David Leach ‘09 and Julia Connor Offer Room to Spare

Julia Connor and David Leach '09 are Room to Spare
Jonathan Weiss, Class II, with David and Julia

After years of impromptu performances in unusual places—American campgrounds, hostel courtyards in rural Spain, a mountain pass in the Swiss Alps—David Leach (RL Class of 2009) and Julia Connor officially formed the violin and piano duo Room to Spare in the spring of 2018. The duo’s name reflects the pair’s spacious approach to music making; they draw inspiration from a wide variety of musical traditions—from jazz and classical, folk and rock.

On February 21, David and Julia performed for students and faculty in Rousmaniere Hall as this year’s Daland Concert, established in memory of Andrew Daland ‘46. In Hall, the duo performed not only some of their original compositions, but also the world premier of a piece written by Jonathan Weiss of Class II, titled The Strongest Tree Bends in the Wind.

As David said to the audience, he and Julia knew that “Jonathan’s musical styles would be a good fit for Room to Spare. Lots of odd meters, punchy rhythms, crunchy harmonies. There was a lot of creative back and forth in this process… early on we were cutting measures, adding measures, moving material around, and as the structure of the piece became more clear and fixed, that allowed us to focus more on interpretive elements such as dynamics and tempo alterations… One of the things that’s wonderful about performing new music is that there is a real process of exploration and experimentation—you’re not relying on an interpretation history. With a composer like Bach or Beethoven, there are hundreds of interpretations of each work out there… With a new piece of music, it’s more like setting out on a trek across a newly discovered planet—no maps, no guide posts, just your musical intuition and best guesses.”

Julia and David are both graduates of the double degree program at the Oberlin College and Conservatory.  David studied there with pianist Dan Wall, legendary drummer Billy Hart, and saxophonist Gary Bartz. In 2013, Downbeat Magazine recognized David as a member of The Little Big Band, named one of the best undergraduate jazz ensembles in the U.S.  Having studied piano since the age of six, David fell in love with the instrument when he was sixteen and encountered the music of New Orleans pianist James Booker.  Today, David draws inspiration from classical composers such as Brahms, Shostakovich, and Beethoven; jazz artists McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane; folk artist Paul Simon; and rock groups Led Zeppelin and System of a Down. He has performed with various jazz and blues groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C. as a pianist, composer, and arranger.  David currently serves as the music director for Grace Community Boston, where he produces and performs a weekly jazz service. David is also a poet, holding an MFA in creative writing from Boston University, where he studied with former U.S. poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky.

A violinist, Julia enjoys creating music that blurs the lines between classical, jazz, folk traditions, and free improvisation—performing everything from baroque music on period instruments to new works by living composers.  She has collaborated on several recording projects with musicians at the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, including the Music Alliance Project, a genre-defying ensemble unifying a string quartet and a jazz trio under the leadership of pianist and composer Chase Morrin.  She plays regularly with Emmanuel Music and Boston Baroque, and last month she joined the faculty of the Intercambio de Musica—a Classical Music exchange program—at the world-renowned Panama Jazz Festival. An advocate for new music and female composers, Julia has commissioned several pieces, including Dana Kaufman’s Scratch the Surface for solo violin, which she premiered at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall and went on to perform as part of the Hartford Women Composers Festival.  Julia holds a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston.

The Andrew Daland ’46 Memorial Concert Fund was established by Andrew’s wife, Pamela Worden, and his family and friends, with the purpose of bringing a musical concert to Roxbury Latin boys each year in Andrew’s memory.  Mr. Daland was himself a fine musician. Since the Fund’s establishment, the school has been privileged to hear guitarist Jason Vieaux; the a cappella group Cantus; Elijah Rock; Roxbury Latin’s own, violinist Stefan Jackiw, Class of 2003; Yale’s Whiffenpoofs; and last year, iconic singer-songwriter Jonathan Edwards.