Category: Conservatory

Challenges mix with excitement as a Fall Term like no other is set to open

Mask up, Lawrentians. Wearing a mask is among protocols for anyone on campus.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University students are preparing to begin a new academic year – some on campus, some remotely – in a world that looks decidedly different than it did one year ago.

The excitement and promise that marks the arrival of Fall Term remains intact, but it comes with the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to adjust behaviors to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, including the required signing of the Lawrence Campus Community Pledge by every student, faculty, and staff member who will set foot on campus.

A little more than 850 students, or roughly 62% of the student body, are expected to be living on campus for the Fall Term, with another 118 living off campus but in the Fox Valley. The remaining students, roughly 25%, will be accessing classes remotely from other locations around the world.

See details on Lawrence University’s plan for Fall 2020 here.

The traditional Welcome Week for first-year students begins Sept. 8 with a mix of in-person and virtual activities designed to assist in the transition to Lawrence. Returning students will follow, with classes beginning Sept. 14.

Nearly 80% of the more than 410 new first-year and transfer students are expected to be on campus for Fall Term.

The vibrancy and interactive nature of classes, long a hallmark of Lawrence, will be a priority no matter how those classes are delivered. And efforts by Student Life will focus on helping students find ways to interact outside of classes in a safe manner. Throughout the summer, Lawrence leadership, faculty, and staff have been exploring options and making changes in physical spaces and protocols in an effort to tackle the daunting challenge of launching an academic year in the midst of a global pandemic.

Living by the Pledge

All Lawrentians who will be on campus will be called upon to “Honor the Pledge” in order to keep safe those with whom they are sharing spaces. Among the Pledge requirements: wear a mask in indoor public spaces and when gathering in groups outdoors; maintain 6 feet of physical distance; get a flu shot; participate in testing and contact tracing; and follow the same safety-minded behaviors while off campus.

“We are personally and communally responsible to keep ourselves, and each other, healthy: to physically distance, to wear masks, to monitor our health, and to regularly clean personal campus spaces,” President Mark Burstein said in a message to the campus community in late August. “All of us living, learning, and working on campus this fall need to understand and to honor the responsibilities outlined by the Pledge.” 

The University’s pandemic health plan speaks to how different campus life will be during Fall Term. Bellin Health has been contracted as a health care partner. Students will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival on campus. Faculty and staff are being tested as well. Bellin will continue to test regularly throughout the term, and Wellness Services will coordinate contact tracing with the Appleton Health Department. Kohler Hall, meanwhile, has been set aside for use as quarantine and isolation space as needed.

None of it is ideal. The challenge for students, faculty, and staff is to work together to find ways to make experiences in and out of the classroom – in person or online — as fulfilling as possible while adhering to the new safety protocols.

Sterling Clarke Elvin Ambrosius ’22 chairs the Lawrence University Community Council’s Student Welfare Committee and will be among the students leading that charge, reminding fellow students early and often of the importance of staying committed to this new reality.

“We have the ability to make or break this term on campus,” Ambrosius said. “It is really important that we show that we care about our fellow Lawrentians by doing everything we can to maintain best practices for public health.”

With the help of Student Life and other campus resources, students will need to tap into creativity and resourcefulness as they navigate a different kind of college experience. That will begin with the arrival of Welcome Week on Tuesday and continue through the end of Fall Term on Nov. 24 and most likely into Winter Term.

“Even during such uncertainty, I remain hopeful that we will come together as Lawrentians, both virtually and in person, to make the most of this new academic year,” Vice President for Student Life Christopher Card said in a message to students.

The classroom experience

David Berk, director of instructional technology, shows what a classroom adjusted for physical distancing will look like during Fall Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The majority of classes during Fall Term are being delivered virtually, and Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine G. Kodat said faculty have worked hard over the last three months to improve upon online instruction. The lessons learned during Spring Term, when remote classes were pulled together quickly, will pay off with a more deliberate and confident classroom experience, with the focus staying true to the faculty-student interactions that Lawrence prides itself on.

“In making their decisions about how best to teach their courses, faculty have carefully considered how campus requirements for masking and social distancing will affect in-person instruction,” Kodat said in a message to students. “In addition, they have participated in workshops enabling multiple refinements and improvements in distance instruction.”

Physical changes, some more noticeable than others, will greet students returning to campus. A number of classrooms have been altered to allow for physical distancing during class, and some have been outfitted with new technology to better accommodate distance instruction.

Nine classrooms – four in Main Hall, three in Briggs Hall, and two in Youngchild Hall – are being equipped with ceiling microphones and web cams to make them Zoom-ready. It will allow students who are remote to participate in the class in real time. 

In all, 27 spaces have been adapted for in-person instruction, including 12 classrooms, one computer lab, five art studios, three science labs, four performing arts spaces, and two rooms in Warch Campus Center that have been repurposed into a classroom.

Large classrooms that previously accommodated as many as 48 students will now be limited to 16 students, with desks or tables spaced across the room. Walkways will be marked to route traffic in and out of those classrooms with physical distancing in mind.

In the Conservatory, meanwhile, significant changes have been made in how music and performance spaces will be used.

For practice rooms that previously were available on a first come, first served basis, a new assignment protocol has been established. Five to six students will be assigned to each practice room, meaning only that select grouping will have access.

Studio spaces, meanwhile, have been outfitted with new technology, allowing one-on-one lessons to be conducted remotely. The on-campus student will be in the studio while the professor will connect via Zoom from a remote location. This isn’t new to the Conservatory. Two music professors who have significant touring commitments were already doing this while on the road; now it’s being expanded to the other studio spaces in the Conservatory. The investment in new tech will remove any connectivity issues.

When ensemble or other music sessions need to be held in person, they will move to bigger spaces in Lawrence Chapel or the Music-Drama Center, spaces that are being adapted with new technology and will be more readily available because musicology and music theory classes will be remote and thus not using those spaces. The larger spaces will allow for needed physical distancing.

“We are trying to do everything we can to make this as easy and convenient and safe as possible,” Dean of Conservatory Brian Pertl said.

Other spaces

Plexiglass has been installed in high-traffic areas across campus, including here in the Wellness Center.

Existing study spaces on the first and second floors of the Mudd Library have been “de-densified” to accommodate distancing. The library’s third and fourth floors will remain closed.

Access to the library’s second floor, home to the newly constructed Center for Academic Success, will be available per designated stairwells to allow for needed distancing. The main stairwell will be for going up only, while the north and south stairwells will be for going down. Library materials will be available through a digital check-out process.

In the Warch Campus Center, stairways also will be designated for one-way traffic. Andrew Commons will function without in-house dining, with all meals served on a to-go basis. Most of the food stations will still be available, but self-serve stations will be closed. There will be no salad bar, for example, with salads instead being available pre-packaged.

In the Buchanan-Kiewit Wellness Center, faculty, students, and staff will continue to have access to recreation and fitness equipment, but they will need to schedule their visits, said Erin Buenzli, director of wellness and recreation. The number of people in the center at any given time will be limited.

Some of the spaces in the Wellness Center have been adjusted as well, including cardio equipment being placed in the gymnasium to better allow for those using it to be spread out.

In the residence halls, shared kitchen space, including refrigerators and cabinets, will be off limits. And access to the residence halls will be limited to on-campus students and staff only.

Across campus, plexiglass barriers have been installed in Brokaw Central, Mudd Library, Chapman Hall, the Music-Drama Center, the Wellness Center, and Warch Campus Center, among other high-traffic areas. All campus buildings with a central ventilation system are being outfitted with new filters that exponentially increase air filtration and disrupt the passage of the virus through the ventilation system. And all systems where feasible are being recalibrated to increase outside air flow.  

The protocols and physical changes, as well as the expectations laid out in the Pledge, are designed to keep those on campus as safe as possible while delivering a robust academic experience. Adjustments will be made as needed. The Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team has a contingency plan in place – known as the “Stoplight Guide” – to determine next steps should a virus outbreak occur. The Fall Term is set to begin under a “green light.” It will move to “yellow light” if enhanced precautions are needed, halting in-person activities for two to five days; and will move to “red light” if the campus needs to be shut down, with in-person classes and activities shuttered for 14 days or longer.

The arrival of Fall Term is an unprecedented challenge for Lawrentians, as it is for institutions of higher learning around the world. We’re about to welcome the Class of 2024. It is go time.

“Even amid the challenges and grief this year has brought, the beginning of a new school year is a moment that I cherish,” Burstein said. “I am looking forward to the academic year, seeing new and familiar faces virtually and on campus.”

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

“Courageous” opera that featured LU’s Acon wins Pulitzer Prize in music

Derrell Acon ’10 (center) starred in The Central Park Five when it debuted last summer with Long Beach Opera.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The Central Park Five, an opera that featured Derrell Acon ’10 in a leading role when it debuted last summer in southern California, has won a Pulitzer Prize for music.

The Pulitzer announcement came Monday, with the Pulitzer jury calling Anthony Davis’ jazz-infused opera a “courageous operatic work.”

The production was presented by Long Beach Opera, with Lawrence University alumnus Acon playing one of five black or Latino men wrongly convicted in the 1989 rape and beating of a white woman in New York’s Central Park. The real-life case drew national attention then and again 13 years later when DNA evidence exonerated the men, bringing renewed cries of injustice and a lawsuit that would eventually cost New York City $41 million.

The Pulitzer for Davis is a crowning honor for a production that Acon says was both fulfilling and emotional.

“Portraying the character of Antron McCray was the most moving experience of my operatic career,” Acon said Tuesday. “My colleagues and I all felt a sense of honor and duty to share this deeply tragic story, which is unfortunately all too familiar for many black folks in American society.”

Acon talked about the emotions of The Central Park Five just after the production debuted in Long Beach last June.

“I wasn’t really anticipating any particular response,” he 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.”

Acon graduated summa cum laude from Lawrence in 2010 as a double major in voice performance and government. He went on to earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in 19th-century opera history and performance from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.

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.

In 2018, he relocated to southern California and began working with Long Beach Opera, landing the role in The Central Park Five. He also facilitated public conversations about the Central Park Five case and other issues of injustice and now serves as the opera house’s director of engagement and equity. 

Last summer’s opera was led by Davis, who had attempted to stage an earlier version in New Jersey with little success. This time, the reworked production drew national attention.

In announcing the Pulitzer, the jury said Davis’ opera, with libretto by Richard Wesley, is “marked by powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration that skillfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful.”

Acon is the second Lawrentian involved in a Pulitzer-winning opera in the last decade. Eric Simonson ’82 directed the original production of Silent Night, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for music.

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

Three in a row: LU Jazz Band continues Conservatory’s DownBeat success

The Lawrence University Jazz Band earned a 2020 DownBeat Award in the Latin Group category for a performance it did featuring Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban music, led by Director of Jazz Studies Jose Encarnacion.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s jazz program has earned a prestigious DownBeat award for the third consecutive year, this time in the Latin Group category.

The LU Jazz Band, performing as a Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban ensemble, earned a Latin Group award in DownBeat’s 43rd annual Student Music Awards, announced April 28.

DownBeat’s student awards, released each spring, are among the highest honors in jazz education. The 2020 honors will appear in the June edition of DownBeat magazine.

The Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban endeavor started out as a bit of an exploration last year for the LU Jazz Band. A number of Conservatory of Music students expressed interest in expanding their knowledge and skills in Afro-Cuban music. Jose Encarnacion, an assistant professor of music and director of Jazz Studies, and two students from the percussion studio, Alex Quade and Nolan Ehlers, just so happened to be in the process of learning to play Bata music, sacred African music of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Africa.

“Nolan had been in Cuba studying abroad, learning about Afro-Cuban rhythms and traditions,” Encarnacion said. “I found these conditions to be perfect timing for converting Jazz Band into a Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban ensemble. In collaboration with Nolan, we put a concert together. Nolan, as co-director, would teach some of the traditional rhythms and songs as I worked with the style and feel of the music.”

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

It was the performance from that concert, Afro-Cuban Roots and Traditions, which included Afro-Cuban rhythms such as Rumba, Guiro, Bata and Salsa, that garnered the Jazz Band the DownBeat Award.

“These students really embraced diversity, opening themselves to new cultural and musical concepts,” Encarnacion said.

In the previous two years, the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble took home the prize in the large ensemble category.

DownBeat’s SMAs are presented in five separate divisions: junior high, high school, high school honor ensemble, undergraduate college, and graduate college. Lawrence has fared well in those undergraduate awards over the past four decades. Students and ensembles in the Lawrence Conservatory have won 29 awards in various categories, including large ensemble, small group, jazz composing, jazz arranging, solo performance, and jazz vocal group. They now can add Latin Group to the list.

Seeing the Conservatory take home a top prize for the third year in a row is a huge honor, Encarnacion said. It’s not something the jazz faculty or students take for granted.

“Every year the students push themselves to rise to new heights,” Encarnacion said.

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

Conservatory named “hidden gem” as faculty find new ways to connect, teach

Lawrence University students, led here by Director of Orchestral Studies Mark Dupere, gathered for an impromptu performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah just as Winter Term came to an end. Faculty are now finding new ways to enhance music instruction and maintain connections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

As Lawrence University treads new territory with distance learning for Spring Term, a consulting site for prospective music students has given the school’s Conservatory of Music a major salute.

Music School Central named Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music one of the best “hidden gem” music schools in the country. The top-10 ranking placed Lawrence at No. 3.

Bill Zuckerman, who oversees musicschoolcentral.com – he previously authored a column on the Conservatory titled, Is This the World’s Most Socially Conscious Music School? – called Lawrence “the definition of excellence in a liberal arts college music school.”

The ranking is music to the ears of Conservatory Dean Brian Pertl as he and his team launch into a Spring Term like none before. As are professors in departments across campus, the Conservatory faculty have taken up the challenge of keeping the community aspect of the Lawrence experience intact while shifting to distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Lawrence professor launches national fundraiser for artists shut down by COVID-19. See details here.

Tears were shed when word first came down that Lawrence, like other colleges and universities across the country, would be quickly transitioning to virtual instruction during the spring, Pertl said. But the conversation among faculty shifted almost immediately to ways in which the learning experience could still be marked with close faculty-student interactions, community building, and opportunities to tap into skills that will be in demand in the music world going forward.

What’s happened over the past four weeks – Spring Term began Monday following Winter Term finals and a two-week spring break – has been nothing short of amazing, Pertl said.

In the horns studio, Assistant Professor of Music Ann Ellsworth has taken her practice of group warm-ups each morning in Music-Drama Center 163 and transformed it into a daily Zoom session with her horn students. And she’s invited prominent horn makers and horn players from around the globe to interact with her students via Zoom masterclasses.

Horn students join Ann Ellsworth (top middle) for daily warm-ups via Zoom.

“So, horn makers from the U.S. and horn players from places like the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and at least one from Germany will be Zooming in to speak to her horn students,” Pertl said. “It’s sort of taking advantage of this opportunity that a lot of these great musicians in the world are stuck at home, too. They are actually eager to interact with students.”

Trombone professor Tim Albright is working on a virtual trombone ensemble project, recording Charles Ives’ Variations on America, arranged by Lawrence alumus Dominic Ellis ’17. Trombone students will be recording their parts remotely, and the music will be stitched together on campus, thus keeping the trombone ensemble alive, just in a different setting.

Assistant Professor of Music Matthew Arau, who is teaching a rehearsal techniques class for music education, is partnering with middle and high school music programs in Malaysia, led by Lawrence alumnus Dan Miles ’10, and Hong Kong. Lawrence students will direct those music students from afar.

A number of student music groups, most notably in the jazz and improvisation area, will be exploring live improvisation in virtual spaces, performing together even though they are spread across the country or around the world.

Students preparing for junior or senior recitals are re-imagining what those recitals might look like. While some remain on campus and will stream recitals from Harper Hall, others are prepping for remote recitals that incorporate elements and skills that might not otherwise have been considered, including turning a recital into an animation-infused music video.

“All of sudden our students, instead of throwing up their hands and being dejected or saying, ‘I can’t,’ they’ve taken up the challenge, and they’re saying, ‘I can, and not only can I, I am going to do something that is going to push my boundaries,’” Pertl said. “They’re redefining what a recital can be.”

Staying flexible and staying connected are front and center as faculty and students venture into these uncharted waters.

“It’s beautiful, creative flexibility,” Pertl said. “We’re working with our students all the time to say, ‘This is what you’re going to need out there in the world, and this is what’s going to be exciting about being a musician in the world today.’ And they are going to be taking all of these forward-thinking practices, and they’re just going to be doing them, which is a sort of neat and beautiful thing.

“Is it ideal? No, it’s not ideal. Nobody wanted this to happen. But can we make the very, very best of this and come away with skills and knowledge that we wouldn’t have otherwise had to acquire, but skills and knowledge that will be beneficial for our students once they leave here?”

Ellsworth said her daily warm-up sessions with horn students might seem like a small thing, but it’s that sort of personal connection that students most feared would be lost.

“I ask everyone to mute themselves and then choose one student for each exercise to unmute so we can all hear that one person,” Ellsworth said of the sessions. “I play a short exercise from our routine and they all repeat it after me. The purpose of the group warm-up for horn is that half of the benefit is getting the mouthpiece off the face in-between exercises; it slows us down, prevents injury while we’re still cold, and sets us up for the rest of the day.

“But it turns out the real purpose for distance group warm-up is the time after our 45 minutes of playing, when I leave the room but leave the meeting running. I tell them they can hang out or not and that I’ll be back in 20 minutes, and I’ll come back and they are still there, hanging out, talking about student stuff. We had a prospective student join one meeting and I left them there to get acquainted because they can’t come to visit the campus. It’s super productive.”

There are dozens of other examples of collaboration and creativity taking place across the Conservatory as Spring Term gets rolling, Pertl said, all of which speaks to the ideals that landed Lawrence on the “hidden gems” ranking in the first place.

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawrence alumnus brings classic Sam Shepard production to Cloak Theater

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

Update: This event has been canceled.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tine Thing Helseth

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

History has a way of repeating itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student commissions music for senior recital in honor of Pakistani grandmother

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

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn about Lawrence’s Chandler Senior Experience here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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