Category: Conservatory

LU music prof at heart of national effort to raise funds for out-of-work artists

Andrew Crooks directs music during a dress rehearsal of The Marriage of Figaro, staged during Winter Term at Lawrence University.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University Assistant Professor of Music Andrew Crooks has helped launch an online fund-raising campaign that has already brought in more than $237,000 to assist musicians and other artists across the United States who are struggling because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Artist Relief Tree (ART) was started earlier this month as music venues began to close and performances and tours were canceled, putting many artists out of work. The web site, www.artistrelieftree.com, received more than 3,500 requests for help in its first four days.

While it started with a goal to raise $10,000, organizers have now reset the target at $1 million.

For artists not in salaried, stable positions, the shutdown of performances on such a massive scale is heartbreaking, Crooks said in an email interview from his native New Zealand, where he is hunkered down to teach remotely during Spring Term.

“It is very painful to bear witness to these stories, both through Artist Relief Tree and via social media, as well as via more personal communications with friends,” he said. “There is extreme anxiety in the arts community, and we wanted to offer a little help, a little hope, and as much sense of community and solidarity as we could possibly muster.”

Crooks, who serves as a vocal coach at Lawrence and was the music director for the Conservatory’s Winter Term production of The Marriage of Figaro, teamed with a handful of other artists from around the country to form ART.

4 ways Lawrentians can pitch in, stay connected amid COVID-19 crisis: Details here.

Numerous notable performers and authors have since jumped on board with endorsements, among them Russell Brand, Brene Brown, Ani DiFranco, Brian Eno, Ben Folds, Rhiannon Giddens, George R.R. Martin, Mike Posner, and Lawrence’s own John Holiday.

The process works like this: An artist in need can request funds, with a requirement to provide some basic documentation about their work. On a first-come-first-served basis for those who qualify, ART will provide a financial assist. Monies began going out on March 18.

This isn’t going to sustain anyone long term. But it’s an effort to help a community that is reeling, to embrace a sense of togetherness among artists, and to raise awareness along with dollars, Crooks said. Many of these artists who were lined up to perform in some of the world’s great opera houses and other performance venues have no fallback. In many cases, no performance, no paycheck.

It was a team of six artists and arts administrators, all tied to the world of opera, who launched the project, Crooks said. He and Morgan Brophy, of Wolf Trap Opera, have served as co-founding-directors. The organizers are all working as volunteers.

“They have poured their hearts and souls and time into this passion project,” Crooks said. “They all care so, so much … about their artistic friends all over the world.”

Back at Lawrence, the efforts are drawing applause across the Conservatory.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our remarkable faculty,” Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl said. “This is such a great example of turning compassion into action, which is exactly what we want to model for our students.”

For more details on the project, see www.artistrelieftree.com or visit ART on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/artistrelieftree.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Lawrence alumnus brings classic Sam Shepard production to Cloak Theater

Paul McComas ’83 and Megan Corse star in Fool for Love, coming March 13 to Lawrence.

Update: This event has been canceled.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Playwright Paul McComas ’83 is passionate about a good number of things in this world, among them his alma mater and the work of the late writer and actor Sam Shepard.

Those two passions will come together on a Lawrence University stage on Friday, March 13, as McComas brings his adapted production of Shepard’s 1983 Fool for Love to Cloak Theater.

The play, set for 8 p.m. and starring McComas and fellow Chicago actor Megan Corse, begins with a set of “songs of foolish love,” followed by McComas’ 45-minute adaptation of Fool for Love, a sometimes funny, sometimes tragic rollercoaster of love and heartache that was a signature piece in Shepard’s 50-year career as a playwright, actor, director, and author. The play earned Shepard a Pulitzer Prize nomination, and it was later adapted to a feature film by Robert Altman.

To bring the touring production to Lawrence is a particular thrill for McComas, who counts the late Fred Gaines and other Lawrence faculty as mentors who set him on a course of creative exploration that has defined his career in the arts. The production will serve as a fundraiser for the Lawrence Conservatory’s Fred Gaines Student Playwright Series.

