Category: 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.

Eventful fall: 16 events we’re looking forward to in Fall Term

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Pull out your cozy sweaters and go find your pumpkin-carving kit, because fall is upon us. Personally, I love fall. The cool weather, leaves changing colors, cute fall outfits — everything about fall is just perfect. And I get it, some of you may be sad about summer ending. But honestly, there is no reason to be sad over summer, because Fall Term is jam-packed with so many fun things to do on and off campus. That is why I have created this list of things Lawrence students can look forward to this fall. 

1) Soup Walk 

This is exactly what it sounds like. On Oct. 19 from 1 to 4 p.m., restaurants in downtown Appleton will have their best soups for people to try. With your soup ticket, you can walk into the participating restaurants on College Avenue and try their soups. And once you’ve had all the soup your heart desires, vote for your favorite. Tickets for the soup walk are $20 and go on sale Oct. 1. There’s is nothing better than a bowl of soup on a cool autumn day. 

2) Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade 

The Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade always takes place on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That’s Nov. 26 this year. As odd as that might be, it’s great for Lawrence students because we are still on campus for it! The parade takes place on College Avenue, meaning you can see the parade from campus. It is filled with floats, bands, Santa Claus, even floats that shoot out fire to make sure everyone stays warm. If you want to watch the show from College Ave., be sure to get there early because the streets do fill up. The parade starts at 7 p.m.  

3) Octoberfest

Who doesn’t love fancy cars and good food? On Sept. 27 and 28, Appleton will be hosting its annual Octoberfest. The first night of Octoberfest kicks off with a classic car show called License to Cruise. The car show is filled with about 400 cars, live music, and great food. And if you think that’s great, the second day of Octoberfest is a huge block party — Appleton’s largest block party of the year. The party boasts five stages with live music, an arts and crafts station, and more delicious food. Luckily for us, Octoberfest takes place right on College Avenue, only a few blocks from campus. 

The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center as seen from College Ave.

4) ‘Hamilton’ in Appleton 

Your eyes are not deceiving you; Hamilton is coming to Appleton! The Broadway production that took the world by storm will be at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for a multi-week run in October. And unlike trying to see Hamilton on Broadway, you may actually be able to get tickets thanks to their lottery system. Check the PAC website for show dates and details.

5) Apple picking 

This is a fall classic! As a kid, my favorite school trip was going to the nearest orchard and going apple picking. I didn’t really like eating the apples; I just really enjoyed picking them. Luckily for us, Appleton has a ton of apple farms, (see what I did there?), meaning we can take part in this fall ritual. The Hofacker’s Hillside Orchard is the closest orchard to campus, and they also have a pumpkin patch! 

6) Fall Formal  

Get your outfits ready! Every year Lawrence International hosts a Fall Formal, which is happening Sept. 27. The formal will be taking place at Liberty Hall in Kimberly, which is about 15 minutes from campus. If you don’t have a ride, no worries. There will be a shuttle running from campus to Liberty Hall every 15 minutes.     

7) Convocation 

A new academic year means a new Convocation Series. Every year, the Convocation series is kicked-off with the Matriculation Convocation. This Convocation is special because it is led by our very own president, Mark Burstein. This year, the Matriculation Convocation will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 19 in Memorial Chapel.  

Dancers perform traditional Native American ceremony in Warch Campus Center on Indigenous Peoples Day.

8) Indigenous Peoples Day  

Every year, the Lawrence University Native American Organization (LUNA) hosts an Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration. This year, the celebration will be held on Oct. 14 on Main Hall Green. The celebration is typically filled with music, food, and traditional dancing that is sacred to indigenous cultures. This celebration gives indigenous students a chance to celebrate and share their culture with the wider campus as it also gives non-indigenous students a chance to learn about indigenous cultures.  

9) The Price is Right  

Lawrentians, come on down! As a way to celebrate Lawrence’s annual Giving Day, the Student Ambassadors Program (SAP) will be hosting a game of The Price is Right. Students will be able to dress in funky costumes and guess the price on different items around Lawrence to win prizes … just like the game show! The game will be held on Oct. 10 in the Mead Witter Room (second floor Warch), starting at 6:30 p.m. Giving Day will also have other events for students. Stay tuned.  

10) Blue and White Weekend  

Let’s go Vikes! As a way to celebrate the Lawrence community, Lawrence University hosts an annual Blue and White WeekendFrom Oct. 3-6, Lawrence will be filled with different events for families, alumni, and students. Last year’s Blue and White weekend was so much fun! There were different sporting events, concerts, and lots of places on campus to get free food, so I can’t wait to see what they have in store for this year! 

