Patty Darling poses for a photo on a snow-covered Main Hall Green, with Main Hall in the background.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Patty Darling (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Patty Darling has had plenty of successes since joining the Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty in 2007, but perhaps none speak louder than the rave reviews for the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, which she directs. The student ensemble has, among other honors, earned the prestigious DownBeat Student Music Award in the large jazz ensemble category each of the past two years.

The awards are reflective of Darling’s deep influences in the Jazz Department over the past 13 years, but they don’t tell the whole story. In addition to leading one of the nation’s most outstanding collegiate jazz groups, Darling continues to compose music that has been performed widely across the country, including in middle and high school music programs. And she played a big part in developing and launching the new Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) degree, recently rolled out in the Conservatory after years of development.

See more on the B.M.A. degree here.

Darling is a Lawrence graduate, earning a Bachelor of Music degree in composition in 1985. She went on to study advanced composition at the University of Minnesota, where she also worked in the Electronic Music Department. 

We caught up with Darling to talk about her work in the Conservatory and her interests on and off campus.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I am committed to understanding and supporting your unique musical path here at Lawrence. There are countless opportunities to create, perform, and collaborate with students and faculty, giving you the chance to discover and pursue the music that speaks to you. You will find me deeply interested in your personal musical goals and aspirations, and I’ll do my best in our classes and lessons to help you along the way.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

This is the first year of our Jazz Department’s new degree program, the Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) in Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation. It has been very rewarding to develop new courses in composition and arranging. My students are integrating improvisation in a variety of musical styles, experimenting with form and development, and practicing core musicianship skills in our piano and composition lessons. They share recordings of artists that inspire them, and I am excited to have the opportunity to explore these different genres together. In addition, I’m enjoying working with songwriters and getting back into electronic music production and recording.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

I love composing music for big bands, and did not expect to find such joy and satisfaction in writing music for younger students. I just finished a new piece titled Connections, which will be published by Sierra Music this summer. Many of my big band charts are designed for middle and high school musicians, and I’m motivated by the challenge of creating music that is fun to play while also teaching improvisation and jazz fundamentals. I enjoy traveling to different schools throughout the U.S. and working with students on these charts.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?

You would most likely find me working at a wildlife sanctuary — with big cats! — or perhaps delving into organic gardening/farming.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

The “Jazz Room,” Shattuck 46. It feels like the heart of the Jazz Department; there’s so much happening there. Big band and combo rehearsals, improvisation and composition classes, percussion groups, auditions, recording sessions, meetings, and a lot more. During our Jazz Weekend festival, it is packed with young students performing and learning to improvise. Last year we did a side-by-side rehearsal there with the famous Vanguard Jazz Orchestra — that was a blast. Guest artists and LU jazz alumni come in to perform and share their stories. It’s an inspiring place even when it is empty and quiet.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

Film: Cast Away. A powerful story of survival and the intense need for human connection. Alan Silvestri’s sparse, breathtaking soundtrack reinforces the impact of such extreme isolation.

Book: Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. “True simplicity as a life choice illuminates our lives from within.” A good friend gave me this book several years ago, and every so often I come back to it to read, reflect, and rebalance my life.

Song: Pretty much anything by Bon Iver — Woods, 715-Creeks. His music is incredible, beautiful and honest.

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