By Teddy Larson

Magdalena Sas and Midori Samson are two of three recipients of the first Sherry Wagner-Henry Scholarship in the Creative Arts and Entrepreneurship. The scholarship honors Sherry Wagner-Henry, who was the director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration in the Wisconsin School of Business from 2012 to 2020. Wagner-Henry passed away in May 2020.

Sas is currently completing her doctoral studies at UW-Madison, and is co-founder and executive director of Third Coast Chamber Collective (TCCC), a group of emerging musicians from diverse backgrounds devoted to promoting the transformative power of chamber music through inspiring performances, residencies and workshops. She will use her $750 award money for TCCC programming and operations.

“Sherry Wagner-Henry was one of my first mentors at the Wisconsin School of Business and her suggestions and advice helped me find confidence in bringing my project to life,” Sas said. “I feel incredibly honored to be one of the recipients of this unique and meaningful award and beyond grateful for everything I learned from prof. Wagner-Henry that helped me grow as an entrepreneur in the arts.”

Samson is finishing her doctoral degree as a Collins Fellow at UW-Madison studying bassoon and social welfare. Her dissertation suggests how musicians can operationalize social work principles to create a more anti-oppressive classical music landscape. She brings this philosophy to her role as the artistic director of Trade Winds Ensemble, a group of teaching artists that host composition workshops in partnership with social impact organizations in Nairobi, Chicago, and Detroit.

“Since receiving this award, I’ve heard from numerous colleagues of Sherry Wagner-Henry,” Samson said. “In their messages to me, everyone speaks to her friendship, kindness, and commitment to students’ success. While I never got to meet her, I have benefited greatly from projects she oversaw. So, it is an honor to be a small part of her legacy.”

Samson will use her $1,000 scholarship to support her work with Trade Winds Ensemble.

The Sherry Wagner-Henry Scholarship is sponsored by Max Fergus, a 2018 graduate of the Wisconsin School of Business. In 2019, Fergus founded LÜM, a social music streaming platform, and credits Wagner-Henry and the staff of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship for preparing him for his career in arts entrepreneurship.

The scholarship is open to any currently enrolled full-time student in good academic standing at UW-Madison.

By Teddy Larson

Les Thimmig never planned on spending his career in Madison. Born in Santa Maria, California and originally from Chicago, Thimmig first visited Madison when he was four. Driving down State Street with his family, he was in awe when he saw the lit-up capitol.

But in his early career, he thought New York would be his musical home. When a call about a composition position at UW-Madison reached him in 1971, he made a decision, and never looked back. Now 50 years later, Thimmig has a storied career at the university and no intentions of leaving any time soon.

Born in 1943, Thimmig had an extremely musical childhood. Starting on the clarinet at six and the saxophone at nine, he first began writing music soon after. By the age of 13 he was a member of the Musician’s Union and playing with professional groups. The period Thimmig grew up in had plenty of opportunities to learn about music.

“It was a very very healthy musical environment I came from because the culture, just what’s in the air, would urge you to get involved with music,” Thimmig said.

Thimmig was a music composition major throughout his college career. Earning an undergraduate degree at the Eastman School of Music and then graduate degrees at Yale, he was also active as a freelance musician in New York. After his time at Yale, he accepted a composition position at the University of Victoria, a very new school at the time, leading their composition and music theory department. In 1971, he was offered a position at UW-Madison to direct the composition program, and the rest is history.

In 1980 a saxophone position opened at UW, to which Thimmig was recommended. While unconventional at the time, Thimmig was thrilled to have the opportunity to not only diversify his teachings but to hopefully expand each program he was involved in.

“All of a sudden, in 1980, my job was very different,” Thimmig said. “My activities in composition were of a minor variety and there I was developing a saxophone program, with another minor area being jazz studies.”

In the jazz field, Thimmig’s role at the university has evolved over the years. When he first arrived, he was involved with the UW Jazz Ensemble for a short period of time. Then he helped teach classes for a jazz major it was first developed in 1979, even though the major was short lived. From 1982 to 1988, Thimmig helmed the UW Jazz Ensemble again. While never the sole focus, jazz has stayed an important part of Thimmig’s career.

Thimmig and a few colleagues such as Professor Richard Davis were the driving force of the limited jazz program for decades. But in 2012, the university finally created a full jazz department after hiring Johannes Wallman to direct the program. Thimmig took a step back and let Wallman find his vision for the department.

Thimmig currently runs the Jazz Composers Group, one of the many jazz ensembles at the university. Sometimes called a “laboratory,” it’s a place where jazz students are able to experiment more under the tutelage of Thimmig. With a foundation library of Thimmig’s work, the group slowly becomes centered on student writing each semester.

Over the years, Thimmig has also spent a lot of time doing extracurricular projects outside of the university. He has spent time as a soloist in places such as New England Conservatory Chamber Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, as a jazz performer with the orchestras of musicians like Duke Ellington and Woody Herman, and as a teacher across the world.

“Performing, teaching, recording…I stayed busy,” Thimmig said.

For Thimmig, the story has always been a balance between woodwind performance, composition, and jazz studies.

“I thrive on variety,” Thimmig said. “Sometimes people ask, ‘how can you be giving a composition lesson and then sixty seconds later showing someone fingerings for the high notes on a saxophone?’ I said, ‘it just all blends together.’”

For Thimmig, there is no such thing as a singular directive—the combination of these fields is what has driven him and continues to drive him today.

With 50 years of teaching at the university, he has no plans of stopping yet.

“Call me up in 10 years and we’ll celebrate 60,” Thimmig said smiling. “This is what I do! I like hanging around with all these energetic young people doing things and solving these different problems, seeing all these other musicians whose work I admire, and everything else.”

