Tag: Lawrence Conservatory of Music

2 Minutes With … Andrew Foley: Finding the intersecting rhythms in math, music

Andrew Foley ’21 draws inspiration from music and math. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Meet Andrew Foley ’20, a computer science and math double major with a music minor.

This surprisingly common pairing of math and music challenges our too-indulged notion of STEM and the arts as polarized fields, and shows us how Lawrentians unite the two in perfect harmony every day.

Striking the right chord

Foley started playing bass in fifth grade in his hometown of Waunakee, Wisconsin. Despite playing piano as a child, and a brief foray with the saxophone in high school, he has stuck with the bass and has embraced the unexpected parallels between that and his fascination with math.

“The most intersection is in theory,” Foley said. “With the music minor, the first three terms out of five are in theory. You’re working on a scale of eight tones so you can sort of see the connection between playing with how the tones line up.”

To say it simply, being a musician calls for a quantitative type of thinking. Foley sees this in jazz turnarounds—moments of transition and resolve at the end of a section—numerically represented as 2-5-1 turnarounds, or 3-6-2-5-1, to name a couple.

“For me, it’s a mix of sequencing and thinking of numbers,” Foley said, “and also trying to hear a specific line and trying to play something that’s similar to it.”

He points to a particular learning style offered by this quantitative thinking. Where some musicians learn best with visuals or transcription, others may benefit best from numerical thinking.


Adding it all up

This is more than just a retrospective way of talking about music. In the moment, one is always listening for those turnarounds and mathematical intervals. Mathematical thinking especially applies, Foley said, when you’re improvising or learning a new tune.

“When you’re improvising, some people can hear a line and directly play what they hear,” he said. “Some people hear a finger pattern or an interval, which is a specific number of pitches apart, which is sort of a mathematical connection there. Whenever I improvise, it’s a little bit of familiar finger patterns that I’m used to that I know sound good or doing some patterns.”

The discovery of further intersections between math and music may lie in Foley’s future. He hopes to continue his hobby of playing bass, perhaps alongside a software development job. He also ponders getting into algorithmic composing, which allows one to create music with code.

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

On Main Hall Green with … Patty Darling: Jazz artistry, and so much more

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

2 Minutes With … Hannah Jones: Inspired to find her voice in opera

Hannah Jones ’22 sings in a studio class being held in All Saints Episcopal Church in Appleton.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Hannah Jones ’22 remembers the moment she fell in love with opera, and knew immediately that would be her calling.

She was a high school student in Houston and was part of a music trip to New York City.

“I went to New York because I was singing with Houston Travel Choir,” Jones said. “We were singing at Carnegie Hall, and we went to see The Phantom of the Opera.  At first, I was like, ‘I don’t want to see The Phantom of the Opera, this white show; I want to see The Lion King.’

“But when we went to see The Phantom of the Opera, the phantom was a black man, which is not common at all; usually that role is played by a white man. I saw it and was on the edge of my chair. I realized this is what I want to do, this is what I have to do.”  

Jones has been pursuing voice ever since, more specifically opera. In her second year at Lawrence University, she’s majoring in music performance (voice) in the Conservatory of Music.

She has been excelling at it since arriving at Lawrence in the fall of 2018, learning under the tutelage of voice professor John Holiday, also from Houston. She participated in a National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition, taking a first place honor. She competed again this year, and won for the second year in a row.  

“During my first year, my professor, John Holiday, taught us not to focus on winning but to focus on doing your best, so regardless if you win or not, you still feel good,” Jones said. “I felt good about my performance, so when I won, I was like, this is even better. It felt good, but it wasn’t the end all be all. I want to win bigger things and just do better.”  

Learn more about John Holiday here and the Lawrence Conservatory of Music here.

Besides winning in the NATS competition for the second year in a row, Jones has had lead roles in shows on campus and has been chosen to sing in Italy this summer.  

“Being here, I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities,” Jones said. “Like this summer, I got a role in an opera in Italy. I’m really excited about that. So, I’m learning the opera for here (Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in March) and the one for there in June. It never stops, but it’s fun.” 

An early start

Jones was drawn to music early in her life.

“I’ve always been singing,” she said. “My mom is a choir director, and I come from a musical family in general.” 

Having a career in the field of music has been part of her vision. 

“Originally, I played cello for eight years, and I wanted to be an instrumentalist,” she said. “I would tell people I wanted to be the next Yo-Yo Ma … but in the high school I went to, we weren’t able to do two art areas; you have to choose one.” 

