Author: Brian Pertl

Brian Pertl, Dean of the Coservatory of Music at Lawrence University, has degrees from Lawrence University in Trombone Performance and English, as well as a graduate degree in Ethnomusicology. He is a passionate advocate of music and music education. He is thrilled to be back at Lawrence working with an exceptional faculty, and an exceptional student body.

The 21st Century Conservatory

So what does the ideal conservatory of the 21st century look like? Sound like? How radically different is it from the hundreds of conservatories that dot the globe today? To answer these questions, we should first look at the state of the musical landscape in the 21st century, for it is in this distinct musical environment that conservatory graduates will attempt to forge their musical lives.

The 21st century has brought a whirlwind of change to the world of music. The entire CD industry collapsed before our eyes as file sharing and digital downloads shook the foundations of the music industry giants. To get a sense of how pervasive the shift away from CDs has become among students, I asked the members of an entrepreneurship class I was co-teaching to tell me about the last CD they purchased. Out of a class of 25 students only three, yes THREE, had ever even owned a CD!

Meanwhile, the news of major orchestras experiencing financial distress is all too common, prompting whispers about the imminent death of classical music. What should we make of this? The music industry collapses before our eyes and major orchestras are struggling to survive. Certainly these are signs that music is no longer relevant and that becoming a musician is nothing short of folly, right?


Music isn’t dying. It is as relevant as ever. It still defines our humanity and lifts our souls. The means by which we deliver our music, however, is changing radically and rapidly. We are experiencing a paradigm shift away from the world of CDs, monolithic record companies, top-40 radio stations, and large, administration-heavy symphony orchestras, to the world of digital downloads, self-publishing, YouTube, and smaller, nimbler orchestras and opera companies. We are in the midst of this whirlwind of change and no one is sure exactly where it will end up. For the unprepared musician, this change is frightening, overwhelming and disheartening. For the prepared musician—the 21st-century musician—this change is exciting, exhilarating and filled with opportunity. Today, a smart, innovative, collaborative, adaptable musician has the exciting prospect of redefining our musical landscape. What a thrilling possibility! So this takes us back to our original question: what type of cutting-edge conservatory can produce the smart, agile, innovative, collaborative, visionary musician that can thrive in a rapidly changing musical world? The answer, of course, is our conservatory, the Lawrence Conservatory.

The Lawrence Conservatory of Music is perfectly suited to produce the ideal 21st-century musician, and, ironically, has been for more than 100 years. How could this be? Certainly there needs to be radical shifts in educational philosophy in order to accommodate our radically changing world of music, right? Wrong. The visionary secret, codified in 1874, was to embed a world-class conservatory within a small liberal arts college. This simple but radical concept sets our conservatory apart from nearly every other in the world, and lies at the heart of why Lawrence Conservatory musicians are perfectly suited to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

It just isn’t enough anymore to be only a strong musician. The 21st century demands not only musical mastery, but intellectual horsepower as well. Since the core of the liberal arts ideal is to grow the mind, increase intellectual capacity and foster a passion for lifelong learning, Lawrence provides the unique environment that nurtures both musical and intellectual excellence. This beautiful combination produces world-class musicians who are also world-class thinkers. They are perfectly prepared to take on the exciting challenges of a rapidly changing musical landscape.

I experienced the power of this dual education firsthand. In 1992, just six years after graduating from Lawrence with double degrees in music and English, I landed a job at Microsoft in its audio acquisitions department. Not one thing that I worked on
at Microsoft had even been invented when I attended Lawrence. Everything was new. Everything was a puzzle. I was learning everything on the fly, and I was helping to redefine how the world listened to music. My Lawrence education provided the foundation I needed to move comfortably and easily in new, rapidly changing, musically and intellectually challenging environments.

