Tag: Lawrence University conservatory of music

“Breathe,” an opera performed in the water, ready for its debut at Lawrence

A photo link to video of "Breathe" rehearsal at the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool.
Take a sneak peek at what “Breathe: a multi-disciplinary water opera” will look like this weekend in Lawrence University’s Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool. It will be performed Saturday and Sunday.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Odds are, you haven’t seen anything like this before.

Yes, it’s an opera performance. And, yes, many of the usual expectations are there — there are opera singers and percussionists, trumpets, a cello, even a flute. There are dancers and a keyboardist and a bass player. Tuxedos will be worn. 

But there’s a twist.

The stage? Well, it’s a swimming pool. A fully functioning swimming pool.

Welcome to Breathe: a multi-disciplinary water opera, set to be staged this weekend at the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool at Lawrence University. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“When we normally consider the arts, we put it on a stage and we sit, and there it is,” said Loren Kiyoshi Dempster, the composer and musical director for the production. “But here the audience is going to interact in a much different way.”

The mastermind behind Breathe is Gabriel Forestieri, a Boston-based choreographer and director who teamed with Dempster two years ago to stage the water opera at Middlebury College in Vermont. He, along with Dempster and author and visual artist Adrian Jevicki, will try to bring that same magic to the pool at Lawrence this weekend, an invitation that came from Margaret Sunghe Paek, who is married to Dempster, is an instructor of dance in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and curates the Lawrence Dance Series.

“I saw the video of them in the water,” Paek said. “I said, ‘We need to bring that here to Lawrence. We need to bring some version of that here.”

It’s taken two years, but it’s finally here. This version is heavier on musicians than the one at Middlebury, a nod to the diverse talents available courtesy of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

Unusual as it might be, it wasn’t a hard sell, Dempster said.

“With the conservatory here and the wealth of really great musicianship available and people who are really excited to try something different, you find there is a curiosity there,” Dempster said. “It’s really doubled in size.”

Gabriel Forestieri and Loren Kiyoshi Dempster float in the water while performing "Breathe."
Gabriel Forestieri and Loren Kiyoshi Dempster will reunite for “Breathe,” a water opera.

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There are more than 20 performers in the cast. Some are students from the conservatory, some from the college, some are athletes — including a diver — and some are professional dancers from the community.

“I saw a diver doing dives one day,” Paek said. “I went up to her and said, ‘Would you want to be in a water opera?’ And she’s in it. Things like that happened.”

That diver is Maddy Smith, a freshman biology major and member of the Lawrence swimming and diving team. It’s been a thrill, she said.

“I get to do diving in a different way, a more artistic way,” Smith said.

In the second to final scene, she’ll be on the board for seven dives. The biggest challenge, she said, is slowing everything down.

“They’ve been talking to me about how I need to slow down all of my dives and just kind of listen to the beat of the music and just go through it all at a slower tempo.”

Trial and error

Dempster said he had his doubts when Forestieri first broached the water opera idea. He had to go into the water to convince himself it was doable.

“Gabe was working with dancers and bringing them to the pool in Middlebury,” Dempster said. “The question was, can I make sound underwater or even play the cello underwater? So, I messed around with that, and eventually figured out that, yes, it kind of works. After a bunch of experimenting and reading and doing research, I found you can buy a hydrophone, something that would be used by a marine biologist to record whales or sounds of marine life, and you can use this to record playing underwater.

“I have this cheap cello, or strange-looking box cello, as I call it, that when you dunk it underwater, it still has enough air in it to create a resonator, so when I play on this hydrophone, it makes a sound of some kind. Definitely not like a regular cello. It has a very watery kind of sound.”

Safe to say, this isn’t like any cello recital you’ve been to.

“It very much has the effect of performance art,” said Dempster, an Appleton resident who teaches at Lawrence, has a private cello studio, and is a guest artist at Renaissance School for the Arts. “We wear our tuxedos and get in the water. There are always these different things happening. It evolves into a thing with singers and percussionists and trumpet players.”

