, bronze medal, and a total of 1,250 euro cash prize (750 for silver, 500 for bronze).

The invitation to compete came after the ECU Chamber Singers posted several concert performance videos on YouTube in spring of 2012. Soon after the posting, ECU chamber singers director Andrew Crane noticed that Javier Busto, a prominent Spanish choral composer, commented on one of the videos.

“This was particularly exciting for us, that someone so renown, and halfway around the world, would take the time to tell us he liked our video,” Crane said. “ I didn’t think much of it after that.”

As a jury member of the Tolosa Contest, Busto invited the ECU Chamber Singers to participate in 2013. No more than one American choir is invited to participate annually.

“Apparently, he listened to our performances on YouTube and shared them with his fellow jury members,” Crane said.   “They all agreed that they were of a high enough quality to grant us this invitation.”

The Tolosa competition is unique among choral competitions in that the organizers pay for all the choir’s lodging, food and transportation once at the location.  The chamber singers will be in Spain through Nov. 5.

ECU Chamber Singers-4

ECU Chamber Singers-1


Composer Augusta Read Thomas works with student composers on campus

Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas worked with ECU composition students March 21 while on campus with the NewMusic@ECU Festival. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


Celebrated composer Augusta Read Thomas conducted a master class with East Carolina University composition students while visiting campus March 21.

Thomas served as guest composer for the School of Music’s NewMusic@ECU Festival, held March 18 – 27. Her pieces were performed during the festival by the ECU Wind Ensemble on March 20, and by ECU faculty violinist Hye-Jin Kim and pianist Melvin Chen on March 21.

Thomas is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor society of 250 architects, composers, artists and writers. Election to the academy is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the United States. She joined the group in May 2009.

In 2007, her ASTRAL CANTICLE was one of the two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Thomas is a composition faculty member at the University of Chicago, and served as composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1997 through 2006.

For additional information about Thomas, visit

Thomas listens to an ECU student composer's music before providing feedback during a master class March 21.

Thomas listens to an ECU student composer’s music before providing feedback during a master class March 21.


ECU grad wins international voice competition in Paris


Above, ECU music graduate Mary-Jean O’Doherty competes to win an international voice competition in Paris.

ECU associate professor of voice John Kramar in the School of Music reported that 2005 graduate Mary-Jean O’Doherty (bachelor of music in voice and flute performance major) won first prize in the Paris Opera Awards Competition, an international voice competition.

ECU graduate Mary Jean O’Doherty

She performed arias from Delibes’ Lakmé and Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.

O’Doherty has recently sung the title role in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in Prague, and participated in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ Young Artist Program. She is now understudying the title role in Berg’s Lulu for the Welsh National Opera.

Read more about O’Doherty and see more video at