As we move deeper into this century, experiences like mine will become the norm rather than the exception, so our liberal arts approach to conservatory training will become even more relevant. Like our graduates, our Conservatory is also adaptable and continually striving to provide our students with greater challenges and broader opportunities. The study of world music is now a core offering in the Conservatory, as are courses in innovation and entrepreneurship for musicians. Our entrepreneurship courses challenge students to think creatively about how they can merge passion with profession. The class is a lab where they can experiment with how they might combine their intellectual capacity and musical prowess in bold new ways. So far we have seen the creation of a baroque orchestra, a music-booking website, a rehearsal-space locator service, and a DJ-booking agency. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I can hardly wait to see the bold ideas yet to come.

So if anyone asks what the ideal conservatory of the 21st century looks like, just point them to our conservatory, the Lawrence Conservatory. We will be happy to show them around and give them a glimpse of the magic that happens here.

Four Lessons from Bali

 Last week Lawrence enjoyed a three day visit from Çudamani, one of Bali’s premiere music and dance ensembles. This visit had special meaning for Lawrence, because our very own Director of Gamelan, I Dewa Ketut Alit Adnyana, is a founding member of Çudamani. The ensemble plays Balinese gamelan, an orchestra of bronze gongs, xylophones, and drums.  To the Western ear the music can sound both hauntingly beautiful, and technically mind-boggling.  During some pieces members of the ensemble think nothing of interlocking endless flurries of 64th notes—and by “interlocking” I mean two players alternate every other note. The dance is equally intricate and stunningly beautiful, magically flowing out of the music.

So what lessons might Western conservatory students learn from a music culture which seems so vastly different from their own? Well, as the saying goes, I could write a book, but since a blog will have to do, I will limit my focus to four beautiful lessons that Çudamani shared with our Lawrence community.

For Çudamani, the success of any given performance is never predicated on technical perfection.  Rather, the success of a performance is judged on how the performance moved the audience, how the performance moved the performers, and how the performance transcended the notes and became something greater than its parts.  Just to be clear, Çudamani doesn’t feel this way because its musicians can’t achieve technical mastery. The musicians of Çudamani are technical powerhouses. They have forgotten more about rhythmic complexity than I will ever hope to know!  Yet they are focused on the SOUL of the performance rather than the notes. Now I know we all say we embrace this concept in the West, but the pressures for technical perfection often skews our focus toward the notes instead of the magic.  We simply forget what’s important. Lesson one: Never forget that technical mastery is only a means to better express the music’s soul.

Music and dance are two sides of the same coin. In the West we have done a superb job compartmentalizing the two, but we shouldn’t. In Bali dance and music are so intimately connected that they are considered as two parts of a whole. This was vividly illustrated a young female dancer gave a demonstration of how dance movement and drum rhythm blended into a single musical phrase. When the dancer finished, Emiko Saraswati Susilo, who was acting as our guide in the lecture demonstration, said,  “I really wanted you to see her because she makes such beautiful music when she dances.” Wow, that one sentence encapsulates the beautiful oneness of Balinese music and dance.  She went on to explain that dancers never learn their movement through counting beats as we do in the West, but rather they learn the movements “melodically” as an integral part of the piece. Lesson two: we too can make beautiful music when we dance, and make beautiful movement when we music.  I will leave the “how” up to you!

At one point in the visit a young male dancer, just in fourth grade, performed with the group. It was clear he had been involved in his art for most of his young life.  When he finished, Ms. Susilo commented, “How many fourth graders in the US get to perform with best professional performers in the country? In Bali, this is not unusual., it is how we nurture our next generation of great musicians.”  This reminded me of a comment made by Victor Wooten, author of The Music Lesson, about how we educate musicians in the West. He observed that when we learn to speak, we are always practicing with fluent masters of language (adults), but when we learn the language of music, we are always segregated into groups that know as little as we do about how to do it right.  He wonders why can’t our beginners play with musical masters right from the beginning as well.  Well, Victor, in Bali they do. Lesson Three: Might there be better ways for us to approach music education that mirrors language learning and nurtures the inner musician in all of us?

