Tag: Lawrence Conservatory of Music

2 Minutes With … Earl Simons Jr.: Following passions in music, Japanese

Earl Simons Jr. ’22 (Photos 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

One of the best parts of the Lawrence experience for many students is getting a chance to explore a deep interest even if it’s not in your primary area of study. Earl Simons Jr. ’22 can attest to that.

The junior from Queens, New York, isn’t working toward a degree in music—he’s majoring in international relations and minoring in Japanese—but has had the opportunity to nurture his trumpet skills with the Conservatory of Music. He’s played with the award-winning Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, and this term is taking trumpet lessons as an independent study with trumpet professor John Daniel. 

Simons has been playing the trumpet since fourth grade and has gotten instruction along the way from some accomplished trumpet players, including Peter Archer, the New York City middle school teacher who was an inspiration for the Disney-Pixar film, Soul. 

“He has had a big influence on my life; he is also a Black trumpeter,” Simons said of Archer. “Fun fact, he was a big inspiration for the movie Soul. The middle school in the film is almost an exact replica of our middle school band room. Really proud of him for that.” 

Earl Simons Jr. ’22 isn’t pursuing a music degree but he still follows his music passions in the Conservatory of Music. It is one of the things that drew him to Lawrence, he said.

A common misconception with the Conservatory is you have to be majoring in music to take part in ensembles or other aspects of the music program. That’s not the case.  

“For two years I was part of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble,” Simons said. “When I was looking into Lawrence, I was in contact with Ken Anselment (vice president for enrollment and communication), and he told me about the jazz program. He also got me in contact with Patty Darling, director of the Jazz Ensemble.”  

Studying abroad in Japan

Along with following his passion in music, Simons has been able to explore his interest in East Asian culture.  

“I’ve always been interested in East Asian cultures, ever since I was a kid,” Simons said. “For elementary and middle school, my schools were prominently Asian. So, I was always engaged in and had a deep apperception for the cultures. It wasn’t until high school where I focused on Japanese culture and language. I knew I wanted to pursue it in college.”  

Simons started studying Japanese at Lawrence his first year and had the opportunity to participate in an eight-week summer immersion program with the Middlebury Language Schools in Vermont.  

“My professor, Akimi Adler, told me about it and I got in,” Simons said. “When you do this over the summer, it’s an immersion program, so it’s eight weeks of the language, no English. For eight weeks you have to honor a pledge to only speak in the language you are studying. And that really helped.”  

During this program, Simons realized how much he enjoyed learning Japanese and has decided to take his study of Japanese language and culture to Japan. He will be participating in the Waseda University semester program for Fall and Winter terms.  

“At the Middlebury Language Schools is where I really fell in love with Japanese,” Simons said. “A lot of the professors there were asking me, ‘Are you going to go to Japan?’ That’s when I thought about it and decided I wanted to study abroad in Japan.”

Simons will be taking classes at Waseda University. He then will participate in a cultural internship before returning to Lawrence in mid-March.  

“I want my experience in Japan to enlighten me about new opportunities I could take,” Simons said. “That’s what I am most excited for; I want to be inspired to do more things.” 

Simons will be bringing his trumpet with him to Japan.  

“I want to see their jazz clubs,” Simons said. “I don’t know what the jazz scene is like in Japan, but I heard it’s good.” 

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

Stunning talent, passion, wisdom guide John Holiday’s journey on “The Voice”

John Holiday found a home three years ago with the Lawrence Conservatory of Music. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

As contestants on NBC’s The Voice scrambled to pull together family and friends for virtual watch parties on the show’s opening night, John Holiday had other ideas.

The voice professor in Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music knew he was about to catch lightning in a bottle. He knew the coaches’ response to his performance of Misty was off the charts, and he knew there was a pretty good chance his world was about to explode. He also knew with whom he wanted to share that moment—his students.

The John Holiday Tracker: Follow along on his journey on “The Voice.”

