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goes on - Musical culture thrives on Muhlenberg campus
B Y T E
D C O N N E R
A C T I N G
H E A D O F T
H E M U S I C D E P A R T M E N T
It is an exciting time to be a
musician at Muhlenberg College.
For starters, the music department is growing at an unprecedented rate.
Just five years ago, eight students majored in music and now the department
boasts 48 majors and 13 minors.
Plus, more than 250 students across the campus are taking applied music
lessons with our vocal and instrumental teachers and roughly the same
number perform in ensembles such as the college choir, the wind ensemble,
the chamber orchestra, the collegium musicum (an early music group) and
the jazz improvisation ensemble.
While these statistics are impressive, they do not fully reveal the musical
culture that permeates Muhlenberg's Center for the Arts. There is a level
of camaraderie, respect and excitement shared by the students and the
faculty that is responsible for our growth.
We work together in the classroom and perform with each other in Empie
Theatre, the recital hall and the chapel.
We talk. Sometimes our conversations are the result of random meetings
in the hallway or deciding to have a cup of coffee at a table in Parents'
Plaza. We are proud of the relationships that develop between students
and faculty and the creativity that these relationships inspire in our
students and ourselves.
We make a lot of music. Our ensembles perform frequently, play traditional
and innovative repertoires, and record their work.
Last December, the choir released its second CD, "Advent Candlelight
Carol Service." This outstanding recording includes choral music
and scripture passages from the annual Christmas services that have become
one of the College's best-loved traditions.
The chamber orchestra recently premiered a commissioned work by California-based
composer Garry Eister for glass harmonica and orchestra. The ethereal
sound of this instrument, invented by Benjamin Franklin, revealed new
sonic images shared by performers and audience alike.
One of our goals as a faculty is to break down the barriers that can exist
between the classroom and performance. We want our students to experience
theory, analysis, composition and performance as different facets of the
same jewel. Muhlenberg junior music major Theresa Olin serves as an example
of our success with this approach. Her composition, "Browning, my
dear," a major project from her class in counterpoint, was performed
during the collegium musicum spring concert. I should add that Theresa,
a talented soprano and recorder player, is a member of the collegium.
Our teaching philosophy is directly related to who we are as a faculty.
As active performers and composers, we work daily to debunk the myth that
those who can do and those who can't teach.
This past March, Douglas Ovens performed a number of his compositions
for solo marimba and electronic percussion as a guest artist at Wilkes
University. This spring, Dr. Ovens took a sabbatical to record a CD of
his original percussion works.
Diane Follet gave a recital at Egner Chapel in February titled "A
Celebration of Creative Women." The program included works by Clara
Schumann, Alma Mahler and Billie Holiday. Dr. Follet's composition, "Invocation,"
was premiered by the Muhlenberg chamber singers during the choir's spring
" Sonic Landscapes," a multimedia event that I developed in
collaboration with Professor Joseph Elliott of the art department, premiered
on Feb. 21, 2002 in Empie Theatre. The performance featured six of my
compositions that I performed with my jazz quartet while Professor Elliott's
photographs were projected on three 30-by-30-foot screens.
The study of jazz has become another of the department's strengths. More
than 20 "jazzers" now participate in multiple sections of the
jazz improvisation ensemble, a group started four years ago with six students.
Our applied faculty for jazz features outstanding performers such as Charles
Fambrough (bass), Tom Kosic (guitar), Bob Thornton (piano) and Gary Rissmiller
(drums). Students now often study with more than one teacher so that they
can learn concepts and approaches that transcend the "limitations"
of their own instruments.
I have yet to mention the number of performances that happen each year
at Muhlenberg. A colleague of mine from another liberal arts college was
envious of the richness of our department's offerings.
Music can be heard on campus throughout the academic year. It may be the
Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, our piano series that this year featured
a sold-out performance by Peter Serkin, or violinist Paul Windt, our world-renowned
violin instructor. It may be one of our student ensembles: the jazz band,
the opera group, the clarinet quintet, or the collegium musicum. It may
be a senior recital, an African drumming circle from our world music course,
or the Dynamics, a student-directed a cappella group.
It will be music that reflects the excellence of the community that studies,
composes, and performs the art of the muses at Muhlenberg College.
It is an exciting time to be a musician at Muhlenberg. We invite you to
come hear a concert, sign up for applied lessons, take a class or play
in an ensemble. Join in our community and share in the growing musical
culture at Muhlenberg College.
Top: Candlelight Carols have become one of the College's best-loved traditions.
Bottom:The college choir is just one of the many student groups contributing
to the strong musical culture on campus.