Tag: music education

Porky’s finds its goofy, funky groove in return to Lawrence, Mile of Music

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

What does a hot dog, a squid, and a red Power Ranger have in common?

Well, they are the stage personas for three of the seven members of Porky’s Groove Machine, a high-energy funk band known for mixing big musical talents with randomly odd costumes and a heavy dose of silliness.

The Minneapolis-based band, which got its start on the Lawrence University campus and is comprised completely of Lawrence alumni, is bringing its love of music and fun back to Appleton for the annual Mile of Music festival Aug. 1-4. The band will be performing on stage (details below) and for the fifth year in a row will be part of the Music Education Team presenting immersive musical experiences throughout the downtown festival.

Mile of Music, Lawrence have deep ties. See more here.

Fresh off the release of a new album, Hello, My Name Is, Porky’s Groove Machine continues to build a strong fan base across the Midwest, all while dressed in incredibly random costumes.

Matt Lowe ’14, Marshall Yoes ’14, Eli Edelman ’14, Nick Allen ’14, Luke Rivard ’15, Ilan Blanck ’16 and Shasta Tresan ’17 all got their start with the band while students at Lawrence. They bonded via the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, started out playing campus parties and have maintained a close association with the school and Appleton even though they’ve all settled nearly 300 miles away in the Twin Cities.

“We were just hanging out, getting really excited about music through the Conservatory,” Allen said of the band’s start-up. “And we wanted to play. So, we just got together to jam a little bit and then, like, make up some songs.”

Eight years later, Porky’s is a thing.

We caught up with the band earlier this summer when they returned to downtown Appleton to play the weekly Heid Music Summer Concert Series in Houdini Plaza.  

Porky's Groove Machine, wearing wildly random costumes, perform on stage at Houdini Plaza.
The wildly random costumes have long been part of the show for Porky’s Groove Machine. It started when they were Lawrence students, playing campus parties. Here they perform earlier this summer in Houdini Plaza in downtown Appleton.

Goofy from the start 

The group initially formed in 2011 while all the original members of the band were students at Lawrence. What started as a cover band playing campus parties quickly evolved. Since then, the band has grown in size and outreach, rotated in new members (all Lawrentians) and wrote a ton of music, some of which is featured on Hello, My Name Is, an album released in March.

The band has grown a lot from those early days at Lawrence, but it was at Lawrence where the foundation for spreading funk and silliness was set.

The campus environment, where people were learning and challenging themselves but also having a good time, set the wheels in motion. It turns out things don’t always have to be so serious. Sure, a classical music education was part of the process, but improvisation was always encouraged and a sense of humor was embraced.

“I feel like just having gone to Lawrence and just having been in this funny environment, you know what I mean, where these particularly funny things happen, there’s already a common ground for a sort of goofiness,” Blanck said.

The band took that goofiness and supercharged it on stage. They’ve come to be known for their creative stage personas. When performing at parties on campus in those early days, they would dress to fit the theme of the party. It carried over from there, and soon fans were connecting to the random weirdness of the band’s costumes.

Blanck said he remembers that a-ha moment when he realized the costumes had become an important part of their identity as a band.

“I remember we played a show once and people tweeted at us,” Blanck said. “Someone we didn’t know was like ‘#powerranger, #squid , #hotdogtrombone, so confused but I’m so happy,’ and it was like, I guess those are alive now, and then from there on everyone started looking for it, kind of digging into it a little more.”  

Ilan Blanck wears a red Power Ranger suit while performing at Houdini Plaza.
Ilan Blanck ’16 wears the red Power Ranger suit with pride. The costumes, he said, are part of the fun and help make the band accessible.

Porky’s takes off

Porky’s became a well-known group on campus, performing at events ranging from an Earth Day celebration to a Yule Ball. And as the on-campus following grew, they started to become recognizable off campus as well, performing at bars and clubs in downtown Appleton and elsewhere in the Fox Valley.

“I remember our first off-campus show was at Déjà vu Martini Lounge,” Allen said. 

As band members graduated, many began settling in the Twin Cities. Eventually, all who stayed with the band landed there. And while they all have day jobs, many of them music related, they began dedicating more and more time to Porky’s. In 2018, they played nearly 70 shows. The band became a registered LLC in the state of Minnesota, and Porky’s, if it wasn’t before, was now a full-on passion that was commanding much of their free time. 