“There’s no education like a liberal-arts one,” McComas said of his time at Lawrence. “I see those lessons popping up daily — in every story or script I write, every stage or screen performance I assay, every song or instrumental piece I compose, every film I direct, every class I teach. I see it even in my thought processes and my most strongly held beliefs, namely the empathetic, altruistic, progressive ones.”

It was while at Lawrence that Gaines, the former theater and drama professor, introduced McComas to the work of Shepard. He’s been hooked ever since. He calls Shepard one of the great influences on his own writing and acting.

“Like him, I favor work that has one foot each in mainstream psychological family fiction and drama and material and themes that are more out there on the fringe,” McComas said. “I love the tension of that interplay in his work, and I aspire to it in my own.”

Productions of McComas’ Fool for Love have all been fundraisers for various causes since it premiered in 2018. It’s recommended for ages 13 and up. An audience conversation with the actors will follow the performance.

General admission tickets are $15 ($8 for seniors and non-Lawrence students), but free for members of the Lawrence community. For more information, call the box office at 920-832-6749 or visit www.facebook.com/events/696721090860700/.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Tight-knit cast ready to open “Figaro,” a comic opera full of messy relationships

A scene from a dress rehearsal of "The Marriage of Figaro."
Erik Nordstrom as Count Almaviva performs with cast mates during a dress rehearsal for The Marriage of Figaro. The cast in Tuesday’s rehearsal will be on stage Thursday and Saturday. The opera, with four performances between Thursday and Sunday, is double cast. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Class dynamics are certainly part of The Marriage of Figaro, the classic opera from the superstar duo of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte. But Copeland Woodruff, director of Opera Studies at Lawrence University, said he’s more fascinated by another element of the story as his Opera Theatre students prepare to open the production on March 5.

“It’s complex human relationships,” Woodruff said of the storyline that mixes love and betrayal and suspicion in equal doses, all with comedic undertones. “And everyone on stage is making poor choices, often times for selfish reasons to punish someone else.

“I’d really rather tell that story. Certainly, there’s class distinction in it, and you can’t ignore that, and you shouldn’t ignore that, but, for me, there are a lot of other interesting things, human elements that are going on, and they’re complicated.”

The comic opera was written by Mozart, the composer, and da Ponte, the librettist, in the 1780s, but, Woodruff said, if you want to think about it in more modern times, think Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl. You know, coveting your best friend’s girlfriend.

In short, Figaro, Count Almaviva’s longtime friend and personal valet, is set to marry the Countess’ maid, Susanna. But the high and mighty Count is plotting to seduce the servant Susanna, on her wedding night no less. The Countess is on to him and teams with Susanna to catch her husband in all his lecherous ways. Confusion and mischief happen along the way.

Emily Richter ’20, a music performance (voice) major from London, is in the role of the Countess. She said the cast has been eyeing opening night since first receiving the music in June and then prepping that music through fall term.

“We then spent the two weeks of D-Term peeling away the layers of what we’re saying and pushing the boundaries of what is possible with this show,” she said. “Since then we’ve spent 12 hours a week staging and trying to capture the nuance of the show.”

Emma Milton is Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, to be held in Stansbury Theater.

The Marriage of Figaro will be presented over four days in Stansbury Theater — 7:30 p.m. performances on March 5, 6, and 7 and a 3 p.m. matinee on March 8. The show is for mature audiences. Admission is $15 ($10 for seniors, $8 for non-Lawrence students); free for Lawrence students, faculty, and staff.

It features a cast of 11, plus stage and technical crews, two rehearsal pianists, a student pit orchestra, and a 14-member chorus. It’s a big show, running three hours in length, and it is double cast, making for an imposing undertaking.

“It’s one of the most generous casts I’ve worked with in a long time,” Woodruff said. “They’re just generous with each other as far as sharing the stage space and working with one another.”

For Richter and other seniors in the cast, this is a final bow at Lawrence. She called her castmates “uplifting” and said the bonds being built will last long after the final curtain.

