Encore Spring 2016


Fusing Music and Culture

Synthesis performs at BYU’s 2015 Homecoming Spectacular with guest artist David Archuleta (center stage).

A wish will be granted when Synthesis returns to Finland this summer. “We would like to see you here again in the future,” said Hilkka Oksi, a public relations coordinator in Tampere, Finland, after Synthesis’s last tour there in 1998. “The performance with Dr. Ray Smith as a conductor was a memorable treat for all people who had a chance to hear it.” This summer, from July 7 to August 1, Synthesis will go on tour to Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Sweden.

Under Smith’s direction, Synthesis has toured across the globe to destinations such as Romania, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Japan, China, Italy, Spain, Scotland, and, most recently, Brazil. Past tours have provided Synthesis the opportunity to perform in world-renowned festivals and venues for audiences of as many as 20,000 people. “There will be similar elements [to past tours], but the culture will be very different and new,” says Abigail Castleton, a trumpeter in her fifth semester with Synthesis. During this summer’s tour to Scandinavia and the Baltics, Synthesis will perform at festivals, local events for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and even a black-tie gala.

Under the direction of Dr. Ray Smith (far left), BYU Synthesis has toured across the globe and performed in world-renowned festivals and venues for audiences of as many as 20,000 people.

Each tour provides Synthesis with new challenges for its members and a different direction for its repertoire. “When we went to Brazil, we found out they love to dance, and so we picked our music based on what they could dance to,” says Castleton. “When we go to Scandinavia, we’ll have to pick new music that they are familiar with and like.” Synthesis performances are unusual because there is no set repertoire. Instead, the group tries to cater to each specific audience’s tastes and interests by preparing as many as 100 songs for the tour and then playing about 30—and they even take song requests from the audience. “We do a broad spectrum of things,” says Castleton. “Depending on how people respond, we may continue with a certain set of songs; but if we think they don’t like it, then we’ll change it up.”

One Synthesis song, written by trumpeter and third-year member Dallas Crane, is likely to be well received by the audiences in Finland. Called “Kuusi Palaa,” the Finnish piece premiered in Synthesis’s December 2015 concert, and Crane wrote it specifically for the upcoming tour. “I want it to be a mutually elevating experience,” he says. “I used elements of our culture and combined it with elements they will understand.” Crane, who has Finnish roots, used elements of a traditional polska dance along with elements of American jazz to fuse American and Finnish cultures together. “The polska has a lot in common with the jazz used in American synthesis,” he says. “It’s a common ground. Jazz guys will hear the jazz, and the Finnish will hear the polska.”

A personal invitation from an international Synthesis fan will add a stop at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in Latvia to the group’s tour. Raimonds Kalniņš, the director of the festival, met Smith while performing in the United States at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in 1991. Twenty-five years later, the two accomplished directors will meet again at the weeklong festival and educational camp for young musicians. For Synthesis members, rubbing shoulders with some of the most accomplished jazz musicians in Europe between performances on the festival’s main stage will make this part of the tour a truly unforgettable experience.

Synthesis will also play in Stockholm at Festinord, a weeklong event held each year for Latter-Day Saint young single adults from all over Europe. This opportunity will give the students of Synthesis the chance to interact with Church members their own age. Synthesis will be the featured performing group for the Festinord Gala Night—a formal event that will be held in the Blue Hall of Stockholm City Hall, the famous venue that hosts the Nobel Banquet. Their music selection for that evening will highlight the tasteful atmosphere and contribute to a fun night of dancing and mingling.

Perhaps the most meaningful performances for the group will be their devotionals in Tallinn, Estonia; Vilnius, Lithuania; and Stockholm, Sweden. In these settings Synthesis members will turn to their spiritual repertoire and share religious testimony with the audiences. These experiences will allow the musicians to connect with people on a deeper and more personal level by sharing something even more important to them than their music: their faith.