“We all ended up moving to Minneapolis to make Porky’s happen, so it’s a serious component of how we are making decisions in our lives,” Yoes said. 

Making music 

As Porky’s has become that serious — yet still goofy — endeavor, the music the band performs has shifted and evolved. What started as a mostly cover band with only one or two original tracks is now a band producing mostly original music. They have released three EPs and two albums to date.  

“When we first started, when we played these gigs at the bars downtown, we’d play a four-hour show, and you know we would have to fill all this time, so we played a bunch of covers and we jammed them out for 15 or 20 minutes each,” Lowe said.

“And then our originals would be like, ‘Hey, everybody, we finally wrote a song.’ We’d have one song to show off.  Now it’s more like we’ll do an all-original set and then we’ll put in two or three covers.”

The humor behind their stage personas also shows up in their homegrown lyrics. With songs like “Don’t Put Love in the Granola” or “The (Not Quite a) Ball of Trombone,” the group embraces the silliness. 

“We hear from people who see our show who maybe don’t get a big dose of goofy in their lives,” Allen said. “We often hear from people who are like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before, but thank you.’

“So, that always inspires me and makes me feel good to come up with something that’s going to connect with someone and give them a sort of absurdity or silliness or some kind of release that they need.” 

Beyond a band  

Porky’s Groove Machine members also apply this concept of releasing people’s silly side when they teach music workshops. And they do a lot of workshops, mostly geared toward children, spreading the joy of music-making.

“We get questions from students, like why do you wear your costumes, why do you look like that, or why are you running around and yelling?” Rivard said.

“And our whole perspective is, well, you know, rather than approaching music in a very studious and very hard to reach place, we want to make it as comfortable and as inviting to students as possible. That allows us to get students to improvise and to write music on the spot because they feel comfortable. They know that no matter what they do, they’re not going to look dumber than we do.”

The workshops that are part of Mile of Music are among their favorites. Through working with the festival’s Music Education Team, led by Lawrence music education instructor Leila Ramagopal Pertl, the group has been able to share that love of music in Appleton. It’s one of the things that has inspired them to create workshops of their own where they are able to teach students improvisation, music fundamentals, and thinking outside the box.  

Staying Connected  

Being able to teach music as a band and perform several times a year in the Appleton area has given the members the opportunity to stay tight with Lawrence, the Conservatory in particular.

“We are back here all the time, seeing the dean and our teachers,” Lowe said. “We performed at the Lawrence Academy camp (two summers ago), and we’re working with the Mile of Music Education Team, which is deeply linked with the Lawrence Conservatory.” 

For Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory, the success of the Porky’s band speaks to the commitment and joy each of the band members finds in music. And their willingness to give back through Mile of Music and other music workshops is a great reflection on Lawrence and the mission of the Conservatory.

“I have had the great pleasure and privilege of working closely with almost every member of Porky’s,” Pertl said. “In particular, Matt Lowe and Nick Allen took didgeridoo lessons with me for their entire four years at Lawrence.”

Don’t let the goofball costumes fool you. The music that Porky’s is creating is stellar. That it’s mixed with energy and fun, and delivered with a full heart, all the better.

“I love that Porky’s seamlessly combines high-level musicianship, a sense of humor, and a deep commitment to music education,” Pertl said. 

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

Where to see Porky’s at Mile of Music

Friday, Aug. 2: 9:30 p.m. at Deja Vu Martini Lounge, 519 W. College Ave., Appleton

Saturday, Aug. 3: 7:40 p.m. at Emmett’s Bar and Grill, 139 N. Richmond St., Appleton

Saturday, Aug. 3: 10 p.m. on the Mile of Music bus.

Lawrence music educators bring unique aspect to annual Mile of Music festival

Every music festival, of course, features lots of music. How many, though, have music education as a central part of its mission?

Thanks to the talents of a 25-member team of music educators, led by Leila Ramagopal Pertl and Brian Pertl, Appleton’s Mile of Music is one such festival.

Mile of Music gumbotting workshop
Leila Ramagopal Pertl (center) leads a gumbooting workshop, one of more than 40 music education events at the annual Mile of Music festival in downtown Appleton.

