Category: Press Releases

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

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

Update: Lawrence to go to distance learning for Spring Term

Lawrence University will switch to distance learning for the Spring Term due to concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Lawrence has launched a web site that houses Lawrence-related information on COVID-19. It will continue to be updated as needed. The site includes a coronavirus FAQ.

“While there are currently no known cases of COVID-19 on the Lawrence campus, we recognize that we can no longer continue as usual and still protect all members of our community, especially those most at risk,” President Mark Burstein said Thursday in a letter to the Lawrence community. “As a result, and in consultation with faculty, students, and staff, we have determined that the best course of action for Lawrence is to move to distance learning starting Spring Term. This was an extraordinarily difficult decision to make.”

Students will be required to stay off campus at their permanent residence or otherwise away from campus during Spring Term and access instruction remotely. Students can petition to stay on campus (but still study remotely) if they are international students with travel restrictions such that they may not be able to return to their home country and have no domestic residence option; if they lack needed technology to access distance learning; or if there are other extenuating circumstances.

Spring break, which begins March 19, will be extended an extra week. Spring term will now begin April 6. There will be no in-person instruction.

See President Burstein’s letter here.

For updates from Lawrence on coronavirus, see here.

Registration now open for wide range of Björklunden summer seminars

Summer seminar participants gather on the deck of the lodge at Bjorklunden during the summer of 2019.
Bjorklunden will host 37 seminars from mid-June to mid-October.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Björklunden, Lawrence University’s pristine northern campus in Door County, is once again beckoning visitors for summer seminars that feed a desire for lifelong learning.

Registration is open for 37 Bjorklunden summer seminars, presented by Lawrence faculty, alumni, and other experts. It’s a chance to learn while enjoying the peace and beauty of the 425-foot campus along the Lake Michigan shoreline, just south of Baileys Harbor.

Topics range from wildlife photography and the study of the stars to exploration of America’s racist past and the anatomy of a murder trial. The seminars begin in mid-June and carry through much of October.

“The seminar program embodies one of the most unique aspects of a liberal arts education — a commitment to lifelong learning,” said Alex Baldschun, an assistant director at Bjorklunden.

Visitors to the seminars, he said, come from all walks of life.

Some commute to the seminars. Others are Björklunden residents for the week, housed in the estate’s 37,000-square-foot lodge. Participants are able to explore the grounds and engage with the beautiful scenery in Door County.

Most seminars, which include meals prepared by Björklunden’s resident chef, begin Sunday evening and end Friday afternoon. Classes meet weekday mornings and some evenings, with remaining time available to enjoy Björklunden’s mile-long shoreline and wooded walking trails or to explore area cultural and recreational opportunities.

Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, is among the Lawrence faculty leading seminars this year. She’s presenting an astronomy-focused seminar, The Stars: Mansions Built by Nature’s Hand, July 26-31. It’s something she’s wanted to do for years, calling the surroundings “singularly contemplative, especially for astronomy.”

To be able to do it in a relaxed atmosphere with a cross-section of deeply curious people, all the better.

“There’s something very freeing about being in a learning environment where there are no grades, just the love of learning,” Pickett said.

Complete seminar information, including registration, dates, course descriptions, and information on instructors, can be found at www.lawrence.edu/dept/bjork/ or by calling 920-839-2216. Questions can also be directed via email to mark.d.breseman@lawrence.edu.

The 2020 summer seminar lineup

Terry Moran leads a session during the 2019 summer seminars at Bjorklunden.
Terry Moran ’82 will be back to lead another summer seminar. The ABC News correspondent will present “The 2020 Verdict” Aug. 2-7.

June 14-19

Listen to the Birds / Don Quintenz

Wildlife Photography: Turning Passion into Productivity / John Van Den Brandt

June 21-26

Two Irishmen, Two Novels, Two Portraits / Robert Spoo ’79

July 5-11

Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camp / Bob DeRosa

July 12-17

Give My Regards to Broadway – The American Musical / Dale Duesing ’67

The Great Patriotic War: World War II Through Soviet Eyes / Victoria Kononova

July 17-19

Family Weekend/Grandparent-Grandchild Weekend / David Stokes

July 19-24

African America in Slavery and Freedom: How our Racial Past Informs our Present / Susan Pappas ’69

African America in Slavery and Freedom: How our Racial Past Informs our Present / Joe Patterson ’69

African America in Slavery and Freedom: How our Racial Past Informs our Present / Jerald Podair

Poignant, Prosaic, and Possibly Pointless: The Stories of Anton Chekhov / Peter Thomas

Richard M. Nixon: The Triumph and Tragedy of an American Politician / Tim Crain

July 26-31

Stitches in Time: The Genius of Medieval Embroideries and Tapestries / Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg ’65

The Stars: Mansions Built by Nature’s Hand / Megan Pickett

Water Cycle: A Journey Around the Science and Policy of Earth’s Most Precious Resource / Peter Levi ’01 and Titus Seilheimer ’00

Aug. 2-7

The 2020 Verdict / Terry Moran ’82

The American Civil War in Historical Perspective / James Cornelius ’81

Aug. 9-14

Is Belief in God Rational? / Terry Goode

The Fall of Rome: From Caesar to King and From Jupiter to Jesus in 500 Years / Nikolas Hoel ’99

Aug. 16-22

Creative Photography / Philip Krejcarek

Family Ties – The Case of King David / Bill Urbrock

Watercolor: The Expressive Medium / Helen Klebesadel

Aug. 30-Sept. 4

Flirting with Disaster: Turning Personal Obsession into Memoir / David McGlynn

The Original Book Club: Literary Legacies of Medieval Women / Catherine Keene and Danielle Joyner

What Happens Next?: The Importance of the Strong Storyline in Classic Hollywood Films / Jack Rhodes

Sept. 13-18

Which Way to the White House? Presidential Campaign Parades from 1896 to 2020 / Charlie Schudson and Steve Bruemmer

Wildflowers, Birds, and Mushrooms / Don Quintenz

Wildflowers, Birds, and Mushrooms / Charlotte Lukes

Writing Poetry in Forms / Marilyn L. Taylor

Sept. 27-Oct. 2

A Brief History of Creatures that Rule the Earth (Hint: They’re not humans) / David Hines ’76

Anatomy of a Murder Trial / Steve Licata ’75

Hollywood Votes: Images from the World of Politics in Films of the Classic Era / Jack Rhodes

Oct. 4-9

SPQR: The Senate and the Roman People / Daniel Taylor ’63

The 2020 Elections: What Next for American Foreign Policy? / Christopher Murray ’75

Watercolor: A Fresh Start / Helen Klebesadel

Oct. 11-16

The Weimar Republic: Grandeur and Disaster / Jon Greenwald

Oct. 18-23

World Religions in the Contemporary World / Brian Smith

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

“Prom Night in Mississippi” to get screening, discussion at Warch Cinema

Prom Night in Mississippi was released in 2008, a partnership between director Paul Saltzman and actor Morgan Freeman. It tells the story of a small Mississippi high school holding an integrated prom for the first time. (Photo courtesy of Moving Beyond Prejudice)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Paul Saltzman, the director of Prom Night in Mississippi, a 2008 documentary about racism and race relations in a small town in Mississippi, will visit Lawrence University next week for a showing and discussion of the film.

The documentary, created in partnership with Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, in the Warch Campus Center Cinema, followed by a discussion with Saltzman.

Prom Night in Mississippi was made more than 40 years after Saltzman had participated in voter registration work with the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) during the summer of 1965, witnessing the segregation of the south up close and personal. He said he returned to Mississippi in 2007 to see how — or if — race relations had progressed.

That led to a meeting with Freeman, who had returned to live near his childhood home in Charleston, Mississippi, population 2,000. Morgan would tell Saltzman a seemingly improbable story. The high school in Charleston, in 2007, still held two proms — one for white students, one for black students.

More: Black Excellence Ball, Cultural Expressions highlight People of Color Empowerment Week

A decade earlier, Freeman had offered to pay all costs if the school would unite the two proms, open to all students. The school turned him down.

When they met, Saltzman asked Freeman if he’d be interested in revisiting that offer for the 2008 prom. Saltzman would come along with his camera to document the process from start to finish.

Freeman said yes, leading to the making of Prom Night in Mississippi.

The documentary weaves together student-made videos, interviews, and intimate moments with students, school officials, parents, and Freeman.

“I live here,” Freeman tells a group of seniors at the school. “I think it is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of, that in this time … you children are being brought up this way. It hurts me deeply.”

Most students at the school seem to approve of the integrated prom, but a group of white parents move ahead to plan their own whites-only prom. They refuse to be interviewed for Saltzman’s film.

The integrated prom is held that spring, and it is well received, marking what Saltzman called a turning point for the town.

“Many of the senior students, black and white, impressed me with their openness and awareness,” Saltzman said at the time. “Their courage to attend their first mixed prom and to share their feelings about race gives me hope that we are indeed heading in the right direction.”

Using this film as a catalyst, Saltzman and fellow producer Patricia Aquino later created Moving Beyond Prejudice, a nonprofit that works with young people and their communities to shine a light on prejudice and promote inclusion.

The Feb. 25 showing in the Warch Cinema is free of charge. A discussion will follow. The program is in conjunction with Black History Month and is co-sponsored by Lawrence’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Diversity and Intercultural Center.

Bonus: While on campus next week, Saltzman also will speak about another passion — the Beatles. He’s published two books on the band, The Beatles in Rishikesh and The Beatles in India. His talk at 11:10 a.m. Feb. 24 in Harper Hall is titled, The Beatles in India and How I Met the Beatles.

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.

Teaching at LU, performing on world stages: Gomez is living her best musical life

Holly Beemer '22 listens as music professor Estelí Gomez, seated to her right, gives feedback during a studio voice class in the Music-Drama Center.
Estelí Gomez gives feedback and instruction to Holly Beemer ’22 during a studio voice class in the Music-Drama Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Estelí Gomez is having herself a February.

In addition to working with her voice students on the second floor of the Music-Drama Center, the Lawrence Conservatory’s newest music professor is in the midst of a whirlwind schedule that has her, among other things, sharing a New York stage this week with the iconic Renée Fleming and then visiting New Zealand and Australia with an opera featuring her Grammy-winning chamber music ensemble Roomful of Teeth.

Preceding all that was a concert last week with the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and newVoices choir at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center — her first public performance as a resident of Appleton — a brief stopover in New York to perform at the Lincoln Center on the American Songbook series, and an overnight to St. Louis for a recital with the Kingsbury Ensemble.

In between flights and performances, her teaching continues — from hotel rooms and rehearsal spaces she connects with her students remotely via Zoom for voice lessons, all the while showing them in real time what life as a working musician can look like.

“I’m living it,” Gomez said of the Conservatory’s mission to prepare students to live their best musical lives.

It’s a blistering schedule, but Gomez, an in-demand soprano, makes no excuses. This is what she signed up for when she accepted an offer last year to join the Conservatory faculty, her first full-time teaching gig after a decade living on the road.

“What I desired was that both sorts of existences — the academic and the performer — would feed one another,” she said.

A native of Watsonville, California, with a bachelor of arts from Yale and a master of music from McGill, Gomez spent 10 years in constant motion, touring with Roomful of Teeth and performing and recording with the likes of the Seattle Symphony and Silkroad Ensemble, among others. She won a Grammy Award with Roomful of Teeth in 2014 — the ensemble’s 2013 debut album also earned composer Caroline Shaw a Pulitzer Prize — and is featured on the Silkroad Ensemble album that scored a Grammy win in 2016.

See more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music here.

Estelí Gomez smiles as she talks with students in a studio class.
Estelí Gomez reacts as she works with students at the start of a studio class earlier in February. Gomez joined the Lawrence faculty in fall. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Chasing a dream

Gomez and her seven Roomful colleagues have served a number of teaching residencies and master classes at universities across the country, including two at Lawrence. The Lawrence experiences were so satisfying for Gomez that she listened intently when Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl in late 2018 first mentioned a coming opening on the Conservatory faculty.

“That was the beginning of this dream,” Gomez said. “What would it look like if I actually lived somewhere? I’d been living out of my suitcase for about a decade. I had a storage unit in Montréal, my parents live in California, my partner lives in Austin, Texas, and I have a crash pad in New York City.”

She was drawn to the idea of teaching in a Conservatory setting, especially one she held in such high regard.

“I had already been bitten by the bug of spending more time in an academic environment, for the resources, for the people who were interested in diving deep in creative ways,” Gomez said.

But she also wanted to continue to perform on stages around the world. At Lawrence, that’s a path that has already been paved many times over. Her performing would be embraced as an opportunity, not a problem. Pertl called her “a perfect fit for Lawrence, an exquisite musician with the heart of a liberal arts scholar.”

The Conservatory’s mantra to provide holistic music education for the 21st century, recognizing many paths to living a musical life, was all Gomez needed to hear. 

“It was the fact that my interests lined up so well with this place,” she said. “That’s what sealed the deal for me.”

Gomez knew she had huge shoes to fill as she was joining the voice faculty following the retirements of the talented and much-respected Kenneth Bozeman and Joanne Bozeman, whose influences on Lawrence University had been long and impactful. She’s tried to pick up where they left off.

“I’m so lucky they were my predecessors,” Gomez said. “They have such wonderful systems set up.”

She said she’s soaking in the talent, expertise, and teaching wisdom of her Conservatory colleagues. At the Fox Cities PAC performance last week, she was joined on stage by two of those colleagues, Steven Paul Spears, a tenor and voice professor, and Phillip Swan, the co-director of choral studies who serves as artistic director and conductor of newVoices, a semi-professional community choir.

Several of Estelí Gomez's students pose with her for a photo at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.
Several of Estelí Gomez’s students met up with her at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for her recent performance with the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and newVoices choir. (Photo submitted)

A new sense of place

The reality of her new gig —and the lifestyle change it signified — began to sink in for Gomez shortly after she arrived in Appleton last summer. She had a kitchen all to herself. And a consistent place to sleep. It had been a long time since she could say that.

It took some time to adjust, she said. Fall term was challenging, learning new systems and meeting new people. It wasn’t until winter term that she began to settle into the rhythms of life on campus.

“There was a point where I slept better on airplanes than I did in my new place,” Gomez said. “I had to remind myself, this is what is normal. But, slowly, the normal is shifting. I’m still getting to tour, but now I have more of an essence of grounding here, which has been a blessing.”

Most satisfying, she said, is that it’s giving her a chance to spread her wings as an educator.

“Now I have this long arc of getting to work with students on a weekly basis and really connect with them as people,” she said. “It feels so much deeper. I so appreciate the chance to get to know them in a longer-form way than being a visiting master class artist.”

Several of Gomez’s students showed up at the Fox Cities PAC last week to show support for her performance with the Fox Valley Symphony and newVoices. That’s part of the relationship-building between faculty and students that is so pronounced at Lawrence, where class sizes are small and one-on-one sessions with faculty are the norm.

“They’re the building blocks for their singing life here,” Gomez said of those faculty-to-student relationships.

They also are where her performance life and her academic life can intersect to provide teachable moments for her students, who are exploring what their own musical paths might be. Her performances, Gomez said, help inform her teaching. And her teaching helps inform her performances, whether here in Appleton or on the other side of the world.

“I think it’s good for them to have somebody who is in it,” Gomez said of her students. “And it’s also good for my performing that I’m engaged with how to articulate what I believe is really good singing, really healthy singing, really efficient singing. I have to articulate that every day to my students over and over again and in a million different sorts of languages.”

Esteli Gomez listens intently as Mae Capaldi sings during a studio class.
Estelí Gomez, assistant professor of music, works with Mae Capaldi ’23 during a recent studio class. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Sharing the stage with Renée Fleming

That brings us to this busy stretch. It’s the three performances with the New York Philharmonic Feb. 20-22 in Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall that’s garnering the most attention.

Gomez is one of three soloists in the world premiere of a piece written by 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Reid. It was commissioned by the Philharmonic as part of Project 19, which is marking the centennial of the 19th Amendment by commissioning works by 19 women composers.

“It should be a really eclectic, innovative program,” Gomez said.

Fleming is featured in the second half of the concert, singing music of Björk.

Gomez has sung with the New York Philharmonic before, but this will be her first time performing on the same stage as Fleming, one of the country’s most renowned sopranos. They have plenty of connections, though. Gomez’s frequent duet partner has sung duet recitals with Fleming. And Gomez has sung with Susan Graham, Fleming’s frequent duet partner.

“And apparently she’s a Roomful fan, so I’m excited to meet her,” Gomez said.

From there, Gomez will be back in Appleton for three days to teach, and then reconnect with her Roomful of Teeth collaborators for the trip to New Zealand and Australia for the Peter Sellars-directed opera Kopernikus.

Interestingly, Gomez was performing in Kopernikus in Europe when she had her first interview — via Skype — for the Lawrence position.

“I think it was something like 11 p.m. for me; it was maybe 4 p.m. here,” she said. “We had just finished opening night in Toulouse, France. I joined for the champagne toast, ordered dinner at the cafe upstairs, then went down to the basement of the theater and said, ‘OK, let’s answer some interview questions.’ So, all this now feels really interconnected.”

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

Lawrence hits No. 3 on Princeton Review’s ranking of Best Impact Schools in nation

Students work with chemistry professor Stefan Gebbert in class.
Rigorous classroom work combined with mentorship on the student journey helps prepare students for an impactful life after Lawrence.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When it comes to colleges and universities preparing students for an impactful life, few do it better than Lawrence University.

Lawrence is the No. 3 impact school in the country in a new ranking released by The Princeton Review. The 2020 Best Impact School ranking, one spot up from where Lawrence landed a year ago, focuses on both the student experience on campus and how alumni perceive their careers. It suggests Lawrence’s liberal arts vision is alive and well, that students are being prepared for a life well lived.

The ranking comes as part of The Princeton Review’s annual Best Value Colleges project, a listing of 200 schools that are considered to have exceptional return on investment. Lawrence again made the list. The 200 schools are not ranked in order; the editors highlight those that made the cut amid 656 colleges and universities that were evaluated on more than 40 data points covering academics, affordability, and career preparation.

Within those 200, The Princeton Review breaks down rankings in seven categories, one of them being the 25 Best Impact Schools in the country.

Climbing to No. 3 — only Wesleyan and Southwestern universities finished ahead of Lawrence — is particularly satisfying because of what it says about a Lawrence education and how that then transfers to the job market and career exploration. It measures on-campus experiences such as student engagement, service, government, and sustainability and then surveys alumni to rate how meaningful they believe their work life is.

“I see it and hear it when I meet with our alumni around the world,” said Ken Anselment, vice president for enrollment and communication. “They point back to their time at Lawrence as unlocking something for them, discovering an interest or talent they didn’t know they had until they started working with professors here who helped guide them in that discovery. That’s one of the benefits of attending a college like Lawrence where our faculty are so deeply invested in helping our students become even better versions of themselves, and it’s a transformation that lasts a lifetime.”

A Lawrence student packages supplies during a volunteer shift at Feeding America.
Volunteer opportunities for Lawrence students, including here at Feeding America, help fuel the student experience.

Lawrence has doubled down on efforts to mentor students outside of the classroom throughout the college journey, taking a holistic approach in everything from wellness and spirituality to leadership and career preparation. With an 8-to-1 faculty to student ratio and a liberal arts mantra that prepares students for lifelong learning, Lawrence puts its students in positions to launch into careers and service work that are filled with meaning, said Christopher Card, Lawrence’s vice president for student life.

“There are enough colleges on the market where one can just go to it and do the basic academic requirements and move in and move out and go on to their next chapter,” Card said. “I don’t think that’s why students come to Lawrence. I think they come here because they expect a particular relationship to emerge — certainly with solid academics and rigor. They want to be challenged. They want to know they are getting a first-rate education but also a first-rate experience outside of the classroom in terms of their own personal growth and development.”

The Princeton Review data includes survey answers from alumni who speak to whether their jobs have “high meaning.” Lawrence’s high ranking reflects that alumni overwhelmingly say yes and that their career accomplishments have been fueled by their Lawrence education.

Lawrence has ramped up its efforts to better connect those alumni with today’s students. The 2019 launch of the endowed Riaz Waraich Dean of the Center for Career, Life, and Community Engagement (CLC) position has accelerated efforts to re-energize career exploration and preparation. The newly debuted Viking Connect program is at the front end of those efforts, tapping alumni to serve as mentors for students interested in the same field.

“Our alums are coming back full force to offer their services,” Card said. “I think that speaks to their own experiences and wanting to give back to support our students here.”

This is the 13th year The Princeton Review has put together its list of the 200 Best Value Colleges. It factors in academics, cost, financial aid, graduation rates, student debt, alumni salaries, and alumni job satisfaction.

Lawrence continues to score well in the areas of cost and financial aid as its Full Speed to Full Need initiative continues to produce results. More than $82 million has been raised for scholarships that help cover the gap between a student’s ability to pay — based on family income — and other available financial aid.

While student debt nationally has risen significantly in recent years, the Full Speed to Full Need initiative, part of the $220 million Be the Light! campaign, has helped reverse that trend for Lawrence students. The average student debt for new Lawrence graduates has dropped to $29,504, its lowest mark in 10 years and below the national average of $32,731.

“This is one of those rankings that I’m really happy to share with prospective students and families, because it gets at one of those essential questions so many are trying to answer — even if they haven’t articulated it yet — which is, ‘How might our investment in this college set up our student to live a great life?’” Anselment said. 

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

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.

$200 million mark surpassed as Be the Light! campaign enters stretch run

Aerial photo of Kohler Hall.
Important upgrades in Kohler Hall will be among the campus renovations being supported by the ongoing Be the Light! campaign. Campus Renewal is one of four priorities in the $220 million campaign that has now passed the $200 million mark.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University has passed the $200 million mark in its Be the Light! campaign, a major milestone in the largest campaign in the university’s history, President Mark Burstein announced to the Board of Trustees today.

More than 15,500 alumni and friends of Lawrence have supported the campaign since it launched six years ago with an ambitious goal to raise $220 million.

“The impact of Be the Light! is already profound,” said Cal Husmann, vice president for alumni and development, pointing to declining student debt at Lawrence as the school draws closer to being a full-need institution, new curricular initiatives in cognitive neuroscience and computer science, among others, and revamps in residence halls and classrooms.

Some contributions to the campaign, which has now reached $203.8 million, have been massive, including the $30 million matching gift to Full Speed to Full Need that launched the campaign in 2014 and others that have been in excess of $2 million. But many others have been smaller gifts that add up to major contributions. More than 14,000 gifts have come in at $50 or less, adding up to nearly $400,000.

“This demonstrates that every gift makes a difference,” Husmann said.

The campaign is now in its stretch run, with a closing set for November. Contributions have already strengthened each of the four campaign priorities — $83.5 million for Full Speed to Full Need, $72.4 million for the Student Journey, $27.8 million for the Lawrence Fund, and $20.1 million for Campus Renewal.

Keeping that momentum rolling through the campaign’s end will be critical.

Tom Paulson ’93 spoke at a recent Be the Light! campaign event held in the Warch Campus Center, telling alumni gathered how enthused he is to see the number moving closer to the $220 million goal. He and his family — two of his children are Lawrence alumni as well — pledged $2.5 million to the campaign, helping to support students via scholarships.

“It just seemed like a great opportunity, and almost a responsibility to pay it forward,” Paulson said.

An anonymous donor matched his family’s $2.5 million gift, boosting it to $5 million.

“Everything came together as a real magical moment,” Paulson said. “That $2.5 million match came in, the Be the Light! campaign was here, and everything just flowed together. I am overwhelmed at the response to the campaign, and I love the fact that we’re involved.”

Husmann called the $200 million milestone a significant marker that will provide momentum during these final 10 months of the campaign.

“The success of Be the Light! is a product of the strength of our community,” he said.

Charlot Singleton ’67, one of the tri-chairs of the campaign, said today’s milestone announcement is worth celebrating for what it means for current and future Lawrentians.

“This is great news for our students and faculty,” she said.

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