Portrait of four members of Brooklyn Rider
Brooklyn Rider

11) Artist and Jazz Series 

The performers coming to Lawrence during 2019-20 season have been announced! Brooklyn Rider will be the first group to kick-off the Artist Series, preforming Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. Brooklyn Rider is a strings quartet that creates music focused on healing. The Jazz Series, meanwhile, will begin with the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekendwith the Miguel Zenon Quartet as the first featured performance. Miguel Zenon is a Grammy-nominated saxophonist who will be preforming at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9. You will not want to miss these performances, and the best part is, they’re free for students.

12) Game Night  

As a way to ease the transition from high school to college for first-year students, Lawrence University’s Black Student Union (BSU) will be hosting a series of game nightsThe game nights will be open to the entire campus with a focus on being a space where students of color can have fun and get to know each other. The first game night will be held at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 20 in the Diversity and Intercultural Center.  

13) Events from S.O.U.P. 

S.O.U.P. is the Student Organization for University Planning. All the fun, really random things that happen on campus are typically brought to us by S.O.U.P.  This year will be no different, as S.O.U.P. continues to bring new events to campus for student to enjoy. On Sept. 28, S.O.U.P will be hosting Blacklight Zumba and bringing magician Peter Boie to campus. Be sure to be on the lookout for more events hosted by S.O.U.P happening this fall. 

The Vikings offensive line faces University of Chicago football players on the Banta Bowl field.

14) Fall Sports  

TOUCHDOWN! Fall term means fall sports. Be sure to stay up to date on the schedules for the football, volleyball, soccer, and tennis teams so you can support our Vikes! 

15) Wriston Art

Let there be ART! The Wriston Art Gallery will soon be opening its fall exhibitions. New pieces will be displayed in the gallery with an opening reception at 8 p.m. Sept. 27. Come check out the incredible art right here on campus. 

16) World Music Series 

The World Music Series is keeping the ball rolling from last year with a performance from Çudamani: Gamelan and Dance of Bali. This group is considered Bali’s most forward-thinking ensemble and will be coming to campus at 8 p.m. Sept. 23. The World Music Series is free for students, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to see performances from around the world. 

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

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.

From Holiday to “Hamilton,” the coming months in Appleton look glorious

Publicity photo of "Hamilton" performance.
“Hamilton” to come to Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in October.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

If entertainment offerings in or near Lawrence University are a big part of campus life — and they are — we are in for a spectacular 14 months ahead.

We’ll define “near Lawrence” to mean downtown Appleton, 100% walkability.

Lawrence unveiled its 2019-20 Performing Arts Series earlier this month. The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center released its spectacular 2019-20 Broadway lineup a few weeks ago. And the Mile of Mile Music crew just announced plans for Mile 7.

All we can say is, where do we get in line?

We can’t do them all, of course, but the options look glorious. We’ve highlighted 20 shows to circle on the calendar. This doesn’t include all the great live music available on a regular basis in the downtown area, the weekly farmer’s market, other arts offerings, or all the great theater and music performances at Lawrence.

But these 20 have us pretty fired up.

1: John Holiday, faculty recital, 8 p.m. May 1, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: We’re starting with something that should definitely not slide under the radar. Holiday is one of the Conservatory of Music’s brightest lights. He’s a rising national star in the opera world and has significant chops as a jazz vocalist as well. After giving this recital – and it’s free – his upcoming schedule includes performances at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, shows in England, Shanghai and Switzerland and dates with the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Los Angeles Opera. Joining him May 1 will be Mark Urness (double bass), Dane Richeson (drums), Andrew Crooks (piano) and Neeki Bey (piano).

Portrait of John Holiday
John Holiday

2: Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, 7:30 p.m. May 19, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: This one is for the ballroom dancers out there. It’s a solo tour from the dancer who helped put “Dancing with the Stars” on the map.

3: Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, 8 p.m. May 22, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: Fresh off its back-to-back DownBeat Awards, the LUJE highlights the incredible quality of musicianship up and down the roster in the Conservatory of Music. And May is a month where the Conservatory is on full display. Take your pick from a full calendar of Conservatory concerts.

4: John Prine, 8 p.m. May 24, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: One of the greatest singer-songwriters to ever pick up a guitar, Prine returns to the PAC on the heels of his Grammy-nominated album, “The Tree of Forgiveness.”

5: Mile of Music, Aug. 1-4, downtown Appleton: The festival features more than 900 performances in 70 venues in and around College Avenue. It’s the seventh year of the all-original music festival that has grown into one of Wisconsin’s premier music events. Lawrence plays a big role, with the Conservatory faculty leading the music education portion of the festival. Best of all, most of the performances — mostly up-and-coming artists from around the country — are free.  

6: Nick Offerman, All Rise tour, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: In the spirit of this standup show coming to Appleton, we quote (but don’t necessarily endorse) Ron Swanson, Offerman’s “Parks & Recreation” character: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Don’t teach a man to fish, and you feed yourself. He’s a grown man. Fishing isn’t that hard.”

7: Octoberfest, College Avenue, downtown Appleton, Sept. 28: The annual downtown bash ends the summer festival season with a bevy of live music, food and drink that takes over College Avenue with a mass of humanity. Look for the annual License to Cruise on Friday night, then the Octoberfest party all day Saturday. See info here.

8: “Hamilton,” Oct. 1-20, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: Yes, it’s that “Hamilton.” We’ve been waiting two years since the announcement that the Broadway juggernaut is coming to Appleton. Season tickets are on sale now but individual tickets won’t go on sale until much closer to fall. An on-sale date has yet to be announced. Also, watch for information on possible Student Rush tickets for this and other shows at the PAC.

9: Brooklyn Rider, 8 p.m. Oct. 4, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: This is the kickoff of the Artist Series portion of the Performing Arts Series. A string quartet that melds classical, world and rock sounds. (Season tickets for the series are on sale now; single show tickets go on sale Sept. 17, 920-832-6749, boxoffice@lawrence.edu.)

10: Lawrence University Studio Orchestra, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: The Friday night kickoff to the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend will put the talents of Lawrence music faculty and students on full display. The Jazz Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra will be doing a combo, filled with jazz classics and plenty of improvisation.

11: Miguel Zenon Quartet, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: The Saturday night of Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend features this multiple Grammy nominee from San Juan who is considered a groundbreaking saxophonist.

12: “The Phantom of the Opera,” Dec. 4-15, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: The musical, a classic loved by some, loathed by others, returns to Appleton as part of the PAC’s Broadway series.

13: Blue Man Group, Jan. 24-26, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: Performance art in the shade of blue. It’s a spectacle.

14: Bill Frisell: Harmony featuring Petra Haden, Hank Roberts, and Luke Bergman, 8 p.m. Feb. 7, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: Frisell, a prolific guitarist, will lead this group through a range of blues and popular American traditions. It’s part of LU’s Jazz Series.

Portrait of Tine Thing Helseth
Tine Thing Helseth

15: Tine Thing Helseth, 8 p.m. Feb. 28, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: A Norwegian trumpet soloist with a rock star following. Also part of the Artist Series.

16: Anderson & Roe Piano Duo, 8 p.m. April 3, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: A high-energy piano duo that is part of the Artist Series. The Miami Herald referred to them as “rock stars of the classical music world.”

17: Melody Moore, 8 p.m. April 18, Memorial Chapel: A soprano who has been drawing raves on some of the top opera stages in the world. Our own John Holiday hails her as “thoughtful, engaging and fiercely talented.” Part of the Artist Series.

18: Tigran Hamasyan Trio, 8 p.m. May 1, 2020, Lawrence Memorial Chapel: A pianist and composer with a jazz-meets-rock sound that has drawn wide praise. Lawrence’s Jose Encarnacion calls him “one of the most remarkable and distinctive jazz piano virtuosos of his generation.” His performance is part of the Jazz Series.

19: “The Band’s Visit,” May 5-10, 2020, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: The sixth of seven shows on the PAC’s Broadway lineup, this is a touring version of the musical that won 10 Tonys in 2018. It’s based on a 2007 Israeli film.

Publicity photo of "Dear Evan Hansen" performance.
“Dear Evan Hansen”

20: “Dear Evan Hansen,” June 23-28, 2020, Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: The finale of the PAC’s Broadway season, this musical tells the emotionally rich tale of a lonely teen who becomes a social media sensation, all quite by accident. For a full listing of shows at the PAC, visit here.

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

LU Jazz Ensemble takes a top DownBeat award for second year in a row

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Link to video of Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble
Click above to see video of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble.

It’s back-to-back wins for the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble.

The ensemble has been named the winner in the undergraduate Large Jazz Ensemble category in Downbeat magazine’s 42nd annual Student Music Awards (SMAs) competition, which awards some of the highest honors in jazz education each spring. 

“The students in the Jazz Ensemble work together on music that is unique, challenging, and a joy to perform,” said Patty Darling, a music professor in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music who directs the much-lauded ensemble. “This includes a lot of contemporary jazz rep and premier works from Lawrence’s student jazz composers and arrangers.”

The honor was announced Tuesday and appears in the newly published June edition of DownBeat magazine.

This is the second consecutive year that Lawrence has won the top honor in the large ensemble category, and the fifth time in the ensemble’s history that it has been honored by DownBeat.

More on the Conservatory of Music and the LUJE here

Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble performs at Memorial Chapel.
Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble

This is not small stuff. DownBeat’s SMAs are top-tier honors in the world of jazz education. They are presented in 13 categories in five separate divisions: junior high, high school, performing high school, undergraduate college and graduate college.

Lawrence has been a major player in those awards over the past four decades. To date, students and ensembles in the Lawrence Conservatory have won 28 of these awards in various categories, including undergraduate large ensemble, small group, jazz composing, jazz arranging, solo performance, and jazz vocal group. 

This was the fifth time in its history the Jazz Ensemble has been honored by DownBeat. It was previously recognized in 1985, 2000, 2007 and 2018.

Back-to-back wins for the Jazz Ensemble is something the school, its faculty and students can take great pride in, Darling said.

“It is a privilege to work with such talented, dedicated musicians who are so receptive and have such down-to-earth attitudes,” Darling said. “We are incredibly proud of them and I am very grateful to the jazz faculty who are their mentors.”

If you want to see the LUJE in concert, you can catch them at 8 p.m. May 22 at Memorial Chapel. Admission is free.

The DownBeat Student Music Awards were launched in 1978. Judging criteria are based on musicianship, creativity, improvisation, technique, sound quality and balance, excitement, and authority. Recordings are submitted from institutions worldwide and are judged by panels of respected jazz performers and educators who determine the awards in each of the categories. 

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

Roomful of Teeth’s Estelí Gomez to join Lawrence Conservatory

Head shot of Esteli Gomez
Estelí Gomez

Estelí Gomez will join Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music in the fall as the newest addition to the voice department.

The Roomful of Teeth vocalist has been part of two Grammy Award wins and was nominated in 2017 for the prestigious Gramophone Award as a soprano soloist. She’s also an accomplished voice instructor, holding a master of music degree from the McGill Schulich School of Music and a bachelor of arts degree in music from Yale.

“She is the rare professional vocalist who can sing at the highest level in practically any style,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory. “She is intellectually curious and loves to push the boundaries of classical music, and she is a passionate teacher. Estelí is the perfect fit for Lawrence and we are thrilled to welcome her to our faculty.”

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Gomez, who performed at Lawrence with Roomful of Teeth in 2014 and 2017, said she’s thrilled to be joining Lawrence.

“In my musical travels over the last decade, having visited nearly 80 institutions of higher learning, no school has better exemplified my ideals for a multi-faceted, holistic approach to music education than Lawrence,” Gomez said. “As an undergraduate at Yale, I benefitted so deeply from my liberal arts education, while also exploring courses and ensembles offered through the graduate School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music. I believe wholeheartedly in access to interdisciplinary resources, and know that such access allowed me to become the adaptable, multi-genre, self-managed musician I am today.”

More details will be released at a later date.

2019-20 Performing Arts Series loaded with impressive, creative talent

From a legendary guitarist who has delivered transformative performances for decades to a rising trumpet virtuoso who is already hailed as one of her generation’s best, the lineup for Lawrence University’s 2019-20 Performing Arts Series is stacked with impressive talent.

The lineup was announced Monday, with season tickets immediately going on sale for the Artist Series, the Jazz Series or a compilation of four shows from either of the series. Single show tickets will go on sale Sept. 17. All performances will be in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. For more information, call the Lawrence Box Office at 920-832-6749 or email boxoffice@lawrence.edu.

Artist Series

Portrait of four members of Brooklyn Rider
Brooklyn Rider

Brooklyn Rider, 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, 2019: With a focus on healing, this string quartet has been drawing rave reviews from classical, world and rock circles. They’ll be performing their new project, Healing Modes, a nod to the healing properties of music. It’s a return visit to Lawrence for the talented foursome.

“Their captivating performances often include collaborations with musicians from outside the classical music sphere” said Samantha George, associate professor of music with the Lawrence Conservatory of Music. “During their last visit to Lawrence, they performed with kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor and offered a master class to our students that focused on chamber music skills, improvisation, and extended string techniques. I am thrilled that we will have the chance to hear them play and work with them again next season.”

Portrait of Tine Thing Helseth
Tine Thing Helseth

Tine Thing Helseth, 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, 2020: The Norwegian trumpet virtuoso has quickly risen in stature, her intensity and enthusiasm garnering her rock star status. She has been hailed as one of today’s foremost trumpet soloists, at ease playing Bach and Haydn but also incorporating arrangements from the likes of Puccini and 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,” said John Daniel, associate professor of trumpet. “I would be happy to listen to her practicing scales or long tones.”

Portrait of Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe
Anderson & Roe Piano Duo

Anderson & Roe Piano Duo, 8 p.m. Friday, April 3, 2020: Known for their adrenalized performances, original compositions, and must-see music videos, Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe bring high energy to the piano duo experience. The Miami Herald referred to them as “rock stars of the classical music world.” They performed at Lawrence several years ago.

“The Anderson & Roe Piano Duo always give exciting and inventive performances,” said Michael Mizrahi, associate professor of music. “We are thrilled to be welcoming them back to Lawrence.”

Portrait of Melody Moore
Melody Moore

Melody Moore, 8 p.m. Saturday, April 18, 2020: A soprano who has played some of the world’s leading stages, Moore is drawing plenty of notice. Opera News called her “a revelation.” Her resume during the past year has included performances with the Houston Grand Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, and she is set to record a solo album of American music for Pentatone Records.

“I am so thrilledto know that my friend and colleague will be visiting Lawrence to present what I know will be a phenomenal recital,” said John Holiday, assistant professor of voice in the Conservatory of Music. “I first met Melody Moore in 2015 at the Glimmerglass Festival, where she made an explosive role debut as Lady Macbeth. We met each other and have been inseparable as buddies. Not only is she the consummate artist, but she is kind, thoughtful, engaging and fiercely talented.

“The beauty in combination with the ferocity with which she sings is something that is mind-blowing to witness. Buckle up, Lawrentians, because we are in for an amazing treat.” 

Jazz Series

Side-by-side photos of Lawrence Jazz Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra.
Lawrence Jazz Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra

Lawrence University Studio Orchestra, part of Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, 2019: A special event combining sounds of the Jazz Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra with featured performances by members of the jazz faculty. Works include music by Fred Sturm, Chuck Owen, Duke Ellington, and more. More than 100 performers will showcase music that integrates jazz, improvisation and the beautiful sonorities of the orchestra.

Portrait of Miguel Zenon
Miguel Zenon

Miguel Zenon Quartet, part of Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019: Miguel Zenon is a multiple Grammy nominee. He’s considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation. He also has developed a recognized voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, focused on a mix of Latin American folkloric music and jazz. A native of San Juan, he has released 11 albums under his own name while also working with a bevy of jazz innovators.

“His music honors two traditions — jazz and the traditional folkloric elements of Puerto Rico,” said Jose Encarnacion, assistant professor of music and director of jazz studies. “Every single album tells a complete, beautiful story that reflects a unique musical personality through contemporary arranging, creative imagination and improvisation.”

Portrait of Bill Frisell with Hank Roberts, Luke Bergman and Petra Haden
Bill Frisell with Hank Roberts, Luke Bergman and Petra Haden

Bill Frisell: Harmony featuring Petra Haden, Hank Roberts, and Luke Bergman, 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, 2020: Frisell has carved out a prolific career as a guitarist, composer, and arranger, showing extraordinary range and depth. His work is rooted in jazz but incorporates elements of blues and other popular American music traditions. The Grammy winner has collaborated with a wide range of musicians, filmmakers, and painters through the years.

“The way he moves complex harmonic voicings and linear phrases on the guitar with seamless sophistication is unparalleled,” Encarnacion said. “I personally love everything about his music, especially his collaborations with John Zorn and the Paul Motian’s group.”

Portrait of Tigran Hamasyan
Tigran Hamasyan

Tigran Hamasyan Trio, 8 p.m. Friday, May 1, 2020: The pianist and composer is called one of the most remarkable and distinctive jazz-meets-rock pianists of his generation. A piano virtuoso with groove power, his most recent recording was 2017’s An Ancient Observer, his eighth release as a sole leader.

“I really enjoyed listening to his original compositions and improvisations, which are beautifully influenced and fused with the rich folkloric music of Armenia,” Encarnacion said. “Tigran is definitely one of the most remarkable and distinctive jazz piano virtuosos of his generation.”