Tag: Lawrence Conservatory of Music

“Ten Thousand Birds” to take flight again, this time on Sunday in Green Bay

A Lawrence student performs in "Ten Thousand Birds" in the Warch Campus Center.
“Ten Thousand Birds” was performed last Sunday in Lawrence University’s Warch Campus Center. It will be presented again at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20 at the Green Bay Botanical Garden.

If you missed the performance of “Ten Thousand Birds” on Sunday — or would love a second look in a new setting — you are in luck.

The piece from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams was performed Sunday by Lawrence Conservatory of Music students in Warch Campus Center (originally planned for Main Hall Green, it was moved indoors due to inclement weather). It will get a second performance at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Green Bay Botanical Garden, located 30 miles north of Appleton. 

Here’s a photo gallery of scenes from Sunday’s performance in Warch.

“Ten Thousand Birds” is a soundscape experience of bird songs and other natural sounds, played by 40 musicians on percussion and wind instruments, strings and piano, a celebration of music and nature. It’s designed to feature natural sounds from the region where it’s being performed. In this case, it’ll be the sounds of animals native to the Midwest or which migrate through the region.

Audience members are free to move about, walking amongst the musicians and choosing their own pathways through the concert in order to create an individual experience of the music.

Directors of the Lawrence University New Music Ensemble, Michael Clayville and Erin Lesser, brought “Ten Thousand Birds” to campus after premiering it with their award-winning group, Alarm Will Sound. The group commissioned Adams to write a piece for them in 2014, intrigued by the “sound worlds” he so masterfully creates in his compositions. What they received was a “folio” of bird songs, an open-ended score that was intended to be performed outdoors, and arranged in any way the ensemble wished.

Take a listen to a snippet from rehearsal of “Ten Thousand Birds.”

7 days, 7 events: From concerts to Latin film festival, this week is jam-packed

A still from "Perfect Strangers."
“Perfect Strangers” will be shown as part of the Latin American and Spanish Film Festival, running Wednesday through Saturday at Lawrence University. It’s one piece of a busy week on campus.

This week marks one of the busiest of the fall term when it comes to significant events on the Lawrence campus, beginning with a Sunday music performance on the Main Hall Green and ending with a four-day film festival.

We couldn’t hit them all (check the calendar at lawrence.edu for a full listing of events), but here are seven Lawrence University events — all with free admission — packed into one glorious seven-day stretch.

1. Birds celebrated with music on Main Hall Green

Visitors will experience “Ten Thousand Birds” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams on Lawrence’s main lawn at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13. The Lawrence University New Music Ensemble, under the direction of Michael Clayville and Erin Lesser, will transform the outdoor space with music based on the songs of birds that are native to, or migrate through, the Midwest.

During the 90-minute performance, musicians and audience can move freely around the space. In that way, “Ten Thousand Birds” is analogous to a walk in which you discover bird and other natural sounds — bird songs become music and the open setting becomes an artistic space, blurring the lines between human creativity and natural phenomena.

This performance will be repeated at 2 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens.

2. “Family and friends” a theme for Sunday night performance

A recital to be held Sunday, Oct. 13 in Lawrence University’s Harper Hall will carry a theme focused on the bonds of family and friends.

Matthew Michelic, an associate professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory, will lead the performance, titled “Music for Family and Friends.” It will feature music written for close friends or family either of the composers or the performers. It begins at 7 p.m.

Each piece in the program has a story that will be related during the recital. 

The composers represented include three current or former Lawrence faculty: Stephen McCardell is a teacher of music theory, Keith Dom Powell is a teacher of horn for the Academy of Music and has instructed in Lawrence’s Freshman Studies program, and Thom Ritter George served as interim conductor of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra. 

The program begins with a work that W.A. Mozart wrote to help a friend in need, and ends with the famous Sonatina by Antonin Dvorak, written for and dedicated to his children.

The performers include faculty pianists Anthony Padilla and Michael Mizrahi, trombone faculty Tim Albright, and adjunct faculty members Emily Dupere on violin and Leslie Outland Michelic on English horn. 

3. Indigenous People’s Day features Oneida dancers

Lawrence University Native Americans (LUNA) will host a celebration of Indigenous People’s Day at 5 p.m. Monday in the Warch Campus Center.

The event celebrates and honors the lives and cultures of Indigenous People across the Americas.

Oneida pow wow dancers will provide a demonstration, and an emcee will talk about the importance of regalia, dance, and song. LUNA will serve indigenous foods that are central to a couple of Native American tribes, and provide information about the importance of each food and the tribe from which it comes.

4. Music for All concert series is back

The first installment of Lawrence’s Music for All concert series will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the Riverview Gardens Community Center, marking the beginning of the fourth season of the series.

Tuesday’s concert will include performances by professors Erin Lesser (flute), Michael Mizrahi (piano), Dane Richeson (percussion) and Mark Urness (bass), as well as performances by other students and faculty. Each piece will be introduced before it is performed, providing context and suggestions for what the audience should listen for, thus creating a more immersive and interactive experience.

This series was founded by Mizrahi and Lesser as part of Lawrence’s partnership with Riverview Gardens, a nonprofit focused on addressing homelessness and poverty in the Fox Cities. Mizrahi and Lesser modeled the program off of their work in Decoda, a dynamic musical group that tries to achieve a social impact through performances.

The Stone Arch Brewpub will provide light refreshments during the reception.

Future concerts in the series are set for Nov. 18, Jan. 20, Feb. 23, April 21, and May 18.

5. Latin American and Spanish Film Festival returns

The eighth annual Lawrence University Latin American and Spanish Film Festival is set for Oct. 16–19, featuring seven of the top Spanish-language films of 2018, in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. The festival will begin at 5 p.m. each night and will include films from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Spain and Colombia.

The festival will open on Wednesday night with two comedies from Mexico and Chile, Perfect Strangers and Broken Panties, respectively. The films on Thursday and Friday night will take on a more dramatic tone with three dramas and one thriller: Birds of Passage (Colombia), The Angel (Argentina), The Chambermaid (Mexico) and Journey to a Mother’s Room (Spain). Saturday night will begin with a showing of Chilean drama, Damn Kids, and will be followed with a special audience Q&A with the film’s director, Gonzalo Justiniano. After the Q&A, guests are welcome to attend the 7:45 p.m. reception in the Esch-Hurvis Room, located within the Warch Campus Center.

Professors Cecilia Herrera and Rosa Tapia of the Spanish Department organized this year’s event.

“The Latin American and Spanish Film Festival has become a cherished and unique event in our state,” Tapia stated. “It brings our diverse community together and it reminds us of our shared humanity and common love for the arts.”

More information on the festival can be found at go.lawrence.edu/lasf.

6. Indian classical dancer to open dance series

Renowned Indian classical dancer Anindita Neogy Anaam will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, in the Warch Campus Center, marking the beginning of this year’s ongoing dance series.

Anaam, who is based in Wisconsin, is one of the leading figures in Kathak, a form of Indian classical dance. As a dancer, instructor and choreographer, Anaam has garnered praise and worldwide recognition, such as being awarded the Indian Raga Fellowship, an award that few North American dancers have received. She has performed as a soloist in India, Germany and the U.S.

Future performances of the dance series include Set Go on Jan. 17, Michelle Ellsworth on April 8, and Rythea Lee on April 27.

7. Pianist McDonald to be in concert in Chapel

Soloist and chamber musician Robert McDonald, a music instructor at the Juilliard School and a 1973 Lawrence University graduate, will perform a guest piano recital in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17.

Along with receiving his bachelor’s degree from Lawrence, McDonald has earned degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music, the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music. He has been recognized internationally with various prestigious awards, including the Deutsche Schallplatten Critics Award and the gold medal at the Busoni International Piano Competition, among others.

Although McDonald is a faculty member at both Juilliard (since 1999) and the Curtis Institute of Music (since 2007), he continues to tour throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and South America.

McDonald also will be teaching a master class at 4 p.m. Saturday in Harper Hall. (It was moved back one hour from the planned 3 p.m. start because of a scheduling conflict.)

Compiled by Alex Freeman ’23, a student assistant in the Communications office.

“Ten Thousand Birds” on Main Hall Green to be celebration of music, nature

Lawrence students play their instruments amid the trees on the Bjorklunden property.
Lawrence musicians practiced for the outdoor performance of “Ten Thousand Birds” during a trip to Bjorklunden in Door County. They’ll bring the performance to the Main Hall Green on Sunday.

Story by Emily Austin ’21

Nature lovers and musicians of all kinds will be gathering on Lawrence University’s Main Hall Green at 2 p.m. Sunday to experience a performance of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams’ “Ten Thousand Birds.”

The piece is a soundscape experience of bird songs and other natural sounds, played by 40 musicians on percussion and wind instruments, strings and piano, a celebration of music and nature for all to enjoy on the expanse of lawn that serves as Lawrence’s front yard.

It’s designed to feature natural sounds from the region where it’s being performed. In this case, it’ll be the sounds of animals native to the Midwest or which migrate through the region.

The performers will be made up of Lawrence students and a few faculty members.

Audience members will be free to move about, walking amongst the musicians and choosing their own pathways through the concert in order to create an individual experience of the music. In effect, the performance is an experiment on breaking the walls between performers and their audience as well as between the natural world and human musicianship.

Take a listen to a snippet from rehearsal of “Ten Thousand Birds.”

Directors of the Lawrence University New Music Ensemble, Michael Clayville and Erin Lesser, brought “Ten Thousand Birds” to campus after premiering it with their award-winning group, Alarm Will Sound. The group commissioned Adams to write a piece for them in 2014, intrigued by the “sound worlds” he so masterfully creates in his compositions. What they received was a “folio” of bird songs, an open-ended score that was intended to be performed outdoors, and arranged in any way the ensemble wished.

Alan Pierson, artistic director of Alarm Will Sound, formatted the bird calls into a day-long journey. With a run time of 90 minutes, audience members will travel through an entire day of bird calls, opening with a chorus of dawn birds, moving through the afternoon and into the nighttime, and again hearing the reawakening of the natural world in the early morning.

Listen carefully for the field sparrows, played on piccolo and temple block, song sparrows on piccolo and bongos, and even the raucous blue jays, played on timpani, bassoon, oboe, trombone, trumpet, flute, and French horn.

While the piece has been performed in art museums, sculpture gardens, and parks, this will be the first time it is presented on a university campus, and only the second time Lawrence has had an outdoor performance of this sort. On both occasions, the outdoor concerts have been performances of Adams’ work.

Clayville said that Adams’ music is political in nature, though the composer wouldn’t call it political.

“He doesn’t set out to write political art,” Clayville said. “But it’s something that tries to bring awareness to the environment in which it’s performed.”

A college campus seems fitting then to present this music, as much of today’s environmental activism is taking root through the work of young people. Bringing this music into our outdoor world, allowing it to transform the space, and maybe even the people inside, and leaving it changed but undamaged, is a perfect metaphor for the environmental citizenship Lawrence and its students promote.

Clayville goes so far as to call it “a meditative experience.” 

If the weather doesn’t cooperate with an outdoor performance on Sunday, it will be moved into the Warch Campus Center. The piece also will be performed on Oct. 20 at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens, in the upper gardens. 

Emily Austin ’21 is a student writer with the Lawrence Conservatory.

Roots of collaboration: Lawrence, Refuge Foundation nurture deeper connections

Students from the Sound Lab: American Roots Music class record a song in the main performance space at the Refuge in Appleton.
Lawrence students work on a recording last fall at the Refuge in Appleton. The students in the Sound Lab: American Roots Music class created their own roots music.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Get Cory Chisel talking about American roots music and the floodgates open.

The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who is forging new partnerships with Lawrence University — including venturing into the classroom — will tell you about wisdom gained from working alongside genre-defining singers such as Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris.

He’ll tell you about learning to look deeply inward, needing to embrace his own journey before the music could come out.

And he’ll tell you about an eclectic collection of family members who influenced his musical psyche from early on, instilling in him a passion for early American roots music from the likes of Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson — survival music, he calls it.

“My uncle took me to a record player and we sat down, and with no explanation whatsoever he made me lay on the floor and let the music come into my body,” the Appleton-raised Chisel said. “Not just into my ears, but vibrationally into my body. He taught me how to receive music as a medicine. I learned about that style of music with my toes and my fingers and my back and my bones.”

If you think that sounds a little like Deep Listening, the practice espoused by and taught via Lawrence’s Conservatory of Music, you’re not wrong. Call it a reflection of the deepening connections between Lawrence, Chisel and his Refuge Foundation for the Arts, a nonprofit artistic haven operated out of a converted monastery just two miles up the road from the Appleton liberal arts college.

When Lawrence’s fall term begins, Chisel will return to the classroom, co-teaching Sound Lab: American Roots Music with Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory, and Leila Ramagopal Pertl, a class they first launched a year ago. Lawrence students will again have opportunities to create their own music, record at the Refuge, talk with visiting musicians and hear from music industry professionals who periodically make their way to Appleton for sessions with Chisel and his rotating menagerie of artists.

The bonds began nearly seven years ago, when Chisel was co-founding Mile of Music with marketing executive Dave Willems and reached out to Pertl for advice on infusing music education into the all-original music festival. That led to a meeting with Ramagopal Pertl, a music education instructor at Lawrence who would become the music education curator for the annual downtown Appleton festival.

“It was like talking to the soul brother I never had,” Ramagopal Pertl said of those first meetings with Chisel.

Lawrence widens musical path with new B.M.A. degree: See announcement here

Cory Chisel works with five Lawrence students on a song as part of the Sound Lab: American Roots Music class.
Cory Chisel (wearing hat) works with students as part of last fall’s Sound Lab: American Roots Music class. He’ll return to the classroom for fall term in a co-teaching role.

Three years later, Chisel and his partner, Adriel Denae, founded the Refuge Foundation for the Arts and moved into the former Monte Alverno retreat, a monastery overlooking Riverside Cemetery that once served as a sanctuary for the monks of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph Order.

It’s become a gathering place for musicians, some local, some coming in from places across the country and even around the world. They come to record, to find their artistic bearings, often staying for extended stretches of time, sleeping among the dozens of tiny guest rooms that once housed the monks.

For Pertl, the mere existence of the Refuge in Appleton is a gift to the conservatory. That Chisel and Denae share the philosophies of Lawrence and the passions of creative music-making, all the better.

“Our vision and our hope is that this partnership grows, it becomes porous, that what the Refuge can offer can flow into Lawrence and the conservatory, and what the conservatory and Lawrence can offer can flow into the Refuge,” Pertl said.

Classroom connections

What the Refuge can offer became abundantly clear to Pertl as he and Chisel ventured into the Sound Lab class last fall. They asked the 13 students to explore their own musical journeys, the influences that shaped them, and then partner with classmates to create their own roots music.

Listen to one of the student-created songs below.

It was a different approach than anything the conservatory has done, but something that might become more familiar with the launch of the new Bachelor of Musical Arts degree that aims to open the doors of the conservatory to a wider breadth of musical interests and styles.

The students in last fall’s class made numerous visits to the Refuge. They met with members of the Lumineers. They met with a record label executive who had signed Chisel to a recording contract more than a decade earlier. They laid down tracks as the songs they crafted in class came to fruition, eight of them later shared in a public performance. Similar experiences are on tap for this fall’s class.

Cory Chisel listens as students in the Sound Lab: American Roots Music class work on a song.
“We are on a parallel path,” Cory Chisel, seen here during a classroom session, says of the Refuge Foundation for the Arts and the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

Having this resource so readily available provides another layer to the Lawrence education, allowing music students to interact with musicians and music industry people who are navigating the world of music-making in a very real way. They’re not talking about it. They’re doing it.

“The Refuge and all of the connections that it offers into the greater world of commercial music-making gives Lawrence this incredible pathway into learning about the music world that is rare among America’s top conservatories,” Pertl said. “The whole class came over and hung out with the Lumineers. They heard the Head and the Heart in a recording session. They were talking to one of the head execs at RCA Records. When the class came over here, most of them didn’t know this building existed. They were just walking around with their jaws open.”

A project is born

Sam Taylor ’19 was one of those students. The Sound Lab class inspired his Lullaby Project, an effort to work through Lawrence, the Refuge, Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs and New York’s Carnegie Hall to teach mothers at the Appleton shelter to write lullabies for their children. Carnegie Hall, where Taylor interned this summer, originally began the Lullaby Project with unwed mothers. It now provides guidance for related projects across the country.

Even though he graduated in spring, Taylor will be back in Appleton this fall — splitting his time between here and Madison — to see the project through, working with Chisel and Denae, Lawrence students, and Harbor House staff to bring the lullabies to fruition and get them recorded at the Refuge.

That’s just one slice of the value that came from the Sound Lab class, Taylor said.

“The Roots class came at the perfect time in my Lawrence career,” he said. “I was reflecting a lot on my time as a student, musician, and person. This course not only allowed us but also encouraged us to explore our individual journeys and music. … Who inspired us? Where our sound comes from. It gave me time to place myself on a larger timeline, to find specific moments that have led me to this exact time and space.”

New adventure, a shared vision

For Chisel, the opportunity to teach at Lawrence, to share his passion for roots music, is something he didn’t envision earlier in his life. He doesn’t hide his history of once shunning school. But now he has something that’s drawing him to the classroom, and a receptive audience ready and willing to listen and respond.

“When people found out I was being welcomed to teach at Lawrence University, I had teachers calling me, saying, ‘I have to say, I never saw this one coming,’” Chisel said. “I’d be lying if I said I did. But that’s not really what it’s about. The idea that through effort and maybe this emphasis on approach, which is on the individual and the elevation of the consciousness, that really might be what we’re on to.

“I think when you spend your whole life not wanting to go to class, you get a good idea of what it might look like when there’s a class you want to go to.”

Cory Chisel speaks at the podium during Lawrence's 2015 Report to the Community. He received a collaboration award for Mile of Music.
Cory Chisel accepted a collaboration award for Mile of Music from Lawrence University in 2015. The relationship with Lawrence has continued to grow since then.

That elevated consciousness, the looking inward to discover your own musical roots and then pouring that into song, was front and center when Pertl first broached the idea of jointly teaching a class with Chisel on American roots music, in the process emphatically cementing a relationship between Lawrence and the Refuge that had already been quietly blossoming.

“We are on a parallel path,” Chisel said. “That’s been the beauty of this. We’ve bounced off of each other’s ideas, but in certain ways we were really plowing the same field. Eventually, it was, ‘Let’s line this all up and get organized.’”

A new classroom approach

How to co-teach the course was the question that needed a fresh answer.

“This was not going to be a standard musicology class,” Pertl said. “I have taught that class dozens of times at other institutions. Here’s the history of American roots music. I’ve done that. It’s a fine approach. We did not want to do that here at Lawrence. We wanted to blow that paradigm out of the water and say, ‘Why can’t musicology be performative? And why can’t performances be influenced by history?’ That’s about as liberal arts as you can get.”

The class took the students by surprise, Pertl said.

“In a traditional conservatory education, we have brilliant musicians who can play anything,” he said. “But often you are so focused on getting all those notes right to play Chopin or Liszt that you forget that you have a voice, too. You are used to always channeling someone else’s voice. All of a sudden in this class, two or three weeks in, we say, ‘OK, so your assignment is to write about your musical roots. Who are you musically?’

“All of a sudden the class pivots to be about them instead of about dead people. All of a sudden roots isn’t about something that happened in the ’20s, it’s now. All of a sudden they’re reading their roots to each other and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, our roots are similar because our musical roots both came out of church traditions, completely different church traditions.’

“And then the next pivot was, ‘OK, now we’re going to create together, you’re going to use your roots collaboratively to create music.’ And to me that is where the magic of the class really took off.”

The students would go on to create eight original songs together and record them at the Refuge. They then performed those songs for a live audience at The Draw.

“Once the roots music became real to them, and once it became about their story, at that point they could see the way in and see what its use is,” Chisel said. “And then you just get excited. And then we couldn’t keep up.”

A mutual respect

The lessons learned don’t go just one way. While Pertl and Ramagopal Pertl call the Refuge an unbelievably valuable resource, Chisel is quick to praise Lawrence, the intelligence and vibrancy of its students and faculty and its deep history.

“We look at Lawrence with a great deal of respect, just the reverence that we haven’t had around here that really exists within that institution,” Chisel said. “As time goes on, we’re going to remain our own identities, but I think respectfully we at the Refuge are learning how to walk a walk of sustainability and longevity. We really want to be a place like Lawrence. When people say they’re from Appleton, Wisconsin, people are like, ‘Oh yea, Lawrence University.’ We want to be one of those places.”

Pertl paints the connections with the Refuge as a relationship not bound by a contract. It’s fluid, and it dovetails nicely with the conservatory’s efforts to help prepare 21st century students to live their best musical lives, to be a light both in and out of the traditional corridors of the music world.

“We want to hold open possibilities, but we know if we can make this relationship closer and closer and integrate it more and more, it’s going to benefit both institutions in ways that we probably can’t completely imagine,” Pertl said. “We definitely think it’ll benefit the B.M.A. in beautiful ways as more contemporary singers come in and more singer-songwriters come in, more people trending toward that side of the music business. The basis of the B.M.A. is jazz and improvisation, but from that foundation you can go anywhere.

“As a university, if you stagnate, you’re going backwards. If you are treading water, you are going downstream. Unless you’re absolutely thinking about what’s next, you’re probably not going to have long-term viability. And I never say that as if change itself is the thing. You have to pursue thoughtful change and insightful change and forward-thinking change.

“We’re doing this because our partnership will better prepare our students for the world they’re going to be launching into after graduation,” Pertl continued. “And this place, the Refuge, Cory, Adriel, everyone here can help our students better prepare for the unknowns of that world.”

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

Lawrence unveils new B.M.A. degree, widening path for student musicians

The Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble performs at Memorial Chapel during the 2018-19 academic year.
The Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble has been part of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music’s long history of jazz education excellence. The new B.M.A. degree, beginning this fall, will build on that with its Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation track.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Electric guitars and synthesizers could soon become as familiar as violins and bassoons in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

A new degree program is being introduced at Lawrence University that is expected to open the school’s Conservatory of Music to a wider group of student musicians. Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.), with a Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation track, has been added to Lawrence’s degree options, joining Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.) and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.).

It’s a new avenue for a conservatory whose history dates back to the 19th century. Built on the strength of a nationally recognized jazz program that has been earning major honors since the 1970s, the new degree expands on the classical music component in the Conservatory, allowing students for the first time to audition with non-classical repertoire. The foundation is in jazz and contemporary improvisation, but the degree is built to accommodate a wide range of music making.

The B.M.A. degree, in place beginning this academic year, has a 50-50 split between music studies and a student’s choice of another field in the liberal arts landscape, with expectations to connect the two.

The high standards haven’t changed. The audition process for acceptance into the Conservatory remains intact, and the skill-development expectations continue to be top level. But for prospective students eyeing the B.M.A. degree, the audition no longer needs to be limited to pieces from the Western classical repertoire, potentially opening the door for students who see their strengths and interests in jazz or pop or hip-hop or another music genre. And the new degree presents an alternate path of study for classical musicians, as well.

It unwraps all sorts of additional choices, said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory.

“The new degree will open the Conservatory to a broader range of musical interests,” he said. “No longer does a student have to audition on a Western classical instrument and perform classical repertoire. Drummers, electric guitarists, fiddlers, keyboard players, jazz vocalists, songwriters and contemporary composers are all welcome to audition into the new program.”

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here.

For details on the new B.M.A. degree, including an FAQ, see here.

This isn’t completely new territory for the Conservatory. It has long had a thriving jazz program. Lawrence won the first of its 28 Downbeat jazz education awards as far back as 1985, its latest as recently as April, picking up the award for the best undergraduate large ensemble for the second consecutive year. But current students have had to come into the jazz track via the classical music auditions and training, then seek a jazz emphasis while also studying classical repertoire.

The current B.Mus. degree, Pertl said, works well for many aspiring musicians who seek both classical and jazz training, but it leaves out those whose aspirations do not include the classical side of performance training. The new degree will rectify that. It also will expand the opportunities to tap into music-related fields that don’t necessarily involve performance.

Students perform as part of a Jazz Ensemble concert in Memorial Chapel.
Jazz and improvisation have long been part of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music. The new B.M.A. degree will add flexibility for music students.

Read more: Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble wins DownBeat Award for second consecutive year

Read more: Roomful of Teeth’s Estelí Gomez to join Lawrence Conservatory

The late Fred Sturm, who oversaw the jazz studies program at Lawrence for 26 years, began laying the groundwork for the new degree prior to his death in 2014.

What started as a specific focus on jazz eventually grew into the more wide-ranging B.M.A. degree, Pertl said. The degree allows the Conservatory to welcome in musicians who don’t necessarily fit a certain musical footprint.

“Last year, for example, we graduated an exceptional student from Chicago named Bernard Lilly,” Pertl said. “Bernard is an amazing soul singer. He’d been singing long before he came to Lawrence and sang all the way through Lawrence, but he never took any courses in the Conservatory because he didn’t feel like there was anything there for him, until his last term in his senior year when he took my entrepreneurship class and studied with (voice professor) John Holiday, and worked with professors in our jazz department. He would have been a perfect candidate for a B.M.A. degree.

“To be able to give students like Bernard high-level musical training will certainly broaden what they can do. But it also expands the musical culture of the Conservatory, mixing different genres and different musical sensibilities. This will be a huge advantage to everyone at the Conservatory.”

Students pursuing a B.Mus. degree in the Conservatory take about two-thirds of their classes in their major area of study and about one-third in general education or electives. Music students who pursue a double degree — a music degree and a B.A. in the college — do so on a five-year plan.

The new B.M.A., meanwhile, combines high-level music study with another field of interest in a four-year plan. As part of the degree requirements, students pursue a cognate focus that makes up 15% of their coursework. The cognate allows them to deeply explore another area of interest that ties into their music studies.

“It could be musically oriented but in the area of anthropology,” Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Kodat said. “Or musically oriented but in political science.”

Core classes, one-on-one work with faculty and a wide range of electives give B.M.A. students opportunities to carve their own musical paths, some performance based, some not.

That, said Patty Darling, director of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, speaks to how music can inform so many disciplines in a variety of ways. Today, preparing young musicians to pursue their musical lives can’t be limited to focusing solely on technical mastery. Each year, opportunities will arise that don’t exist today, so musicians need to pair their high-level musicianship with high-level thinking, creative problem-solving, and the flexibility to capitalize on opportunities that others don’t even see.

Flexibility, an ability to adapt quickly, and a willingness to collaborate are all key attributes for anyone entering the world of music in the 21st century. Blending those core musicianship skills with an education in a student’s other field of interest is the next step in keeping the Conservatory forward-thinking.

“A lot of these students who come in wanting to create their own musical voice are pretty self-directed already,” Darling said. “While they’ll be gaining a lot of these core musicianship skills, they also want to be able to access entrepreneurial practices, music business models and opportunities for internships.

“It’s really interesting how the recording scene has developed, how music publishing has changed,” she said. “Even large ensembles and orchestras — all these musical opportunities have transformed dramatically in the last 10 years and students need the ability to self-promote. That’s a very important skill to have … to be able to put your best self out there.”

Pertl called the B.M.A. a natural progression for the Conservatory as it embraces and nurtures the modern musician.

“At Lawrence, we’ve already been incorporating so many of the elements of improvisation and world music into the trajectory of a classically trained musician for the same reason,” he said. “It’s going to be the flexibility of art, and of mind, that will help you to successfully create your musical life.”

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

Music is everywhere as Mile 7 gets rolling; partnerships grow deeper

With a whistle in his mouth, Kenni Ther gestures while leading the Brazilian samba drumming workshop Thursday at Mile of Music.
Kenni Ther ’16 leads the Brazilian samba drumming workshop in Houdini Plaza during Thursday’s opening day of Mile of Music.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Kenni Ther ’16 had his young charges hanging on his every word, eyes focused, sticks in hand, a mix of drums and upside-down buckets in play on a gorgeous afternoon in downtown Appleton’s Houdini Plaza.

“I get tired of talking sometimes,” Ther told the gathering of several dozen kids and the adults they brought along for this high-energy teaching session on Brazilian samba drumming. “That’s why I have the drum. I’ll let the drum do the talking for me.”

And, so he did. And the young drummers followed suit as a couple hundred spectators nodded their approval.

A few hundred feet to the east, a crowd overflowed from the patio at Bazil’s Pub as singer-songwriter Christopher Gold played a heartfelt set and shared stories of joy and despair and the wisdom gained from both.

It was the middle of the afternoon. On a Thursday. Welcome to Mile of Music.

The annual four-day all-original music festival kicked off its seventh edition on Thursday, mixing nearly 900 live music sets in 70-plus venues with more than 40 interactive music education workshops, a blend that differentiates this festival from most any other music event on the planet. It continues through Sunday — and, yes, admission is free.

The Music Education Team, supported by a grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, is a full-on Lawrence University juggernaut, led by music education instructor Leila Ramagopal Pertl. It features more than 25 instructors, many of them, like Ther, alumni who developed their musical skills and nurtured their passion for music while students at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

Full lineup of Mile 7 music education workshops here.

Meet the Lawrence-led Music Education Team here.

Like the festival itself, the music education workshops have grown in size and scope since first launching in 2013. More than 7,000 people are expected to take part in the hands-on sessions before the finale, a ukulele workshop, brings it to a close on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s great to get out in the community and have people learn music in not a classroom setting,” Ther said after the samba drumming workshop ended. “Sometimes people think you only get to learn music in your private lessons or in a school band or orchestra or choir. No, music is for everybody. Everyone listens to music, so everyone has the right to be their own musician and figure out music on their own.”

Nestor Dominguez ’14 talks to the audience during a mariachi workshop in The Grove, a green space next to Brokaw Hall.
Nestor Dominguez ’14 is joined by Mariachi Jabali as they lead a mariachi workshop Thursday in The Grove, a green space next to Brokaw Hall, during Mile of Music.

A few blocks down College Avenue, on the green space next to Brokaw Hall known as The Grove, Nestor Dominguez ’14 was leading a mariachi band — Mariachi Jabali, featuring students from Appleton North High School — as they introduced the music to a couple hundred onlookers. They ran through a variety of music within the mariachi genre, from jarabe to bolero to ranchera to polka.

“Just get up and wiggle around and come up with a dance,” Dominguez encouraged the crowd as the band showcased the popular jarabe style. “If you’re going to be here with us, you need to get up and dance.”

Then there was bolero, the mariachi music of romance. Dominguez, who plays and teaches mariachi music in Chicago, encouraged the crowd to make and maintain eye contact with the person next to them as the music played.

“Eye contact is so important,” he told them. “Let’s connect as human beings. … I’m not saying you’re going to fall in love with the person next to you, but that would be all right.”

A world of music in our back yard

As the music education offerings at Mile of Music have evolved over the past seven installments, they’ve taken on a more global feel, Brazilian samba drumming and mariachi being part of a festival mix that also includes, among others, Ghanaian drumming and dance, Afro-Cuban singing, and Balinese gamelan. New this year are sessions on Native American music and dances of India.

That’s not by accident. Ramagopal Pertl said the team has purposefully set out to showcase as many cultures and styles as possible, a theme embraced by team members and the audience alike.

“That is really important, especially for the little ones,” said Francisca Hiscocks of Appleton, a native of Spain who attended Thursday’s Brazilian samba drumming session. “Just for their education, to be exposed to something different, that’s important. For me being from a different country, I think this is so great.”

More on the connections between Lawrence, Mile of Music here.

Porky’s Groove Machine returns to Lawrence, Mile of Music. Read more here.

Thel, who teaches music at a middle school in Oshkosh, said cultural variety in the festival’s music education outreach is all about being inclusive and enlightening.

“Maybe hip hop is your thing, that’s great,” he said. “Maybe acoustic guitar playing is your thing, or the ukulele workshop, that’s your thing. Everyone has a specific rhythm in their heart that they can relate and respond to. We’re just trying to help people figure out what that is.”

Mile of Music was drawing rave reviews as it got rolling Thursday. Music could be heard coming from everywhere along and near College Avenue — in bars and coffee shops, in Memorial Chapel, on patios, in alleyways and on green spaces on the Lawrence campus. Even from a camper parked on the Ormsby Hall lawn, home to the Tiny House Listening Lounge, a new venue for this year’s festival.

“I think this is just all really cool,” said Sarah Fischer of Appleton, taking in the festival’s opening day.

Bernard Lilly ’18, who performs as B. Lilly, puts on a songwriting and performance workshop at Copper Rock Coffee Company during Mile of Music.

More photos of the 2019 Music Education Team workshops here.

Cool, indeed. And the opportunity to bang a drum, get a lesson in songwriting, or learn about Native American flute playing while you’re here, well, that’s a bonus that is music to the ears of anyone who cherishes the connections between the festival, the community and Lawrence.

“We all agreed from the beginning that this wasn’t the type of festival that was ogling celebrity, it was craft focused,” said Cory Chisel, the Appleton-raised singer-songwriter who co-founded the festival with marketing executive Dave Willems. “It was like, here are innovative, exciting songwriters from around the world, and I wanted to bring all those people to Appleton specifically because of the specialness of this place and the music that was inside of us and the talent level we have inside of us here.”

It isn’t just about listening to and discovering new music, although that is a huge focus of the festival. It’s also about participating in the music-making, connecting the community with the music, Chisel said. Hence, the launch and growth of the Music Education Team. The partnership with Lawrence for that piece was as important as anything else in establishing the festival as one of the bright lights of the Midwest music scene.

“Mile of Music was about that connection,” Chisel said. “And Lawrence has been deepening and strengthening that community relationship.”

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

Porky’s finds its goofy, funky groove in return to Lawrence, Mile of Music

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

What does a hot dog, a squid, and a red Power Ranger have in common?

Well, they are the stage personas for three of the seven members of Porky’s Groove Machine, a high-energy funk band known for mixing big musical talents with randomly odd costumes and a heavy dose of silliness.

The Minneapolis-based band, which got its start on the Lawrence University campus and is comprised completely of Lawrence alumni, is bringing its love of music and fun back to Appleton for the annual Mile of Music festival Aug. 1-4. The band will be performing on stage (details below) and for the fifth year in a row will be part of the Music Education Team presenting immersive musical experiences throughout the downtown festival.

Mile of Music, Lawrence have deep ties. See more here.

Fresh off the release of a new album, Hello, My Name Is, Porky’s Groove Machine continues to build a strong fan base across the Midwest, all while dressed in incredibly random costumes.

Matt Lowe ’14, Marshall Yoes ’14, Eli Edelman ’14, Nick Allen ’14, Luke Rivard ’15, Ilan Blanck ’16 and Shasta Tresan ’17 all got their start with the band while students at Lawrence. They bonded via the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, started out playing campus parties and have maintained a close association with the school and Appleton even though they’ve all settled nearly 300 miles away in the Twin Cities.

“We were just hanging out, getting really excited about music through the Conservatory,” Allen said of the band’s start-up. “And we wanted to play. So, we just got together to jam a little bit and then, like, make up some songs.”

Eight years later, Porky’s is a thing.

We caught up with the band earlier this summer when they returned to downtown Appleton to play the weekly Heid Music Summer Concert Series in Houdini Plaza.  

Porky's Groove Machine, wearing wildly random costumes, perform on stage at Houdini Plaza.
The wildly random costumes have long been part of the show for Porky’s Groove Machine. It started when they were Lawrence students, playing campus parties. Here they perform earlier this summer in Houdini Plaza in downtown Appleton.

Goofy from the start 

The group initially formed in 2011 while all the original members of the band were students at Lawrence. What started as a cover band playing campus parties quickly evolved. Since then, the band has grown in size and outreach, rotated in new members (all Lawrentians) and wrote a ton of music, some of which is featured on Hello, My Name Is, an album released in March.

The band has grown a lot from those early days at Lawrence, but it was at Lawrence where the foundation for spreading funk and silliness was set.

The campus environment, where people were learning and challenging themselves but also having a good time, set the wheels in motion. It turns out things don’t always have to be so serious. Sure, a classical music education was part of the process, but improvisation was always encouraged and a sense of humor was embraced.

“I feel like just having gone to Lawrence and just having been in this funny environment, you know what I mean, where these particularly funny things happen, there’s already a common ground for a sort of goofiness,” Blanck said.

The band took that goofiness and supercharged it on stage. They’ve come to be known for their creative stage personas. When performing at parties on campus in those early days, they would dress to fit the theme of the party. It carried over from there, and soon fans were connecting to the random weirdness of the band’s costumes.

Blanck said he remembers that a-ha moment when he realized the costumes had become an important part of their identity as a band.

“I remember we played a show once and people tweeted at us,” Blanck said. “Someone we didn’t know was like ‘#powerranger, #squid , #hotdogtrombone, so confused but I’m so happy,’ and it was like, I guess those are alive now, and then from there on everyone started looking for it, kind of digging into it a little more.”  

Ilan Blanck wears a red Power Ranger suit while performing at Houdini Plaza.
Ilan Blanck ’16 wears the red Power Ranger suit with pride. The costumes, he said, are part of the fun and help make the band accessible.

Porky’s takes off

Porky’s became a well-known group on campus, performing at events ranging from an Earth Day celebration to a Yule Ball. And as the on-campus following grew, they started to become recognizable off campus as well, performing at bars and clubs in downtown Appleton and elsewhere in the Fox Valley.

“I remember our first off-campus show was at Déjà vu Martini Lounge,” Allen said. 

As band members graduated, many began settling in the Twin Cities. Eventually, all who stayed with the band landed there. And while they all have day jobs, many of them music related, they began dedicating more and more time to Porky’s. In 2018, they played nearly 70 shows. The band became a registered LLC in the state of Minnesota, and Porky’s, if it wasn’t before, was now a full-on passion that was commanding much of their free time. 

“We all ended up moving to Minneapolis to make Porky’s happen, so it’s a serious component of how we are making decisions in our lives,” Yoes said. 

Making music 

As Porky’s has become that serious — yet still goofy — endeavor, the music the band performs has shifted and evolved. What started as a mostly cover band with only one or two original tracks is now a band producing mostly original music. They have released three EPs and two albums to date.  

“When we first started, when we played these gigs at the bars downtown, we’d play a four-hour show, and you know we would have to fill all this time, so we played a bunch of covers and we jammed them out for 15 or 20 minutes each,” Lowe said.

“And then our originals would be like, ‘Hey, everybody, we finally wrote a song.’ We’d have one song to show off.  Now it’s more like we’ll do an all-original set and then we’ll put in two or three covers.”

The humor behind their stage personas also shows up in their homegrown lyrics. With songs like “Don’t Put Love in the Granola” or “The (Not Quite a) Ball of Trombone,” the group embraces the silliness. 

“We hear from people who see our show who maybe don’t get a big dose of goofy in their lives,” Allen said. “We often hear from people who are like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before, but thank you.’

“So, that always inspires me and makes me feel good to come up with something that’s going to connect with someone and give them a sort of absurdity or silliness or some kind of release that they need.” 

Beyond a band  

Porky’s Groove Machine members also apply this concept of releasing people’s silly side when they teach music workshops. And they do a lot of workshops, mostly geared toward children, spreading the joy of music-making.

“We get questions from students, like why do you wear your costumes, why do you look like that, or why are you running around and yelling?” Rivard said.

“And our whole perspective is, well, you know, rather than approaching music in a very studious and very hard to reach place, we want to make it as comfortable and as inviting to students as possible. That allows us to get students to improvise and to write music on the spot because they feel comfortable. They know that no matter what they do, they’re not going to look dumber than we do.”

The workshops that are part of Mile of Music are among their favorites. Through working with the festival’s Music Education Team, led by Lawrence music education instructor Leila Ramagopal Pertl, the group has been able to share that love of music in Appleton. It’s one of the things that has inspired them to create workshops of their own where they are able to teach students improvisation, music fundamentals, and thinking outside the box.  

Staying Connected  

Being able to teach music as a band and perform several times a year in the Appleton area has given the members the opportunity to stay tight with Lawrence, the Conservatory in particular.

“We are back here all the time, seeing the dean and our teachers,” Lowe said. “We performed at the Lawrence Academy camp (two summers ago), and we’re working with the Mile of Music Education Team, which is deeply linked with the Lawrence Conservatory.” 

For Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory, the success of the Porky’s band speaks to the commitment and joy each of the band members finds in music. And their willingness to give back through Mile of Music and other music workshops is a great reflection on Lawrence and the mission of the Conservatory.

“I have had the great pleasure and privilege of working closely with almost every member of Porky’s,” Pertl said. “In particular, Matt Lowe and Nick Allen took didgeridoo lessons with me for their entire four years at Lawrence.”

Don’t let the goofball costumes fool you. The music that Porky’s is creating is stellar. That it’s mixed with energy and fun, and delivered with a full heart, all the better.

“I love that Porky’s seamlessly combines high-level musicianship, a sense of humor, and a deep commitment to music education,” Pertl said. 

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

Where to see Porky’s at Mile of Music

Friday, Aug. 2: 9:30 p.m. at Deja Vu Martini Lounge, 519 W. College Ave., Appleton

Saturday, Aug. 3: 7:40 p.m. at Emmett’s Bar and Grill, 139 N. Richmond St., Appleton

Saturday, Aug. 3: 10 p.m. on the Mile of Music bus.

Deep connections: Lawrence, Mile of Music in sync from the start

Leila Ramagopal Pertl participates in a sing-along at an earlier Mile of Music festival.
Leila Ramagopal Pertl, a music education instructor at Lawrence University, has been the leader of Mile of Music’s Music Education Team from the start.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

There has been a special blend of music in the air in Appleton each August since Mile of Music was founded in 2013.

From the debut six years ago through the upcoming seventh edition, Lawrence University has been tightly connected to the all-original music festival every step of the way, most notably by leading the robust music education component, but also providing performance spaces and counting its alumni among the performing artists.

Mile of Music returns for Mile 7 Aug. 1-4, with 900 performances taking place in 70 venues along a mile stretch of College Avenue in the city’s downtown. Nearly 50 music education workshops will be included, organized by the Music Education Team (MET), allowing festival-goers to get interactive instruction in diverse forms of music and dance.

I talked with Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, and Leila Ramagopal Pertl, a Lawrence instructor in music education and the festival’s music education curator, about the five deepest ties between Lawrence and Mile of Music.

1. Lawrence’s fingerprints have been on Mile of Music from the start

In the spring of 2013, Mile of Music co-founders Dave Willems and Cory Chisel approached Brian Pertl with a vision of using the new festival as a way to support music education in the community. Pertl referred them to Ramagopal Pertl, whose passion for music education led her to the motto, “Music is a birthright.”

She suggested the new festival incorporate hands-on music-making workshops, an idea that proved to be brilliant. The music education component was a hit from the get-go, and has grown far more robust in the six years since that debut. It has solidified Mile of Music’s reputation as a special community learning experience.

“It’s what sets this festival apart from probably any other festival in the world, that there’s this priority on allowing people in the community to learn,” Ramagopal Pertl said.

2. Music Education Team has a Lawrentian vibe

The Music Education Team is responsible for organizing and leading the Mile’s music education workshops, which give festival guests the opportunity to discover their musical selves through a variety of music and dance instruction. It continues this year courtesy of a grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

The MET is made up of professional artists and educators with a knack for engaging a crowd. The team is heavy on Lawrence participation, from music faculty to alumni to students; the latter can receive class credit for participating.

See the music education workshop schedule here.

The seven members of Porky’s Groove Machine, all Lawrence alumni, are a big part of the MET. The Minneapolis-based funk band, also a popular festival performer, has been returning for the festival for five years, in large part because of the opportunity to engage with people in the workshops. Each of the band members — Matt Lowe ’14, Marshall Yoes ’14, Eli Edelman ’14, Nick Allen ’14, Luke Rivard ’15, Ilan Blanck ’16 and Shasta Tresan ’17 — are tied in to music education on some level, making the music workshops they do here and elsewhere a natural extension of their passions.

“Mile of Music is what really prompted us to think, ‘Oh, we can do this as a group together,’” Lowe said. “I would attribute that to Brian Pertl and his wife, Leila, who are the star music educators of the world. They taught us a lot of what we know and how to do things, and we’re definitely inspired by them.”

Other alums also are returning to lead workshops, Corey Torres ’12 and Bernard Lilly ’18 among them.

Porky’s Groove Machine keeps the funk rolling. See more here.

Meet the full Music Education Team here.

The festival’s workshops range from mariachi, hip-hop and samba to Afro-Cuban drumming, P-bone funk and Balinese angklung.

