Two Lawrence University Ensembles Selected as Featured Performers for State Music Conference

Lawrence University musicians will be exceptionally well represented as performers and composers when the 2005 Wisconsin Music Educators Association holds its annual state conference Oct. 26-29 in Madison.

The award-winning Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Fred Sturm, will pay tribute to some of Wisconsin’s most notable contributors to jazz with a pair of conference performances entitled “Homage to Wisconsin Jazz Composers” Oct. 26-27 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center. The Lawrence University Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Andrew Mast, will perform Friday, Oct. 28.

The 19-member Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble will be the conference’s opening day featured performer with a Wednesday evening concert and return to the stage first thing again the next morning for a second show. The two performances will feature 10 pieces each, collectively representing the work of 20 different composers and arrangers from across several important Wisconsin jazz constituencies.

Among the featured works will be four by retired state jazz education pioneers, including “Lady in Satin” by Oshkosh native and 1957 Lawrence graduate John Harmon, who founded the college’s award-winning jazz studies program in 1971; five by current Wisconsin university jazz educators, including “Nzemo Na Mvula Zamba” by Sturm and “Minor Surgery” arranged by Neenah native Marty Robinson, a 1989 Lawrence graduate now teaching at UW-Oshkosh; three Wisconsin school directors; two state natives who graduated from Wisconsin universities; three writers associated with Wisconsin jazz publishers; and three of Wisconsin’s greatest jazz stars, Woody Herman, the legendary big-band leader from Milwaukee, Lyle Mays of Wausaukee, the renowned keyboardist/composer with the Pat Metheny Group and noted contemporary jazz pianist Geoff Keezer from Eau Claire.

“This is both a great honor and a great opportunity for our students to play at the state conference,” said Sturm, whose collegiate ensembles have been cited by Downbeat magazine as America’s best eight times. “There are some terrific jazz programs in Wisconsin and we all vie for a spot on the annual conference program. We submitted some recordings last May and when I found out they offered us two programs, I could not have been more thrilled. This conference is really a wonderful way to showcase our talented student musicians to jazz educators from around the state.”

Collectively the recipient of two outstanding performance awards by Downbeat magazine as well as numerous other individual awards, the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble has long been recognized as one of the country’s premier undergraduate jazz bands. It performs and records frequently, presenting cutting edge large ensemble literature, historically significant works, Lawrence student and faculty compositions and arrangements and accompanies visiting jazz solo artists.

Mast, in his second year as director of bands at Lawrence, will lead the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble in a four-piece concert at 11 a.m. on Friday Oct 28 at the Monona Terrace. Two of his program’s works will have strong Lawrence ties.
One piece, “My Robin is to the Greenwood Gone,” was composed by Percy Grainger and arranged by Sturm in honor of long-time Lawrence music professor Fred Schroeder, who was the director of bands at Lawrence from 1951-78.

Another piece, “Villanelle,” will feature James DeCorsey, Lawrence associate professor of music, on French horn. DeCorsey also wrote the arrangement for the Paul Dukas composition.

“‘Villanelle’ is a terrific piece originally composed as a contest piece for the Paris Conservatory, so it has moments of both beauty and fire,” said Mast, who was director of Bands at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, before joining the Lawrence faculty in 2004. “And the 1998 arrangement of ‘My Robin,’ is a gorgeous and loving setting of this piece that happens to have two great Lawrence connections.”

The 55-member Lawrence University Wind Ensemble is selected from the top wind and percussion students in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and regularly performs five to seven concerts throughout the academic year, frequently with guest soloists, conductors and composers. Their latest recording, “Air Mosaic” was released in the spring of 2005.