When faced with having to choose one area of interest in high school, Jones chose to set aside the cello and focus on her voice.   

You can check out Jones’ talent when she performs March 6-8 in Lawrence Opera Theatre’s  Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in Stansbury Theater.  

Good advice

We asked Jones to share two tips for excelling in the Conservatory: 

1: “Take care of your body. Make sure to drink water and get enough sleep.”

2: “Practice your music every day. Not just the notes; look deeper into the music. What are you trying to say?” 

Awa Badiane is a student writer in the Communications office.

Lighting the Way With … Evan Bravos: A Grammy nod on the road to a life in music

Evan Bravos ’10 calls Chicago home but he has performed all over the country and Europe: “The Midwest, and Chicago specifically, has always remained my musical epicenter.” (Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography)

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we catch up with Evan Bravos ’10, an opera singer who is featured on an album nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Opera singer Evan Bravos ’10 has a new entry for his already impressive and growing resume — Grammy nominee.

The Greek-American baritone is prominently featured on a recording nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award for best choral performance. Sander: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, composed by Kurt Sander, is an original recording of Russian Orthodox choral music in English language. It’ll be in contention for a Grammy at the Jan. 26 awards show in Los Angeles.

The nomination is the latest win for Bravos as he builds an opera career from his home base in Chicago. In the past year, he has debuted with the Milwaukee Symphony in Mendelssohn’s Elijah, sang the role of Inman in the West Coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain with Music Academy of the West, and made his debut with the Ravinia Festival in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.  

Up next is a production of The Merry Widow (Jan. 24-26) with New Philharmonic in Glen Ellyn, Illinois — Lawrence alumna Alisa Jordheim ’09 joins him in the cast — and then the Chicago premiere of Jake Heggie’s Two Remain with Chicago Fringe Opera in late March and early April before embarking on a series of performances of The Long View: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 9 Songs.

Another Grammy connection: Lawrence’s Albright featured on Bon Iver album.

Bravos came into Lawrence with the Class of 2010. He stayed for five years, graduating in 2011 with a double major in vocal performance and music education. He would go on to earn a master of music degree from Northwestern University.

“Lawrence prepared me for a life in music in more ways than I could have ever imagined,” Bravos said.

We caught up with Bravos in advance of the Grammys to talk about the Sander album, his blossoming opera career, and the work he put in at Lawrence to prepare him for the stage.

On being involved with the landmark Sander album:

Peter Jerminhov, music director at St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago, asked me to join him in recording an album in the summer of 2017. Chicago has been my home base since graduating from Lawrence, and I had come to know many of the churches and directors in town. Peter has quite the extensive resume, and I was very excited to join his project.

For the Kurt Sander album, we rehearsed and recorded at the New Gračanica Monastery in Lindenhurst, about an hour north of Chicago. The week of recording was monastic in and of itself. We arrived on the grounds every morning at 8 a.m. and rehearsed well into the late afternoon. For daily lunch in the humble church hall, a few of the monks and nuns prepared us very filling traditional Serbian cuisine. We were completely absorbed into the culture. The majority, if not all, of the singers recruited for this project were of Orthodox heritage — be it Greek, Russian, Serbian, Armenian or Romanian — so it was really a very exciting and collective collaboration. 

On why the project was so personally satisfying:

I grew up attending an Orthodox church in the suburbs of Chicago, though my heritage is Greek, not Russian. Growing up, I sang in the church choir, occasionally cantered for baptisms and weddings and played as organist. I had always had a fondness for Orthodox music: simple and down-to-earth, but also divine. Professionally, I had sung some of the featured works in various choirs, but this was the first project dedicated exclusively to the genre that I had been fortunate enough to work on. 

While at Lawrence, I also served as choir director of St. Nicholas, the local Greek Orthodox parish in Appleton. The job served me twofold: it helped me maintain my cultural ties while allowing me to cultivate my musical tastes. By my fifth year, the choir had grown to be the focal point of that small church. Frankly, it was the glue holding the community together. This choir was made up of only six singers, but we always sang in four parts, a rarity in most Greek churches. I can honestly say that those five years were very important to my spiritual and musical growth.

On the excitement of the Grammy nomination:

There had been some earlier buzz about it potentially happening, but I was completely shocked the day that nomination was announced.