Last year, the 25-member Music Education Team led nearly 50 music education events that were attended by more than 7,000 festival-goers. By the end of this year’s festival, more than 25,000 people will have participated in the interactive events since they were launched during Mile 1.

Ramagopal Pertl said connecting people to the music — as participants, not just passive listeners — has proven to be a draw.

“It’s really important for people to come and feel what it’s like to make music in collaboration with other people around you,” she said. “Not only are you probably rediscovering something that was yours to begin with, but you have a greater understanding of why artists on the Mile play music. That was important for us here on the MET.”

Ilan Blanck, a member of Porky's Groove Machine, teaches at a guitar workshop during an earlier Mile of Music.
Ilan Blanck ’16, here teaching a guitar workshop at an earlier Mile of Music, will return with Porky’s Groove Machine to both teach at workshops and perform. The band members have been part of Mile of Music for the last five years.

3. Lawrence alumni on stage at Mile of Music

Lawrence alumni have graced the Mile of Music stages since the festival’s founding. Porky’s Groove Machine is coming back to the Mile this year in full costume to put on a funk-inspired show, and Lilly, performing as B. Lilly, will showcase his signature blend of R&B, jazz, hip-hop and gospel, in addition to leading a songwriting and performance workshop.

Both have been popular draws at previous Mile of Music festivals. Both also return to Appleton frequently to perform, their fan bases helping to establish this as a second home.

The Mile of Music performance schedule has just been released. See it here.

Porky’s will perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 at Deja Vu Martini Lounge, 519 W. College Ave., and 7:40 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3 at Emmett’s Bar and Grill, 139 N. Richmond St. They’ll also be performing on the Mile of Music bus at 10 p.m. Saturday.

B. Lilly will perform at 7:40 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 at Fox River House, 211 S. Walnut St., and 6:40 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3 at OB’s Brau Haus, 523 W. College Ave. He’ll also be on the Mile of Music bus at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

For more on B. Lilly, Porky’s Groove Machine and other Mile of Music performers, including a chance to sample their music, visit here.

Lawrence Memorial Chapel is seen during an earlier Mile of Music performance.
Memorial Chapel is among the spaces on the Lawrence campus again hosting Mile of Music performances. Stansbury Theater and Harper Hall also will be utilized for performances or music education workshops, as will outdoor green spaces near the Conservatory.

4. Lawrence venues anchor the east end of the Mile

State-of-the-art performance facilities and beautiful green spaces make the Lawrence campus a great place to host music events.

Each year, Lawrence provides Mile of Music with venues for concerts and music education workshops. These include Stansbury Theater and Memorial Chapel, the latter being one of the festival’s main stages where artists from around the country enjoy resonant sound quality and intimate performance experiences.

Memorial Chapel, one of the festival’s Main Stages, will host more than 25 performances between Thursday and Saturday, including start-your-day medleys featuring three artists each at noon Thursday, 11:30 a.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday. Some of the notables scheduled for the chapel stage include Dan Rodriguez with The Talbott Brothers (6:45 p.m. Friday), King Cardinal (8:40 p.m. Friday), a combo of Tanya Gallagher, Paul Childers, Megan Slankard and Bascom Hill (6:30 p.m. Saturday) and Hugh Masterson (8 p.m. Saturday).

Harper Hall and outdoor green spaces such as The Grove and the Conservatory Green often host music education events on the east end of the Mile.

Mile of Music’s interactive workshops draw festival-goers of all ages. An estimated 7,000 people took part in the workshops during last year’s four-day festival.

5. Bonding over shared philosophies of community engagement

Lawrence and Mile of Music both emphasize community, a connection that has brought success since their partnership began in 2013. As part of that, the Music Education Team has put an emphasis on diversity, sharing instruments and music from across cultures in interactive, intimate settings.

“Our MET team has a deep commitment to celebrating the diversity of cultures and music-making that exists right here in our community,” Pertl said.

For the first time this year, Mile of Music will represent Native American and Asian-Indian music with workshops on Native American flute and dances of India.

Mile of Music is all about using music to create community. And Lawrence’s work in creating a close-knit community on campus has extended to its partnership with Mile of Music.

“Lawrence’s commitment to building community through music and music education perfectly aligns with the mission of Mile of Music,” Pertl said. “The seven-year partnership between Mile and Lawrence has helped redefine Appleton as a city that deeply values art, music and music education.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office. Awa Badiane ’21 contributed to this report.

‘Central Park Five’ opera has Lawrence alum in a thoughtful, emotional place

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Derrell Acon ’10 stood shoulder to shoulder earlier this month with Antron McCray, one of the five New York City teenagers — now men in their 40s — wrongly convicted in the 1989 rape and beating of a Central Park jogger.

The Lawrence University alumnus was days away from performing as McCray in The Central Park Five, an operatic retelling of the emotionally charged criminal case, set to open in an opera house in southern California. An ACLU luncheon brought Acon and his castmates and the five men they’d be portraying into the same room for the first time.

“It gave me a little more weight in terms of the responsibility I had to give an accurate picture to the audience and to be true to how I explored and continue to explore that character,” Acon said of meeting McCray.

The Central Park Five story of the coerced confessions, the guilty verdicts, the Donald Trump call for the death penalty, the vacated judgments 13 years later, and the eventual settlement that set New York City back $41 million is getting plenty of renewed attention on the heels of the recent release of Ava DuVernay’s Netflix mini-series, When They See Us, the intense retelling of the case that dominated headlines 30 years ago.

While the Netflix series is getting the bulk of the attention, the jazz-infused opera production from composer Anthony Davis — more than three years in the making and separate from the DuVernay series — has drawn its fair share of looks as well. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times previewed the Long Beach Opera production in the days before it opened on June 15, and opening night saw reviews from both newspapers and the Wall Street Journal, among other outlets. The New Yorker is working on a story as well, according to a spokesperson with the opera.

Derrell Acon '14 sings on stage with the four other leads in "The Central Park Five," an opera being performed by Long Beach Opera in southern California.
Derrell Acon ’10 (center) and his castmates in “The Central Park Five” sing in unison. Acon portrays Antron McCray, one of five New York teenagers falsely convicted 30 years ago.

Two more performances are scheduled for this weekend at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro, California.

“I wasn’t really anticipating any particular response,” Acon said after getting an enthusiastic welcome on opening night. “I was more aware of my own responses, understanding that it would be a very emotional process for me. As a young black man in America, you know, a lot of these topics are very close to my own experience, and these struggles are very mirrored in my own life.

“I think a lot about the rehearsal process, tending to all of these emotions, letting them out, having a lot of beautiful discussions with my colleagues, especially the five of us in the lead roles.”

The timing is coincidental, Acon said, but that the opera arrives amid heightened attention on the Central Park Five case is certainly beneficial to the public conversation. An earlier effort by Davis to debut the opera — since retooled and renamed — in New Jersey drew little attention. But that was before the Netflix series arrived.

“I’m a firm believer that everything is happening when it needs to happen,” Acon said. “All of these things are happening at once. It’s almost because our society is so resistant to the truth being revealed that you almost need it to be thrown into the mix as an atomic bomb for people to really put their ears up and understand how important this is, how terribly, terribly unjust this was.”

A journey to Long Beach

After graduating summa cum laude from Lawrence in 2010 — he was a double major in voice performance and government — Acon went on to earn a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in 19th-century opera history and performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

He spent the next two and a half years on the road, performing, lecturing and studying. The schedule began to wear on his voice. Ten months ago, he relocated to southern California, drawn by what he calls the area’s “laid-back culture” and the plethora of arts opportunities.

He connected immediately with the Long Beach Opera, which was in the midst of a season based on issues of injustice. The casting for The Central Park Five was just getting started.

