Tag: Lawrence Conservatory of Music

Music plays on in new, creative ways as Conservatory adapts to life in a pandemic

David Pickar ’23 plays an upright bass on the steps of Shattuck Hall. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

On a crisp, clear October afternoon, with fall foliage painting a backdrop of blended oranges, yellows, and purples, music can be heard drifting across the Lawrence University campus.

Patty Darling is leading the Jazz Ensemble’s horn players through an outdoor rehearsal on the lawn east of the Music-Drama Center. Nearby, on the steps outside Shattuck Hall, percussion student David Pickar ’23 is quietly strumming an upright bass, working through the particulars of a methods class. A block to the north, Loren Dempster and two of his chamber music students are going through chord progressions and other lessons under the open skies in City Park.

Inside the Music-Drama Center, meanwhile, in a space reconfigured for social distancing and with musicians masked up, you can hear Andrew Mast as he guides the Wind Ensemble through its repertoire, with in-person students and those on Zoom connected in real time.

Elsewhere in the center or in the adjoining Shattuck Hall or on the stage of Memorial Chapel, on any given day this fall, you might find jazz, choir, band, and orchestra ensembles in full rehearsal mode, cameras and large video screens providing a communal music experience for both in-person students and those participating remotely. You might find opera instruction in full flight. You might find a voice student in a studio space, connected virtually with professors John Holiday or Estelí Gomez for a one-on-one lesson. You might find a music education class in conversation virtually with a Brazilian samba drummer in California or a mariachi player in Chicago as they collaborate on lessons to be shared with Appleton Area School District students.

Alumnae, students collaborate on masks for musicians. Read more here.

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges during this unusual and often awkward time, but the music in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, thanks to a full-on commitment to technology, innovation, and flexibility, is very much alive. Conservatory faculty have found creative ways to safely educate and motivate student musicians, on campus or scattered around the world.

“While creating music distantly is not the same as playing together in person, Lawrence has worked very hard to find ways for us to create music with one another,” said viola player Courtney Wilmington ’21, a neuroscience and music education double major who is studying remotely from her home in Vancouver, Washington.

It’s been an evolving process. Tapping into lessons learned when students were sent home for distance learning during Spring Term, the Conservatory set out over the summer to re-imagine its music offerings during a Fall Term that has roughly 25% of Lawrence students studying from afar. Particular focus was put on the ensembles, a huge part of the Conservatory’s music experience and one that is difficult to replicate when not everyone is in the same room.

Director Patty Darling (far right) leads the horn section of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble through a rehearsal on the lawn outside the Music-Drama Center.

“There was a real worry coming into this about what would happen with ensembles,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. “If the student stays home, what sort of ensemble experience will they have? We said, ‘Why can’t we use our technology to bring our distance students into our actual rehearsals so they can participate and feel like they are a part of this experience instead of sitting alone in their room recording a cello track? And how can we create an actual community of music-making no matter where the students are?’”

More than anything, that sense of community was at the forefront of Fall Term planning, faculty members said. It’s key not only to maintaining the Conservatory’s high-level music education but also to supporting the well-being of students—music majors or otherwise—who live with a deep desire to make music together.

“While the way we are creating music is different and sometimes awkward right now, it still gives us the chance to share this experience, work toward common goals, and be together,” Darling said.

Charting a new course

Ensemble directors—among them, Matthew Arau, Mark Dupere, and Mast with orchestras and bands, Stephen Sieck and Phillip Swan with choirs, and Jose Encarnación and Darling with jazz—spent much of their summer focused on how they could make the ensemble experience both robust and safe, exploring everything from air filtration systems to proper masking to creative use of shared spaces.

Audio recording engineer Brent Hauer, video recording assistant Alvina Tan, and ITS staff helped set up ensemble spaces that feature one camera focused on the director and one that encompasses the full room. Virtual students can see and hear the in-person musicians and the director’s guidance while the in-person students and director can interact with students who are virtual on video screens.