On how his Lawrence experience prepared him for the opera stage, this recording and a myriad of other musical opportunities:

The academic and musical rigor of the college/conservatory combo was invaluable in every way. Being fully immersed in a culture of curiosity and of unending learning and surrounded by other deep thinkers who even during their college careers wanted to do more than just think was infectious in the best way possible. When I think of Lawrence, I think of Midwestern work ethic meeting global perspective: Age-old, tried and true values intersecting with an ever-more-demanding modern world. My time at LU taught me how to organize words, thoughts, and time, not to mention my craft as a singer — thank you, Kenneth Bozeman — and how to help shape my own world as an artist and the world around me. 

More here on Lawrence Conservatory of Music

See more Lighting the Way With … features on these Lawrence alumni: Yexue Li ’10, Rana Marks ’12, and Terry Moran ’82, and additional alumni features here.

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

2 Minutes With … Martha Strawbridge: Merging passions for music and math

Martha Strawbridge ’20 conducted research on math and music with math professor Alan Parks. She’ll be presenting an academic poster on her work at a math conference in Denver in January. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Math and music may seem like two distinct subjects with no significant correlation. Not true, and Martha Strawbridge ’20 is trying to change that narrative, highlighting the ways in which mathematics and music can be used to understand each other.  

“I’ve been playing saxophone since I was in sixth grade, so I’ve had a lot of time on the performance side,” the Lawrence University senior said. “When I came [to Lawrence], I wanted to become a jazz saxophonist.”  

Strawbridge, from Longmont, Colorado, came in as a saxophone performance major, and while taking classes in both the Conservatory of Music and the college, she grew increasingly interested in mathematics.  

“I knew I liked math in high school, but I took a calculus class here and I loved it so much that after my freshman year I decided to become a math major,” she said. 

Strawbridge continues to be part of the Conservatory as a saxophone performance minor. She also creates big band compositions with Patty Darling, director of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble and a jazz professor.   

“It wasn’t so much I wanted to switch; I just wanted to start doing more math and still kind of pursue music,” Strawbridge said. “It was more that I wasn’t as interested in performing.”  

A perfect combo

She found a way to combine her two interests last year when she attended a mathematics symposium where professors were presenting research they had been working on. Lawrence mathematics professor Alan Parks presented his research on mathematical music theory, studying ways in which math and music inform and influence each other.

After the symposium, Strawbridge applied to conduct research with Parks.  

 “It worked out really well, and he and I already knew each other from classes and some independent studies,” Strawbridge said. “So, I applied, and he knew I was really interested in music and math, so it was kind of like a natural match.” 

In tune with research 

With a grant in hand to support women in science and math, Strawbridge was able to conduct research in mathematical music theory over the summer.  

“It was an interesting process figuring out what we were going to research,” she said. “Professor Parks is a musician, too. So, we were wondering if it was going to become like music theory, analyzing scores and depicting them mathematically. Or if it was going to be really math heavy.  A lot of time it was just both of us reading stuff that interested us.” 

Mathematical music theory is a relatively new area of study.

“In the standard Western tuning system, you have 12 notes,” Strawbridge said. “[We tried to figure out] what are different ways we can imbed that into space that’s enlightening for people, or at least interesting?”

Next steps 

Parks and Strawbridge are now working to get their research published in the Journal of Mathematics and Music. And Strawbridge has been selected to present her research in January in Denver at a joint meeting of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). 

“I’m presenting the poster that I made,” Strawbridge said. “It will be very cool to explain what I was doing. It’s really fun.”

While that audience will be with people steeped in mathematics, Strawbridge said she also loves explaining the connections between music and math to people who aren’t necessarily involved heavily in either.

“I feel like math and music are both like, ‘oooh, music or math, I can’t do either of those,’ and it’s, like, ‘Well, I can talk to you about these ideas and you can understand more than you think you would.’ I think that was a really fulfilling aspect of our research, too.”

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

2 Minutes With … Emily Austin: Singing in the birthplace of opera

Emily Austin '21 works on her vocals in the voice studio in the Lawrence Conservatory.
Emily Austin ’21, here practicing in the voice studio in the Lawrence Conservatory, spent her summer performing in Italy. “It was definitely an amazing opportunity for me to grow as an artist and performer,” she said. It was her second visit to Italy as an artist. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Emily Austin ’21 took two trips of a lifetime to Novafeltria, Italy, through La Musica Lirica, an opera training program that sends promising vocalists to the birthplace of opera for an intensive five-week performing experience.