“I sang for them and was invited to join the cast,” Acon said.

He was working with people he didn’t know while immersing himself in the West Coast arts scene. He jumped into the mix as the opera company’s manager of education and engagement, organizing and facilitating community conversations in the months leading up to the opening of The Central Park Five.

“The journey began there,” Acon said. “It was kind of a crash course in introducing me to the classical music scene here. I am someone who has spent a lot of time in the Midwest and on the East Coast, so the West Coast scene was new for me, and this was just a beautiful introduction to that scene.”

The well-attended community conversations gave people a chance to speak their mind, to share with others in a very public and very cleansing way. To do it with the arts as an avenue to positive discourse on an emotionally charged topic was beautiful to see, Acon said.

“The key word is community,” he said. “The arts have this ability to create a community. Especially something like opera, where what you’re hearing is so visceral, it’s so emotional, so loud, as some of the younger people who have seen my work would say. You don’t really have an opportunity to do anything but listen. It’s so in your face, it’s in your soul, it’s in your heart.

“You may not always agree with the topic being put forth, but you are put in a position of contemplation, of consideration, and that is a communal experience. … Having the community of the opera house and the guidance of the voices and actors on stage may be enough to spark the conversation and the courage needed to really dig into some of these topics.”

The five lead performers in "The Central Park Five" sing on stage during the Long Beach Opera production.
“The Central Park Five,” by Long Beach Opera, opened just weeks after a Netflix series shined a new spotlight on the 1989 criminal case that resulted in faulty convictions of five New York City teenagers. Lawrence alumnus Derrell Acon ’10 (center) stars in the opera.

Opening night arrives

As the June 15 opener drew closer, the performance of The Central Park Five was being described as both emotional and powerful, with Acon and the other lead actors often singing in unison, a singular and pained collective character.

“I think operas work on multiple levels, and certainly a visceral level is one that I’m very concerned with,” said Davis, who created the production in partnership with Richard Wesley. “I want the audience to have an emotional experience that involves identifying with the characters and putting yourself in their place.”

After the opera opened, reviewer Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “Most of the opera, which is in two acts, follows the five through their arbitrary apprehension, inappropriate questioning, dubious trial, conviction and harsh sentencing. The boys react much of the time in quintet, voices blending in disbelief and outrage. The most effective operatic innovation is the creation of the Masque, who is less a character than the embodiment of white racism, be it the police, a reporter or various others.”

The reviews from opening night have been mixed, with reviewer Zachary Woolfe of the New York Times suggesting that the tone and the angst was spot on but having the five leads often sing as a Greek chorus means they “never have the chance to come to life as individuals, either in music or words.”

That’s a complaint, Acon said, that he also heard from a high school student who was part of a group he brought to a dress rehearsal. It’s a legitimate perspective, he said, but one he doesn’t necessarily share.

“I personally believe the opera is very effective in the way it keeps the five in unison, for the most part,” he said. “In a way, it’s saying this experience is not individual. This experience happens to so many young black men and other men of color in this country, so much to the point that we can sing the same words at the same time, in a metaphorical sense, because we all have these same sentiments as it relates to the American criminal justice system.”

Acon’s next chapter

When The Central Park Five performances conclude this weekend, Acon, a bass-baritone, said he’ll turn his attention to new opportunities in southern California.

The arts as a vehicle for education and understanding will almost certainly be part of that journey.

Acon, who serves on the Lawrence Board of Trustees as a Recent Graduate Trustee — a position established for alumni within two to 10 years of their graduation — earned multiple regional and national honors as a student and already has more than two dozen operatic roles on his resume.

His deep thinking on issues related to the arts, race and public policy was plenty evident during his time at Lawrence, and Brian Pertl, Lawrence’s dean of the Conservatory of Music, isn’t surprised that Acon is seeing early career success.

“At Lawrence, Derrell was already an outstanding scholar and stellar performer,” Pertl said. “The performance he created in association with his honors project, Whence Comes Black Art?: The Construction and Application of ‘Black Motivation,’  stands as one of the most important and compelling student productions I have seen in the past 10 years.” 

Ten months after landing in southern California, Acon said he feels like he’s found his artistic groove. The work with Long Beach Opera is just the start of some promising things.

“I’m excited to see what comes next,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of opportunities, and they keep coming in. It’s very encouraging.”

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

Three Lawrence faculty honored with teaching, scholarship awards at 2019 Commencement

Jose Encarnacion smiles from the stage as he accepts applause for his faculty award at Commencement.
Jose Encarnacion is greeted by applause as he accepts his faculty award at Commencement.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Three members of the Lawrence University faculty — two key music talents in the Conservatory of Music and one highly acclaimed geologist — were honored Sunday, June 9 for their academic and scholarly achievements.

The awards, announced during the 2019 Commencement ceremony and considered to be among Lawrence’s highest faculty honors, went to gifted instrumentalist and music instructor Erin Lesser, jazz musician and instructor Jose Encarnacion and highly lauded geology scholar and author Marcia Bjornerud.

For more coverage of Lawrence’s 2019 Commencement, click here.

Erin Lesser

Portrait of Erin Lesser at Commencement.
Erin Lesser

Lesser took home the 2019 University Award for Excellence in Teaching. A member of the acclaimed ensembles Wet Ink, Decoda, and Alarm Will Sound, she is both a highly regarded performer and an accomplished instructor. She has been teaching at Lawrence since 2011.

In her award citation, Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Kodat praised Lesser for her ability to balance the demands of being a touring artist with those of the classroom.

“Your brilliance in the concert hall finds its bright reflection in the Lawrence Conservatory studio, where your grateful students grow as musicians and thinkers in their own right, thanks to your thoughtful, attentive efforts to meet them where they are and then give them the tools and support that helps them realize their artistic goals.”

Jose Encarnacion

Portrait of Jose Encarnacion at Commencement.
Jose Encarnacion

Encarnacion was given the 2019 Award for Excellent Teaching by an Early Career Faculty Member.

While Encarnacion has been an assistant professor at Lawrence for just five years, his ties to the Conservatory date back to 2002, when he came here shortly after receiving his master’s of jazz and contemporary media from the Eastman School of Music. He would leave for a six-year stint as director of jazz and band ensembles at Eastman before returning to Lawrence in 2011 as a lecturer. He became a tenure-track faculty member in 2014 and now leads a jazz program that is regularly lauded in national music education circles.

“Your return has had a measurable effect — since 2015, the excellence of Lawrence’s jazz program has been recognized by no less an authority than DownBeat magazine, which has presented the university with four awards in four years,” Kodat said.

Marcia Bjornerud

Portrait of Marcia Bjornerud at Commencement.
Marcia Bjornerud

Bjornerud, who came to Lawrence in 1995, is the recipient of the 2019 Award for Excellence in Scholarship or Creative Activity. She has been among the college’s most honored faculty members. The Walter Schober Professor in Environmental Studies and founder of the Environmental Studies major has earned two Fulbright Senior Scholar awards, was named a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, received the Outstanding Educator Award from the Association of Women Geoscientists and was named a Fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters.

The faculty scholarship honor comes after her 2018 book, Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, was widely praised for making complex geological concepts — and their importance in the ongoing debate over how we care for the Earth — both accessible and substantial. It was long-listed for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing, was a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and received the PROSE Award in Popular Science and Popular Mathematics from the American Association of Publishers.

“In Timefulness, you draw on your research into the physics of earthquakes and mountain formation to show how an understanding of the multiple, overlapping temporalities of the Earth’s deep past can help us gain the perspective we need if we are to confront and address the environmental challenges that face us,” Kodat said.

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