By Claire Oxford
For Bob Milnikel, associate professor of mathematics, Feb. 29 marks not only Leap Day, but also a musical tradition spanning more than two decades.
This Leap Day at 8 p.m., Brandi Recital Hall was packed with listeners for Milnikel’s quadrennial Leap Day recital, to the extent that several spectators had to crouch in the aisles or press themselves against the wall. Milnikel performed in all seven pieces, either singing or playing the clarinet or bass clarinet alongside students and faculty members and staff.
This is his seventh Leap Day Recital, and his fourth at Kenyon.
An amateur musician for over 40 years, Milnikel first gave a performance on Feb. 29 entirely by chance during his senior year recital as an undergraduate mathematics major at Carleton College. Four years later as a graduate student at Cornell University, he realized he had let his musical interests slide and decided to organize another concert for Leap Day, thus forming a personal tradition of performing on that date.
“It’s a little bit self-indulgent to do this every four years; I hope it doesn’t come across as egotistical,” Milnikel said. “But I have such fun doing it and such fun putting it together, and I’ve been told by people who attended in the past that they enjoyed coming, so I’m going to continue taking the risk of exercising ego and keep playing because I have such a good time.”
Milnikel kicked off the night with two solo pieces on the bass clarinet and the clarinet, “Fantasy for Bassoon” by Malcolm Arnold and “Haiku: 12 Miniatures for Solo Clarinet” by Brian Robinson. The latter is split into 12 movements with distinct titles such as “Dance,” “Spark,” “Swoop” and “Frenzied.” Pausing between movements to signal a transition, Milnikel playfully switched from slow, faltering tunes to up-tempo, playful beats.
The concert also showcased the talents of 17 students and nine faculty or staff in addition to Milnikel, culminating with the half-hour-long performance of a suite from Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland featuring the blended sounds of violins, violas, bass, flute, bassoon, piano and clarinet.
Jeremy Moore ’19 accompanied Milnikel on piano during Arthur Honegger’s “Sonatine for Clarinet.” Moore enjoyed playing the piece because of each movement’s distinctive style. “The middle movement is my favorite because it uses a lot of really jazzy chords for classical music,” he said. Moore was also impressed by the breadth of departmental involvement in the concert. “The best part of the concert was that Bob organized so many people that aren’t in music to put on a performance,” Moore said.
Hannah Vilas ’18 performed Bach’s “Eight Canons” on the clarinet with Franny Alani ’19 and Milnikel on bass clarinet. “One of the challenges of working with multiple people is making sure everything fits together rhythmically,” Vilas said. “We ended up figuring it out. It was really cool that he was able to arrange this piece for several clarinets.”
Looking back on the 28-year tradition, Milnikel said, “What stands out are individuals that I’ve had a chance to play with.”