Max Muter is Figaro in Lawrence University’s The Marriage of Figaro.

“To get to be in an opera this massive with people I’ve been singing with now for almost four years is such a special experience,” she said. “Never again will we get to be in a show with people we’ve essentially grown up with for four years. It’s a very special thing, and I think that closeness, vulnerability, and trust shows up on stage.”

For more on Lawrence’s Opera Theatre program, visit here.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth to play Memorial Chapel as part of Artist Series

Tine Thing Helseth

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Tine Thing Helseth, an acclaimed trumpet player from Norway, goes where most trumpet players don’t. She tours as a soloist.

She’ll take the stage of Lawrence Memorial Chapel on Friday, Feb. 28, the second concert in Lawrence University’s 2019-20 Artist Series. The concert is set for 8 p.m.

Helseth has been buzzed about for a decade. But she really jumped onto the international map with a 2013 performance with the BBC Scottish Symphony.

Challenging the boundaries of expected repertoire for a trumpet soloist, Helseth has explored a variety of genres, from classical Bach pieces to arrangements of songs by the Beach Boys.

“She makes such a beautiful sound on the trumpet, and phrases so expressively that you really don’t care what she’s playing, it’s captivating,” John Daniel, associate professor of trumpet at Lawrence, said when the Artist Series was announced. “I would be happy to listen to her practicing scales or long tones.”

Helseth teaches trumpet at the Norwegian Academy of Music and is a regular TV and radio presenter in her community. She also continues to tour extensively as a solo artist, chamber musician and orchestra collaborator, having worked with some of the most significant orchestras across Europe.

In a 2018 interview with Limelight, in the midst of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Helseth talked about the joy she finds in playing as a soloist.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of my string colleagues, especially violinists, and in some aspects they envy me a little bit, that I play the trumpet, because I can do more different stuff. We don’t have all the traditional big concertos, so I’m a bit more free to do commissions. …  It’s just a very different type of career.”

Tickets for the Lawrence performance are $25-30 for adults, $20-25 for seniors, and free for students.

Future performances in the 2019-20 Artist Series include: Anderson & Roe Piano Duo, 8 p.m. April 3; and Melody Moore (soprano), 8 p.m. April 18. For more on Lawrence’s Artist Series, see here.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Familiar power struggles in play as Lawrence’s “Richard III” hits the stage

Chris Follina ’20, as Richard III, rehearses with Alec Welhouse ’23, as the Duke of Buckingham, during a dress rehearsal for “Richard III” in Cloak Theatre. The Lawrence Department of Theatre Arts production runs Feb. 20-22. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

History has a way of repeating itself.

As a Lawrence theater and English double major who is doing her Senior Experience in conjunction with the Department of Theatre Arts’ production of Richard III, Haley Stevens ’20 hopes audience members remember that famous adage as they watch the action unfold this week on the Cloak Theatre stage.

Written almost 400 years ago, it might not initially be obvious how the themes and content of Richard III could be relevant to a modern audience. But when looking at today’s political climate, some of Richard III’s key plot points—betrayal, power struggles and rumor campaigns, to name a few—may not seem so foreign, she said.

“I want the audience to feel like this is weirdly familiar, like unexpectedly familiar,” Director Timothy X. Troy said, echoing Stevens’ assessment. “It’s not necessarily a happy thought. It happens every day in rehearsal as we’re working our way through scenes. We’re like, man, that just happened last week. … But that’s true of all great literature. Each era finds its way into it. These were people who lived through a tumultuous time. And guess who we are?”

For the cast and crew of Shakespeare’s Richard III, the past five weeks of rehearsal are finally coming to fruition. Set to open on Thursday night, Richard III will be performed in Cloak Theatre at 8 p.m. Feb. 20–22, with an additional 3 p.m. matinee Feb. 22.

With an abridged script that has condensed the original four-hour play into 90 minutes of action, the production, subtitled “I am Myself, Alone,” tackles the challenge of analyzing the choices individuals make, both in a historical context and today.