Finally, Çudamani is a beautiful example of a musical community.  In some ways they are an extreme example, since nearly everyone in the group is related to one another!  Everything about Çudamani reflects the depth of musical connectedness between the musicians.  When they are performing one of the largely improvised dance traditions, the musicians need to follow every nuanced movement of the dancer and adjust their playing accordingly.  Sudden crescendos, tempo changes, timbral changes flow from the group without hesitation.  There is no conductor as we know it to cue all these changes. The drummer does play a leadership role but the reality is that their musical community is so close-knit and familiar with one another and the genre that they play as one. They are as dexterous and connected as flashing school of minnows. No one is lost in his own part. All attention is outward. It is a beautiful thing to watch.  And what makes it even more engaging is that they are having an absolute blast playing together. The sheer number of smiles that graced the stage was striking. That openness and joy welcomes the audience into their beautiful community of music.  Witnessing this made me ponder how many times I see classical musicians actually exhibiting outright joy when they are sharing their music. Lesson four: remember the importance of building community through music, and creating music through community. It is, after all, why we do what we do.

Even though Çudamani has left Lawrence, we are truly blessed to have  one of itsfounders,  I. Dewa Ketut Alit Adnyana, as an integral part of our Conservatory. Through his patient mentoring, well  over 100 Lawrence students have learned to play gamelan over the past three years, and six have traveled to Bali for further study with Çudamani.   Along with learning how to play, our LU gamelan students are also experiencing Balinese music culture. These are deeply valuable lesson which they will carry with them no matter if they end up in Symphony Hall or in front of a high school band. What makes this more special is that our gamelan, Gamelan Cahaya Asri, is open to all Lawrence students whether they are in the Con or not. The Community Gamelan is also open to all Appleton area community members though the Academy of Music.  So what are you waiting for, come play!

Fall Festival kicks off the Musical Bounty of October

With a nip in the air and the trees shimmering in their refulgent glory, Lawrence welcomes parents, alumni, friends and family back to campus for Fall Festival. This annual event also kicks of a rich garland of concerts that will delight and surprise audiences throughout October. Let me just give you a small sampling of the dozens of events that will take place in October.

We kick off the weekend with a Flip Flop event between the Conservatory and the Athletics Department. First, the Con students will head to the big football game in the Banta Bowl at 1 PM, then the athletes will head to the Chapel at 8 PM for the Symphonic Band/Wind Ensemble Concert. Maestro Mast will kick off the concert season in grand fashion. Come hear the band that was selected to perform at the prestegious College Band Directors Association National Conference this coming March. This will be a great concert and a great way to show cross-campus support! If you can’t join us in person, check out the live video webcast by going to the Con Webcast page.

On Sunday at 3 PM, we have the debut performance of our new Director of Orchestral Studies, Octavio Mas Arocas, leading the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Mas Arocas hails from Spain and has conducted orchestras around the globe. The Maestro has chosen to feature some new works for orchestra that are sure to challenge our musicians and thrill the audience. If you find yourself just a little too far away to attend in person (if you are in Tokyo, for example), make sure to tune into the live webcast!

Later that Sunday evening at 8 PM in Harper Hall, our New Music at Lawrence Series is excited to present the Lawrence Faculty Chamber Players along with renowned guest vocalist, Lucy Shelton. They will perform Schoenberg’s1912 masterwork, Pierrot Lunaire. The performance promises to be nothing short of breathtaking. For an added artistic treat, check out the exhibit of German Expressionism now being featured at the Wriston Art Gallery.

On Friday, October 12th, the choirs take center stage of the Chapel. In their first concert of the year, Maestros Swan and Sieck will lead Cantala, Viking Chorale, and the Concert Choir in a stunning variety of outstanding music for choir. Many choirs around the globe develop one identifiable sound, and sing in that style no matter what material they are singing. The Lawrence choirs, however, have always been admired for their ability to sing all different styles of music in the manner they were meant to be sung. This flexibility will be highlighted in this concert. The webcast will be available for this performance as well, so be sure to tune in.

On October 17th, we are happy to introduce our new Dance at Lawrence Series in conjunction with our World Music Series. Cudamani is one of the leading Balinese gamelan orchestras and dance ensembles in the world. We are thrilled to welcome this dynamic , shimmering, celebration of Balinese music and dance to our Chapel for three reasons. First, it is rare opportunity see musicians and dancers of this caliber anywhere outside of Bali. Second, our own studentt gamelan musicians will have the opportunity of a lifetime working side by side with these amazing musicians adn dancers. And third, Lawrence’s very own Director of Gamelan, I. Dewa K. A. Adnyana, was a founding member of the group and many of his relatives still make up the core of the ensemble! A very happy reunion to Maestro Adnyana! We are so excited to kick off our new Dance at Lawrence Series with such a stellar event!

Another interesting highlight will be day- long celebration of Debussy’s 150th birthday on October 27th. It will start in the morning with the Piano Department’s Debussy Birthday Bash, a celebration of the great composer’s piano works performed by nearly every student pianist at Lawrence. The day will continue at 1 PM with Debussy and Friends, a recital featuring performances by numerous Lawrence faculty members. And yes, there will be cake!

Remember, October’s musical cornucopia is overflowing with many more concerts and recitals than I can mention here so make sure to check out the calendar so you don’t miss one single note of all the beautiful music that will be pouring out of our concert halls this October!

Museum as Symphony: Listening to Natural History

Typically when we head to great museum, the experience is primarily visual. We marvel at the building itself which usually makes its own bold architectural statement. We crane our necks to look up at the grand entrance galleries, then we spend our visit looking at the paintings, or sculptures or displays. We squint at explanatory plaques or museum brochures, and jockey for position to get the best sight lines.

In honor of the great composers and deep listener, Pauline Oliveros, on the occasion of her 80th birthday, I propose an alternative approach for your next museum visit: museum as symphony, museum as sound sculpture, museum as sonic meditation.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of visiting The American Museum of Natural History in New York with my partner in musical adventure, Leila Ramagopal. Just the thought of the visit turned us back into giddy school children anticipating the big field trip to the magical treasure trove of dinosaur bones, epic dioramas, and endless cases of arrowheads, and meteorites. It didn’t matter that neither of us grew up in New York, nor had even visited this particular icon as children, apart from tagging along with Eloise in the pages of a children’s book. This museum, with its grand halls, dark oak cases, and stately bronze plaques, is an archetype for all of our collective natural history museum dreams.

On this day, however, we weren’t there just to gape at the towering dinosaur display in the grand lobby, nor were we there just to browse the labyrinth of exhibits. We were there to listen to this museum in all of its musical glory! So we made our way into the gallery of African animals, a perfect example of a 19th century exhibit hall—tile floors, dark oak cases framing exquisitely displayed cheetahs, hyenas, and lions. An upper gallery created a soaring ceiling and ample space for a herd of elephants to march proudly down the center of the room on a long oak dais completely encircled by built-in benches.

We made our way to the center of pachyderm parade, sat on the cool bench, closed our eyes and experienced the museum in a spectacular new way. To actually focus on an aspect of a public space that we typically try to ignore or actively filter out, can be nothing short of revelation.

As soon as our eyes closed, the music of the museum, the music of that gallery, the music of hundreds of visitors, filled us with an overwhelming sense of awe and beauty. We couldn’t help but grin at the thought that something as simple as closing our eyes and opening our ears could magically reveal hidden sound worlds that have existed in that space since the its doors opened in 1877!

We were immersed in a river of ever-changing music. Voices swirled, footsteps boomed, the excited cry of a child provided a vibrant splash over the energized vocal tapestry that provided the core of the musical flow. In that magical space, even though visitors were passing within feet of our bench, we couldn’t discern one distinct word or phrase. Excited whispers, cell phone conversations, and parental explanations of cheetah behavior were all converted directly into a symphonic stream of music, weaving, blending, tumbling, splashing around us.

It was glorious, immersive, and utterly wonderful. And this was just one room in that monumental museum. Each space, depending on its configuration and popularity, provided a different movement in the great American Museum of Natural History Symphony. If she could have sit still long enough, I think Eloise would have really dug it. I know that this adventure in deep listening will forever change how I experience museums, train stations, even parking garages. I encourage you to try it too. You will be glad you did.

So the next time we meet, you can say, “did you HEAR that incredible museum?!” And I will eagerly listen to tales of your own listening adventures.

The Entrepreneurial Musician: Creating a Musical Life

As musicians, what we do at the Lawrence University Conservatory is difficult.  Thousands of hours of intense practice,  endless self-analysis, endless external criticism and guidance, endless rehearsals, intensive study of music theory, music history, composition and improvisation, a full slate of non-music classes in which to explore the liberal arts, and  nuanced interaction with fellow musicians to create a communal representation of that thing about which we are most passionate: music.

If we weren’t passionate about our art, there is no way on earth we would go through what it takes to become a real live musician. I won’t go so far as to characterize it as monastic devotion, but four hours a day, alone in those tiny cells we call practice rooms, does have certain similarities.

So with all that on our young music students’ plates, why, oh why, am I suggesting that they need to add to this seemingly endless banquet just one more morsel called “entrepreneurship,” or more accurately, the development of an “entrepreneurial mindset?”  Aren’t our students busy enough?

Yes, our students are busy, but in an age where the chances of a conservatory graduate  leaving school and going directly into a professional orchestra, band, or choir are vanishingly small—and to be honest , the odds of this particular career path coming to fruition have ALWAYS been vanishingly small—we need to think more creatively and proactively about creating our own musical life.

Instead of sitting in a practice room waiting to be “discovered,” we need to proactively guide our own musical destinies.  We need to ask deceptively difficult questions like: what am I most passionate about? What are my unique skills? How can I best leverage my liberal arts education to create a musical life that incorporates my deepest passions?

These are the first questions my students will tackle if they enroll in The Entrepreneurial Musician, a class focused on nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset specifically designed for musicians and performing artists. The course will be offered next Winter term. Over the past three years, I have had the privilege of co-teaching courses with on Entrepreneurship in the Arts with Adam Galambos and Gary Vaughn from our Economics Department, but the demand has been so great that we felt we needed an offering specifically for our musicians.

Nearly every week we will have musicians visit class that have followed an entrepreneurial career path.  They will share their wisdom and work directly with our students.  Since this is a project-based, hands-on, course, students will flex their creative, problem-solving, entrepreneurial muscles to launch their own brain child. 

This year, one project group is launching ILUminate, a music booking agency website for the Conservatory.  With the launch of this student initiative, the Appleton Community can find the perfect Lawrence musicians for their every musical need.  It is fantastic to watch eight students work together to conceive, create, and launch such an ambitious project.

This course will show students that the world of business, marketing, and yes, revenue flow, are not things to be feared.  The same creativity, passion, and joy that we experience as musical performers can be found a musical entrepreneurs.  Now is the time the unleash the musical entrepreneur in all of us!

SEAMUS: A Celebration of Electro-acoustic Music Making!

Lawrence is thrilled to host the national conference of SEAMUS, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States.  Over the next three days our conservatory will host thirteen recitals, multiple paper sessions, and numerous sound installations. With over 200 hundred passionate musicians participating in this musical celebration, I am eagerly looking forward to hearing and seeing works that will challenge the mind, inspire the soul, and explore musical soundscapes in innovative new ways.

Events like SEAMUS are important in the life of this 140 year old conservatory.  With so much of our time and energy spent celebrating our rich musical heritage and honing our classical technique, we need also need to submerge ourselves in our living music culture.  It is always good to remember that ALL music was once new music. I have a hunch that Mozart was too busy worrying about a successful first performance of a new work to ponder what folks 200 years down the road would be thinking about it.  What will we hear at SEAMUS that might stand the test of time and join the canon of our musical heritage? I am excited to dive in and find out.

Gamelan and computer driven sound modulations? Wind ensemble with electronic sounds? An innovation facial recognition software called AUMI that lets severely disabled children make music though facial movement?  Yes, these are all at SEAMUS plus over 110 other exciting performances and presentations. If you are anywhere near Appleton from February 9th-11th 2012, you really must check out this amazing event.  We look forward to seeing you at SEAMUS!

I would like to extend a special thanks to Asha Srinivasan, Assistant Professor of Composition at Lawrence University, and Ed Martin, Assistant Professor of Composition at UW Oshkosh, who co-chaired this year’s event.  Their dedicated vision, thoughtful planning, and countless hours of hard work are what brought SEAMUS 2012 to fruition.  They deserve a standing ovation and a well-deserved “Bravo” for their efforts.  Your tireless efforts made all of this possible—the vibrant music, artistic collaborations, and stimulating new idea.



Conservatory Squared launches a New Era in Musical Internships

I am very excited to announce our new forward-looking internship program, Conservatory Squared: Grow Your Music Career Exponentially. This is a wonderful addition to our four year effort to expand the scope of a conservatory education well beyond the confines of the practice room, performance hall, and class room. Here is how it works: We have eight internship/mentorship opportunities for this coming summer. Each is much more than a summer job, for the internship providers will take a hands-on role in mentoring our students and providing valuable insights and feedback in their areas of expertise. Lawrence, through a generous $25,000 gift from the Olga Herberg Administrative Trust, will fund each internship. Conservatory Squared is the musical partner to the successful LU-R1 internship program in the sciences. We hope this will be a win, win, win situation, for the student, for Lawrence, and for the internship providers. No wonder we are so excited about this program!

At the Lawrence Conservatory, we are committed to challenge our students to think deeply about the musical life they might lead after their Lawrence education ends. I firmly believe that strong conservatory training, coupled with a broad and deep liberal arts education is absolutely the best preparation for the 21st century musician. I have previously addressed this in two blogs, one on the 21st Century Conservatory, and one on how a Lawrence Conservatory education can be a perfect preparation for the world of business.

We have also added courses on entrepreneurship in music and the arts, where musicians can flex their innovative brain power to accomplish entrepreneurial music-oriented projects. Furthermore, we have started Lawrence Scholars in Arts and Entertainment, a robust program that brings successful alumni back to campus to work with, inspire, and motivate current students. These alumni help our students see the many possible musical lives that exist beyond our hallowed halls.

Now Conservatory2 will provide a hands-on laboratory to put theory into practice. The program just launched three days ago and we are already seeing strong student interest. One look at the roster of internships, and the excitement should be of little surprise. Here is a list of our Conservatory2 internships for 2012, but please go to the website to find out more about each one.

New York Jazz Academy, Javier Arau ‘98
Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute
Carnegie Hall, Musical Connections Program, Beth Snodgrass ‘93
Deep Listening Institute, Pauline Oliveros
Oberlin in Italy, Opera institute in Italy (2 positions)
Beit Yehuda Guest House, Main Stage Manager , Jerusalem
Olivera Music Entertainment, Washington DC, Connie Trok Olivera ‘82

This a spectacular list of opportunities! What makes this even more exciting is that we already know how well this concept can work. Three years ago, Lawton Hall ’11, a composition major, expressed a strong interest in working with world-renowned composer, Pauline Oliveros at her Deep Listening Institute. Through mutual friends, I was able to contact Pauline, who was eager to take Lawton on as an intern, but had reservations because her institute did not have the ability to fund the position. Working closely with the Office of the Provost, we were able to provide the funds for this opportunity–and what an opportunity it turned out to be. Not only was Lawton able to work closely with Pauline, he became the editor of her new book of collected writings! No one imagined when Lawton was heading off for his internship he would become the editor of a major music publication—and as an undergraduate, no less!