Whether it be through performance, jazz, or composition, Thimmig has left his mark on UW-Madison.

Every year, hundreds of young musicians in grades 6–12 attend UW–Madison’s Summer Music Clinic to expand their musical horizons, learn from experienced music educators and meet new friends from all areas of Wisconsin and beyond.

Mount Horeb high schooler Ally Hansen, a brass instrumentalist, has attended Summer Music Clinic for several years.

“The days at camp are pretty full, and fun,” Hansen said. “For most of the day, you have music-related classes and activities that you get to choose from.”

Hansen appreciates the opportunity to learn from music educators from around the world because they offer a “different take on the music.”

Classes and social activities offer opportunities to learn from peers, too.

“During the day, you are with different people for each class so you get to know a lot of people as opposed to just the people in your instrument group,” Hansen said. “I’m a brass player and some of them are violin players, so I usually don’t get to talk to them since we sit so far away from each other in the orchestra.”

Now in its 92nd year, Summer Music Clinic will look a little different this summer due to the pandemic. Sessions will be held online, as three-day intensives that combine foundation classes in band, orchestra, choir and more with elective classes in topics including diversity in music, sound design, movie musicals and spoken word. New this year are opportunities for students with no performance experience to participate.

Hansen gives the experience high marks.

“I would recommend this camp because it has a nice balance between music and just having a fun summer!”

 The 2021 Summer Music Clinic sessions are June 21–June 23 and June 24–June 26 for junior campers completing grades 6–8, and June 28–June 30 and July 1­­­–July 3 for senior campers completing grades 9–12. Scholarships are available. For more information, see the Summer Music Clinic website or e-mail

How do you say “thank you” to a professor who has changed your life? Former students of retired Professor James H. Latimer found a way.

Initiated by two anonymous $5,000 gifts, a team of 10 former students and two friends gifted more than the necessary $25,000 required to establish a permanent endowment in Latimer’s name through the UW Foundation to thank the professor who “led by example and was a teacher, mentor and friend.”

The James H. Latimer Excellence in Percussion Fund was established and given final approval on January 8, 2021 by the UW Foundation, the College of Letters and Science, and the Mead Witter School of Music. Funds generated from the endowment will be administered by the School of Music in the form of an annual achievement cash award to a senior or upper-level undergraduate percussion major who meets the criteria as determined by the percussion area leadership.

Due to the pandemic, the surprise announcement of the endowment with Professor Latimer was announced via Zoom with a handful of former students and friends across the country. The first ever achievement (cash) award will be presented to the selected student later in the spring term as determined by School of Music Director Susan C. Cook and current percussion professor Anthony Di Sanza, both of whom participated in the Zoom call.

“We are very excited about this wonderful award in honor of Professor Latimer,” Di Sanza said. “Through his 30 year teaching career at UW-Madison, Professor Latimer touched the lives of countless students, passing on his joyful approach to music and life with every interaction. Now, those very students have come together to recognize all that Professor Latimer has done and support the next generation of percussion excellence at UW-Madison. This is a very exciting time for the UW-Madison percussion program.”

The list of testimonials from students is long, many referring to Latimer’s classic “green ink” and four years of lesson notebooks.

“Actually, I’m quite humbled,” Latimer said. “I was doing my job and that job was to take each student from where he or she was and bring them into reality with themselves, help them become better people, give them direction and show them that you get there by spending uninterrupted hours in the practice room.”

When he arrived at UW-Madison in 1968, Latimer’s assignment  was to build an undergraduate percussion program. The department was built on the strength of each student.

“It’s a math thing,” Latimer, himself a math enthusiast, said. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”

Latimer recalls students commenting about him “getting up at 5 am and practicing three to four hours every day before arriving to the classroom.”

“That’s what I do!” Latimer said. “I did it then and that’s what I do now. Well, maybe I get up at 6 am now but I do practice six days a week. And I am grateful I can still do this.”

James Latimer with former student Nimesh Nagarsheth, MD, Mt. Sinai Hospital, NYC, author of the book Music and Cancer, a Prescription for Healing, and percussionist with NED (No Evidence of Disease – doctors of gynecological oncology rock band).

Students who initiated the award reached out to other former students and colleagues of Latimer and friends of the UW Percussion Program, inviting them to help grow the fund. The achievement award is designed for the student who spends hours in the practice room, the one who has developed the most or has to work a little harder than most, the one who will undoubtedly be successful, not necessarily the star of the department.

The fund, which was kept secret from Latimer until the Zoom presentation, was initiated by Steven Cornelius, (BA 1975), now a professor in Boston, who said he had “many Madison-based co-conspirators.”

Marcus Bleecker (BA 1992) from New Jersey gave this tribute: “Mr. Latimer had such an enormous impact on this young man from New Jersey who thought he knew everything! A shining example of discipline, commitment, and integrity. His passion and guidance and words of wisdom are still in my back pocket every day!”

Nancy (Kath) Riesch-Flannery (BA1977, MA 1978) said of Latimer: “His energy and drive is inspirational, and his love for music is contagious.”

Nimesh Nagarsheth (BS 1993-Zoology) goes further: “Professor Latimer has been one of the most influential people in my life. He has a unique gift of teaching-not only music but about life. My work with him lasted far beyond my time in college and his mentorship has helped shape my career as cancer surgeon and musician.”

“I wanted the students to learn to love their art, to experience the joy in practicing hours a day and to apply all that they learned to real life,” the still-in-shock Latimer explained.

The former students and friends of the UW Percussion Program found an inspirational and unusual way to show appreciation that will last into perpetuity for a professor who impacted their lives in unique ways through, and beyond, music. Latimer said he is humbled by it all.