So, as Holiday watched from his Appleton home as John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, and Gwen Stefani all turned their chairs and showered his performance with such overwhelming praise that he became the show’s immediate favorite, 10 of his students, connected by Zoom, hooted and hollered along with him and his husband, Paul, and their two house guests, Brian Pertl and Leila Ramagopal Pertl. They screamed when Legend called Holiday’s voice “otherworldly,” and again when a surprised Clarkson dropped the “I didn’t know you were a dude” line.

“One of the things I wanted to do in doing this show is to show my students what’s possible when you stretch yourself beyond what you think is possible,” said Holiday, an associate professor of music who has been on the Lawrence faculty since 2017. “There are people who dare to dream bigger than themselves; they never stop learning, never stop growing. I wanted to show my students what that looked like.”

In the more than two weeks since his audition aired, much has changed in Holiday’s universe, even though he, like most of us, remains mostly homebound in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He continues to teach during Lawrence’s Fall Term, but he’s doing so while juggling multiple media requests and a growing social media presence. His path as part of Team Legend, under the guidance of the iconic singer, is still very much a secret, but viewers will begin to see it unfold as the battle rounds begin in the coming days. The show airs Mondays and Tuesdays.

On campus, Holiday has become the frequent focus of conversation, a welcome respite amid the frustrations of a year dominated by COVID-19. In the Conservatory offices and halls, faculty and students have been leading the cheers. Alumni have been reaching out. Even other music schools have been calling with congratulations.

“There is a definite buzz around John’s performance,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. “Everyone is so excited that the rest of the world is hearing this remarkable voice.”

Holiday, a countertenor with the ability to hit the highest notes, made it to the televised blind auditions in front of the coaches—Clarkson, Legend, Stefani, and Blake Shelton—after being selected from among thousands of hopefuls who went through the open-call audition process. He said he opted to enter the TV fray in part because his busy performance schedule, mostly on opera stages, came to an abrupt stop when the pandemic shut down performances around the world.

The reaction was immediate

Holiday’s phone blew up as soon as his audition aired on Oct. 19. A clip from the show featuring his performance quickly drew more than 500,000 views, and posts on various media sites piled on the praise and dubbed him the favorite to win it all.

Success isn’t necessarily new to Holiday. He has performed on some of the biggest stages in the world, and in 2017 received the Marian Anderson Vocal Award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Washington National Opera, given to a rising star in the area of opera, oratorio, or recital repertory. He knows his way around applause. But this reaction was different.

“My social media has gone kind of bonkers,” Holiday said. “And that is absolutely something I was not expecting. I didn’t know people were going to receive it that way. In general, I’m a person who doesn’t read reviews. I think even if they’re great, sometimes it can get to a person’s head, and if the reviews are bad, they can make you feel bad. So, I tend to be a person who, generally, if I feel good about what I’ve done, I won’t read anything. I just kind of sit in the moment and reflect on what I felt was good and what I felt needed some work. But from the moment this came on, it was kind of hard to not see the things that were going on.”

Hannah Jones ’22, a voice student from Houston who came to Lawrence in large part because she wanted to work with Holiday, was on that Zoom call, watching with classmates through the two-hour episode in hopes of seeing the man they affectionately call Prof. For an hour and 50 minutes, there was nothing. Until they saw the boots.

“As soon as we heard and saw Prof’s heeled boots, every single square erupted,” Jones said.

The only shriek that was louder came from Holiday himself.

“The one thing that truly made this moment special is the fact that Prof shared this huge moment in his journey with us,” Jones said. “He could have easily shared this unforgettable moment with his close family and friends, but he chose us.”

John Holiday arrives in The Voice spotlight having already performed in some of the world’s most iconic venues. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Building to this moment

That journey Jones speaks of is one that’s been building for Holiday. What heights he reaches via The Voice, and what doors they open, have yet to be revealed. But the transition from rising opera star to a performer who lives in a more mainstream music world is one that’s very much deliberate. Holiday has frequently dabbled in jazz and gospel genres, and he said he’s long felt the urge to wade into more pop-focused opportunities. The pandemic shut-down and the arrival of a new season of The Voice provided the perfect storm.

