“Snow Melting into Music”: The Art of Listening

October 21st, 2010 by Brian Pertl

Last Sunday we were honored to welcome one of the world’s great listeners to campus, Gordon Hempton. Hempton, Grammy Award winning natural sound recordist, has circled the globe capturing the Earth’s most subtle and thrilling music in recordings of unsurpassed fidelity. Yes, I said the Earth’s music, because that is exactly how Hempton hears it—not mere sound, but music. Hempton regularly sits motionless for hours at a time as he listens to all that nature has to offer. As you can imagine, Hempton’s virtuoso listening skills make him a rare and invaluable guest at our Conservatory, where listening is at the heart of everything we do, yet is often taken for granted.

John Cage told Hempton that our ears are our musical instruments. To me, this powerful statement expresses the importance of the listener in creating musical performance. What we hear, how we hear, how we listen is different for each individual; partly because of the slight variations in ear shape, ear canal length, and even the placement of the ears on one’s head; and partly because of how we listen.

Hempton was inspired early in his listening life by the great naturalist John Muir, who Hempton considers one of the great recorders of nature’s music. The fact that Muir lived at a time when “recording” nature’s music meant crafting vivid musical descriptions in his notebooks, in no way diminishes the importance of his “recordings.” It is Muir who describes “snow melting into music.” What at first may just sound like a poetic turn of phrase took on new meaning during Hempton’s presentation. Gordon played a recording of melting snow that created a rhythmic groove that made the audience want to dance! Snow truly melting into pure music.

Part of the key to becoming a better listener is to embrace silence. Silence in nature, Hempton reminds us, is never truly silent, but rather contains worlds of music just waiting to emerge. To listen into such silence takes a quiet mind. Gordon mentioned that after spending time in the noise of a city it may take up to three days of silence to reach a state of mind and clarity of listening to begin to take in the true subtleties of nature’s music. Since it was somewhat impractical to take everyone in the conservatory to the remote Utah wilderness for three days, Gordon started us down the path of better listening by leading a series of sound walks around our campus and surrounding area.

The sound walk is really a type of sound meditation. Hempton’s instructions were simple:
1. There will be no talking.
2. Participants should listen without discrimination, as if they were a microphone.
3. If the mind starts focusing on a particular sound, let it go, and once again listen to everything.
4. Explore your sonic environment.

Then we were off, slowly following Hempton around campus. Exploring the very familiar landscape in a completely new way. Our group must have looked odd to curious onlookers. As one students rotated slowly on Main Hall Green, another had her ear firmly planted on a storm drain, and another had his ear ever-so-close to the craggy bark of an oak tree—listening. It was so easy, so natural to filter out the traffic while listening to a passing bird, but that was exactly what we were trying to avoid. “Be the microphone, be the microphone, be the microphone.” The task is difficult but wonderfully revealing.

I encourage all of you to try it. During the hour walk, there were brief moments of complete openness, lost seconds later as the mind celebrated its fleeting victory. But it did point to the fact that we can all become better listeners, deep listeners, with practice; and if there is one thing we musicians know how to do, it’s practice.

Thank you Gordon for sharing your passion with us. It was an ear-opening experience for us all!

Submitted 21st October 2010
By Brian Pertl, Dean, Lawrence Conservatory of Music

Lawrence Celebrates the Acquisition of The James Smith Rudolph Collection of Early Winds

September 19th, 2010 by Brian Pertl

On August 4th, 2010, Lawrence acquired the 21 renaissance and baroque instruments, 250 pieces of early wind music, and over a dozen books on early music that make up the James Smith Rudolph Collection of Early Winds. I want to express my deepest thanks to Mr. Rudolph for his decision to place the stewardship of his collection in our hands.  To say I am excited that Lawrence was chosen to be the home of this magnificent collection would be a gross understatement.  This collection of krumhorns, recorders, and flutes will fuel the passion for early music that has been growing on campus in the last few years. 

My plan is to install a beautiful display case to show off the instruments and raise excitement for renaissance and baroque instrumental music, but if the passion and excitement for these instruments is anywhere near what I anticipate, the display case should be completely EMPTY most of the year.  My goal is to get these inspirational winds directly into

James Rudolph with his First Recorder!

 the hands of our young musicians.  Instruments that are merely used for display are no longer musical instruments! Already LUCEM (Lawrence University Collective of Early Music) and the Lawrence Baroque Ensemble are planning on ways to best use these instruments.  I can hardly wait to see what sorts of music making this collection will inspire.