Austin, a music performance major in the Lawrence Conservatory’s voice studio, first got involved in 2017 when La Musica Lirica held one of its annual auditions at Lawrence. She was one of a handful of chosen students, and in the summer of 2018 she took the stage as Despina in a performance of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. The incredible experience drove her to audition again later that year and earn a spot in the 2019 summer program.

“Being in the place that opera was born and studying it was by far the most important and coolest aspect of the program,” she says.

Staying busy

Austin’s time in Italy with La Musica Lirica was far from rest and relaxation. The students’ itineraries were packed with Italian classes in the morning and rehearsal in the afternoon and evening, not to mention master classes with visiting artists, instruction in Italian diction and vocal lessons.

And then there was preparing for your role. This summer, Austin starred as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, one of the most ambitious roles in opera; Susanna is on stage for the entirety of the four-hour production. Austin fought through the stress and says she had the experience of a lifetime, learning much about herself and her craft.

“I was singing my big aria usually at 12:30 at night, which was a challenge and a test of stamina,” she says. “It was definitely an amazing opportunity for me to grow as an artist and performer.”

Finding her voice

Austin, from Washington, D.C., recalls how her love of music and singing was instilled in her long before she came to Lawrence. Her mother took her to baby music classes and she always loved singing along with the radio. There was never a time when music wasn’t part of her life.

“Singing was sort of innate,” she says. “It was just something that seemed right.”

She started taking voice lessons in her freshman year of high school. She scored her first role in an opera here at Lawrence as a lead in the 2018 production of Count Ory, followed by a role in Mass last year. She has since come into her own as a singer with all the skills and passion to succeed in Italy.

“It gave me so much confidence,” she says. “It was a really big challenge for me. Succeeding in that way, being recognized for the hard work that I put in in the biggest role I’ve ever done, was really rewarding. I feel like now that I’ve sung that role, I can do anything. And so many amazing memories.”

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

2 Minutes with … Sebastian Roman: Solving the math and music equation

Sebastian Roman holds his saxophone as he stands in front of a chalkboard full of math equations.
Sebastian Roman is studying math and music. They go together better than you might think.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

We like to think of math and music as insular communities of study. It’s easy to draw a hard line between what we see as “creative” and “not creative” and assume no interrelation. Math major and music minor Sebastian Roman ’19 embraces the unexpected harmony of studying these seemingly adverse fields.

The logical solution

For Sebastian, a saxophone player, it all comes down to logic. He works with math that is not computation, as math is commonly perceived, but the translation of very abstract concepts into simple, logical notations, called proofs. He believes the journey from problem to solution is the connection between math and music.

“When you write out a proof, just like how you write out a piece of music, there’s a story, there’s a development, there’s a conclusion,” he says. “You feel good afterwards. In the same way a proof is almost like a melody. There’s little aspects of it that work together.”

Channels for expression

It’s not just logic and hard lines. Sebastian values math and music together as important outlets of expression in his life.

“They’re both languages. You can learn that language with improvisation, logical resolutions and musical ideas, and express something within you that you couldn’t with words. In the same way with math, you can internalize all these logical methods of getting to an argument and express something that you can’t express with words.”

Math and music go hand in hand as outlets of creative expression. Math offers new experiences and insight that Sebastian says he expresses through his music. Being able to study both is one of the great draws of a Lawrence education, where the Conservatory of Music is part of the university.

“(Doing math) makes me a better musician in the sense that I’m learning more about myself and how to express myself and be a better person,” Sebastian says. “I’m gaining life experiences. And then when I go play the horn, I can express that stuff.”

More on Lawrence’s Mathematics offerings here and Conservatory of Music here

Balancing act

Sebastian is taking linear algebra, foundations of analysis and jazz improvisation II this term. Outside of class, he plays in Combo I and Latin Jazz Ensemble, takes jazz lessons with Jose Encarnacion, and tries to practice saxophone two to three hours a day. Yet he rarely feels overwhelmed.

“Sometimes I’d like to have more time doing music and sometimes I’d like to have more time doing math,” he says. “There’s not enough time. But I’m also a very social person and I like to hang out with people. Thankfully, math allows me to hang out with people and do homework.”

The two disciplines combine to make his learning journey whole, he says.

“If I’m doing math and not practicing, I’m getting better at music. If I’m playing music and not doing math as much, I’m getting better at math, in a weird kind of way. They help each other and they work together very well.”

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