“It’s a wonderful gesture for a student of percussion and for the Mead Witter School of Music,” Latimer said. “The University of Wisconsin is a great institution. These students have said it all.”

The newly established fund is ongoing. Gifts are tax deductible payable to the UW Foundation. For fund designation online ( or in the memo section of a check, enter Latimer Excellence in Percussion Fund # 13260025. Send checks to: US Bank Lockbox, Box 78807, Milwaukee, WI 53278-0807.

As members of the Mead Witter School of Music Equity and Inclusion Committee, we wanted to respond to the violent shootings of eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent and seven women, on Tuesday, March 16 in Atlanta. We mourn for the victims of this attack and we stand in solidarity with our Asian and Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American (APIDA) community members.

We understand that Asian and APIDA members of our community might be processing a great deal of grief and rage. Each member of E&I is available to connect you with resources if you need support during this tragic time.

Additionally, here is a list of campus resources:

•         Dean of Students Office, 608-263-5700

•         UHS Mental Health Services, 608-265-5600 (option 9)

•         Employee Assistance Office, 608-263-2987

•         Resources to Support Our APIDA Community

Should you or anyone you know experience an incident of hate or bias, please file a Bias Incident Report with the Dean of Students Office.

DDEEA holds a monthly affinity group space for faculty and staff members of the campus APIDA community, and we welcome all who identify with the community to join us on April 8 at 2 p.m. To register:

US Department of Justice information about bias and hate crimes

The UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition and members of the Madison community are organizing a march in solidarity with our APIDA community on Thursday, March 18.

In solidarity,

Members of the Mead Witter School of Music Equity and Inclusion Committee:

Holly Anderson, Nadia Chana, David Crook, Teryl Dobbs, Martha Fischer, Mimmi Fulmer, Jess Johnson (chair), Aaron Levine, Jess Mullen, Conor Nelson, Brandon Quarles, Laura Schwendinger, Johannes Wallmann, Johanna Wienholts

What good is a ghost story if it doesn’t make you question a few things in life? Professor of Trumpet Jean Laurenz’s abstract ghost story DESCENDED does just that, as it takes viewers on a journey through writer Lafcadio Hearn’s themes of haunting supernaturality, marginalization, and the macabre. Inspired by the 19th-century writer’s spiritual themes, DESCENDED weaves music, narrative, and a meditation on life’s deepest questions.

“I always grew up hearing Lafcadio’s name in my family, but I didn’t start reading his content until a few years ago,” Laurenz, who is Hearn’s great-great-grand niece, said. “The more I read, the more beautiful it became. He inserted himself and his traumas into folk stories in a vivid way. I also felt a connection to him as a young artist who moved every year or so.”

DESCENDED combines thematic materials, quotes, and metamorphic vignettes from Hearn’s haunted life and morbid imagination, highlighting his fascination with Buddhist inflected ghost stories and symbols. The film pulls inspiration from all corners of Hearn’s writings, but there are five particular pieces which galvanized its narrative content and musical compositions: A Drop of Dew; Of Moon-Desire; Nightmare-Touch; Mujina; and At Hakata.

Hearn (1850-1904) was an eclectic writer and nomad who never found his grounding in a permanent home or literary genre. He wrote about racial inequities and police brutality, while also documenting Voodoo folk songs, Japanese ghost stories, and global folk traditions. His documentation of underrepresented American and global cultures along with their endangered spirit worlds make him a preservationist worth remembering.

In his day, Hearn stood with literary giants like Poe, Stevenson and Whitman, but his name only remains prominent in small pockets outside of Japan. Traumatized in boyhood, Hearn blends his unique, fear-inspired perspective into metaphysical literature, uniting cognitive existence with paranormal spaces.

He looked beyond the fleeting facade of human emotion and into the depths of its phantom grip. His examinations of race, marginalized spiritual communities, and the beautiful strangeness of humankind ring true to this day.

Music is a central, guiding component of the film. Performed by Laurenz and friends, the music forms a narrative engine as the artists uncover Hearn’s philosophies on eternal memory, infinite wisdom, and supernatural interference.

“The project began as a concept to create a cross between a visual album and a film,” Laurenz said. “In film, the soundtrack is usually created to attach to the narrative arch, but I wanted the music itself to be the narrative arch. I was very inspired by Beyonce’s Lemonade and Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America,’ but I also wanted to move beyond lip syncing for the screen or holding my trumpet in a way that could distract from the backbone of the work, which is the life and work of Lafcadio Hearn.”

Laurenz co-directed the film with Four/Ten Media and is also featured as both an actor and a musician. She plays the journeyer and encounters what could be her heritage, her past, her karma, or her infinity.

Laurenz collaborated with soundscape artist Maria Finkelmeier of MFDynamics on the film’s soundtrack, with Finkelmeir writing the music and Laurenz providing vocals and trumpet. Because of the pandemic, each piece had to be tracked separately in different rooms with the musicians almost never playing together while recording, a feat Laurenz called a “scary hurdle to jump.”

“Four/Ten and I created a script based off of their visual concepts and my knowledge of Hearn’s writings,” Laurenz said. “Maria and I then built a sonic plan and soundscape that would layer on top of the pre-recorded music.”

DESCENDED has received several recognitions and invitations this season from festivals such as the Toronto International Women Film Festival, Munich Music Video Awards, and the Wisconsin Film Festival, to name a few.

There is also a multimedia performance art piece that is a sister project of the film. This work is part theater, part chamber music, part visual projection art that weaves some of the concepts found in the film together into a 50-minute light and sound show. Laurenz hopes to one day present the film and the performance piece together.

Research support for the project was provided by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the UW-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education.