We knew from that moment that the Conservatory Squared model could yield fantastic results for everyone involved. We are already seeking more funding to expand the program for next year. It will be a great pleasure to see this program take off and mature.
The creation of the program wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless efforts and vision of Senior Katelin Richter, who is serving this year as an intern to President Beck. Katelin worked closely with our administration, career services, and alumni relations to create the program’s structure and secure the internship opportunities. She also came up with the name and the logo! As a double degree student in Oboe Performance, and German, with a minor in Economics. Katelin’s stellar work is the perfect example of how top-notch conservatory training coupled with a superb liberal arts education can open up career opportunities in the 21st century that most incoming Freshman have never even dreamed of. Through Lawrence Scholars, classes in entrepreneurship, and now Conservatory Squared, we hope to get all of our musicians excited about their career potential from the moment they step through our doors.

Dance Leaps into the Conservatory!

I am thrilled to announce that through a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation, the Conservatory has been able to add a two year visiting professorship in dance. With music and dance so closely linked, it has always struck me as odd that a conservatory as old, distinguished, and multi-faceted as ours has never had any offerings in dance. The Lawrence Theater Department has offered dance to their actors through theater movement courses, but our conservatory, throughout its long history, has never had a dedicated dance professor.

In many cultures around the world the bond between music and dance is so strong, there aren’t even separate words for the two art forms. Our Western traditions have managed to break this bond and segregate dance and music into their own separate boxes. So at many schools there are music departments and dance departments that more often than not, have little to do with one another. If you stop to think about it, this whole scenario is just a little bit crazy. Dance is music in motion; literally the embodiment of music. Dance and music are two sides of the same coin.
So our vision is to eliminate the artificial boundaries between music and dance. We want to embrace dance and integrate it into the music culture of Lawrence. I personally would love to see a time where every single musician at Lawrence could experience the wonderers of music in motion; literally adding a spatial dimension to their art. I know that the experience would deepen the musicality of our young artists. The possibilities of integrating dance are as exciting as they are vast: choreographers working with composers; improvising musicians working with improvising dancers; improvising musicians becoming improvising dancers; music educators exploring movement and music; choreographers collaborating on opera staging; young conductors incorporating dance theory; dancers and musicians and videographers collaborating on creating new forms of art; and who know what other adventures in movement and music await.
With that introduction, you can imagine how pleased I am to welcome Professor Rebecca Salzer to our Conservatory. Professor Salzer is an acclaimed choreographer, dancer, producer, and intellect. Her interests are broad-ranging, and it is clear from her previous projects that collaborations across varied disciplines are something she greatly values. Her latest “screendance” combines videography, dance, and hard science to explore “the limits and possibilities inherent in the act of seeing.” In short, she is the perfect fit for Lawrence and our Conservatory. Check out her web page to get a better idea of this young artist’s many accomplishments.

Her first offerings this fall will be a studio class in choreography and another in modern dance. I can’t wait to see the impact that her arrival on campus will have. I trust it will open new worlds of ideas, collaborations, and beauty to the students in our Conservatory and across the entire campus.
Welcome Rebecca! We can’t wait for dance to sweep us off our feet.

Why we Need Improvisation

We are musicians. We have spent countless hours in practice rooms refining our technique and nurturing our musicianship. But for so many of us, improvisation, the art of spontaneous musical creation, is not a part of our artistic essence. We all too often equate improvisation only with jazz, and usually instrumental jazz at that. But musical improvisation transcends both genre and instrument. So why is improvisation such a foreign concept in our classical music training? It seems as if this would be the epitome of musical self expression. Yet, the vast majority of classically trained musicians are inextricably tied to the notes on a page, unable to express their musical ideas beyond the confines of the musical staff.

Think about that for a moment. What if we compared this to our mastery of language. What if the only way we could convey our thoughts and feelings were to read passages from someone else’s book? Would we praise a person for their sublime mastery of language if he were only a really good reader? Of course not. The notion is laughable for language, but sadly, not for classical music.

When it comes to language, we are all master improvisers. We can say what we want, how we want, using a myriad of subtly nuanced word choices, sentence structures, and vocal inflections. Every day each of us creates sentences that we have never spoken before, spontaneously, instantaneously, and seamlessly. With language we can converse, responding directly and instantly to others’ questions and comments. It is a marvelous example of our creative abilities at work. More importantly, we take it for granted. We expect everyone to reach this level of mastery, and it doesn’t take years in a practice room to make it happen. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could “music” as freely as we speak? There really isn’t any reason why this can’t be a reality.

Not so long ago, our own classical music tradition once revered improvisation. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Chopin, just to name a few iconic figures, were all masters of musical improvisation. Today, the once spontaneous musical outpourings of the past are petrified into preludes, fantasias, impromptus, and cadenzas. In less than one hundred years, the proud tradition of improvisation slowly vanished.

Once improvisation started disappearing from our musical training, its complete disappearance became almost inevitable. Teachers without improvisational fluency didn’t feel comfortable trying to teach it to their students, who then became improvisationally illiterate, and were unlikely to even try improvisation let alone try to teach it. So, as you can see, it really didn’t take all that long for it to disappear. Now, it is high time we reclaim our musical heritage and honor this once proud feature of our musical art.

We must reverse this trend and reintroduce improvisation into our musical repertoire. My goal is raise the importance of improvisation at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music. I want every student in our conservatory explore improvisation during their time at Lawrence. Luckily, we are well positioned to do just that. First, we have a world renowned jazz studies department, where improvisation is foundational and beginning improvisation courses are open to students no matter what their primary area of study. Second, we have Matthew Turner on our faculty.

Matthew is one of the world’s leading improvising cellist and teachers of improvisation. He goes into secondary schools across the country to introduce improvisation to students that have never improvised one note in their lives. There isn’t anyone better suited to reintroduce improvisation into the classical music conservatory. At Lawrence, he is currently the director or IGLU the Improvisation Group of Lawrence University. In this ensemble students can explore improvisation in genres other than jazz. Currently the ensemble has 30 members representing nearly every department in the conservatory. It is a wonderful thing to see students diving in to improvisation for the first time and embracing both its challenges and rewards.

At Lawrence, we are also focusing on introducing improvisation and improvisation pedagogy to our music education majors. This is key if we want our youngest music students to accept improvisation as a natural part of their musical development. Through our educators we have the best chance to reintroduce improvisation back into every students’ musical vocabulary. I will devote another blog to strategies for making this possible, but until then we can keep dreaming of a world where all musicians have the ability to leave the printed page behind and directly convey their musical thoughts and dreams through spontaneous improvisation.

Outstanding Showing by Conservatory Percussion Graduate

APPLETON, WIS. — The music career of Lawrence University alumnus Mike Truesdell recently received a rocket boost after he earned second-place honors at the prestigious 2010 Tromp International Percussion Competition in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Held every two years, the Tromp competition features the world’s best percussionists. This year’s event was conducted Nov. 13-21.

A 2007 Lawrence graduate, Truesdell was one of only seven musicians from the United States invited to join the finalist field that included 30 percussionists from around the world. He received a second-place prize of 10,000 Euros (approximately $13,000). He also was invited to participate in a series of concerts following the competition at major venues throughout the Netherlands along with the 2010 first-place Tromp winner, Alexej Gerassimez of Germany.

“The Tromp competition is akin to the Cliburn piano competition for percussionists,” said Dane Richeson, director of percussion studies in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and Truesdell’s former teacher. “This competition alone is going to set Mike on the road to great success.”

In addition to contemporary classical, Truesdell also performs non-Western music, especially that of Ghana, Brazil and Cuba. He has performed as a solo, orchestral and chamber musician throughout the United States, Europe and Japan. Following an October 2009 performance at New York City’s Alice Tulley Hall, The New York Times praised him for playing with “sensitivity and dexterity.” He is currently in his second year of graduate studies at Julliard School.

Truesdell is the second Lawrence graduate to shine in an international percussion competition. Greg Beyer, a 1995 graduate and current associate professor of music at Northern Illinois University, was the second-prize winner of the 2002 Geneva International Music Competition in Switzerland, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious music competitions.

“I can’t believe there are many, if any, universities, especially any our size, that can claim two of their percussionists placed second in two separate international competitions,” said Richeson. “This is truly remarkable.”