Carly Beyer ’22, as Queen Elizabeth, rehearses with Ben Carlick ’20, as Dorset, during a dress rehearsal for “Richard III” in Cloak Theatre.

The production tells the story of Richard III, an English nobleman who will do virtually anything to ensure his rise to the throne following a 30-year civil war—no matter the cost. In order to condense the play to 90 minutes, an effort spearheaded by Olivia Gregorich ’17 and Troy, the team had to choose one primary thematic point of view to depict in depth. Settling on the concept of human agency and the factors that restrict it, this production explores the challenging idea of how individuals can make the best decisions for themselves when their options are inherently limited.

Although this concept can easily be understood by a modern audience, placing it in its proper historical context adds an additional level of depth to the production. This historical understanding was enhanced in 2012, when the body of the real Richard III was discovered and exhumed.

As part of the first generation of productions of Richard III since then, the production team has been able to rediscover the play and utilize information about Richard III that previously could not have been confirmed. Having this new knowledge allows the team to explore the production in a new light.

First, it is now confirmed that Richard III truly had a disability, which had previously only been rumored. Christopher Follina ’20, the actor who plays Richard and a theater and religious studies double major doing this production for his Senior Experience, also has a disability, which allows for a more influential and nuanced interpretation of Richard’s character, according to Troy.

Written only a few generations following the real events that occur in the play, original Elizabethan audiences would have been able to recognize the character of Richmond as their queen’s grandfather and would likely have had grandparents who fought in the civil war.

“It’s kind of the equivalent of watching a play around Vietnam or World War II,” Stevens said. “It’s something that happens even now when we’re generations removed from great conflict and then a play portrays it in order to bring back the understanding of what other people, your ancestors, could have gone through.”

Chris Follina plays Richard III in Lawrence’s production of “Richard III.”

Although this weekend’s audience will not have the same close connection to the characters and events of the play as the Elizabethan audience, Troy and Stevens both believe the universal themes and patterns depicted in Richard III can be transferred across time and found in every period of history—including this one. The specific players and timelines may change, but the fundamental story remains the same.

“When you do the show, you keep the story alive,” said Alec Welhouse ’23, the actor playing the Duke of Buckingham. “You don’t let the story die. If we weren’t doing this show, I don’t think anyone at Lawrence would be talking about King Richard or anyone like that. But since we’re doing it, it sparks that interest again. It gets people interested in Shakespearean times and makes you want to learn more about it.”

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Student commissions music for senior recital in honor of Pakistani grandmother

Rehanna Rexroat '20 plays the violin during a recent rehearsal session in Shattuck Hall.
Rehanna Rexroat ’20 practices in Lawrence’s Shattuck Hall in preparation for her senior recital on Feb. 8. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

The senior violin recital for Rehanna Rexroat ’20, set for Saturday in Harper Hall, will be more than just the summit of her academic career at Lawrence — one that boasts majors in violin performance, instrumental music education, and choral/general music education. It also will bring attendees into a space of remembrance and celebration of culture.

With funding from a grant to assist Lawrence students in their Senior Experience, Rexroat was able to commission Aakash Mittal, a renowned Indian American saxophonist and composer, to compose a piece for her recital in honor of her Pakistani grandmother.

The piece, aptly titled Origins, is a duet for violin and harp for Rexroat and Leila Ramagopal Pertl, an instructor in music education in the Conservatory of Music.

For months, the two had been searching for a piece that properly payed homage to Rexroat’s culture by blending Indian and Western classical music. With no luck, they called on the assistance of Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. He reached out to Mittal, who he counts as a friend, to see if he had a piece he’d recommend. He did not. So, Mittal wrote one.

 “It’s really about honoring ancestors in a general, global sense,” Rexroat said of Origins.

The rest of the pieces in Rexroat’s recital deal similarly with these themes of culture and memory. Their composers, some of whom are ethnomusicologists, celebrate their own cultures or the cultures of other groups in the music. She dedicated one in honor of her grandmother on her mother’s side; another to her childhood best friend who recently died.