So how did Lawrence end up as the home for this collection?  Well, the tale is definitely worth recounting.  Sometime in the 1950s, James Smith Rudolph, WWII veteran, was living in Paris.  He didn’t have a lot of money, but once a year, he made his way to Lausanne, Switzerland to ski with a friend who lived there.  Since there wasn’t a whole lot of skiing in Paris, James left his skis at his friend’s place.

 This particular year, when James made his trek to Switzerland he was greeted with the sad news that a thief had stolen his skis! Ski-less and bored, James took to wandering the streets of Lausanne, where he spied a beautiful wooden instrument in a music store window.  He had never seen anything like it before.  He entered the store, found out the instrument was a recorder, and decided to buy it!  So instead of skiing for two weeks, James spent the time in the apartment falling in love with his new instrument. And this was the start of the life-long love affair with early instruments and early music that eventually led to the creation of his magnificent instrument collection.  So in a sense, Lawrence really has an unknown ski thief to thank for our great good fortune!

 

I first heard about the collection this spring when I, and around a dozen other conservatory deans around the country, received a letter from Mr. Rudolph describing his collection and expressing his desire to find a permanent home for it at a university.   The letter caught my interest right away, since I had seen the impact that high quality instruments can have on a conservatory; especially if those instruments get into the hands of our students.  Our Guarneri violin, our Brombaugh organ, our quartet of Cox strings, and our collection of early keyboard instruments show the transformative power of fine instruments every day.

This started a series of correspondences with Mr. Rudolph where I shared the vision I had for his cherished collection; a vision where his collection would continue to inspire countless generations of students and help them gain a deeper understanding of, and love for, early music.

I am happy to report that of the dozen institutions that were interested in the collection, Mr. Rudolph chose Lawrence as the new home for his collection, in a large part because of our strong commitment to get the instruments into the hands of our students.

My deepest thanks go to James Smith Rudolph.  May his outstanding collection inspire untold numbers of Lawrentians  both now and well into the future! Check out images of the collection on our Conservatory Facebook site.

Submitted the 19th of September, 2010 by Brian Pertl, Dean, Lawrence Conservatory of Music

Summer Reading Raves from the Dean

July 19th, 2010 by Brian Pertl

OK, it’s the middle of July so you might be wondering why I am posting a summer reading list when summer is getting dangerously close to being half over. Here is my reasoning: no one wants to wrap up school and be instantly bombarded with yet another reading list. We all needed some time to chill out, reconnect with old friends, dive into summer work, give some time for a little boredom to set in, perhaps a little guilt about not practicing enough, and perhaps the creeping realization that we are actually missing some of the intellectual rigor of LU.

I figure that right about now, a lot of us are ready to pick up a good book and devour it! So I’ve put together a list of four wonderful books for musicians, lovers of music, and deep listeners. Personally, I would love for everybody in the Conservatory to read these books. Perhaps not all this summer, but you should definitely put them on your list of things to read before too long.

1. The Savvy Musician: Building a Career, Earning a Living and Making a Difference by David Cutler.
David Cutler is a conservatory trained musician and a darn good one at that. He was very successful as a student, but when he graduated and left the insulated world of the conservatory, he was faced with the perennial question: “Now what?” He realized that the traditional conservatory wasn’t providing the one thing that today’s musician needs to be a success: guidance in how to be entrepreneurial. This book is a hands-on guide to help us along the way. It is well-written, funny, easy to understand, and full of real-life examples of entrepreneurial musicians. Cutler has the knack of inspiring and empowering today’s musicians.

This is an area that we are actively trying to address at Lawrence. We offered our first class on the topic, Entrepreneurship in the Arts, this spring. David came and spoke on the topic of entrepreneurship and made a very positive impression. This is a book that every conservatory musician should own. . . and read! There is also a great companion website: www.savvymusician.com

2. The Musician’s Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness by Gerald Klickstein

There are many books out there that deal with proper practice habits, performance anxiety, and health and wellness for musicians, few of them, however, have been able to successfully combine these topics. What I like about the Klickstein book is its holistic, step by step approach to becoming a complete musician. He covers just about everything: deep practice habits, preparing for transcendent performances, working in small groups, improvisation, mental preparation, memorization, and health and wellness. Its thoroughness is remarkable and should resonate with everyone on the path to becoming a professional musician. I’m a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the genre of practical guides to musicianship. I bore easily and I am quick to find fault with bone-headed proposals. But with this book, I found myself agreeing out loud to Klickstein’s suggestions. It is a great nuts and bolts guide to getting the most out of your practice, performance, musicality, and health while never forgetting the transcendent elements of our art. This is a great book for all Con students to own. There is also a nice website: www.themusiciansway.com

3. The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music by Victor Wooton

This book is not a nuts and bolts guide to musicianship, at least not in the pragmatic way the Klickstein book is. Instead it focuses on the spiritual journey between musician and Music. It is definitely more along the lines of Carlos Casteneda than Klickstein, but in spite of its overabundance of mysticism, I love this book. It features quirky musical mentors and unexplained happenings, as we follow the protagonist on his surreal, challenging, and humorous journey to becoming a complete musician. What I love about the music lesson is that it reintroduces the reader to the magic and mystery of music. Sometimes a year or two of scales, etudes and warm-up routines can slowly dampen the wonder that we musicians all have for music. Wooten’s book is a match to reignite musical wonder. I’ve read the book each summer as we get ready to go back to class and it helps remind me why I’ve devoted my life to this thing called music. Interestingly both the Klickstein and Wooten book both peel back the layers to reveal the magic of this thing we call music, but the approaches couldn’t be more different. I think they make great companions on you summer reading journey.

 
4. One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet by Gordon Hempton

Gordon Hempton is one of the world’s great natural sound recordists and one of the world’s best listeners. I have spoken of Gordon is a previous blog. He is on a quest to preserve natural quiet places—places that aren’t perpetually bombarded by man-made noise. A few years back he came up with the idea of getting the government to recognize and protect just one square inch of silence in the center of the Hoh Rainforest in Washington State. The beauty of his idea is that by keeping just that one square inch free of man-made noise, literally hundreds of miles silence need to be protected. This book is the story of that quest, but also the story of a deep listener, and this is exactly what we as musicians should all be striving to become. Hempton weaves an ear-opening adventure that is a pleasure to read. Gordon Hempton will be coming to Lawrence in mid-October to share his work and experiences with our students. I hope to see you all in the audience.
So there you have it, four books that will inspire, instruct, and give hours of reading pleasure. So pull up a hammock, grab a book and get reading. Your inner musician will be glad you did.

Maslanka, McBride and Music that Shakes the Soul

May 16th, 2010 by Brian Pertl

There is always something wonderful happening at the Conservatory, whether it’s a student recital, guest artist, master class, or ensemble performance; but every once in while the stars align to create a moment of surpassing musical wonder. In this particular instance the moment lasted the better part of the week.

David Maslanka, one of America’s greatest living composers arrived on Wednesday for a four day residency.  He gave two compelling presentations, one on meditation and composition, worked with Lawrence composition students, and rehearsed both the Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble as they prepared for a concert on Saturday night featuring the composer’s works.

The rehearsals were exhilarating for everyone involved. Maslanka really pushed the students to new levels of musicianship as he guided them to capture his clearly defined musical vision for each piece. Oh, and did I mention that Maslanka’s music is hard? To say it is technically challenging is to understate the reality. It can be monstrously difficult.  Students left those rehearsals looking like they had just run a marathon. . . but instead of being tired and burned out, they were tired yet elated by the experience.

With Maslanka madness in full swing, Todd Baldwin, trombonist extraordinaire with the United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own), arrived on Thursday to work with our Lawrence trombonists and prepare a solo work for the same band concert on Saturday night.  Todd is a first class trombonist but also one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. He immediately connected with the trombone studio and began giving master classes and lessons during his spare time!

On Friday, with the bands gearing up for their big concert, the Chapel was being prepared for the last performance of this year’s Jazz Artist Series Concert. By Friday afternoon, Christian McBride, one of the greatest living jazz bassists, and his quintet of all-star musicians flew into town!  The Conservatory was literally buzzing with activity.  Late Friday afternoon, as the spring sun was slanting low through the stained glass windows of the Memorial Chapel,  Christian McBride was giving a jazz master class on the Chapel stage. Not more than 100 feet away in our main rehearsal room, David Maslanka was working with the Wind Ensemble to polish up his 8th Symphony, while Todd Baldwin was giving private trombone lessons down the hall! It was remarkable, to say the least!

The Christian McBride concert was a jazz revelation.  I had one student come up to me afterwards and say, “that was so incredible, I’m not sure it actually happened!”  She was right! It was that amazing. Between his master class and the concert, McBride, along with his band, had inspired us all.