More than 40 hands-on music education workshops, ranging from Ghanaian drumming to ballet, will be conducted Aug. 3-6 during “Mile 5” of Appleton’s Mile of Music festival, a celebration of original, handcrafted artisan music. This year’s festival features nearly 900 live performances by more than 225 artists from 28 states and three countries representing virtually every music genre at 70 venues along College Avenue and the Fox River.

Beyond the concerts and artists featured at Mile of Music, as always, Mile 5 will feature plenty of hands-on, participatory music education events.

Ramagopal Pertl, a 1987 Lawrence graduate, is fond of calling music “a birthright.”

“Mile of Music is the only music festival in the country with a dedicated team of musicians to engage community in reigniting their musical birthright and to help them find ways throughout the year to develop this musicianship,” says Ramagopal Pertl, the music education curator for the four-day festival. “The music education component of Mile of Music is a fantastic opportunity for Lawrence University, teachers from the Appleton Area School District and our MET Kids to engage a multi-generational community in joyful and inspiring music-making. A musical community is a healthy community.”

Ramagopal Pertl’s enthusiasm is obvious when she talks about the results of past Mile of Music education workshops: the person who started playing an instrument again; the person who wrote their first song or formed a band, the person who discovered Irish dance and now is in their third full year of learning Irish dance, the person who produced their own CD of songs.

“The music education component of Mile of Music is a fantastic opportunity to engage a multi-generational community in joyful and inspiring music-making. A musical community is a healthy community.”
— Leila Ramagopal Pertl

“Those kinds of outcomes are our heart’s desire” said Ramagopal Pertl. “They are a powerful statement as to the importance of dynamic community music making.”

Brian Pertl, dean of Lawrence’s conservatory of music, joins his wife Leila in leading the music education team. He is excited about the expanded opportunities this year’s festival offers.

“Last year we debuted the P-bone jam, hip-hop workshops, the Building for Kids Immersive Music Day, vocal workshops, ukulele workshops, the NAMI Panel on the Power of Music and Mental Health and we expanded our deep listening activities,” said Pertl.

Mile of Music didjeridu workshop
A didjeridu workshop led by Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence conservatory of music, has been a staple of the music education program of the annual Mile of Music festival.

“We are thrilled to expand our offerings this year by adding mariachi, Afro-Cuban drumming and singing, and Recycled Rhythms: Creating Music with Found Objects,” Pertl added. “All of this is in addition to our traditional favorites like the Great Mile Sing Along, samba drumming, Balinese gamelan, instrumental workshops, song writing workshops, the all-inclusive community hand drum circle and singing story books. We can wait to make music with community members.”

Among the dedicated team of music educators assisting the Pertls are 16 workshop leaders with ties to Lawrence.

In addition to the education aspects of Mile of Music, Lawrence will be represented on the performance side. Among the groups performing, one group with a number of representatives is Porky’s Groove Machine.

An all Lawrence alumni band, Porky’s Groove Machine performs four times during the festival, including twice on the festival’s opening day — Thursday Aug. 3 at 10 p.m. on the Mile of Music bus and again at 11:50 p.p. at the Gibson Music Hall.

They return to the stage Friday Aug. 4 at 8:50 p.m. at the Radisson Paper Valley Grand Ballroom and Saturday Aug. 5 at 7:10 p.m. at The Alley Project.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

University convocation celebrates the international contributions of Lawrence cellist Janet Anthony

The third installment of Lawrence University’s 2016-17 convocation series will celebrate the musical and educational career of Professor of Music Janet Anthony in a rare evening presentation.

A Head shot of Lawrence University cello professor Janet Anthony.
Janet Anthony

Anthony presents “Adventures in Music Making: 20 Years of Cross-Cultural Exchange in Haiti” Friday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. The event, free and open to the public, also will be available via a live webcast.

The program will feature performances of Haitian music, including two works composed by non-degree seeking students at Lawrence, by the Lawrence University Cello Ensemble and the Lawrence Symphony Chamber Orchestra as well as remarks by 2011 Lawrence graduate Carolyn Armstrong Desrosiers, Lawrence jazz studies program director Jose Encarnacion and Haitian journalist Fritz Valescot,

Anthony, the George and Marjorie Olsen Chandler Professor of Music, was chosen as the co-recipient of Lawrence’s annual Faculty Convocation Award, which honors a faculty member for distinguished professional work. She is the eighth faculty member so honored.