The virtual students can play along, although they need to have their audio muted because Zoom technology can’t quite sync the sounds in real time. But the instruction and the unity of playing together remains. Eventually, the students who are virtual will record their parts to be added into final recording projects via the handiwork of Hauer and Tan.

Matvei Mozhaev ’23 rehearses with other horn players in the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble.

“We were looking to come up with a really creative way to keep students engaged,” Arau said. “One thing that became really important was to find a way to have the unity and spirit of togetherness that happens in an ensemble, even though we’re apart. I kind of had this theme in my mind—‘Lawrence, Together!’ My biggest concern was there would be two independent streams. There would be the online students and the in-person students and they would feel so separate from each other, and possibly doing totally different things. So, it was important to find a way that the students who are online still feel connected to Lawrence and particularly to the ensembles.”

Mission accomplished, and not just in the ensemble rehearsals, Wilmington said.

“I think the most successful way we have that connection is through the breakout room feature on Zoom,” she said. “When there are only two or three other students in a breakout room, you are able to unmute and perform for each other, to get real-time feedback. This has been really helpful in my woodwinds technique class, where we can go into breakout rooms and play scales together or get feedback on our playing from peers.”

Seeking engagement

Every area of the Conservatory has made online engagement a focal point during the pandemic. Some of that involves the work with ensembles. But there’s also peer-to-peer collaborations, student-faculty interactions, and virtual recording projects. Other initiatives encompass community outreach, whether with Appleton secondary school students or with area nonprofits.

“The pandemic has been unusually hard on choirs—big gatherings of people who all share the same air,” Sieck said. “But we’re doing some innovative things.”

He pointed to mixing modalities so that eight or nine singers are live while the rest join online, then using software to combine individual recordings into a full choir. He has students exchanging performance videos with music students across the Appleton Area School District. Cantala, a women’s choir, is working virtually on a 19th Amendment project with other women’s choirs, and another choir, the Hybrid Ensemble, is creating an American songbook album for hospice patients and retirement homes in the Fox Valley.

Ali Remondini ’21 practices in a Music-Drama Center room equipped with a new air filtration system (left).

“This is not the way we would have imagined a celebrated conservatory choral program working a year ago, but our students are making it work,” Sieck said. “Lawrence students need to sing. They need a place to let their voice soar or dissolve into an impossibly quiet chord. They need the connection, vulnerability, challenge, and electricity of music-making. And not just the approximately 100 students who study voice as part of their major in the Conservatory, but also biologists, computer scientists, and historians. Choir becomes a home away from home for so many Lawrentians. 

“No, we can’t sing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with 200 singers and 100 instrumentalists sharing the stage right now, but we can always sing.”

Cantala’s focus on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment mixes music collaborations with contextual lessons, Swan said. 

“We’re having lively discussions about what it means to have the right to vote, the importance of equity, and the opportunity and responsibility of voting,” he said. “We’re watching the Ken Burns documentary, The Vote, providing us with a better contextual understanding of voting rights and privileges for women. Our repertoire focuses on the theme, ‘We Rise by Lifting Others.’ Texts include writings by Susan B. Anthony, words of empowerment by a Chicago-based female ensemble, poetry by Georgia Douglas, and an encouraging closer, Still I Rise, by African-American composer and conductor Rosephanye Powell.”

Cantala is partnering with Appleton East High School Chamber Singers and Belmont University Women’s Choir on the project.

The Jazz Band, meanwhile, is working remotely on a set of recordings, and the Jazz Ensemble is meeting with groups of four to five students at a time—the horns group rehearsing outside whenever possible—with plans for joint recordings by the end of the term.

“Playing music together, however we do it, is helping us stay connected during these incredibly difficult times,” Darling said. “That is of utmost importance.”

Outreach close to home

Music for All, an ongoing Conservatory initiative that brings live music into the community, is continuing virtually during the pandemic. It’s part of wider efforts to keep music outreach, a key piece of the mission of the Conservatory, active during the pandemic, even if it has to be via technology. That’s something that Wilmington said she and other students are excited about.

“We will be able to submit video recordings for performances all around the Appleton community, such as at Riverview Gardens and Harbor House,” she said. “We will attend the events live through Zoom to introduce our recordings. … It allows for the feeling of community and sharing to be maintained despite the distance.”

Swan, meanwhile, said his Hybrid Ensemble, which explores a variety of styles and genres, is doing outreach with area retirement communities as it works to create a special collection of music.

“We will be rehearsing repertoire during the next two terms, based on our research outcomes,” he said. “Our plan is to interview residents, develop relationships, and compile a recording at the end of Winter Term that reflects a diverse selection of repertoire, suggested by these elderly partners. We’re hoping this final recording will provide entertainment, joy, and encouragement to our elderly population.”

Virtual concerts also are in play this term. And energies that otherwise would have gone into the Conservatory’s annual spring Presto! music tour are now being directed toward music outreach closer to home, Pertl said.

Through it all—the virtual concerts, the ensemble collaborations, the creative use of music spaces, the community projects—the thread of innovation and adaptation blends with the need for engagement and growth. Different, yes. But the music and the mission live on despite the difficulties of the pandemic.

“I’m excited that we’re actually looking at technology and its possibilities and not just focusing on what we can’t do,” Pertl said. “Instead, we’re saying, ‘What can we do?’ I think that’s a very Lawrencey thing. We’re trying to teach our students to be creative and innovative and be problem-solvers. It’s OK, we know this pandemic is here. What are we going to do to not only make the best of it but maybe do something no one else has ever done before?”

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

Lawrence remembers talents, kindness of retired music professor Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks (Lawrence University archive photo, 1993)

Dan Sparks, a professor in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music from 1962 to 1994, is being remembered for his deep contributions to the Lawrence and Appleton communities, from his musical talents to his willingness to share his wisdom and creativity with others.

He passed away Sept. 4 at age 89.

Sparks was a vital part of the Conservatory for three decades, teaching, mentoring, and, for a time, overseeing Conservatory admissions.

After completing military service in the 29th Army Band as the principal clarinetist and assistant conductor, Sparks started his college teaching career at Jackson State University in Alabama. He then made his way to Lawrence in 1962.

It proved to be an ideal fit, and he would call Lawrence home for the next 32 years.

In addition to teaching clarinet, he taught music theory, form and analysis, and music history. He was a member of the Lawrence Faculty Woodwind Quintet and a founding member of the Fox Valley Symphony. 

“All my memories of Dan, whether in department meetings, casual hallway encounters, or performing chamber works together, are filled with his kindness, his non-judgmental character, his ego-less professionalism, and his thoughtfulness toward everyone around him,” said percussion professor Dane Richeson, who joined the Conservatory faculty in 1984.

Kenneth Bozeman, professor emeritus of voice, said Sparks brought warmth to every interaction.

“Dan was a gentle, patient man, a lovely clarinetist,” Bozeman said. “I never saw Dan riled about anything, though like all of us, he probably had opportunities for that. He was a soothing presence.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1931, Sparks fell in love with music and went on to attend the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, where he received both his Bachelor of Music Degree in clarinet performance and his Master of Music Degree in clarinet performance and form and analysis. He continued his studies at the Juilliard School of Music, and finished all of the coursework for a Ph.D. in Musicology at the Eastman School of Music. 

Besides being a stellar music instructor, Sparks was known to be an excellent chef and entertainer. His dinner parties were legendary, as were his yearly recitals, billed as Dan Sparks and Friends.

“Dan positively impacted the lives of hundreds of students and colleagues,” said Brian G. Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. “He helped our Conservatory become what it is today.”

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawrence alumnus brings classic Sam Shepard production to Cloak Theater

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

Update: This event has been canceled.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

History has a way of repeating itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student commissions music for senior recital in honor of Pakistani grandmother

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

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn about Lawrence’s Chandler Senior Experience here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Theodore Rehl at the piano.
Theodore Rehl

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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