We barely had time to recover from the McBride concert before it was Saturday evening and time for the final Symphonic Band, Wind Ensemble Concert of the year.  With Maslanka and Baldwin sharing the stage, all the students were determined to give their very best, and they did not disappoint.  The Symphonic Band did a superb job playing Maslanka’s Golden Light and backing up Todd Baldwin on Goldstein’s Colloquy for Solo Trombone and Symphonic Band.  

By intermission the excitement was building for the Lawrence premiere of Maslanka’s 8th Symphony, a piece which Lawrence helped to commission.   The Symphony is expansive, nearly 40 minutes long and filled with the most demanding passages in the Wind Ensemble repertoire.

Maslanka feels that music has a unique ability to penetrate and stir the human soul, thereby inspiring humanity at the deepest level.  From the first note of the 8th Symphony, the soul stirring quality of his music could not be ignored. It seeped into the deepest recesses of every listener and illuminated us from within.   The musicians were clearly inspired too, for they played that piece with an intensity and purity that they had never done before.  By the end of the third movement when it the music had clearly reached its peak intensity, it continued to grow, and deepen.  Triple fortes increased to quadruple fortes, then quintuple.  When Professor Andrew Mast gave his final cut off and the final chord rolled out over the audience, there was an audible gasp.   Like me, the entire audience had been holding its collective breath for the final 30 seconds!

It was one of the most moving musical performances I have ever experienced. The standing ovation was well deserved and marked a perfect ending to a most remarkable musical weekend.

Not a Music Major? No Problem. The Con is for You Too!

April 19th, 2010 by Brian Pertl

At a recent Admitted Student Day, I had the opportunity to meet dozens of students trying to decide if Lawrence was the place for them. It is always fun talking to these students and answering any questions they may have. Since I heard variations of the same question from four different students, I thought it might be valuable to address it in my blog.

Here is a common variation of the question (substitute declared major and musical instrument type at will):

“I want to come to Lawrence and get a degree in French, but I’ve been playing violin since I was 6. I want to keep playing my instrument, but I am worried that the Conservatory is only for high-powered music majors. Should I just leave my violin at home?”

Here is the short answer to that question:

“NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!”

Our Conservatory is for ALL musicians. Yes, music majors will be taking more theory classes and more music history classes, and they will probably be putting in more hours of practice, but we want anyone with a passion to study music to take advantage of the fantastic resources at the Conservatory. There are non-majors in every single one of our large ensembles and nearly all of our studios. I love it when physics majors, economics majors, and philosophy majors continue to pursue their love of music at the Conservatory. It fits perfectly into a liberal arts education.
In fact, many students wishing to earn a degree in the college, decide to come to Lawrence so they can keep pursuing their passion for music at a high level. I heard that one of the reasons Thomas Steitz, (’62) 2009 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, decided to come to Lawrence was so he could continue studying music while he pursued his studies in chemistry. I can’t wait to talk to him about that and find out the details when he visits campus later this year.

I realize that the application process itself helps to enhance the perception of a divide between college students and conservatory students. You have to decide if you will audition for the Conservatory or not. But this process does not exclude students who aren’t “in” the Conservatory from making music in the Conservatory!
Once you are on campus and have taken your auditions for Viking Chorale, Orchestra, Symphonic Band, or Jazz Band; or you’ve decided to try something new like the Sambistas, Balinese Gamelan, or Ghanaian drumming, you are just a part of the group like anyone else—a musician. No one cares that you aren’t a music major. There are no funny hats that you have to wear proclaiming that you are not in the Conservatory. You can continue to perform music, and at levels you probably never dreamed of in high school. We are one of the top conservatories in the country. Why wouldn’t want to take advantage of this amazing resource?

So bring your trombones, violins, flutes, and tubas. Warm up your voices and get ready to participate in music at our Conservatory—at YOUR Conservatory.

Submitted on April 19, 2010

By Brian Pertl, Dean, Lawrence Conservatory of Music

A Truly Amazing Musical Event!

March 4th, 2010 by Brian Pertl

Last week, Bobby Mcferrin came to campus to perform a suite of 19 pieces called Migrations that he commissioned from our Director of Jazz Studies, Fred Sturm. Fred wrote the piece three years ago, and Bobby premiered it in Hamburg Germany. The concept of the piece was to use traditional tunes from around the world as the inspiration for Fred to create a global suite for big band and McFerrin. Fred wanted to showcase the diversity of the world’s music traditions, but also the unifying force of music.