A cellist who joined the Lawrence conservatory of music faculty in 1984, Anthony has been making annual trips to Haiti since 1996 to conduct, perform and teach at music schools there.

Since making her first trip, more than 50 Lawrence students and faculty colleagues have accompanied her to teach in some of the many music programs with which she has been involved. Anthony also has assisted in bringing key Haitian music teachers and students to the United States for short-term professional development.

Following the devastating 2010 earthquake that devastated parts of the country, Anthony helped organized a benefit concert in Appleton for Haiti and collected needed supplies for the survivors, including gently used instruments. She has since performed numerous memorial concerts in Haiti, including one in 2011 on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake.

Anthony is the co-founder and current president of Building Leaders Using Music Education (BLUME)-Haiti, a Fox Cities-based nonprofit organization that works with Haitian and International partners to develop and support music education for youth and young adults in Haiti.

A photo of Lawrence University cello professor Janet Anthony playing her cello.Desrosiers, an Appleton native who has made multiple trips to Haiti with Anthony, co-produced and co-directed a documentary film — “Kenbe La” — which explores the transformational power of music programs in Haiti.

An active soloist, recitalist and chamber musician, Anthony has toured with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, the Austrian Radio Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of the Vienna Symphony. She also has performed or taught in Argentina, China, Curacao, Japan, Venezuela and Vietnam and, as a member of the Duo Kléber, she has performed in England, France, Italy and Bosnia Herzegovina.

A frequent performer on Wisconsin Public Radio, Anthony earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and a master’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She also studied at Vienna’s famed Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.




Music For All: Grant Helps Lawrence Launch New Community Outreach Project

An Arts and Culture grant from unrestricted funds within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region will enable Lawrence University to launch a new program to bring classical chamber music to children and populations who ordinarily do not participate.

The $16,700 grant will support the “Music for All: Connecting Musicians and Community” project, which will be directed by Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty members Michael Mizrahi and Erin Lesser.

Michael Mizrahi, assistant professor of music

Working with three community partners — Riverview Gardens, the Fox Valley Warming Shelter and Appleton’s Jefferson Elementary School — Lawrence faculty and students will stage a series of classical music performances beginning this fall using interactive techniques to create deep, artistic connections in settings where such music is rarely heard.

The project will bring members of the New York City-based Decoda chamber music group to campus to help Lawrence students and faculty learn interactive performance methods, write scripts, create entry points into musical works and engage non-traditional audiences.

“I see this project as part of a musical renaissance in Appleton and beyond.”
    — Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory of music

“We believe communities are made stronger through positive interaction and shared experiences,” said Mizrahi, a pianist who joined the Lawrence faculty in 2009 and also a member of Decoda. “We also believe that music has the power to connect people, transcend social barriers and provide meaningful emotional experiences. This project will facilitate active participation, conversation, engaged learning and meaningful connections among classical musicians and non-traditional audiences.”

The three community partners were targeted for the project because they represent diverse populations, including young children, “at-risk” teens, people experiencing homelessness, adults in job training programs and community garden members.

Approximately 1,000 individuals from FVWS and RVG, along with 200 students from Jefferson Elementary School, will benefit from increased access to live musical performance and interactive learning with this project.

Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory of music

Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, sees the Music for All: Connecting Musicians and Community” initiative meshing perfectly with the conservatory’s core belief that music is for everyone and it can change lives in profound ways.

“This projects puts our philosophy into action so our students can figure out how best to give an audience entrance points into the music and then go out and actively engage the community in the wonder and beauty of the music,” said Pertl. “Music, and particularly classical music, should not be treated like some revered museum piece to be passively stared at through a dusty glass case. This project allows our faculty and students to find new ways to actively engage audiences from schools to warming shelters to concert halls in a meaningful, moving dialogue with the music. I see this project as part of a musical renaissance in Appleton and beyond.”

Approximately a dozen concerts are planned at the three partner sites during the 2014-15 academic year, most of which will be free and open to the public.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 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 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.