“I really liked that theme,” Rexroat said of the music selections. “But I took it a step further because I wanted my culture to be part of that.”

Rexroat was in contact with Mittal throughout the process of composing Origins. He was inspired by stories she sent him that her grandmother had told her. He adopted themes from those stories into the piece.

Learn about Lawrence’s Chandler Senior Experience here.

“I wanted my culture to be part of that,” Rehanna Rexroat said of commissioning a piece of music for her senior recital. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Rexroat’s grandmother was a devout Muslim, so the piece is set to scales used in devotional Sufi music, but one of the movements takes its name from a psalm to commemorate Rexroat’s own Christian beliefs.

Though the recital is very personal to her, Rexroat hopes the music — Origins in particular — also will encourage listeners to get in touch with their own cultural stories.

“The way Leila and I will be presenting it, we’re going to invite others to think about their ancestors,” she said.

Rexroat, a native of Mount Vernon, Iowa, who started playing the violin at age 4, noted that Saturday’s recital is almost exactly 18 years since she first picked up the instrument. But this educational apex, she said, is only the starting point of a longer musical journey.

“I think violin is always going to be a passion of mine,” she said. “It’s been in my life for as long as I can remember. Wherever I go I will try to find someone I can continue to study with.”

Rexroat’s recital will be at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, in Harper Hall. It is open to the public.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Frisell and friends bring Harmony to Memorial Chapel for Jazz Series concert

Harmony includes, from left, Luke Bergman, Bill Frisell, Hank Roberts, and Petra Haden.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The third concert in Lawrence University’s 2019-20 Jazz Series arrives Friday, and it promises to be a good one.

Not only will the legendary guitarist Bill Frisell be on stage at Memorial Chapel, but he’ll have some pretty notable players with him in a newly formed group called Harmony.

The 8 p.m. Feb. 7 concert features Frisell, Petra Haden, Hank Roberts, and Luke Bergman, the musicians who came together to record the Blue Note album Harmony, released in October. They have now taken Harmony on tour.

Frisell is a Grammy-winning guitarist and composer, his work rooted in jazz but also incorporating plenty of blues and popular American music traditions. He’s collaborated with the likes of John Zorn’s Naked City, Joey Baron, and the Paul Motian Trio, among others, in an impressive writing, recording and performing career that has spanned more than three decades.

“The way he moves complex harmonic voicings and linear phrases on the guitar with seamless sophistication is unparalleled,” Jose Encarnacion, assistant professor of music and director of jazz studies in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, said when the show was announced. “I personally love everything about his music, especially his collaborations with John Zorn and the Paul Motian’s group.”

Haden, meanwhile, provides the bulk of Harmony’s vocals, wrapped around Frisell originals and some American folk classics.

Andy Ellis wrote about Harmony in early January on the Premier Guitar site, offering a glimpse of what you’ll see and hear at the Chapel on Friday.

“When I first heard Harmony, I’d hit a rough patch and my normal diet of grooving music wasn’t cutting it,” Ellis writes. “From the opening strains of the first track, Everywhere, I felt as if I’d stepped through the looking glass into an alternative sonic universe, one both melancholic and divine. Ah, just what I needed.

“At the center of this strange brew is Petra Haden, whose beautiful, sometimes ethereal voice casts a spell across the entire album, which consists of Frisell originals, standards, and folk songs. Whether it’s Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life or On the Street Where You Live by Lerner and Loewe, the quartet — which includes cellist Hank Roberts and guitarist Luke Bergman, both of whom also sing — puts a fresh twist on jazz-leaning vocal ensembles. And were he still alive, I can imagine Pete Seeger wiping away a tear after hearing his Where Have All the Flowers Gone? rendered so poignantly. Throughout Harmony, Frisell’s guitar rings like a bell, and his rich voicings recall jazz piano genius Bill Evans. Moody sounds for tumultuous times.”

Tickets for Friday’s concert are $25-$30 for adults, $20-$25 for seniors, and free for students. The Lawrence box office can be reached at 920-832-6749.