I was lucky enough to act as the world music consultant for the project. I listened to nearly a thousand pieces from around the world in order to come up with the 200 or so I sent to Fred. Fred then took that 200 and whittled it down to 19. Since rhythm and percussion were such a huge part of Fred’s vision for the piece, he took Dane Richeson, Lawrence Percussion Professor, and world percussion virtuoso to play in the premiere performance. The premiere in Hamburg was a huge success, but sadly, none of us back in the states were able to enjoy Fred’s awe-inspiring composition.

Imagine our excitement when we were able to book McFerrin to come to Lawrence to give the North American premiere of the piece. Planning for this concert was thrilling of for a number of reasons. First, anytime you can get Bobby McFerrin to come to campus, it is a reason to celebrate. His musical virtuosity coupled with the sheer joy he brings to his art never fails to inspire everyone he comes in contact with. Second, it would allow Fred to showcase his masterwork right on his home turf. I was particularly excited about this aspect of the McFerrin visit, since I witnessed first hand the immense effort and artistry Fred put into creating this work. Third, Fred, who always looks for ways to share musical experiences with as many students as possible, rearranged a number of the 19 pieces for full studio orchestra, and another selection for our Hybrid vocal ensemble. In the end, there would be 100 students that had the unforgettable experience of sharing the stage with Bobby McFerrin and playing Fred’s music. So what wasn’t there to be excited about!

Needless to say, the experience was magical. All of the students and all of the audience in the sold out Chapel were treated to an experience that they will never forget. As I watched the performance unfold with Bobby in the center of 100 of our students, I couldn’t help but be amazed and terribly proud of what I was seeing and hearing. Migrations is not an easy piece. Fred wrote it for one of the top professional jazz ensembles in Europe. Add to that the responsibility of backing up one of the greatest living vocalists, and the students had a daunting challenge to overcome. Nevertheless, our undergraduate musicians performed to the highest professional standards. They transcended the technical difficulties of the music and delivered a heartfelt, joyous, musically uplifting performance.

I happened to be a student at Lawrence when Bobby McFerrin first visited the campus in 1984. It was a musical encounter that had a profound impact on my musical life even years after leaving Lawrence. As the standing ovations ended and the crowds began filing out of the Chapel, I smiled to myself, secure in the knowledge that whether our students knew it or not, McFerrin’s most recent visit would impact them in the same profound ways that his first visit impacted me. I can’t think of a more wonderful musical gift.

Thank your Fred, for making this all possible. Lawrence is truly lucky to have you!

Bobby McFerrin improvises with Lawrence students

Bobby McFerrin improvises with Lawrence students

Why World Music?

January 28th, 2010 by Brian Pertl

At the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, besides providing world-class training in Western music, we have a strong commitment to providing our students a broad exposure to the music traditions of the world. Why? It could be argued that the well of Western music is so deep that our students will need every available moment to even begin to plumb its depths. This view has been typical of Conservatories across the US and Europe. Even the name “Conservatory” implies the act of preservation and conservation of our Western music traditions. Although I completely agree that Western music provides a nearly endless landscape to explore, I do not believe that a student, especially in the 21st century, should limit her studies to only this one area. As an Ethnomusicologist, myself, I am passionate in this belief.

At our Conservatory, we believe that in order to achieve the highest level of musicianship, one needs to bring a breadth and depth of learning that extends well beyond the practice room and rehearsal hall. Part of this breadth comes from an exposure to music traditions from around the world. Just as studying a foreign language gives a student a deeper understanding of their native tongue, studying world music traditions can provide surprising insights into Western musical thought and performance.

So we have taken a holistic approach to the exploration of world music at music at Lawrence. This allows our students to access world music traditions in a variety of ways. We are thrilled to have Professor Sonja Downing on our faculty. She is an ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music of Bali. She teaches all of our core world music academic classes. First, we offer a world music survey class. This gives our students an initial exposure to non-western music traditions around the world. Here they learn that although all cultures have music, each approaches it in its own unique way. We also provide a higher level course in the field of ethnomusicology. This course focuses on the discipline of ethnomusicology itself, and is appealing for those students who want to further pursue the study of world music traditions. Ethnomusicologists study music within culture. They ask the question: how does music fit into the larger society? These approaches can be applied equally well if you are studying musicians from Peru, a rap group from Chicago, a chamber choir from Appleton, or even musicians from 13th century France! Professor Downing also offers upper level classes that focus more deeply on particular traditions or topics like the Performing Arts of Bali. In the spring, Professor Downing will team up with Professor Miller from our Education Department to teach a course on incorporating world music traditions in public school music classes. This will be a wonderful addition to our Music Education curriculum!

In addition, we believe that knowledge of non-Western music shouldn’t come solely from the class room. The students should have the opportunity to play the music, experience it first hand, feel it, groove with it. So our Conservatory is thrilled that we offer five separate opportunities to dive directly into performing world music. Under the direction of Professor Dane Richeson, our Brazilian samba drumming group, the Sambistas, are celebrating their 25th year at Lawrence. Hundreds of students over the years have immersed themselves in the rhythms of Brazilian samba. We also offer classes in Cuban drumming and singing, as well as Ghanaian drumming and dance. Starting in 2009, we have also added Australian didjeridu classes, and Balinese gamelan. This 20 piece bronze gong orchestra is led by Balinese master musician I Dewa Ketut Alit Adnyana. I am thrilled that a University of our size offers our students an array of world music performance opportunities usually found only at much larger schools with the robust graduate programs in ethnomusicology.

Our World Music Concert Series and our World Music Film Series round out our offerings. The concert series brings in virtuoso performs from all over the world to perform and give hands-on lecture demonstrations of their instruments and music traditions. In the past two years we have had performers from China, Mongolia, Russia, Ghana, India, and Tuva; along with leading experts in Cuban Music, and the music of Central Asia. These performances give our students an unprecedented opportunity to see master musicians from around the globe present their music traditions in a concert setting. Our film series does the same through the art of cinema. We bring in the best films about music from around the world. These two new performance series have been a great complement to our Artist Series and Jazz Series.

At Lawrence, our offerings in world music help provide the broad knowledge that is at the heart of a liberal arts education. By studying world music, our students become better informed musicians, better informed scholars, and better informed citizens of the world.

And that, in a rather large nutshell, is why we value world music at our Conservatory.

I invite you to experience the wonders of world music at Lawrence yourself. On Monday, February 1st we will have two wonderful musicians from China and India giving a free concert in Harper Hall. If you haven’t heard a pipa or a sarod before, please come. You will be glad you did!

Submitted by Brian Pertl, Dean, Lawrence Conservatory of Music

on January 27th, 2010

Celebrating the Next Generation of Streaming Audio at Lawrence

November 26th, 2009 by Brian Pertl

It is hard to believe, but it has only been a year since our very first live webcast from The Memorial Chapel. Before November 22nd, 2008, if you weren’t in the Chapel for a concert, you were out of luck. As a Lawrence alumnus living in Seattle for the past 18 years, this was a huge frustration. I would hear about the wonderful concerts that had happened at Lawrence and regret that I couldn’t have attended them. So when I became Dean of the Conservatory, I was determined to solve that particular dilemma. The live webcasts were our solution to this problem. Now parents, friends, family, alumni, and prospective students can pull up a virtual seat in the concert hall, whether they are in Sheboygan or Stuttgart. For most concerts, our web listeners get the extra bonus of the intermission interview, where they can hear directors, composers, or performers share their insights about the music, concert prepartation, or life at the Conservatory.

So after a year of webcasting, has it been a success? I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. We have now webcast 31 concerts from Lawrence. We had a total of 1,988 households tuned in for those performances! If there were an average of two people listening per household, that means we had enough listeners to fill the Chapel to capacity over three times! Think about that. Three Chapels of listeners that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to hear the great music our students are creating. I think this is wonderful.

So what are we doing to celebrate the one year anniversary of live webcasting at Lawrence? We are happy to announce the addition of an audio streaming archive of Chapel concerts. For those of you who aren’t able to tune in for the live webcast, you can visit our Audio Streaming section of our webcast page. Within a few days of the concert, the entire performance will be available for your listening pleasure. Have a hankering to hear Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass at sunrise? Miles Davis’ Solar at Midnight? Hindemith at tea time? No worries! Just head to the streaming page, click play, sit back and enjoy the music. We will usually keep each performance up for around two weeks after the initial concert, which should give you the opportunity listen to your favorite pieces hundreds of times! If two weeks still isn’t enough for you, you can always order a CD of the concert from recording services.

I want to thank Larry Darling, Director of Recording Services, Alvina Tan Recording Services Assistant for making our webcasts great.We couldn’t have done it without their dedication and tireless efforts. I also want to thank all of you, our listeners, for supporting music at our Conservatory. We look forward to sharing many more concerts with you in the months and years to come! Have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Submitted on Thanksgiving Day 2009

By Brian Pertl, Dean, Lawrence Conservatory of Music

Two Approaches to Cope with the Rising Tide of Sound

November 4th, 2009 by Brian Pertl

We live in a world overflowing with sound. Cars, trains, planes, mowers, blowers, cell phones and sirens are just a few of the elements that have added to the world’s sonic clutter within the past 100 years. Our ears are assaulted by noise nearly everywhere we go. How does our ever-diminishing quiet impact us as humans? As musicians? Constant noise certainly adds to aural fatigue. The incessant barrage of sound desensitizes us to the subtleties in our sonic environment. Increased noise, however, is just one of the problems we face.

Another monumental issue is the oversaturation of our environment with music. Yes, music, the exact opposite of noise (when we get it right!), and the very thing we spend endless hours studying at the Conservatory! Not too long ago, music was tied to a place and an event. Before the invention of the phonograph, the only way to hear a concert was to go to a concert. For the most part, people went with the specific intention of hearing and enjoying the music. For most of any given day, the only music that one would hear would have to be created within the household. Music was special, a gift apart from the ordinary. Today, music no longer needs to be tied to place or occasion. Elevators, clothing stores, gas stations, car radios, mp3 players, and even cell phones create a non-stop wash of music nearly anywhere we travel. Should a Bach sonata really be used to accompany people trying on underwear in a department store dressing room? Does it heighten the dressing room experience? Does it cheapen the magnificence of Bach? Does the ubiquity of musical sound lessen its impact? I would contend that it does. So what exactly can we do about it?

This ocean of noise, this sea of music in which we swim can make us sloppy listeners–inattentive, even lazy. It is easy to forget that listening is an art, an active and involved process that requires conscious effort. Hearing, in comparison is the passive act of sound waves spilling freely into the “hear holes” conveniently located on the sides of our heads. We should never confuse one for the other. Pauline Oliveros, composer and musician, is a great proponent of the active art of listening. She calls this activity “deep listening.” The goal is to consciously focus attention on sounds of all kind, both natural and musical. The key is that the process is an active one not a passive one. It is also important to realize that we all can become virtuoso listeners with attentive practice.

Once you have met a listening virtuoso, the whole concept slips into focus. Stuart Dempster is one such master of listening. When he was at Lawrence recently we were walking across campus. He paused mid-step listening to the plaintive whistle of a far-off train. A smile spread across his lips, as he tracked the ever diminishing echoes subtly bouncing of the Mudd Library, Main Hall and more distant buildings.

Keep in mind that even the original whistle was at least a mile away–nothing more than a soft hoot to begin with. At first I didn’t believe what he was describing, so on the second whistle, I opened my ears (and my mind) and indeed, I could hear the sonic dance as well; the notes surrounding us as they careened from building to building. Wow! It was beautiful. For Stuart, the joy of listening isn’t confined to train whistles. The click of shoes down an empty hallway, a baby crying, the wind rustling through the leaves; they are all part of one great symphony! Naturally he employs the same virtuosity when listening to music. Every nuance, harmonic, timbre is absorbed and cherished. It certainly doesn’t mean he likes everything he hears, but he approaches each sound with complete attentiveness.

I have another friend named Gordon Hempton. Gordon is one of the world’s foremost natural sound recordist. He is also a virtuoso listener, but he has chosen to approach the issue of sonic overload in a different way. Over his many years in the field he has witness the slow disappearance of quiet places–areas of nature where no man-made sound is audible. Gordon believes there are only 6 left in all the United States and none left in Europe. His quest is for environmentalists to value quiet as much as the physical manifestations of nature. He has therefore designated one square inch of silence in the middle of the Olympic National Forest in Washington State.

By protecting just this one square inch, many miles of forest must remain quiet as well. It is a brilliant idea, both captivating and effective. He has now written a book about this quest entitled One Square Inch. Gordon is a true visionary trying to protect our quiet while we still have some left. We really don’t know what we have lost until we have the glorious opportunity to experience a truly quiet place. If you get to Washington State, you can actually hike in to visit this one square inch of quiet and listen to a world without any man-made noise!

I have run the gamut in my musings, from our daily bombardment of noise and music, to actively trying to refine our listening skills, to one man’s efforts to preserve America’s last quiet spaces. Now the real trick is to figure out what you personally want to do about it. Here are three suggestions, one for each section:

1) Feel free to undertake your own noise abatement crusade. It is fine, for example, to tell a restaurant owner that his music is so loud that you can’t hear the conversation at your table, and unless he turns it down, you won’t be coming back! If you’re going to a restaurant to have an engaging conversation with friends, it always helps to be able to hear the conversation! It is also OK to wear earplugs when noise levels reach a point where they will damage your hearing. For much more on this topic please refer to my blog on hearing loss prevention.

2) Actively practice attentive listening, deep listening. Sit quietly, close your eyes and experience your complete sound environment. Start with a few minutes a day and work up. You will be amazed at the joy you will experience from becoming a better listener!

3) Recognize quiet as a natural resource. It truly is a resource worth protection. Check out onesquareinch.org to get some deeper insights into the “quiet revolution.”

I wish you all happy listening.

Submitted on 3 November 2009

By Brian Pertl, Dean, Conservatory of Music, Lawrence University.

Putting the Play Back into Playing Music

October 11th, 2009 by Brian Pertl

I’m writing this blog today from the great room at Bjorklunden, Lawrence’s northern retreat lodge. It is 7:00 AM and the sun is rising over Lake Michigan. The day is glorious and I am looking forward to it with great anticipation. It is the final day of our Low Brass/Composers retreat, and I’m not sure exactly what will happen, but I know it will be interesting, joyful and inspiration. Why? Well, because Stuart Dempster is here! For the last four days, Stuart Dempster, trombonist, didjeridu player, composer, sound gatherer, master musician, and inspirational teacher, has been on campus and at Bjorklunden, doing what he does best: putting the “play” back into playing music. It is a lesson that can benefit every musician from the new beginner to the seasoned veteran.

Stuart helps remind all of us how musicians are a lucky lot. Who else gets to “play” what they do in life? A scientist doesn’t play and experiment. A lawyer doesn’t play a case. A teacher doesn’t play a lesson. But we musicians get to head out to the Conservatory and play, play, play! What an amazing thought. How lucky we are. But few of us actually approach our art with this attitude. Instead of playing with music, we play against music; doing our best to try to beat our poor instruments into submission as we try to conquer one particularly hard passage or another. When we perform, the audience can seem like the worst critics, just waiting for us to mess up. So we withdraw on stage.Buried in our music, we focus on technical perfection, just hoping we can get through the piece without a disaster. At this point playing music becomes anything but “playing” music!

Stuart reminds us all that not only do we have to put the play back into music, but we also need to put the play back into every aspect of our lives. Stuart has been my mentor, friend, and musical collaborator for the past 19 years and I can say without hesitation that Stuart plays life. His lesson is simple, but it is amazing how quickly all of us can forget about infusing what we do with joy and playfulness. I think that often we musicians equate playfulness with a lack of respect for our art; that somehow opening our minds to the wonder and joy of music inevitably means we aren’t serious about our ever-so-serious art. All week Stuart has been showing us that this absolutely doesn’t have to be the case at all.

He has shown us that technical prowess, stellar musicianship, and hard work do not have to exist separately from wonder, joy and play. The concepts are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I would argue that for musicians to reach true greatness, they need to figure out a way to integrate that play into even the most difficult practice session; the trickiest passages; the most daunting high note. Stuart is a seriously playful musician. Stuart is a playfully serious musician.

In his performances there is not one second of doubt that he embraces and welcomes his audience. As soon as he walks on stage the performance is a collaboration: Stuart sharing his musical vision with the audience, the audience sharing their energy and support with Stuart. This cycle has an amazing ability to lift the performer and audience to new heights of musical experience. In his recital Thursday night, we all witnessed this amazing phenomenon. There were ten wonder-filled pieces on the program, but I’ll focus on just one. A musical dialogue developed between Stuart on trombone and Lee Tomboulian on accordion that developed into a theatrical masterpiece. As the music flowed back and forth the two musicians stood up and began a musical fencing match that had both men literally chasing each other around the stage! The music never stopped, the audience energy levels rose. By the end, Lee was motionless on the floor and Stuart was towering above the stage balanced on a chair. The standing ovation was immediate and prolonged!

So was this just an example of meaningless comedy that whipped the audience into a frenzy but had little deeper merit? Absolutely not! The audience that night witnessed a true musical dialogue between master musicians. Unscripted, unplanned, unrehearsed, and energized by the audience, “Play” took over and reminded us all what we too often forget, that play is at the very heart of what we do, and we need to honor and embrace the joyful, playful, wonderful side of our art. Thanks Stuart for reminding us of what deep down we already knew. May your lesson resonate in our Conservatory for decades to come. Many thanks Stuart!

Submitted on 10/10/09 from Bjorklunden

By Brian Pertl, Dean, Lawrence Conservatory of Music.