Dancers use float belts as they rehearse for "Breathe" in the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool.
Dancers use float belts as they rehearse for “Breathe” in the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool. The water opera is set for 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Not all of the instruments are getting wet, of course. Some are played above the water. There’s even a kayak in one scene. Much of the musicianship and dancing takes place on the deck or on the water, but almost every cast member ends up in the water at some point, and the entire pool is basked in dramatic lighting.

The audience — restricted to no more than 250 or so because of limitations of the space — is encouraged to move around during the performance, best to experience a variety of angles.

“It’s really about transforming the space,” Paek said. “Gabriel’s hope is that people will go into the space and feel it and experience it differently. Even if they go swimming there every day, they’ll be aware and present in a new way.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge as showtime draws near has been getting in the needed rehearsals. This performance, as you might expect, comes with its own set of challenges.

“We can only rehearse when there are lifeguards,” Dempster said.

WATER OPERA

What: Breathe: a multi-disciplinary water opera

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (March 30-31)

Where: Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center pool at Lawrence University

Admission: Free, but reservations are required by calling the Lawrence Box Office at 920-832-6749. Access is limited to about 250 people per performance.

Values, Customs, Beliefs Explored in Academy of Music Girl Choir Concert

This year’s Lawrence Academy of Music Girl Choir’s annual December concert will have a personalized meaning for the more than 300 young voices in the program.

Two performances of “I Believe” will be staged Saturday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel.  Tickets, at $12 for adults and $8 for students/seniors, are available through the Academy, 100 W. Water St., Appleton or 920-832-6632.

Using choral music as the lens through which to explore individual and community values, beliefs or customs, five choirs will sing a variety of sacred and secular repertoire. Program notes will explain how each selection was used within the rehearsal process to explore the concert’s “I Believe” theme.

“As we move into the darker months of the year, people tend to be more reflective and introspective,” said Karen Bruno, director of the Academy of Music and conductor of the Bel Canto choir. “Preparing for this concert gave the girls an opportunity to explore what they stand for, what they hold dear and how the compositions they sing connect to those ideas.

“We look forward to sharing the emotions, ideas, and values expressed within the repertoire and within our community of singers with our audience,” Bruno added.

The concert features girls in grades 3-12 in five different choirs, including the high school component Bel Canto Girl Choir (grades 9-12), which earned second-place honors in the 2012 national American Prize in Choral Performance competition and the Cantabile Choir (grades 7-9) which performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in 2011 as part of the National Youth Choir.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,450 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.

Lawrence University Tubist Wins International Music Competition

Lawrence University student Trevor Litsey earned first-place honors in the recent International Tuba and Euphonium Association’s “Mock Orchestra Audition Competition” held at the Brucknerhaus in Linz, Austria.

Trevor Litsey '14

A junior tuba performance major from Birmingham, Ala., Litsey was named the winner from among four finalists, earning a first-place prize of 600 euros. He later performed in concert with the North Austrian Wind Ensemble during the ITEA’s international conference June 23-30.

Litsey was one of 20 musicians invited to Austria from among nearly 60 applicants worldwide who auditioned originally via taped recording.  The semifinals and finals were adjudicated by judges representing orchestras in Germany and the United States, including Carol Jantsch, principal tubist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

A student in the tuba studio of Lawrence lecturer in music Marty Erickson, Litsey is the fourth Lawrence tubist in the past six years to win a prize in a major national or international competition.

On the heels of his winning performance in Austria, Litsey is spending July in Washington, D.C., as the only tuba player selected for the National Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Music Institute. He is participating in chamber music activities at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and receiving private lessons with National Symphony tubist Steven Dumain.

During the month-long program, Litsey is performing in side-by-side concerts with the National Symphony in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. He was chosen for the prestigious program based on a recorded orchestral excerpt presentation.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. Ranked among America’s best colleges by Forbes, it was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,450 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.