“There are a lot of people who feel like opera is elitist,” Holiday said. “As an opera singer, I can understand that. But I also believe that it is not elitist. Opera is music that makes you feel things, the same way that Nicki Minaj might make people feel, the same way Smokey Robinson might make someone feel, the same way that Coldplay might make someone feel. Opera has that same ability. So, for me, the reason I also want to cross over is because I’ve always longed to be the bridge between opera and jazz and pop and gospel music.”

The 35-year-old Holiday grew up in Rosenberg, Texas, learning to play the piano and singing in his church choir, all with enthusiastic encouragement from his beloved grandmother, who he calls Big Momma. He would later join the Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas, giving him his first introduction to classical music.

He held tight to family as he grew up amid frequent bullying. His high voice, now embraced, was often the source of ridicule from others, he said. He was harassed for being gay long before he knew in his heart that he is gay.

“I’m lucky to have my grandmother, Big Momma, in my life,” Holiday said. “She has been my biggest cheerleader.”

She was among the first to tell him that his voice was a gift, not a curse.

He went on to earn a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from Southern Methodist University, a Master of Music in vocal performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and an artist diploma in opera studies from Juilliard School.

He has since performed in operas—in four languages—at some of the most iconic venues in the world, from the Glimmerglass Festival to Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center. He’s performed with the Los Angeles Opera, Dallas Opera, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Phoenix Symphony, among others.

About the time he was awarded the coveted Marian Anderson Vocal Award three years ago, the Washington Post called him “an impressive figure on an opera stage” and the New York Times hailed him as “an exceptional singer with a strong voice, even in its highest range.”

His left turn onto The Voice stage and into more mainstream circles isn’t out of character. He’s not running away from opera, he said. He’s simply drawing new fans to his journey.

“For me, I want to be able to change the narrative across the board and make opera more accessible,” he said. “Also make jazz more accessible because there are people who think jazz is far from opera, but it’s actually not. It’s very close to it.”

Holiday grew up singing gospel music and “hearing all the oldies and goodies.” Opera wasn’t something his family was initially drawn to. It wasn’t until he joined the boys’ choir that he gave much thought to classical music.

“It’s not something that was part of our fabric growing up,” he said.

Now, as he reaches his mid-30s and ponders new challenges, Holiday is looking toward those other musical influences. He understands that the ability to excel across the musical spectrum is a challenge with a high bar. He doesn’t want to shy away from it.

“I know that I am more than one-dimensional,” he said. “I feel like boxes are the death of art. … I want to go outside of the boxes in how people perceive the way I should sing. … For me, just singing opera, it would be inauthentic to who I am. I love opera in every fiber of my being. But I am also more than an opera singer. I am more than jazz. I am more than gospel. I am more than pop. Music is just a part of me. And I want to be able to give that in every single way that I can.”

John Holiday: “It is the most amazing gift to be a teacher and to inspire others.”

Landing at Lawrence

When Lawrence’s Conservatory had an opening in its voice department in 2017, Holiday was immediately intrigued. He had worked a number of times with Lawrence alumni in his opera and symphonic performances. He knew the school’s strong reputation was legit. And he had gotten a taste of teaching while working with the Ithaca College School of Music.

A chance to teach at Lawrence while still juggling a busy performance schedule was the dream, Holiday said.

It didn’t take long, Pertl said, for that interest to be mutual.

“John’s material immediately stood out,” he said. “The video samples he submitted were stunning, so we were very excited about his application. When he came to campus, he sealed the deal. His live recital was so moving that most of us in the audience were in tears, and the wisdom, connection, and compassion he demonstrated in his teaching made him the perfect fit.”

Three years later, Holiday continues to mesh seamlessly within the talent-filled Conservatory. From the start, he was often on the road due to his performance schedule, but he quickly grew adept at doing voice lessons remotely, connecting with students from back stages or studio locations or hotel rooms. It’s a skill set that other faculty members tapped into in the spring when the pandemic sent students home for Spring Term and all classes and lessons went remote.

Read more: John Holiday loves to recruit talented students to Lawrence

Holiday also serves as a de facto recruiter for the Conservatory while on the road, visiting high schools, particularly those that cater to the arts, whenever he can.

Jones, the third-year Lawrence student from Houston, said she first considered Lawrence after meeting Holiday her senior year when he visited her Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

“He came to my school to do a masterclass with some of the students,” Jones said. “At the end of the masterclass, Prof sat down at the piano and sang a Negro spiritual, Over My Head, I Hear Music in the Air. I went up to him after the masterclass ended to express how amazed I was, and then he started speaking life into me and dismantling the unspoken doubts I had in my mind at the time. I remember bawling in the restroom and making the decision to go wherever Prof was. Prof is the reason why I am at Lawrence.”

Holiday doesn’t take those words lightly. It’s building that connection with students, making them understand what’s possible, making them believe in themselves, that gives him his greatest joy, he said. Allowing them to now see him being coached while competing on The Voice is one more piece to that puzzle. The teacher has become the student.

“I am not a coach, I am a teacher,” Holiday said. “And a teacher is someone who is teaching the science of the vocal anatomy. … How to breathe, how to stand, what it means to have good posture, what it means to have good vocal health, and how to navigate the complexities of the vocal apparatus. It is the most amazing gift to be a teacher and to inspire others to be the best of themselves and discover who they are meant to be in the world.

“And what is really beautiful to me is now being able to be in a position to show my students what it looks like for me to be taught and coached on the biggest of levels.”

Jones said she and other students are well aware that they have to share Holiday with the world. That’s always been the case, his performance demands being what they are. It may be even more so now that The Voice is introducing him to a wider audience.

“There have been a few times where we have had to remind Prof to not spread himself too thin,” Jones said. “But Prof’s ability to teach never wavers. We were having Zoom lessons long before the pandemic. … He pushes us to be better versions of ourselves. ‘You are your own competition’ is one of Prof’s signature quotes, and it’s a quote that has changed my life.”

Embracing what’s ahead

Now comes the next step on The Voice, a show that in its 19th season still draws an audience of nearly 8 million viewers. The coaches have established their teams. The battle rounds are set to begin.

For obvious reasons, Holiday can’t reveal what’s ahead. But he can say the experience of working with Legend was spectacular, and the opportunity to get to know and work with the other contestants was a beautiful experience.

He was in Hollywood filming the show earlier this fall, connecting with his students for lessons but unable to reveal where he was or what he was doing.

“I haven’t missed a step,” Holiday said. “All of my students have gotten all of their lessons, and I’ve just enjoyed it. They didn’t know what was going on, and, of course, I couldn’t tell them. I couldn’t tell anyone. My students are used to it. They’re used to me being on the road and teaching from the hotel or teaching from the studio where I’m at. I was teaching from the hotel room where I was staying in Los Angeles. That was an experience in itself, to be experiencing all these wonderful things and then also be teaching my students.”

Now, as the show progresses, he hopes his students will enjoy what they’re seeing—his commitment to the work and the music, even amid obstacles and challenges, his enduring love for Texas and his family, his attachment to Lawrence and his adopted home in Wisconsin, and his never-compromising eye for fashion. And he hopes other viewers looking on, 8 million strong, will share in the joy. After all, this is supposed to be fun.

“We’re living in such a time that can be devoid of hope and joy and peace, and I want to be able to give that with my music in every way,” Holiday said. “I don’t know if I succeed with that but I think that people who really connected with me can feel that. That’s my biggest hope and my biggest prayer.”

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

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 the Treble Choir of Houston,” 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.