Up next: The fourth and final concert in this year’s Jazz Series comes on May 1, when the Tigran Hamasyan Trio takes to the Memorial Chapel stage. A native of Armenia, Hamasyan is described as a jazz-meets-rock pianist with a potent blend of jazz improvisation and rich folkloric sounds. Here’s more on the full Jazz Series and Artist Series.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Former Lawrence piano professor Ted Rehl dies; taught for 34 years in Conservatory

Portrait of Theodore Rehl at the piano.
Theodore Rehl

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Theodore (Ted) Lloyd Rehl, a mainstay in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music for more than three decades and an inspiration to generations of piano students, died Jan. 11 in Sarasota, Florida.

Rehl retired from Lawrence University in 1992 after 34 years on the faculty, many as chairman of the Piano Department, then relocated with his wife, Fran, to their retirement home in Florida.

While at Lawrence, Rehl was an active performer of solo and chamber music, a member of the Duncan Rehl Piano Duo, and a favorite accompanist. He also performed regularly with the Fox Valley Symphony. Upon his retirement in 1992, he was awarded an honorary degree of Master of Arts.

“As a teacher, you have been an example to faculty and students alike,” then President Richard Warch said of Rehl at the 1992 Commencement ceremony. “Throughout your career, you have sought not only to extend your considerable capacities as a performer, but also to broaden your knowledge of repertoire, technique, and pedagogy, and that pursuit has taken you to the musical capitals of the world to further study. That you have earned your laurels as a master teacher is attested by the succession of students — affectionately self-styled ‘Rehl’s Raiders’ — who have proceeded through your studio.”

When he retired, Rehl was the university’s last faculty link to the old Conservatory in Peabody Hall. That wasn’t lost on his colleagues, as Warch noted at Commencement: “You may have grayed early, but you have remained young, perhaps because, as one of your colleagues has said of you, ‘He has loved what he has done and done what he has loved.’”

Rehl’s family said he vowed to stop playing the piano when he retired. That lasted for 18 years. But in 2010, he and Fran bought a Steinway Model M and donated it to Plymouth Harbor, their retirement community.

“Ted was so inspired by the sound of this piano that he once again started practicing daily, and since then has given 19 recitals, the last on Dec. 6, 2019,” his family said in message released upon his death.

He was preceded in death by Fran, his wife of 63 years. He is survived by two children and four grandchildren.

Donations in Rehl’s memory may be made to the Plymouth Harbor Improvement of the Arts Fund.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

MLK Celebration highlights 9 big events on Lawrence campus during winter term

MLK essay contest winners are introduced during last year's Martin Luther King Celebration at Memorial Chapel.
The 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration returns to Memorial Chapel on Jan. 20.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Ice skates, gloves, and the warmest of hats are all part of winter term at Lawrence. It might be getting cold out there, but don’t forget that winter term on campus also is a magical time. 

There are fun things to do all over campus (skating on Ormsby Lake, anyone?). That includes the events calendar, which gets particularly robust in winter term. Here are nine exciting things happening on campus this winter term, beginning with Monday’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.    

1. MLK outreach and celebration

Every year the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) hosts a day of service in honor of King. As Lawrentians take time out of their classes to recognize the great work of MLK, the CCE provides a space for Lawrentians to give back to their community and learn about King’s legacy. The full list of events happening on MLK Day is available on the CCE section of the Lawrence web site.  

To wrap up the day, the 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, co-sponsored by Lawrence and African Heritage Inc., will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.

Dr. Simon Balto, an assistant professor of history and African American studies at the University of Iowa, will deliver the keynote address. It also will feature the music of Rev. Sekou.

Balto holds a degree from the University of Wisconsin. He wrote the book, “Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power,” and his writing has appeared in TIME magazine, the Washington Post, and other popular and scholarly outlets.

The event also will feature tributes to the late Ronald Dunlap and Henry Golde. MLK youth essay contest winners will be honored, and the recipient of the annual Jane LaChapelle McCarty MLK Community Leader Award will be announced.