Current awards and recognitions

International Music Video Awards, Award Winner
AWARD: Best Musical Film, February edition

Music Video Underground, International Music Video Competition, Award winner
AWARD: Best Short Film, February edition

Toronto Film Channel Awards
AWARD: Best Art Film, monthly
AWARD: Best Directing of the month

Toronto International Women Film Festival, Award Winner
AWARD: Best Female Composer, February Edition

International Short Film Awards
AWARD: Best Experimental Music Video

Munich Music Video Awards, Nomination
Official Selection

Wisconsin Film Festival
Official Selection

Hollywood International Golden Age Festival, 2021
Official Selection

JoAnne Brown Krause receives the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award during opening weekend ceremonies at the Hamel Music Center.

The Mead Witter School of Music Alumni Association and the Distinguished Music Alumni Award Committee welcome nominations for the School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award. The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who is making, or has made, an outstanding contribution to the music profession in service or in artistic impact.

Eligibility requirements & nomination form

Only living alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music are eligible. For purposes of definition, alumni must have received at least one degree from the School of Music. Nominations are due back to the School of Music by October 15, 2021.

For the purpose of judging nominations, an outstanding contribution should include evidence of one or more of the following:

  • Artistic Award: Exceptional skills and credentials as a music professional.
  • Service Award: Noteworthy contributions in music to society at large including significant influence on the candidate’s place of employment, community, and/or profession.

Mead Witter School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award candidates are reviewed each year by the Distinguished Music Alumni Award Committee, which consists of faculty emeriti, current faculty, the president of the School of Music Alumni Association, and the director of the Mead Witter School of Music.

2020 award winner Kenneth Woods (Cello, ’93) was nominated for “his artistic accomplishments and the numerous ways he has contributed to the music profession, and his outstanding career as a multi-talented professional musician.”

“The breadth and quantity of Kenneth’s work as a musician is awe-inspiring, and the consistent high quality of his artistic work is spectacular,” Professor of Chamber Music and Cello Parry Karp said. “While conducting has become the biggest part of his life as a musician, he has stayed very active as a cellist, musical writer, educator, composer and arranger.”

The world premiere recording of composer Dame Ethel Smyth’s 1930 masterwork, The Prison, released on Chandos Records, has won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. The recording features soprano and doctoral student Sarah Brailey and bass-baritone Dashon Burton as soloists, and is conducted by James Blachly with his Experiential Orchestra and Chorus. The producer is Blanton Alspaugh and Soundmirror.

Appropriately given Smyth’s role in the Suffragette movement in England, the August 2020 release date coincided with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote in the United States. This is the first-ever Grammy Award for music by the English composer, who lived from 1858-1944, and struggled her entire career to have her music judged on its merits rather than on the basis of her gender.

Brailey, who has been hailed by The New York Times for her “radiant, liquid tone,” “exquisitely phrased,” and “sweetly dazzling singing,” sings the role of “The Soul” on this recording.

“Smyth is an inspiration as a composer, an activist, and a woman,” Brailey said. “It has been such an honor to help bring this incredible piece to the world. I hope listeners enjoy discovering it as much as we have.”

Brailey enjoys a career filled with projects as diverse as soloing in Handel’s Messiah with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, performing with Kanye West and Roomful of Teeth at the Hollywood Bowl, and recording cello and vocal soundscapes for the 2018 Fog x FLO Fujiko Nakaya public art installation in Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system.

Conductor James Blachly’s work on The Prison began in 2015. He is the editor for the new Wise Music Group critical edition of The Prison that not only made this recording possible, but paves the way for a resurrection of the work.

“Dame Ethel Smyth’s music has been undervalued for too long, and this Grammy win is the recognition that she has deserved for decades,” Blachly said. “I’m honored to have been a part of this recording and project, and 90 years after its premiere, I’m excited for this career-culminating masterpiece to finally be heard throughout the world’s great concert halls.”

Ethel Smyth left home at age 19 (against the wishes of her military father) in order to compose music in Leipzig. In the company of Clara Schumann and her teacher Heinrich von Herzogenberg, she met and won the admiration of composers such as Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvorak, and Grieg, and became the first woman to have an opera performed at The Metropolitan Opera in New York, in 1903. (The second was not until Kaaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin in 2016).

Her work The Prison is a 64-minute symphony in two parts, “Close on Freedom” and “The Deliverance.” Sometimes called an oratorio or a cantata, it is similar in scale and scope to the vocal symphonies of Mahler. On the title page, Smyth quotes the last words of Greek philosopher Plotinus, “I am striving to release that which is divine within us, and merge it in the universally divine.” The text for the work, drawn from a philosophical work by Henry Bennet Brewster, describes the writing of a man in a solitary cell and his reflections on his past life and his preparations for death.

But the text is poetic and reflective, with layers of meaning and metaphor. Thus the “prison” is both an actual jail, and a philosophical representation of the “shackles of self,” as Brewster describes them. This was Smyth’s last work and her only symphony–she was 72 when she completed it in 1930. She stopped composing shortly after, due to advancing deafness.

“This piece is an immortal dedication to those who fight for freedom,” Burton, who sings the role of “The Prisoner,” said. “Working with James, Sarah, and all the amazing musicians on this album has been a dream, and I hope it awakens all our spirits as much as it has awakened mine.”

The Division of the Arts’ Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program (IARP) selected two artists-in-residence to teach a 3-credit interdisciplinary course and host public events in Madison for their respective residencies in the 2021-22 academic year. Arun Luthra will teach in the fall 2021 semester and Judy Frater will teach in the spring 2022 semester.

Saxophonist Arun Luthra is an American musician of Indian heritage who fuses modern post-bop jazz with elements of Indian classical music–especially konnakol (South Indian classical music vocal percussion)–and connects a wide range of modern and classic and Eastern and Western musical influences to create a vibrant new sound and style.

In the fall of 2021, Luthra will teach “The Universal Language of Rhythm: Explorations Through Konnakol and Black American Music.” This course is an introduction to konnakol, the Carnatic (South Indian classical music) art form of vocalizing rhythms, and will explore its blending with other musical traditions. Luthra’s residency will be hosted by the Mead Witter School of Music with Professor Johannes Wallmann as lead faculty and support from the Center for South Asia, the Department of Anthropology, the Wisconsin Union Theater, and Arts + Literature Laboratory.

This spring, University Opera follows up its groundbreaking video production on the life and times of composer Marc Blitzstein with another video. What’s Past is Prologue: The Unfinished American Conversation, a program of staged and filmed songs and song cycles with social and racial justice themes, will be released on the Mead Witter School of Music YouTube channel at on April 10 at 7:30 pm, with an encore stream on April 11 at 2 pm. David Ronis, Director of University Opera, is directing, and Thomas Kasdorf is the musical director.

Today, many Americans feel we are at a crossroads. We are suffering from the isolation, grief, and financial hardship that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about and are wary of escalating antagonism among us exacerbated by the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath. Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights continue to be debated and threatened. In addition, the Black Lives Matter movement has cast into stark relief our country’s checkered record on racism, law enforcement, and civil rights.

What’s Past is Prologue: The Unfinished American Conversation addresses these concerns through a series of songs and song cycles focused on events in American history, seen through the lens of today’s socio-political climate. The title, taken from the famous quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, asks us to examine our history–where we have been, where we are now– and to consider where we might be headed.

The program features works by living composers with texts written by, or about, six eminent Americans who lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Steven Mark Kohn’s The Trial of Susan B. Anthony recounts how the legendary suffragist, defying state and federal laws, voted in the 1872 election and was subsequently brought to trial. Songs by Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Berg, Michael Daugherty, John Kander, and Ned Rorem on texts by Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln bring us to the era of the Civil War.

They ask us to examine our fraught history and suggest parallels in our current time. Mr. Kohn’s The War Prayer is a setting of a posthumously published poem by Mark Twain that is, at once, an anti-war piece as well as one that questions faith in God. Tom Cipullo’s Frederick Douglass pays tribute to the great American abolitionist and social reformer, famous for his advocacy for all people, but especially for African-Americans. And finally, settings of five Langston Hughes poems by Gwyneth Walker, Margaret Bonds, and Madison’s own Scott Gendel, depict the African-American experience in the 1930s but also have tremendous resonance in today’s troubled times.

The show features UW-Madison graduate students Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Amanda Lauricella, Lindsey Meekhof, Kyle Sackett, Molly Schumacher, DaSean Stokes, Sachie Ueshima, and Julia Urbank as well as undergrads Maria Steigerwald and Princess Vaulx. The two pianists for the production are UW-Madison opera coach Thomas Kasdorf and graduate student William Preston. Rounding out the cast are three guest artists: doctoral students Quanda Johnson and James Harrington, and Professor Paul Rowe. The video design is by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park. Others on the production staff include Rachel Love, research assistant; Grace Greene, production stage manager; Cecilia League, assistant stage manager; Molly Schumacher, operations manager; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video premieres on April 10 at 7:30 pm with a repeat showing on April 11 at 2 pm. It will remain accessible for 23 hours after each stream. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted.

In addition to the show, University Opera will post two extra features, both panel discussions. The first–a discussion of  legacy of the patriarchy and other hierarchical structures in the arts, and how that paradigm is shifting–features Amy Gilman, Director of the Chazen Museum of Art; Susan C. Cook, Director of the Mead Witter School of Music; and Quanda Johnson, guest artist in the production and Ph.D. candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies. The second brings together the students who perform in The Trial of Susan B. Anthony to discuss the piece, Ms. Anthony, her controversial stance on race, and cancel culture.

University Opera is a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, please contact


Photo by Larry Chua

This article originally appeared in Madison Magazine
By Michael Muckian

Social circumstances often govern the fate of performing arts companies. Consider 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced many local and national groups to postpone or cancel productions outright. Some troupes, made more nimble by necessity, can and do successfully adapt as conditions warrant. David Ronis, the Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, knows well how the strategy works.

Like other groups, University Opera faced a challenging 2020-21 season. The fall production of “I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – A Man and His Music” evolved from a live performance into a creative online virtual format, filmed against historic photo backdrops with little reliance on the “Brady Bunch” embrace of Zoom technology.

The spring production of “The Crucible,” composer Robert Ward’s operatic adaptation of Arthur Miller’s Tony Award-winning play that used the Salem Witch Trials as an indictment of 1950s McCarthyism, was, unfortunately, too complex for such an adaptation.

Ronis’ ongoing challenge, however, has less to do with the pandemic and its aftermath than waiting to see what vocal talent comes through the university’s doors in time for the fall 2021 season. The mix of student voices helps determine which operas will be performed, he says.

“I don’t plan a repertoire until the end of April or early May, since we don’t know which graduate students will be at school,” says Ronis, who started in 2014 as visiting professor before formally joining the School of Music faculty two years later. “I always choose operas based on the students enrolled in the program, with an eye toward serving graduate students because they’re on a definite career track.”

Ronis’ reach goes well beyond that of a music educator. The Syosset, New York, native has helped found opera companies and directed operatic and theatrical productions nationwide, and his robust tenor has sung more than 50 operatic character roles with more than 30 companies throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. He clearly understands the world his students will enter and does his best to make that transition as seamless and successful as possible.

“David tends to pick operas with lots of roles, meaning lots of students get a chance to perform, which is crucial to the education of young singers,” says Kathryn Smith, general director of Madison Opera. “All of that contributes to a pipeline for professional companies, building future production personnel, future administrators, future teachers and future audiences.”

Ronis’ efforts to give students the best educational experience possible, backed by School of Music resources, have borne significant fruit over his nearly seven-year UW–Madison tenure. The department has earned seven National Opera Association Opera Productions Awards since his arrival — the most recent for last year’s production of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” — and has won The American Prize from the National Nonprofit Competitions in the Performing Arts multiple times.

“My predecessors in this role never entered competitions, but if you win something, it’s good for everybody,” Ronis says. “Students work within their own microcosm at the university level. It’s great for them to have a broader perspective of what other schools are doing and great for the community.”

Building on preexisting program goals when he arrived, Ronis introduced acting classes for the singers. Better acting contributes more accomplished character development and greater depth to the production’s interpretation, strengthening the content and adding to audience enjoyment.

“In the old days it was often ‘park and bark’ in which performers would plant themselves onstage and just sing,” Ronis says. “I started the acting course to make them the best performers they can be.”

Ronis also is searching for more diversity in operatic productions, both in terms of content and presentation. He plans to present material written by or featuring artists of color and to embrace social justice themes strongly.

In the same vein, he also seeks exemplary operas from the standard repertoire to give his students the broadest experience — and most complete performance resume — possible.

“An important part of the program is training young singers, and standard repertoire is critical to that effort,” Ronis says. “The goals and the market continue to evolve and I feel pretty good that we have been designing and executing productions that meet those goals.

“Students are here to learn,” he adds. “If we can provide experiences that check off many of the boxes, then I’ve done my job.”

According to recent data published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 70% of all children residing in Wisconsin are identified as white, while 9% of the state’s children are identified as non-Hispanic Black. Yet Black children in Wisconsin face grave, disproportionate risks that include residing in families who live below the federal poverty level, experiencing high numbers of school suspensions and expulsions, not graduating high school on time, dying before reaching the age of 19, being sentenced to juvenile detention or residential correctional facilities, and being sentenced to prison.

Join Professor Teri Dobbs as she presents recent data from the Civil Rights Data Collection, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and other sources to begin a conversation on how systemic racism structures life very differently for African-American children in majority white Wisconsin.

Professor Dobbs is professor and chair of music education at the  School of Music. She affiliates with the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies, Disability Studies Initiative, Division of the Arts, and Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA). Dobbs’ scholarly interests focus on the musical experience via trauma and violence, transformative thinking and just action through critical interrogations of constructions of equity, inclusion, empathy, and care.

Hosted by Congregation Shaarei Shamayim

Sunday, February 28, 10 am via Zoom
Zoom link Meeting ID: 863 6672 8099
Password: 1989


UW-Madison’s Tandem Press and the Mead Witter School of Music’s jazz program will premiere a collaborative video production at 6 pm on February 12, 2021. The video features print works created by Tandem Press resident artists alongside new jazz compositions performed by UW’s student jazz ensembles. The video will be released and archived on the Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel at The concert can also be viewed on the Tandem Press YouTube channel on the Tandem Press site at

Forced into an online-only format by Covid restrictions, UW’s 28 jazz ensemble students, led by jazz ensemble directors Johannes Wallmann, Peter Dominguez, Les Thimmig, and Nick Moran didn’t drop a beat going into the fall semester and immediately got to work making music remotely using students’ computers in their homes and practice spaces to create 45 multi-tracked collaborative ensemble recordings.

The Tandem Press jazz concert series dates back to 2014, and each semester since has featured three performances by UW’s jazz ensemble at Tandem Press’s galleries and production space in Madison’s historic Roundhouse building at 1743 Commercial Avenue. With in-person UW music concerts cancelled for the fall semester, Tandem Press and the jazz program reimagined the concert series and collaborated on this video production which was Covid-safely recorded at the downtown recording studio Audio for the Arts with videography by Microtone Media. Audio engineer Audrey Martinovich and videographer Dave Alcorn also seamlessly integrated interviews as well as musical contributions by students unable to participate in-person due to unanticipated mandatory quarantines and students who were taking fall semester classes remotely.

The video is a virtual recreation of attending a Tandem Press jazz concert where audiences are invited to stroll the galleries and explore the prints created by Tandem Press’s resident artists in between sets of music presented in a quiet listening space. The video features five compositions by students and faculty and showcases the work of Tandem Press artists. In particular, the video celebrates the work of African American artist Derrick Adams, a recent recipient of the New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem’s prestigious $50,000 Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize. Adams’ prints inspired two student compositions by Luke Levitt and Collin Dedrick that are featured on the video.

The musical performances are interspersed with images of prints by Adams, Jeffrey Gibson, Judy Pfaff, and other artists who have worked at Tandem over the past 34 years. Viewers will see Adams’ prints being created in collaboration with our master printers. Tandem curators Sona Pastel Daneshgar and Myszka Lewis will give short talks on the Adams’ images. Audio for the Arts owner Buzz Kemper and Paula Panczenko, director of Tandem Press, welcome the audience, and Johannes Wallmann, UW’s John and Carolyn Peterson Professor of Jazz Studies, describes the program’s purpose and the collaboration which has taken place between both entities over the past six years.

Tandem Press and the UW jazz ensembles will create and release a second video later this spring. Previous in-person Tandem Press jazz concert can be viewed on the Tandem Press YouTube channel.

The Tandem Press concert series and this video collaboration are made possible with generous financial support from the John and Carolyn Peterson Foundation.

Welcome by Buzz Kemper and Paula Panczenko
Images by Judy Pfaff

“Boy on a Swan Float” (comp: Luke Leavitt), 4:00 minutes
Sona Pastel Daneshgar talks about Boy on a Swan Float.

“The Door” (comp: Sean Lloyd), 7:30 minutes
Suzanne Caporael – The Violet Gaze Series

Johannes Wallmann talks about the Jazz Studies Program and the collaboration with Tandem Press.

“To Party and Plan” (comp: Collin Dedrick), 4:50 minutes
Myszka Lewis talks about Party Guest 1 and Party Guest 2 by Derrick Adams.

Video on Derrick Adams’ prints being made at Tandem Press featuring the master printers Jason Ruhl and Joe Freye.

“Tired of Power” (comp: Luke Leavitt), 9:15 minutes
Images of works by Jeffrey Gibson and Alison Saar

“The Drifting Night” (comp: Les Thimmig), 11:00 minutes
Images of Robert Cottingham, Jim Dine, Carmen Lomas Garza, and Andy Burgess

A 2016 MEMF workshop. MEMF is moving its administrative home to the Mead Witter School of Music as of February 2021.

The Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) is moving from its administrative home in the UW-Madison Division of the Arts to a new administrative home in the Mead Witter School of Music as of February 2021. The festival will be known as the Madison Early Music Festival, a program of the Mead Witter School of Music. 

The partnership gives MEMF and the School of Music the opportunity to integrate and connect with existing curriculum, faculty, and students. The move also allows for increased access to acclaimed early music artists and increased resources available to program early music performances. 

MEMF Co-Artistic Directors Cheryl Bensman-Rowe and Paul Rowe will remain on staff with the festival through the spring 2022 semester.  

“MEMF is looking forward to having a more integral role at the Mead Witter School of Music, with opportunities during the academic year for students to study with guest musicians who specialize in historically informed performance,” Bensman-Rowe said. “Historical Performance is a growing field and we hope to entice students into exploring another career path in music.” 

MEMF was created in 2000 to provide an opportunity for musicians, scholars, teachers, students, and music enthusiasts to study Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music in its social, cultural, and political contexts, and to present concerts by acclaimed artists who specialize in historically informed performance of early music. 

“We refer to our MEMF community as family and would like to thank them for all of their enthusiasm,” Bensman-Rowe said. “MEMF has flourished because of them, and Madison became a recognized center for studying early music in the summer. We are extremely grateful for all of the support over the past 21 years.”

In spring 2022, a special finale event will mark the end of the MEMF as an annual summer festival to celebrate the beginning of its status as a fund to support early music initiatives. The event will also recognize the retirement of Bensman-Rowe and Rowe from MEMF, and is expected to consist of a concert featuring School of Music students and faculty, a guest ensemble, and participants from the MEMF community.

The original goal of the festival was to bring an intense experience of early music to increase sustained understanding, appreciation, and performing skills to the university and the community. Festivals lasted a week and featured a concert series, five days of workshop classes, lectures, student performances, and special events such as community dances. The 21st season of MEMF was offered as a free virtual performance series due to COVID-19.

Visit for the latest updates.

Learn more and register

Badger Precollege is excited to introduce the 2021 virtual Summer Music Clinic (SMC) experience. This year, SMC will run a series of 3-day intensives designed to help students grow as musicians and build authentic community connections.

Students may select from an array of performance-based classes and electives in band, orchestra, choir, musical theater and more. New this year, we’re also pleased to introduce a new selection of non-performance intensives. These new intensives will allow all students, regardless of their level of music experience, to learn about music and the world around us. Our intensive model uses best practices in music education and will allow students to learn virtually in a format that facilitates the growth of the whole person.

Full and partial scholarships based on financial need are granted each year. In addition, some community service organizations, such as local Kiwanis or Rotary chapters, may offer scholarship opportunities for their local students. School music boosters or other support organizations within your school district may also have funding available. Be sure to check for local resources in your community.

Visit the SMC website to learn more about course topics and to register. Questions? Contact


Summer Music Clinic 2021

Junior Intensive Sessions (completed grades 6‑8): June 21–23, June 24–26
Senior Intensive Sessions (completed grades 9‑12): June 28–30, July 1–3



Three-dimensional rendering of a shelving concept against a navy blue background

Unique iterative shelving concept for the Kohler Art Library by Anders Nienstaedt, recipient of a Graduate Student Creative Arts Award

By DotA staff

A two-year long photographic essay project by Darcy Padilla (Art Department) examining the profound economic and social disparities experienced by Americans caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A contemporary art exhibition by Roberto Torres Mata (Art Department) at the Chazen Museum of Art spotlighting the complex issues of migration from both human and animal perspectives. A premiere of a new choral work by Lawren Brianna Ware (Mead Witter School of Music) on the life and death of Elijah McClain (1996-2019), who fell victim to police brutality. The creation of a functional shelving system by Anders Nienstaedt (Art Department) to showcase curated library collections, while serving as beautiful and interactive public art in the Kohler Art Library.

These are just some of the people and their projects who were recently awarded funding through the University of Wisconsin–Madison Creative Arts Awards.

Each year, the Division of the Arts provides significant research support to faculty, staff, and students in the arts. Seven awards are available including one offered bi-annually. The 2021 Creative Arts Awards selection committee was comprised of Susan Zaeske (chair), Division of the Arts; Jennifer Angus, Design Studies; Anna Campbell, Gender and Women’s Studies; Anthony Di Sanza, Mead Witter School of Music; David Furumoto, Theatre and Drama; Florence Hsia, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE); and Leslie Smith III, Art Department.

The grants are divided into three categories: Faculty Arts Research, Staff and Faculty Arts Outreach, and Student Arts Research and Achievement.

“While the pandemic and national reckoning stress our health, economy, and wellbeing, the human drive to engage in creative expression perseveres. This was clearly demonstrated by the high caliber submissions to the 2021 Creative Arts Awards competition,” stated Susan Zaeske, Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities, College of Letters & Science and Interim Director of the Division of the Arts. “Each honoree demonstrated in a unique way the power of the arts to respond to these unprecedented times through song, film, dance, theater, architecture, photography, and other forms of art. We are honored to recognize and support each of the honorees within their specific discipline and look forward to their on-going contributions to artistic knowledge, excellence, and research at UW­–Madison and the world. While we regret that this year we are unable to celebrate the recipients in person, we encourage faculty, staff, students, and the community to join us in a virtual award ceremony on May 4, 2021.”

For Ava Shadmani, a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) student in violin performance, the award will “support my research project, ‘Unheard Voices of Iran,’ to foster, through music, an understanding of two cultures seemingly impossibly divided, East to West, Ancient to Modern.” She will use the David and Edith Sinaiko Frank Graduate Fellowship for a Woman in the Arts to record five new folk-inspired compositions by Iranian composers and present them to new audiences.

While some awards support future projects, others are given based on an individual’s contributions to their field. Jen Plants, for example, a faculty associate in the English Department, received a Joyce J. and Gerald A. Bartell Award in the Arts for her work in theater and performance as a means to address social, racial and economic injustice. “Plants is a prolific and powerful force in the study and practice of performance as a means for social awareness and change at UW. Her commitment to racial and economic equity is present throughout her work—in the topics it covers and the audiences it reaches,” notes her nominee, Michael Peterson, Professor of Art and Director of Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies.

While the pandemic has rendered it impossible to gather in person to attend artistic performances, the Edna Wiechers Arts in Wisconsin Award recipient Aaron Granat (videographer, cinematographer, and instructor in the Department of Communication Arts) will use his award to catalyze his vision to build a virtual platform from which artists may share their work to appreciators around the state. Leveraging the capacity of an online platform to share content limitlessly, Aaron plans to stream a regular series of multi-media virtual performances in music, dance, video arts, architecture, sculpture, and other mediums to the community that has lost the traditional opportunity to experience the arts.

With support from the Anonymous Fund, the Division of the Arts established a new Graduate Student Creative Arts Award. For graduate students whose public productions, exhibits, or performances were halted due to COVID-19, the award is particularly timely. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of our performance opportunities that would normally fund our recordings have been canceled. This Graduate Students Creative Arts Award will allow us the opportunity to record and release this music and to allow Golpe Tierra to grow professionally and deliver our message of social change,” says award recipient Nick Moran who is pursuing his graduate degree in Double Bass Performance.

“Creative Arts Award is a vehicle to propel my graduate work further in practice and in future endeavors. I will be able to maximize the investment in my practice and accomplish my goals beyond the project needs that will lead to greater impacts in the community,” says Roberto Torres Mata, whose exhibition about migration, In the Routes We Take, is slated for display at the Chazen Museum of Art in summer 2021.

Quanda Johnson, a PhD candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies, was also one of the six recipients of the Graduate Student Creative Arts Award. She stated that she is excited to “lift scholarship and give voice to an area of research in the field of Interdisciplinary Performance that is often unconsidered and underserved.” On how the impact of the award will benefit her career, she expressed that the award will “have broad impacts with Interdisciplinary Performance as the vehicle on activism and social justice.” In Trauerspiel: Subject into Nonbeing, Johnson will explore four performative vignettes on the violence against Black bodies, psyches, and the resulting generational trauma using projection art, spoken word, dance, visual art, and poetic reading.

The awardees will be honored during a virtual reception on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

Below is the full list of 2021 Creative Arts Award recipients. View full recipient bios online.


  • Darcy Padilla, Associate Professor, Art Department


  • Daniel Grabois, Associate Professor of Horn, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Mark Hetzler, Professor of Trombone, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Michael Peterson, Professor, Art Department; Director, Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies


  • Jen Plants, Faculty Associate, English Department
  • Ben Reiser, Wisconsin Film Festival Director of Operations, Department of Communication Arts


  • Aaron Granat, Associate Lecturer, Department of Communication Arts


  • Ava Shadmani, DMA Candidate, Violin Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Lawren Brianna Ware, DMA Candidate, Musical Composition, Mead Witter School of Music


  • Sarah Brailey, DMA Candidate, Vocal Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Timothy Yip, DMA Candidate, Violin Performance, Mead Witter School of Music    


  • Quanda Johnson, PhD Candidate, Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies (ITS)
  • Nick Moran, MM Candidate, Double Bass Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Anders Nienstaedt, MFA Candidate, Art Department
  • Chris Rottmayer, DMA Candidate, Piano Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Midori Samson, DMA Candidate, Bassoon Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Roberto Torres Mata, MFA Candidate, Art Department

We are saddened to learn that Professor Jeanette Ross died Dec. 21, 2020. Professor Ross earned music degrees from Northwestern University School of Music and the American Conservatory of Music before joining the music faculty at Monticello College in 1946.

She would later join the School of Music faculty in 1957, where she played an important role in redeveloping the Class Piano Program. Professor Ross retired from the School of Music in 1990.

A full obituary for Professor Ross is available here.



The Hamel Music Center was featured in the January 2021 issue of Structure magazine.

“A balance between the structural, acoustic, and architectural designs resulted in a world-class music facility right on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus. Little does the musician or event-goer know that, to achieve acoustic perfection, three separate buildings were designed – and that these three separate buildings had to fit within a whole other, larger structure.”

Read the full article