Category: Conservatory

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Theodore Rehl at the piano.
Theodore Rehl

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

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

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

1. MLK outreach and celebration

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

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

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

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

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

2. Great Midwest Trivia Contest 

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

3. Lunar New Year 

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

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

4. Winter Carnival and President’s Ball 

Gingerbread competitions are back as part of Winter Carnival.

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

5. Jazz Series concert featuring Bill Frisell 

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

6. Richard III on stage 

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

7. Artist Series concert featuring Tine Thing Helseth 

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

8. Cultural Expressions

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

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

9. Opera takes center stage 

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

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Music Ensemble performances took audience interaction to new heights

Lawrence musicians reflect
on “Ten Thousand Birds”
experience, a highlight
of fall term in the Conservatory

“I’ve always been really inspired by music that is tied to the outdoors, but I’ve never played music that tries to emulate the outdoors.” — Helen Threlkeld ’23

Story by Emily Austin ’21

Julian Bennett ’20, a cello performance major, called it “something out of a storybook.”

He and the other musicians in the Lawrence University New Music Ensemble were performing Ten Thousand Birds, creating music inspired by bird calls and interacting with the audience in the natural settings of the Green Bay Botanical Gardens.

“At one point I had about five ladybugs on my cello as I was playing and all the birds in the garden were singing back at us,” Bennett said.

The magical experience — in addition to the botanical gardens performance, the ensemble had a performance at Lawrence that was moved indoors because of bad weather and a public rehearsal at Bjorklunden in Door County — was among the highlights of fall term in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and shined a light on the possibilities that come with participation in the New Music Ensemble.

We caught up with students who took part in the Ten Thousand Birds performances to talk about what they took from the experience — performing music based on Midwestern animal sounds and bird calls, playing while walking in and around the audience, and exploring the nature around them.

Lawrence musicians perform amid the audience during the "Ten Thousand Birds" performance in the Warch Campus Center.
“Ten Thousand Birds” is performed Oct. 13 in the Warch Campus Center. It was moved indoors due to inclement weather. It also was performed outdoors at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens and at Bjorklunden in Door County. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Zoe Markle ’20, a bass performance major, said her playing was directly affected by these “interactions with the audience” as well as those with the environment around them and believes that in the end the musicians “were as much a part of the piece as the music.”

Because the structure of this particular piece is left up to the musicians and based largely on improvisation, how the audience reacts and interacts can change the music.

 “It was always fascinating to hear how the performances would differ from each other, and what melodic lines I would hear that I hadn’t heard before,” percussion major Alex Quade ’20 said.

Learning and rehearsing Ten Thousand Birds was unlike any process the students had experienced, though each piece they learn in the New Music Ensemble provides a new and different learning challenge. Because the work is constructed on a timetable, there is no mapped-out score. Every sound comes in at a different timing.

For these performances, the directors of the ensemble, visiting assistant professor of entrepreneurial studies and social engagement Michael Clayville and associate professor of music Erin Lesser, decided to arrange the piece in a day-long journey, placing the sounds one would typically hear at different times of the day. Both professors are part of the award-winning contemporary ensemble Alarm Will Sound, which has performed the piece in this arrangement several times.

“We rehearsed the piece by sound and were split up into small groups for many rehearsals, rather than working as a whole,” Markle said.

This small group work is a major draw for students participating in the New Music Ensemble, she said.

Markle noted that a huge reason she joined the group was because she loves “to perform in smaller chamber ensembles” as she is “able to connect more on an individual level with all the members of the ensemble.” 

Erin Ijzer and Julian Bennett perform “Ten Thousand Birds” in the Warch Campus Center.

Ten Thousand Birds is a piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams that was commissioned for Alarm Will Sound. The work is a collection of bird calls and animal sounds that can be found in the Midwest and takes the form of a folio, each page of notated animal sounds separate so that the musicians can arrange them whichever way they like. If Ten Thousand Birds is performed outside the Midwest, it can be updated to feature the animal sounds of that region.

The work was initially introduced to Lawrence’s ensemble by Clayville and Lesser last spring when they asked if students would be interested in playing outdoors. The response was a unanimous yes.

Helen Threlkeld ’23, a flute performance and biology double degree student, explained that it was an especially cathartic experience for her, having grown up embracing nature.

“I’ve always been really inspired by music that is tied to the outdoors,” she said, “but I’ve never played music that tries to emulate the outdoors.”

As a flutist, playing bird calls was especially exciting for Threlkeld, who explained that “a lot of composers have used bird song as inspiration, like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf,” but she notes that no composer has done what Adams has by notating them directly into playable notation. 

Before bringing Ten Thousand Birds to Lawrence and the Green Bay Botanical Gardens, the New Music Ensemble traveled to Björklunden, the university’s retreat campus on the Door County banks of Lake Michigan. The group rehearsed outdoors in the woods surrounding the main lodge to get a feel for playing in nature and to bond as an ensemble.

During the rehearsal, Threlkeld also realized how much the environment played a part in the piece.

“The waves coming up on the shore created a soundscape that sort of enveloped all the performers,” she said.

During the community performance at Björklunden, she said she experienced the power of the piece and described a moment where she “lost all passage of time” while they were playing.

The ensemble also pushes students to develop new skill sets within their musicianship. During the Ten Thousand Birds experience, students were encouraged to improvise, choosing the times they would play and how they responded to other players.

Thelkeld noted the difference in thinking about this contemporary piece and traditional classical music. She’d often think hard about “what the composer wanted” when learning a piece. That was flipped this time, she said.

“I had more of a chance to use my own judgment and use my own responsibility as a musician to create an experience for the audience instead of worrying about ‘what did Mahler’ or ‘what did Dvorák think?’”

Alarm Will Sound came to Lawrence for a residency last year and opened up their rehearsals to members of the New Music Ensemble, challenging them to sight-read through one of the pieces they were working on. It tied in with the ensemble’s mantra to push musical boundaries.

Quade called the experience “invaluable,” emphasizing how important it is to take advantage of “the opportunity to rehearse, interact, and learn” from groups that come in.

“Having these connections, along with every Lawrence professor, is such an asset that everyone needs to take advantage of,” Quade said.

Being part of the New Music Ensemble is pushing the participants to become better listeners and communicators, and the deep connections they’ve made with faculty is changing the way they play and collaborate.

The success of Ten Thousand Birds bodes well for this ensemble, which will have more performances and a guest artist residency in the spring.

Emily Austin ’21 is a student writer in the Conservatory of Music.

Lawrence Conservatory’s Albright in the mix on Bon Iver’s Grammy-nominated “i,i”

Tim Albright, assistant professor of music, and junior Allie Goldman play trombones during a teaching session Thursday in Shattuck Hall of Music.
Tim Albright, assistant professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, works Thursday with Allie Goldman ’21 during a trombone teaching session in Shattuck Hall. Albright and his trombone are on Bon Iver’s “i,i” album. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

“Justin took me aside to say he wants to share his studio with students, Lawrence students included. He wants his studio to be a place where budding musicians can experiment with recording and creating music.”  

—Tim Albright on Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon

———

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When Grammy nominations were rolled out Wednesday, Bon Iver’s i,i snagged three of them, including in the headline-grabbing Album of the Year and Record of the Year categories. The album, released in summer, also is starting to show up on critics’ best-of-the-year lists.

That’s all of particular note to a Lawrence University music professor who lent his considerable trombone talents to the album.

Tim Albright, a professor in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, spent four days in recording sessions in Justin Vernon’s home studio in Eau Claire, part of a horn section dubbed the Worm Crew.

“The horn section was made up of the unusual combination of trumpet, French horn, two trombones, saxophone and bass harmonica,” Albright said. “It was an unconventional assortment of instruments, but the sound was gorgeous.”

Vernon, the creative mastermind behind Bon Iver, has carved a deeply respected reputation for collaboration and musical experimentation. His annual Eaux Claires music festival — it took a hiatus for 2019 with an expectation to return in 2020 — and other musical outreach has raised Eau Claire’s arts profile considerably. His home studio, 180 miles west of Appleton, has become known as a gathering place for talented musicians.

“We rehearsed and recorded for four days and nights,” Albright said of the recording sessions. “When we weren’t making music, we shared meals, slept in bunk beds, and listened to music in Vernon’s state-of-the art control room. I was struck by his warmth and hospitality. He made us all feel completely at home, which helped the music come alive. 

“I think the album sounds amazing.”

Indeed, it does.

The album, Bon Iver’s fourth, was one of eight nominated for album of the year. The track “Hey, Ma” (it features Albright’s trombone) got a nod for Record of the Year, and the album also was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album. The Grammys will be held Jan. 26.

Cover of Bon Iver's "i,i"
Bon Iver’s “i,i” earned three music Grammy nods and a fourth for album packaging.

Esquire magazine included the album on its list of 50 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far), posted on Nov. 11.

“Twelve years after the seminal album For Emma, Forever Ago, Wisconsin singer Justin Vernon and his extended band find new ways to break your heart with their unusual indie-folk music,” Olivia Ovenden writes. “As on 22, A Million, follow-up i,i is filled with noodling jazz riffs, auto-tuned vocals and glitchy electronic samples.”

Esquire points in particular to the song “Salem,” which features Albright. “A patter of soft bleeping notes layer over each other and lift into a euphoric chorus which cries, ‘So I won’t lead no lie / With our hearts the only matter why.’”

Craig Jenkins of Vulture calls the album one of the best of the year.

“The lyrics are heavy on close inspection, but the music makes them buoyant,” he writes.

Making a connection

Albright’s connection to Vernon and Bon Iver comes via a trumpet player friend who had hooked him up in the mid-2000s for a recording session with The National, a then-unknown band that was preparing for the release of the album Boxer.

“I’ve known CJ for about 15 years from my time working in New York City,” Albright said. “When the band The National was just getting started, he said, ‘I wonder if you could come out to my friend Bryce’s house and record for a group called The National. I think they’re going to become big.’ Not thinking much of it, I took the train out to a tree-lined street in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, to record a one-minute fanfare in a stranger’s living room.”

Bryce turned out to be Bryce Dessner, one of the founding members of The National. And the trumpet player friend would prove prophetic. Boxer would indeed put the band on the map.

It was a couple of months later when Albright and his wife were walking through the Atlantic Terminal Shopping Mall in Brooklyn when he heard a new song playing overhead. It caught his ear.

“I nudged her and said, ‘Hey, listen, there’s trombone on that record,’” Albright said. “A moment later I realized the trombone player was me from the track I had recorded in Ditmas.”

That same trumpet player friend reached out to Albright again in 2018 when Vernon was looking for collaborators on his coming album. They needed a trombone.

In a media statement he released just prior to the release of i,i, Vernon noted contributions from a bevy of musicians, some with widely recognized names like Bryce Dessner and Bruce Hornsby, others more under the radar.

“This project began with a single person, but throughout the last 11 years, the identity of Bon Iver has bloomed and can only be defined by the faces in the ever-growing family we are,” Vernon said.

Albright, on the Lawrence faculty since 2016 and a member of the Atlantic Brass Quintet, is now part of that extended Bon Iver family. He doesn’t know if he’ll get to record with the band again, but he knows having that connection with Vernon could build other important bridges, perhaps involving his Lawrence students.

“Justin took me aside to say he wants to share his studio with students, Lawrence students included,” Albright said. “He wants his studio to be a place where budding musicians can experiment with recording and creating music. He cares deeply about giving back to the Wisconsin community that helped shape his musical voice.”

In the meantime, Albright will cherish his contributions to an album that will almost certainly be showing up on additional best-of lists between now and the end of the year. His name is all over the credits, which isn’t a bad place to be.

“It’s fun to be in that world, to touch a little bit of stardom,” Albright said.

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

Studio Orchestra concert featuring 100-plus musicians to highlight Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend

Tarrel Nedderman takes part in a Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble rhythm section rehearsal in advance of Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend. The LUJE will be part of the Studio Orchestra concert on Nov. 8. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When the annual two-day Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend kicks off at Lawrence University on Friday, it will be, per usual, a celebration of all things jazz.

But this year’s 39th annual event will be a celebration beyond that, a nod to the jazz program’s rich history in the Conservatory, the wide and deep range of student talent across the Conservatory, and the cherished nature of student-faculty collaborations.

The weekend is focused on jazz education, with students from more than 30 middle and high schools on campus to learn, listen, and practice. But the highlights each year are two public performances in Memorial Chapel. This year features the Lawrence University Studio Orchestra Concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday and the Miguel Zenon Quartet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The concerts are sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Members of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra rehearse in Shattuck Hall.
Members of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra rehearse in advance of Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend. The LSO will join forces with the Jazz Ensemble for a Studio Orchestra concert Nov. 8 in Lawrence Memorial Chapel. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Friday’s massive music celebration

The Studio Orchestra is a combination of Lawrence’s Jazz Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra, bringing more than 100 musicians to the stage. It also includes contributions from a number of Conservatory faculty members.

It’s a music project that has been talked about for a long time. It’s been a decade or more since something like this has been tried.

“The whole idea kind of evolved,” said Patty Darling, director of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble (LUJE). “We’ve wanted to combine LUJE and the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra (LSO) for a couple of years now, and when we got together last spring we started out by exploring studio orchestra repertoire.”

Darling, Director of Jazz Studies Jose Encarnacion, Director of Orchestral Studies Mark Dupere, and Director of Bands Andrew Mast all bought in. So did the student musicians and other faculty. Difficult logistics aside, enthusiasm across the Conservatory has continued to grow as the weekend has drawn closer.

“I think both of our groups can learn a great deal from each other even as we work in such different styles,” Dupere said. “I’ve always been drawn to the immediacy of musical expression that jazz performance tends to emit. And in the end, it is just so much fun.”

It was also seen as an opportunity to honor Fred Sturm, the late composer and jazz studies director who founded Lawrence’s Jazz Celebration Weekend in 1981 and set the stage for an event that would bring in such notable performers as Bobby McFerrin, Dizzy Gillespie, Diana Krall, and Branford Marsalis, among others.

“One piece that we absolutely had to include was Terlingua by Fred Sturm,” Darling said of the repertoire for Friday’s concert. “It is so beautiful. We wanted to honor Fred, as he was the founder of Jazz Celebration Weekend and also head of the jazz department for many years, a world-renowned jazz composer and educator, and a dear friend, mentor, and inspiration to us and so many people. From there, we kept expanding the collaboration to involve more faculty and students.”

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

José Encarnación, assistant professor of music and director of jazz studies, works with students during a Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble rehearsal. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The Friday concert will feature works from Sturm, Chuck Owen, Duke Ellington and others. Besides the LUJE and LSO, there will be contributions from the Faculty Jazz Group. It should be a treat for an audience that will include hundreds of middle and high school musicians.

“Not only will they hear a 108-plus-piece studio orchestra with beautiful colors not often used in big band rep, they will also get to experience incredible jazz improvisation by the Faculty Jazz Group — the communication, the connections, free improvisation, in the moment, things that make jazz so exciting,” Darling said.

Getting them all on stage at once might prove to be the biggest challenge.

“Not only are there so many people to fit, but it is also difficult to seat the musicians in a way that they all can hear well,” Dupere said. “In the end, we’ve placed the rhythm section — bass, drums, guitar, and piano — in the middle of the ensemble so that they form a nucleus that the rest of the studio orchestra can gather around and play off of.”

Preparing for the concert has been a logistical juggling act, with smaller group rehearsals interspersed with larger sessions. There have been a lot of moving pieces over the past few weeks.

“The soloists with the rhythm section, the LSO woodwinds with LUJE, our LUJE pianist with Janet Planet and strings — all these components were prepared independently, and now we are in final prep with the combined rehearsals,” Darling said.

It all comes together on Friday night.

For details on jazz offerings at Lawrence, see here.

Portrait of Miguel Zenon sitting with his saxophone.
Miguel Zenon will lead the Miguel Zenon Quartet in a Nov. 9 concert at Lawrence Memorial Chapel, the second night of the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend.

Saturday’s concert features a saxophone innovator

Come Saturday, the audience will get to hear and experience what is making Miguel Zenon such a rising star. The saxophonist from San Juan, Puerto Rico, has multiple Grammy nominations and Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships on his resume already.

He’ll lead the Miguel Zenon Quartet in a concert mixing Latin American folkloric music and jazz.

“His music, artist, and genius,” Encarnacion said of what makes the Zenon Quartet special. “They are one unit in complete alignment with the universe.”

In advance of the concert, Zenon will be doing an open sound check and Q&A from 5 to 6 p.m. at Memorial Chapel, a chance for Lawrence musicians and visiting students to interact with him.

“It’s very important that our students get the opportunity to interact with an artist of this caliber,” Encarnacion said. “It is so valuable in so many ways — as a performer, composer, music business person, improviser, entrepreneur, and educator. Miguel can speak to our students and faculty about his experiences and perspectives on all these aspects of being a professional musician.”

Encarnacion said he first encountered Zenon in the early 1990s on a visit to Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, to see an old high school saxophone teacher. The teacher wanted to show off one of his talented young musicians.

“He said, ‘Come here, I want to introduce you to one of my students. This guy is going to be amazing; his name is Miguel Zenon.’ He was right.”

Zenon has released 11 albums through the years and has toured or recorded with the likes of Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, and The Mingus Big Band, among others.

“I love the way Miguel conceptualizes traditional or folkloric music from Puerto Rico with jazz music,” Encarnacion said. “I love all his recordings. They are always fresh, rooted in the tradition but always moving forward with new sounds, rhythmic complexities, and adventurous musical stories.”

Admission to the Friday and Saturday concerts at the Chapel will be $25-$30 ($20-$25 for seniors, free for students).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Birds celebrated with music on Main Hall Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Indigenous People’s Day features Oneida dancers

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

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

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

4. Music for All concert series is back

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

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

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

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

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

5. Latin American and Spanish Film Festival returns

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

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

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

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

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

6. Indian classical dancer to open dance series

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

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

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

7. Pianist McDonald to be in concert in Chapel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Emily Austin ’21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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