2. Great Midwest Trivia Contest 

What has been fun, trivial, exhausting, and ongoing at Lawrence since 1966? That is correct, the Great Midwest Trivia Contest. It’s billed as the world’s longest running trivia contest because of its tradition of having the final question of the contest serve as the first question of next year’s contest. This year is no different, with the much-anticipated trivia contest starting Jan. 24 at precisely 10:00:37 p.m. and ending at midnight on Jan 26. Find details here.

3. Lunar New Year 

A table at last year's Lunar New Year draws visitors.
Lunar New Year, an annual celebration on campus, returns Jan. 25.

To celebrate the Lunar New Year, various clubs on campus host a Lunar New Year Celebration each winter termThe event features food, music, performances and information on different Lunar New Year Celebrations around the world. This year’s celebration will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. Jan. 25 in the Warch Campus Center. Cultural performances include traditional lion dance (Tay Phuong Lions from Savage, Minnesota), Japanese Taiko drummers (Taikoza from New York City) and Hmong dancers Nkauj Suab Nag (Gao Shoua Nah from Appleton). There also will be a Cultural Expo with educational activity booths sponsored by student organizations: Chinese Student Association, Japanese Student Group, Korean Culture Club, Pan-Asian Organization, Vietnamese Cultural Organization, and more. Find information here.

4. Winter Carnival and President’s Ball 

Gingerbread competitions are back as part of Winter Carnival.

No need to hide from winter. Let’s embrace it. The week-long Winter Carnival concludes with the annual President’s Ball in the Warch Campus Center on Feb. 1. Every year the Student Organization for University Programming (SOUP) hosts the picture-perfect President’s Ball. It gives all Lawrentians — students, faculty, and staff — the opportunity to enjoy live music, take photos in the photo booth, and get on the dance floor. Winter Carnival, meanwhile, kicks off Jan. 27 and runs through Feb. 2, featuring activities ranging from a scavenger hunt to a ping pong tournament to a ski outing to broomball games on Ormsby Lake to a gingerbread house competition. It’s highlighted by the President’s Ball on the evening of Feb. 1. A day of service follows on Feb. 2. Details can be found here.  

5. Jazz Series concert featuring Bill Frisell 

Music starts to heat up winter term in February. Guitarist, composer, and arranger Bill Frisell will be gracing the Lawrence campus as part of the ongoing Jazz Series. Frisell has been recognized for his unique sound as he transforms the modern guitar. Frisell and friends will be in concert at 8 p.m. Feb. 7 at Memorial Chapel. For more on the Jazz Series (and other 2019-20 music series at Lawrence), see here.

6. Richard III on stage 

Winter term isn’t complete without a production from the Theatre Arts department. Richard lll, by William Shakespeare, will take the stage at Cloak Theatre for four performances from Feb. 20 to 22. It is directed by Timothy X. Troy. Visit here for more details on this show and others in the 2019-20 season.

7. Artist Series concert featuring Tine Thing Helseth 

Here’s another big concert happening in winter term, this one as part of the Artist Series. It’ll feature Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tine Thing Helseth. She has established herself as one of the foremost trumpet soloists of our time. The performance is set for 8 p.m. on Feb. 28. More details can be found here.

8. Cultural Expressions

Students perform on stage during last year's Cultural Expressions.
Cultural Expressions is a winter term highlight. It’s back on Feb. 29.

The Lawrence University Black Student Union hosts an annual Black History Month Celebration called Cultural Expressions. It offers a space for members of the Black Student Union to showcase their talents — everything from music to dance to spoken word — to the entire Lawrence and Appleton communities. This year’s Cultural Expressions will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 29 in Warch Campus Center. See the calendar on the Lawrence web site for more information.

9. Opera takes center stage 

Opera is a huge part of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, and the annual opera is must-see viewing on campus. This winter term performance will feature Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, set for March 5 through March 8 in Stansbury Theater. Check the calendar for show times. 

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

NewMusic Initiative takes composer Asha Srinivasan on a 3-year creative journey

Asha Srinivasan stands for a portrait in Memorial Chapel.
Asha Srinivasan, an associate professor of music at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music, has been commissioned to write a choral piece for East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Composer Asha Srinivasan has been no stranger to navigating the world of music creation over the past decade.

The associate professor of music at Lawrence University has composed 21 commissioned pieces since arriving at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in 2008, mostly at the behest of performance groups seeking new chamber music from emerging composers. But the request that came to her a year ago took her by surprise and kicked off a three-year musical relationship with students at a college more than a thousand miles away.

Srinivasan was chosen to write a piece of music commissioned as part of East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. She’s now into the second year of a three-year process that is allowing her to stretch her musical boundaries and to represent Lawrence in new ways. She spent two days in Greenville, North Carolina, during Lawrence’s fall term reading period working with East Carolina composition students, a prelude to the choral music she’ll be writing in the months ahead.

“It’s a prestigious commission because it’s such a selective process,” Srinivasan said.

The ECU initiative works like this: Undergraduate and graduate students in the school’s music program spend the better part of a semester listening to music and surveying the landscape for composers they’d like to work with. Composers need not apply. Any composer from anywhere may be in the mix, unbeknownst to them until someone from the program reaches out.

Once a selection has been made, the school contacts the composer to make an introduction and an offer, to talk about committing to a three-year process and, if interested, to hammer out the details. The first year is about doing that groundwork, making the connection, and giving the composer the opportunity to choose which ECU music group he or she would like to write for. The second year involves interactions between the composer and the students — hence Srinivasan’s recent two-day trip to Greenville — and the start of the writing process. The third year brings the completion of the piece and eventually a premiere performance.

Through it all, the ECU students get an education in the commissioning process. Srinivasan gets a chance to tackle her work in a whole new way. And Lawrence gets an important connection with a new batch of young musicians.

One never knows when those types of connections will circle back, Srinivasan said, noting how she first came to the attention of the ECU students.

“It turns out that one of the cello graduate students had been an undergraduate at Western Illinois University when I was featured there as a guest composer several years ago,” she said. “She had heard a flute and cello piece of mine called Dviraag. She got interested in my music, and so she’s the one who first put in my name.”

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here

Because it’s a three-year process — most of her commissioned work has happened in five- or six-month windows — this project gives Srinivasan new possibilities. Not only did she get to choose the ensemble she’d be writing for, but composer Edward Jacobs, a professor in ECU’s School of Music and the founding director of the NewMusic Initiative, encouraged her to try new things.

“He said, ‘This is a chance for experimentation,’” Srinivasan said. “It’s usually a performance group that commissions me, and it’s usually chamber music, and so the instrumentation is already a given. But in this case, I got to choose the instrumentation. I chose to write for their chamber singers, which is kind of like our concert choir. I haven’t done much work for the choir. That isn’t an opportunity that’s come my way, but it’s also something I’ve stayed away from or veered away from. So, I’m using this as an opportunity to embrace something that would be major growth for me and push myself out of my comfort zone a little bit.”

A new commission is launched in the three-year cycle each year. The process, ECU’s Jacobs said, benefits both the composer and the students, in part because of the collaboration that’s built in.

“The lengthy span of a commission allows a composer to become a part of our community through multiple visits to campus,” he said. “It allows for students and composer to collaborate on sketches during the work’s development, and allows the composer a longer time-span than usual for a commissioned piece to be written.”

Srinivasan said it was on her two-day excursion to the ECU campus that she realized how valuable this sort of thing was for the Conservatory here.

“I listened to their ensemble and talked to their composition students,” she said. “I gave nine private lessons. I met with master’s students. And I came as a representative of Lawrence, of course, so they got to know Lawrence.

“I think it helps give Lawrence more notice. People already know of it. But it helps to have that personal connection. People see my teaching and it represents Lawrence’s commitment to me as a composer and shows that my work as a composer is supported.”

Srinivasan said she’s in the early stages of writing. The composition will be finished in time for its premiere at ECU in the spring of 2021.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu