From conducting to Argentinian tango music to Japanese Taiko, many would say that Quincy Ponvert ‘23 serves as a shining example of trying nearly everything Swarthmore’s music department has to offer. While Ponvert has been involved in a multitude of ensembles and has achieved great success as a musician, they are not driven by the recognition of their talent, but rather the passion that underlies all of their musical endeavors.
Ponvert has been involved with music for as long as they can remember. “I started playing the violin when I was four but I didn’t practice very much, so I was not a very committed musician growing up.” In middle school, they started singing in choruses and became involved in musical theater, including a performance of The Pirates of Penzance in eighth grade. During high school, Ponvert wasn’t sure if music would ever become much more than a hobby, saying, “By then, my violin playing had kind of fallen off.”
When Ponvert arrived at Swarthmore, they planned on studying astrophysics. However, when it came time for course registration, they decided to add Music 11 to their schedule. “I took the first semester of music theory on a whim, largely because of a conversation I had with Andrew Hauze.” Ponvert found themself really enjoying the class, but they felt conflicted about what they wanted to major in. “I had to figure out if I was an astrophysicist or a musician.” For the second semester of their first-year, Ponvert enrolled in an astronomy course, as well as Music 12. “By the end of that semester, I decided [astrophysics] wasn’t for me and I buckled down on the music side.”
While Ponvert has been involved in many different ensembles, they distill their experience of studying music at Swarthmore into three main categories: conducting, Argentinian tango, and Taiko. “With conducting, I got into it . . . as soon as I could and it’s a pretty interesting art form.” Ponvert enjoys how conducting connects to their interest in music education. “A lot of the [conducting] skills I learn are pedagogical and it's a good way to learn how to communicate.”
“My interest in tango started near the end of sophomore year because I was listening to a lot of Astor Piazzolla.” During this time, Ponvert began to lose interest in the violin and wanted to learn a new instrument. Ponvert received funding from the music department to travel to Argentina the summer after their sophomore year and study the bandoneón, “a sort of cousin to the accordion” that is often found in tango ensembles. However, their plans were canceled due to COVID-19 and they instead used the funding to pay for rent and take bandoneón lessons on Zoom from Martín Benedetti, a bandoneón instructor based in Argentina. Ponvert took a gap year during the 2020-2021 school year, and upon their return started a tango quintet as part of the Fetter Music Program and began taking in-person lessons with Shinjoo Cho. They again secured funding to go to Argentina to study the bandoneón for the summer of 2022. During their senior year, Ponvert continued taking bandoneón lessons through Music 48 with Cho, who also coaches this year’s tango sextet.
“Taiko started last year for me and this has been my fourth semester. It was an art form I was interested in and I approached it scholarly, but when I first started playing, it felt really good.” One of Ponvert’s favorite memories of Taiko was performing with Kizuna Dance this past semester as part of the Cooper Series. “We developed an hour-long performance that was really intense and we were sometimes doing fifteen hours of taiko a week . . .it just felt so good.” Ponvert believes that what sets Taiko apart from other ensembles are the people. “One major thing that draws one to Taiko is the people involved and the community here at Swarthmore, between Joe Small and the students, is very special.”
Ponvert notes that the music faculty have played an influential role in their life since starting at Swarthmore. “For each of the professors I could tell countless stories of them being supportive and being generous with their time and feedback. [In particular] Andrew Hauze has been such an incredible mentor for me, not only in conducting, but as a musician, pedagogue, and person. Even through my year away from Swat, I felt close with him and stayed in touch for much of that time. I think he has been, and remains to be, a reason why I am so committed to a musical life. I find him to be an inspiring figure, both as a professor and as a human being.”
As for their plans after graduation, Ponvert replied, “Short answer: I don’t know. Long answer: I really don’t know! I hope to continue developing as a musician. I really don’t want to have tango and taiko be just part of my college experience. I’m waiting to hear back from my Fulbright application. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll be in Philly for a while and there is a decent chance I’ll get into music teaching. I can imagine eventually doing more schooling in either conducting or ethnomusicology.”
Ponvert’s senior recital will be held on Sunday, April 23rd at 3 pm in Bond Hall. “The first half of the concert will be tango with the sextet in Bond Hall. The second part is taiko which will be outside in front of Bond Hall. The first half will include some pieces with the sextet and it will have two solo arrangements and two pieces that I composed. One is a cello and bandoneón duet with Anna Fruman ‘24 and the second will be a tango quartet. There will be an intermission with food and then we’ll go outside and I'll play some group Taiko pieces with some members of the ensemble.”
Favorite Music course at Swarthmore: Music and Culture in East Asia, which I took in the fall of 2019. It was just an incredible selection of students who were all deeply interested and had a variety of scholarly backgrounds. The level of the scholarship was very high and I remember being deeply inspired by my classmates.
Favorite Music making experience at Swarthmore: Performing “Moontides” with Kizuna Dance
What you'll miss most about Swarthmore: The experience of running into people I know all the time and the constant little bursts of dopamine that you get from seeing a friendly face
What sound or noise do you love: My roommate Greg Boatman ‘23 doing his vocal warmups in the apartment
What sound or noise do you hate: The soundtrack of 'The Greatest Showman'
What's the last song you played on your phone: Dvořák Symphony No. 8 Second Movement performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis