Joanne Metcalf, a professor of music composition in the Lawrence Conservatory, saw her latest work get major attention in Germany in late 2021.
Two of Metcalf’s compositions are on Singer Pur’s 2021 release, Among Whirlwinds, an album that landed on the Best Albums of the Year list at BR-Klassik, a Munich-based public radio station.
Featuring the works of women composers from all over the world, the release earned BR-Klassik’s Album of the Week honors shortly after its late October release, and it was broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Record Review. The album is named for one of Metcalf’s compositions, Among Dark Whirlwinds, and features a second Metcalf piece, Gold and Thorns, Fire and Ice.
It’s the latest in a nearly three-decade collaboration between Metcalf, a member of the Lawrence Conservatory faculty since 2001, and Singer Pur, a leading German vocal ensemble consisting of a soprano, three tenors, and two basses. They first commissioned a composition from Metcalf in 1994.
“Since then, I have composed five more pieces of music for the group, and they have performed my compositions hundreds of times across the globe,” she said.
Among Whirlwinds is her fourth album release with Singer Pur.
Metcalf said she’s keeping good company on the album with the other talented composers. She comments in the album’s liner notes that she hopes such projects raise the profile of women composers around the world.
“The day will come when the music of female composers finds equitable representation in programming,” she said. “And on that day, dedicated concerts of women’s music will no longer be necessary; there will simply be concerts. We’ll no longer refer to women composers as such; there will simply be composers. In the meantime, it is recordings such as this that fulfill the crucial need for equity and representation.”
The two Metcalf compositions on the album got their world premieres in 2019, when she was the composer-in-residence at a summer festival hosted by Singer Pur.
The group has won an ECHO Klassik three times—it’s the German equivalent of a Grammy and considered the most prestigious classical music award in Europe. They paid a visit to Lawrence in 2015, delivering a concert and working with Conservatory students. The relationship, Metcalf said, continues to be among the most fulfilling of her professional career.
“Looking back from the vantage point of 28 years, I could not have foreseen the extraordinary musical adventure Singer Pur and I have taken together, filled with new music, beautiful performances, and friendship,” she said. “Singer Pur’s performances of my music have been among the most inspired, beautiful performances of my life, and the compositions I have written for them are perfect expressions of what I hope to create as a composer.”
Metcalf said she first came to know the music of Singer Pur in 1994. They crossed paths when she was a guest composer at the renowned Hilliard Ensemble’s summer music school.
“Their voices radiated warmth, beauty, and flawless artistry; their sense of ensemble was perfect,” she said.
She composed Kyria christifera in 1995, then returned three years later with Il nome del bel fior for Singer Pur and the Hilliard Ensemble.
“That was the composition that cemented our musical collaboration and our friendship, and to this day it remains one of those closest to my heart,” Metcalf said.
In the liner notes for Among Whirlwinds, Singer Pur sings the praises of their long-time collaborator: “The works she has written for us are amongst those we perform most frequently in our contemporary repertoire.”
Brian Pertl calls it a “true liberal arts music major.”
Lawrence University has reframed its bachelor of arts in music (B.A.Music) major to make it more open-ended in a student’s pursuit of whatever slice of the music world that interests them, a change the dean of the Conservatory sees as liberating.
“No big deal, just the coolest, most flexible B.A. music major on earth,” Pertl said.
The newly retooled B.A.Music major differs from the bachelor of music, bachelor of musical arts, and five-year double degree options in its flexibility. It is no longer centered around Western classical music and no longer requires an audition on a Western classical instrument.
“Anyone who is serious about any aspect of music or any genre of music could pursue this major,” Pertl said.
Not only is there no audition requirement, there are only three courses that are required—an intro course, a musicology course, and a Senior Experience course.
“Each student then designs their own unique musical pathway, with close consultation with a faculty advisor,” Pertl said.
This is the second significant addition to Lawrence’s musical offerings in the past three years. In 2019, the bachelor of musical arts (B.M.A.) degree was launched, focused on jazz and contemporary improvisation. It also widened the musical path into the Conservatory and has since drawn students interested in everything from jazz to bluegrass to mariachi.
B.Mus: A pre-professional music degree, it allows students to major in performance, music education, theory, or composition. There also is a jazz emphasis in performance or composition. About two-thirds of the courses are in music.
B.M.A.: This also is a pre-professional music degree, but it is focused on jazz and contemporary improvisation. It allows for more genre flexibility beyond the classical Western canon and leans into musical fluency needed for life as a 21st century musician. About 50% of the coursework is in music, the other half in the liberal arts.
B.A.Music: This is a liberal arts music major, with one-third of the required coursework in music, the other two-thirds in fields of the student’s choosing.
Five-Year Double Degree: This is a five-year program that allows the student to combine a bachelor of arts degree in the college and a bachelor of music degree in the Conservatory. It’s one of the benefits of attending a university that features both a world-class Conservatory and nationally ranked liberal arts college.
Expanding the opportunities within the B.A.Music program offers a more varied path into Lawrence for music-minded students and a chance to build toward a wider array of careers within the world of music. That’s a win for Lawrence and a win for prospective students, Pertl said.
“A student still could be focused on classical music performance but it isn’t required,” he said. “Instead, they might be a singer-songwriter, a music producer or recording engineer, an aspiring composer, musicologist, ethnomusicologist, or music theorist. They might be interested in dance, arts management, music therapy, or music and entrepreneurship. They might play fiddle, or sitar, or modular synthesizers.”
Opening that door just a little wider to all musical experiences is what the Conservatory of Music is all about, Pertl said.
Another benefit, he said, is that the B.A.Music major brings new flexibility around ensemble requirements. That’s huge for student-athletes who also are interested in music. They can now craft a course schedule that doesn’t restrict their opportunities to participate in athletics.
Pertl applauded Associate Professor of Music Julie McQuinn and a team of Conservatory faculty for leading the effort to reshape the major.
“The beauty of this major is that it welcomes a much broader variety of music and music makers into the Conservatory, and that’s great news and more great music for everyone,” Pertl said.
While Dupere’s name is on the award, he said it’s really an honor for the students who perform with the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra. The performances cited for the award pre-date the arrival of the pandemic in March 2020.
“I’m deeply proud of our students for receiving this honor and thankful for the opportunity to show the great things Lawrence students are doing,” Dupere said. “It is a privilege to work with these highly motivated students who are committed to pursuing an excellent level of playing and creating meaningful and memorable performances. I love coming to work every day with these students.”
Woodruff and the cast of 2020’s The Marriage of Figaro
When The Marriage of Figaro took to the stage in early 2020, Woodruff heaped praise on the students in the cast for the way they embraced the challenges of staging the comic opera.
“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.”
The American Prize called it a team effort between students and faculty worth celebrating, one that is seen often in Lawrence’s opera theatre program: “Recent productions have garnered national attention because of their well-crafted and dedicated musical and dramatic performances.”
Williams: Dead White Man Music
Williams, a composer and conductor, received the citation for his harpsichord concerto with chamber orchestra, which he says is at times a love letter to the classical music of Bach, Brahms, and Dowland and at other times a celebration of jazz, soul, and gospel.
“Most of my musical training consisted of studying works of the Western canon—so mostly the music of dead European men,” Williams said. “As someone who doesn’t look like that, I started to question if I should continue to study and make music in this tradition. Dead White Man Music is me grappling with that question.”
Williams said he heard some negative feedback related to the title of the piece but otherwise has gotten an overwhelmingly positive response.
“This special citation from the American Prize is further proof that this is a conversation worth having in the concert halls and music classrooms around the world,” he said.
Williams serves as assistant professor of music and director of instrumental activities at Rhodes College in Tennessee.
Bizub: “Radiance and light”
Bizub describes his music as “dark, striving, and yearning, which also points toward radiance and light.”
For Bizub, music is one more outlet to speak up for social and environmental justice.
“Most of my work is concerned with advocating for rights within the LGBTQIA+ community, of which I am a part, as well as responding to the climate change crisis,” he said. “So, for me, receiving this particular honor from The American Prize was quite special and humbling, as it is affirmation that the social relevance I attempt to imbue in music I write is starting to hit an intended mark.”
It also speaks to the lessons he learned as an undergraduate at Lawrence.
“I began this journey at Lawrence, and the training I received from their composition department has stayed with me as I continue writing music today,” he said.
Bizub graduated in May from the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati with a doctoral degree in music composition.
Fahrenkrug: A new vision
Fahrenkrug began his Dichterliebe: Within + Without video project while a senior at Lawrence. It was conceived as a response to the initial outbreak of COVID-19.
“I was not interested in going through the motions of performing a voice recital to an empty room,” he said. “At the time, we didn’t even have the livestreaming system that Lawrence now uses.”
He began talking with professors and others about creating a voice project that would cater to a virtual, screen-based viewing experience. He quickly realized his initial recital repertoire wasn’t going to work, so he shifted his vision.
“From there I decided to pare down the music to only Schumann’s Dichterliebe, and took the following three months to realize and complete the entire video cycle, which very much realized itself in real time,” Fahrenkrug said. “What I mean by this is that while I was able to form a loose concept in the beginning, it really was more a set of guidelines and boundaries from which I could play in, rather than a preconceived vision of how everything would go. It was truly the most artistically liberating project I’ve ever worked on.”
Fahrenkrug is currently pursuing a master’s in vocal performance at Louisiana State University.
Horacio Contreras was at a music workshop for high school students in South Carolina recently when a young cello player tapped him on the shoulder to offer a heartfelt thank you.
The student told Contreras he had been desperately searching for a piece of music with Latin American roots that he could incorporate into his cello repertoire. It was a search that in the past had been, if not impossible, surely daunting—not because classical music from Latin America doesn’t exist but because it is often unavailable through traditional publishing houses and poorly documented on the Internet.
Enter Contreras, an associate professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, and his wife, Natali Herrera-Pacheco. They launched SOLA (Strings of Latin America) three years ago to build catalogs, biographical materials, and pedagogic tools to help facilitate the use of the music and in the process raise the profile of Latin American composers. It picks up on work originally started by Germán Marcano, a Venezuelan cellist, teacher, and conductor.
SOLA, working with student interns from Lawrence and elsewhere, has now released online music catalogs for cello and viola, with others on the way.
The South Carolina teen, Contreras said, was thrilled to find the cello catalog, The Sphinx Catalog of Latin American Cello Works. “He said he wanted to say thanks because, ‘it was through your catalog that I found a piece that I really love and I am practicing it right now.’”
Contreras lights up at the mention of that exchange. As word of the catalogs spreads, so does interest in the classical music repertoire written by Latin American composers, whether it’s in the musical selections of a kid in South Carolina or in the concerts of a cello ensemble or an orchestra in a major music hall. The catalogs, built in partnership with The Sphinx Organization, are just a slice of what SOLA is looking to develop; music directories and video interviews also are in the works, and it’s all centered here in Appleton.
“People have reached out to us asking for presentations in different countries,” Contreras said. “We have done things in Peru, in Colombia, in Panama, in Puerto Rico, in Spain. We’ve been in Chicago. We’ve done workshops online.”
The web site cellobello.org, a leading site for cellists, has thrown its support behind SOLA, sharing the Sphinx Catalog of Latin American Cello Works as one of its resources, calling it a “comprehensive database, the most extensive source of its kind with more than 2,000 entries to date.”
Contreras, SOLA’s artistic director, and Herrera-Pacheco, director of research, work closely with Sphinx, a social justice organization that has been addressing the underrepresentation of people of color in classical music for more than two decades. SOLA was launched three years ago as an offshoot that could focus on building materials for strings music from Latin America.
“It gets at the larger issue of privilege,” Contreras said of SOLA’s mission.
He notes that the world of classical music has traditionally been dominated by European and American composers, and the major publishing houses traditionally support those known composers. Meanwhile, the resources in Latin America are much more limited. When music schools or band leaders or performance spaces seek out music, they most often go to where the information is readily available.
“There’s the problem of representation that arises from that,” Contreras said. “We know society is more complicated than that, than just European and American and white composers. Society is made up of Hispanic and Black and Asian and South Asian and all these other populations. When they go to a concert, they want to see themselves represented as well.”
Interns step up
Herrera-Pacheco heads up the day-to-day efforts of SOLA, overseeing the work of interns from several colleges, including Lawrence, as they research composers—some living, some not—and build profiles for the catalogs.
“In their activities, they not only get in touch with the music heritage from Latin America, they also learn about the challenge that comes when you actively work in the promotion of underrepresented repertoire,” Contreras said.
Two Lawrence interns have worked with Contreras and Herrera-Pacheco during recent summers. This year, they got funding for a Lawrence intern for the academic year as well, plus two more from Louisiana State University.
Contreras, a celebrated cello player originally from Venezuela, has been on the Conservatory faculty in the cello studio since 2017. He taught for 10 years at Universidad de Los Andes in Merida, Venezuela, before receiving his doctor of musical arts in cello performance from the University of Michigan in 2016.
Herrera-Pacheco, also a trained cellist from Venezuela, was hired last year as the Lawrence/Sphinx research and intern coordinator. She praises Lawrence and the other participating schools for providing the resources to allow the work to happen.
“We are trying to work in two different spaces,” Herrera-Pacheco said of the interns. “One, the creation of those catalogs with information on these composers and making it available to everyone for free. But the other thing that is very important to us is to show the interns the sweet part and the hard part of finding information on these composers. Sometimes they can’t find any information. So, that’s the problem. It’s a problem of power. These composers don’t have profiles, they don’t have bios, they don’t have stories—all these things that here in the States we take for granted.”
The students then do the work of tracking composers through social media and other contacts as they begin to build profiles for use in the online catalogs.
Nora Briddell, a junior from McFarland who studies in Contreras’ cello studio at Lawrence, did a summer internship with SOLA that she called empowering.
“I am a double-degree student, studying cello performance and history, and I was really excited that the internship allowed me to bring my two interests together,” she said. “I also saw the internship as an opportunity to develop my own research skills.”
In Winter Term, Briddell will be performing a piece by Andres Soto, a Costa Rican composer she connected with as part of her summer research. It will be a featured part of her junior recital.
“I loved building personal relationships with living composers because it makes me feel connected to them and their music in a way that I don’t get to experience when I play music from the standard canonic repertoire,” she said.
Sarah Smith, a senior cello student from Wichita, Kansas, is working as a SOLA intern this term. She said being part of developing a long-needed resource has been both inspiring and eye-opening.
“It’s taught me the level of earnest patience you need when you’re working to make positive change,” she said. “Researching underrepresented composers isn’t often easy; you won’t always find what you need with a simple online search, or sometimes even with a thoughtful search in a library database. Sometimes you won’t even get an email back. … Nevertheless, I’ve learned the power of self-motivation and continual commitment to being the progress you want to see in your corner of the world.”
Contreras said he appreciates the enthusiasm the student interns have brought to the work of SOLA. That energy is contagious, and he hopes it helps draw prospective students to Lawrence who want to continue the work.
“Knowing you can work side by side with people who are working to develop the most important resources for Latin American composers for strings; I think that’s appealing to students,” Contreras said.
Lawrence University sophomore Tashi Litch is a mandolin player with a passion for bluegrass music and a deep curiosity about the world.
So, when the Orcas Island, Washington, native set out to select a college, he had two priorities in mind. He sought a music conservatory willing to nurture his bluegrass skills, and he sought a college that would allow him to explore academic subjects across the liberal arts. He found what he was looking for in Lawrence’s Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) degree, launched three years ago with a focus on jazz and improvisational music but open to almost any genre of music. Its 50-50 split between music courses in the Conservatory and non-music courses in the college gave him what he needed.
Litch is now one of more than 30 students who have come to Lawrence via the B.M.A. program since it launched in 2019.
“Lawrence was one of the few that has a college and a conservatory and allows students to participate in both,” he said. “That was pretty important to me, to be able to study music at a high level and also be able to take liberal arts college courses. That’s what drew me in.”
A love of bluegrass
Since arriving at Lawrence, Litch has found his interest in bluegrass nurtured, embraced alongside the classical and jazz repertoire that has long been the Conservatory’s calling card.
He connected almost immediately with a fellow B.M.A. student from Washington state, Evan Snoey, a fiddle player who shares his deep love of bluegrass.
“We knew each other from out in Washington,” Litch said. “He is a year ahead of me and he had felt out the scene here and knew a few players. When I got here, I said, ‘We have to do something, we’ve got to play some bluegrass.’”
That led them to Dominic LaCalamita, a B.M.A. student from Naperville, Illinois, and Ian Harvey, a music and philosophy double major from Seattle. Together they became The Woebegones (they were earlier known as Highcliff).
Coached by Matt Turner, a music instructor in the Conservatory, the foursome has been pushing the boundaries, turning a Billie Eilish song into a bluegrass tune, covering a song by The Strokes, and embracing the progressive bluegrass sounds of the Punch Brothers. They’re also playing some bluegrass standards and have a couple of originals in their set.
They’re getting a chance to show their skills on a big stage during the first weekend of October. The foursome has been invited to perform at the annual IBMA World of Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina. They’ll be performing as the Lawrence University Bluegrass Band as part of Saturday’s College Band Showcase.
Litch had connections with some of the festival organizers after having played the festival in his youth as part of a Kids on Bluegrass collective.
“I thought it might be cool to put our names in and see if we can go out there to play,” Litch said. “And here we are. We’re going to be doing an hour-long set on one of the big stages.”
Litch said he grew up playing the fiddle and then the mandolin. He tagged along to jam sessions with his musical family and spent much of his free time trying to emulate the skills of mandolinist Chris Thile. He hit the road during recent summers to play at bluegrass festivals as a duo with his brother.
Now studying at Lawrence and playing in a quartet with other talented music students is raising his game, he said.
“I’m used to playing with a duo, so having the four-piece band was a really different dynamic for me,” he said. “It’s really exciting. There are so many more possibilities and directions we can go with that. I love the more high-energy type of bluegrass that you can do with four of us.”
A beautiful fit with B.M.A.
That’s sweet music to Turner, who has worked closely with the bluegrass foursome while also welcoming B.M.A. students focused on jazz, electronic music, punk, mariachi, global music, and songwriting. They are students looking for high-level music and theory instruction but through a lens of their own choosing.
“I think I can safely say that most of these students would not have come to Lawrence if the B.M.A had not been here,” Turner said. “We’re very excited about all of these students. They’re really good musicians and they’re great scholars, which is an important part of the B.M.A. because it’s a 50-50 split between non-music and music courses.”
Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory, said it’s no coincidence that three of the four members of the bluegrass band are seeking B.M.A. degrees. They are following a path that was envisioned when the program was first rolled out.
“Although the specific track in the B.M.A. degree is called Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation, the program welcomes students interested in a broad range of contemporary music styles,” Pertl said. “The common thread is that all of our students, no matter their primary focus, are musically curious, collaborative, and boundary-crossing. These students have brought bluegrass in as another prominent voice in our multi-faceted musical community, so they really are a perfect fit for Lawrence and the B.M.A. program.”
Litch said he has felt that love since the day he brought his mandolin to campus.
“I’ve been able to improve my skills as a musician technically, but also my theory understanding, especially with jazz theory, which complements bluegrass and makes me a more well-rounded musician,” he said.
“The whole ethos of the B.M.A. program is that anyone is welcome,” Litch added. “So, for me, with bluegrass, it’s been great. It’s been really supported.”
A two-week chamber music festival will bring 28 college-aged musicians to Lawrence University in late July and early August for an intensive training program that also will feature multiple free public performances.
The Decoda Chamber Music Festival, presented by the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and the musical collective Decoda, will take place in Appleton from July 28 to Aug. 6. The eight public performances at various Appleton venues—including as part of the Mile of Music Festival—will welcome live audiences. It comes following a year in which most live performances were canceled or moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re bringing nearly 30 young artists from around the world to Appleton for two weeks to study with eight amazing Decoda musicians, some of whom are based right here,” said pianist Michael Mizrahi, a professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory and a founding member of Decoda. “Students and faculty will work together to create immersive chamber music experiences at venues across the Fox Valley.”
Public performances will include:
July 28: Decoda in concert, Riverview Gardens, 5:30 p.m.
July 30: Decoda in concert, Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 7 p.m.
July 31: Decoda Chamber Music Festival Young Artists’ Concert, Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 7 p.m.
Aug. 1: Decoda Chamber Music Festival Young Artists’ Concert, Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 1 p.m.
August 5 and 6: Decoda Chamber Music Festival performances at Mile of Music. These include 11 a.m. Aug. 5 at Lawrence Memorial Chapel; 11 a.m. Aug. 6 at OuterEdge Stage; 1 p.m. Aug. 6 at Riverview Gardens; and 3 p.m. Aug. 6 at Heid Music. Mile of Music collaborators will include Wade Fernandez, Cory Chisel, and Bernard Lilly ’18 (B. Lilly).
“This kind of cross-genre collaboration will be a win-win for our students and our community,” Mizrahi said of the Mile of Music performances.
Decoda is a national collective of musicians committed to virtuosic performance and audience engagement. Their performances range from trios to large mixed ensembles, with much of the focus on audience outreach at venues that run the gamut from concert halls to schools to hospitals to prisons. Mizrahi and flutist Erin Lesser, associate professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory, are among the core members of the group.
As part of Decoda outreach, Mizrahi launched the Music for All program in Appleton in 2015. More than 100 free community concerts have taken place over the past six years in conjunction with various local organizations. Among others, it has highlighted the work of women composers at Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs, created short educational music performance videos for the Appleton Area School District, and presented free interactive community concerts for families with young children at Riverview Gardens.
The success of Music for All led to discussions of bringing the Decoda Chamber Music Festival to Appleton.
“This festival lived on the East Coast for many years and was looking for a new home,” Mizrahi said. “Appleton has such a vibrant tradition of live music in the summer—I knew this community would welcome us with open arms.”
Multiple visiting members of Decoda will join with Conservatory faculty to work with the participating students. They will lead daily rehearsals and workshops, teach students how to use music to interact with different local communities, and develop students’ skills in instrumental technique, public speaking, and mission/vision development.
The timing of the festival allows it to mesh with Mile of Music, the all-original music festival taking place Aug. 5-8 at more than 40 venues and performance spaces in downtown Appleton. Lawrence Conservatory faculty have led the music education portion of Mile of Music since its launch in 2013, with the work of the Music Education Team focused on getting festival-goers to engage with and create their own music.
“We’re excited to be partnering with Mile of Music this summer—they’ve been doing live music here in Appleton for the better part of the last decade, and our program will allow for a rich cross-fertilization of artists from different backgrounds, all coming together to create live music for and of our community,” Mizrahi said. “This year in particular, after going so long without live music, we can’t wait to create new musical collaborations in front of a live audience.”
Support for the Decoda Chamber Music Festival includes grants from the John Scott Boren Memorial Fund for the Performing Arts, the Bright Idea Fund, and the Mielke Family Foundation, all within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.
The mariachi sounds coming twice-weekly from a rehearsal space in Lawrence University’s Music-Drama Center have been a long time in the making. A dream, Jando Valdez ’24 calls it.
The impetus for that dream goes back to 2016, when Valdez, then a freshman at nearby Appleton North High School, started a mariachi band with a few Latinx classmates, celebrating and sharing a genre of music with deep roots in Mexico.
It picked up momentum a year later when Valdez’ group, Mariachi Jabalí, connected with the music education team at Mile of Music, beginning a relationship with Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty, students, and alumni that would continue through three iterations of the popular Appleton music festival.
It accelerated in the fall when Valdez enrolled at Lawrence in pursuit of a Bachelor of Musical Arts (BMA) degree. He quickly found himself in conversations with Alex Medina ’21, Willy Quijano ’22, and Ricardo Jiménez ’21 on the possibility of launching a mariachi ensemble in the Conservatory.
The idea aligned with discussions that had already begun in the Conservatory, where Associate Professor of Music Matthew Arau, fresh off delivering a keynote address at the International Mariachi Summit in San Diego in August 2019, was all in on adding mariachi to Lawrence’s robust roster of student ensembles. He would help guide Valdez and the other students as they put together a plan and began recruiting other students.
It came to fruition early in Winter Term, when the new Lawrence University Mariachi Ensemble (LUMÉ) launched. Numbering upwards of 30 students during any given rehearsal—roughly half music majors, the others from across the college—the ensemble began playing together twice a week in the Music-Drama Center, with pandemic protocols in place.
“The first time LUMÉ was able to meet in person, it felt as if a piece of myself and my family’s heritage had been reignited,” Valdez said.
He said the ensemble aspires to do more than play mariachi music at a high level. The students also want to learn about the music, where it comes from and what it means to those native to it.
“The difference between LUMÉ and a traditional ensemble is that we want to dive deep into the roots of the music we play and focus heavily on history through research and knowledge from qualified mariachi educators,” Valdez said.
That is music to the ears of Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. He called the Mariachi Ensemble a great fit with the Conservatory as it allows students to explore their musical passions in an intellectual, creative, and meaningful way.
“It is such a great example of what I call empowered learning,” Pertl said. “Lawrence is so good at helping students make their musical dreams a reality.”
The ensemble also aligns well with ongoing Conservatory efforts to teach and explore music from around the world. That is no small thing. Look no further than Gamelan Cahaya Asri, Lawrence’s Balinese gamelan, an ensemble featuring gongs, drums, and bamboo flutes of Indonesia. Then there’s the Conservatory-led music education efforts that are part of Mile of Music, spearheaded by music education instructor Leila Ramagopal Pertl, much of it tied to exposing festival-goers to global music.
“The dream of LUMÉ was perfectly aligned with our commitment to broadening our ensemble offerings beyond our outstanding classical music and jazz offerings,” Brian Pertl said.
Arau, who chairs the Music Education Department and serves as associate director of bands in the Conservatory, said he was inspired while taking part in the International Mariachi Summit two years ago. He met mariachi music educators from across the United States and heard high school mariachi ensembles perform. It’s a musical genre that has rarely been taught or otherwise nurtured in major music conservatories.
Why not? Arau asked. And why not at Lawrence?
“I was blown away by the musicianship and performance presence of these groups, and I realized that it would be fantastic for students at Lawrence to get to learn how to perform this incredible music of Mexican heritage,” Arau said.
He began talking with Conservatory students about launching a mariachi ensemble, but when the pandemic hit a year ago and classes went remote in Spring Term, the idea was put on pause.
Then Valdez reached out to Arau over winter break with an offer to take the lead in making the ensemble happen, even during the pandemic. Arau began meeting with Valdez on Zoom, piecing together the particulars of getting it up and running. He connected Valdez with Fredd Sanchez, a mariachi music educator in San Diego who agreed to regularly Zoom in as a guest artist and teacher. (Sanchez even brought his professional mariachi group, Mariachi Continental de San Diego, onto a Zoom session to perform for the students.)
Rehearsals kicked off Jan. 25 and now take place on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Masks are worn. Musicians are spaced throughout the room. Some join via Zoom on giant screens.
“There is a lot of excitement about the new group because the music is so engaging and inspiring,” Arau said.
That enthusiasm for world music, mariachi in particular, is what drew Valdez to Lawrence when it came time to choose a school. He said he got a sense of community and support within the Conservatory while working with Lawrence’s Mile of Music team.
“The emphasis on mental health and connection to one’s spirit, the importance of effort, broadening your musical horizons, and, most importantly, the words of Leila Ramagopal Pertl, ‘Music is a birthright’,” Valdez said. “And there was a possibility of a mariachi ensemble being formed here at LU, so that became one of my goals if I was fortunate enough to be accepted.”
The new ensemble aims to explore a range of sounds within the mariachi genre. The musicians are incorporating standard mariachi instruments such as trumpets, violins, voice, guitar, and bass as well as some nontraditional instruments such as flute, tuba, euphonium, and double bass.
“This term we are focusing on the style of rancheras, which are songs typically about living in rural Mexico and have a waltz feel,” Valdez said. “In addition, we are learning tunes in the style of son jalisciense—a style that switches between 2-beat and 3-beat rhythms—and polka, which is influenced directly by German polka.”
For the moment, the pandemic is keeping LUMÉ from debuting in front of a live audience. Instead, the students have been working toward a debut livestream performance, set for 9 p.m. March 10.
Lawrence University is mourning the death of John Koopman, the founder of Lawrence’s opera program and a longtime voice professor in the Conservatory of Music.
Koopman joined the faculty in 1960 and continued to teach until his retirement in 1994. He died Dec. 22 in Appleton at age 88.
“Professor John Koopman influenced generations of Lawrentians and created our wonderful opera program,” said Kenneth Bozeman, emeritus professor of music who worked with Koopman for more than a dozen years and maintained a friendship through the years. “We are so grateful for the immense impact he had on our Conservatory.”
Koopman served for many years as chair of the Voice Department.
He forged a second career following retirement, becoming a widely published opera journalist, with his writings appearing in publications around the world.
It was his deep love of opera that brought him to Lawrence more than 60 years ago and set him on his journey to create an opera program within the Conservatory, an endeavor that has since grown into the robust and renowned program it is today, led for the past seven years by Copeland Woodruff, the first director of opera studies in the program’s history.
“In the pioneering spirit of John Koopman and his legacy at Lawrence University, especially in founding an opera ensemble, we are dedicating this academic year’s productions to his memory,” Woodruff said. “Having to invent the wheel, again, because of the pandemic, by delving into film techniques, we can only imagine what it must have taken to forge a new theatrical ensemble when Mr. Koopman started the journey. Opera Studies at Lawrence stands on the shoulders of this passionate, kind, and talented maverick.”
Koopman was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth Jane (Hayes) Koopman, who, after retiring from public education, ran Lawrence’s sight-singing program for many years as an adjunct faculty member. He also was preceded in death by his daughter, Ann Koopman. He is survived by two sons, William and James, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Nancy Marsh Stowe ’61, a beloved companion of recent years, said Koopman cherished his enduring relationship with Lawrence and the hundreds of students he taught and mentored through the years.
“Teaching was paramount for John, and he had a remarkable ability to connect with students, both personally and with regard to their voice development and potential,” she said. “He did not impose on them his vision for them, but encouraged them to find that for themselves and supported their choices.”
For those who worked with Koopman in the halls of the Conservatory, the memories are indelible. Bozeman called him “broadly educated, literate, erudite, and witty” and said sharing the stage with him was a joy.
“As a performer, John was a solid, stylish, serious singer, but also a hilarious comedic actor,” Bozeman said. “I both thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from performing with him in recital and concert. The prioritized attention he gave to expression, elegant diction, and compelling communication were exemplary for us all. His friendship, humanity, and wit will be fondly remembered and dearly missed.”
The family expects to hold a memorial celebration in Appleton later in 2021 and asks that if you wish to make a gift in John Koopman’s memory, please make it to the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawrence University is celebrating the many artistic and academic contributions of Robert Below, a retired piano professor who taught in the Conservatory of Music for 32 years before retiring in 1996.
He died Dec. 16 at home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was 86.
Besides being a force in the classroom, Below is being remembered as a prolific performer and composer.
“Robert’s virtuosic abilities as both a performer and educator inspired generations of Lawrentians,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory.
In the classroom, Below taught nearly 1,200 Lawrence students. His teaching included piano studio work and classes in music history, literature of music, theory-analysis, and chamber music, among others.
His son, Andy Buelow ’84, now the executive director of the West Michigan Symphony, was among the Lawrence students Below inspired. He said his father found a welcoming home when he arrived at Lawrence in 1964, something he never took for granted.
“The university’s commitment to liberal arts was something in which he believed strongly, both for himself and his students,” Buelow said. “He felt that broader studies that included art, literature, history, theater, and the sciences would help them become better musicians and well-rounded human beings. He encouraged them not to spend their entire four years holed up in the music building.”
Buelow said he twice took classes taught by his father, both in music history.
“This is a memory I will always treasure — the opportunity to experience first-hand his amazing skills as a classroom teacher,” he said. “We, of course, spent a lot of time listening to recorded musical samples, but I still remember the day we were exploring 20th century piano literature and he sat down at the piano, without preamble or warm-up, and played the Copland Piano Sonata for the class. It was an unforgettable moment for us all.”
In addition to teaching, Below performed on stages in Appleton and across the United States, as well as in Europe and Latin America. He performed often with Lawrence colleagues and appeared as a concerto soloist with numerous orchestras, among them the Fox Valley Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony.
He also composed more than 50 works, many of which have been performed through the years by Lawrence ensembles.
His numerous anthems, hymns, and other sacred works were used at his beloved All Saints Episcopal Church in Appleton. His choral music has been performed at his alma mater, the University of Louisville, as well as by the Lawrence University Concert Choir.
He was selected as the winner of the 1990 Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Wisconsin Composers Fanfare Competition and he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the School of Music at the University of Louisville.
In his obituary, former student Priscilla Peterson Weaver ’68 spoke glowingly of Below’s commitment to music education.
“The combination of grace and artistry and humanity that lived in Robert and that he passed on in his trademark forceful manner to all his students was a joy to witness,” she said. “For those of us privileged enough to have Robert as a mentor, and not just an occasional teacher, the experience was a blessing of immeasurable worth.”
Below reveled in the arts, at Lawrence and elsewhere, the family said. Poetry, ballet, classical music, and jazz were sources of inspiration during and after his time at Lawrence, and he continued to play the piano into his final days.
He and his wife, Barbara, relocated to Albuquerque shortly after his retirement. She preceded him in death in May. Besides his son, he is survived by a daughter, Alison, of Albuquerque.
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: email@example.com
At the end of a year that included more than 1,000 edited photos taken in and around the Lawrence University campus, I was tasked with selecting my top 10 images of 2020. Narrowing this rather unusual year down to 10 photos was a difficult task, but below you will find my favorites, along with notes on how and why. A huge thank you to all the students, faculty, and staff who allow me to step into their world both digitally and in person to make all of my photos happen.
1. Aerial Landscape, the Wellness Center, and Sampson House reflected just before sundown on Aug. 6. One of my goals this year was to try to show campus in new ways. I spent many hours this summer looking for different angles to reflect this beautiful campus. It wasn’t until I spotted a portion of Aerial Landscape reflected in nearby glass that I stopped and worked the angle of the reflection to get this result.
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2. Students dance during the Feb. 1 President’s Ball in Warch Campus Center. Thinking back to winter term, a favorite memory is the smiling faces at the President’s Ball. Covering the event was a bit of a technical challenge because of the low light, but like many assignments, it’s all about waiting in the right place for the right moment.
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3.Ryan Erdmann ’22 wears a mask while taking part in a Chamber Music class in City Park on Oct. 7. Mask-wearing quickly became a vital aspect of 2020, so I always kept an eye out for students who were using their masks to show off a little of their personality. It took nearly the entire class before I was able to get the light to fall in just the right spot for this photo.
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4. Kelvin Maestre ’21, a Makerspace assistant, watches as a laser cutter starts its work on a piece of wood on Jan. 22 in the Seeley G. Mudd Library. Having the chance to document the interesting work that students do is a highlight of my job. That often goes hand in hand with our 2 Minutes With series of student features. I knew the Makerspace would have lots of interesting light sources, so I went in looking to take an image that utilized one of them.
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5. Ghania Imran ’21 poses for a May 22 portrait in her Chicago home via Zoom. Speaking of our 2 Minutes With series, many of the photos I take for those stories are portraits. Spring Term brought new challenges for taking portraits of students. For this photo, I decided to try a portrait through Zoom. It involved lighting the laptop with two separate lights, help from Ghania to find a good spot in her home, and finally positioning the laptop for the right angle.
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6.Sonja Klusman plays the piano with Matt Turner, instructor of music, during an Applied Musicianship II class on Feb. 17 in Shattuck Hall. I always take into account the amount of time that’s available to me when I get to an assignment. Do I need to get a photo within five minutes or, in the case of this image, do I have the time to really explore different angles?
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7.Nicholas Jatta ’21 kicks a soccer ball with friends Oct. 6 on the Quad. During Fall Term, I spent a good deal of time looking to document what students were up to in this Honor the Pledge environment. Finding Nicholas kicking the soccer ball with friends was a pleasant surprise. Not only was the afternoon light falling beautifully on the Quad, but it had been a long time since I had the chance to photograph anything related to sports.
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8. The moon rises above Main Hall on Jan. 7. This image came together as I was nearing the end of a workday. While walking to Brokaw Hall from the Warch Campus Center, I noticed the moon was bright, and close enough the cupola to capture a photo.
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9. Nathan Graff ’22 and Daniel Johnson ’23 rehearse outdoors with the Jazz Ensemble on Oct. 7. After taking photos of an outdoor music class in City Park (see earlier entry), I decided to edit the images on Main Hall Green. Not long into my edit I heard the sounds of brass behind me. After getting a few images of the Jazz Ensemble students as they practiced, I noticed the shadows against the white chapel, so I reset myself and took this photo.
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10.Sophia Driessen ’22 transplants leafy greens while working on a hydroponics research project on Dec. 10 in the Briggs Hall greenhouse. This was the first time I took photos in the greenhouse. The purples and greens are what pull this image together for me.