Meet our Students!
Synching science and music
by Katie Vaughn, UW-Madison Letters and Science Communications
Jan. 23, 2018
Luke Valmadrid has forged a rigorous path pursuing degrees in chemistry, biochemistry and violin performance — and the dedicated senior wouldn’t have it any other way.
Luke Valmadrid was on his way toward a double major in chemistry and biochemistry when he found himself performing the second movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in a recital.
Because his friend was accompanying him on the piano, Valmadrid, then a sophomore, was especially motivated to make the performance a success. And his teacher, Soh-Hyun Park Altino, a newly hired assistant professor of violin in the Mead Witter School of Music, noticed the extra effort.
“In our first lesson after the recital, Professor Altino told me that she was surprised at the increase in performance level,” he recalls. “She had previously thought that I wasn’t seriously pursuing violin, and she was right.”
Park Altino asked Valmadrid if he wanted to change that, and he answered that he did. “Her expectations transformed immediately,” he says, “and I went from practicing an hour or less a day to four to six hours daily.”
Valmadrid appreciates the encouragement and push Park Altino has provided as he’s stepped up his commitment to music, going so far as to make violin performance his third major.
Teddy Wiggins, violinist
By Jessica Montez, Graduate School, UW-Madison
Note: Teddy is now a member of the New World Symphony, in Miami, Florida.
Teddy Wiggins is a University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate from the Mead Witter School of Music, in violin performance. He is currently a co-concertmaster/principal violinist with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, a training orchestra that develops musicianship and prepares musicians for professional careers.
Through Civic, he performs at free events around Chicago, but independently performs for private venues and seized an opportunity to perform in a live WTTW-PBS concert featuring singer-songwriter Regina Spektor last fall.
Wiggins grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and was largely influenced by his musical family and community. As a young musician, Wiggins was passionate, especially in classical music, but his school did not provide the environment he needed to grow as a musician. After his first concert, Teddy’s potential was noticed and he was redirected to violin specialists eventually meeting Winifred Crock, a Suzuki-trained violinist, which began his relationship with music in earnest. “Focus, discipline and direction … he really had specific goals he wanted to accomplish and as a thirteen/fourteen year old, he had absolute dedication,” says Crock.
It opened up several opportunities, including funding for college. “I had a sense of my parent’s financial situation and made it a goal to get into college with a scholarship.” He not only received scholarships for college, he received scholarships for his remaining years of high school. Wiggins was accepted into Walnut Hill School for the Arts, a prestigious private boarding school in Boston.
While at Walnut Hill, Wiggins had opportunities to travel abroad to Europe and Asia for several performances. Meanwhile, lessons at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts led him to The Royal Conservatory in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where he would earn a bachelor’s degree in Music-Performance. While at The Royal Conservatory, his opportunities abroad expanded. He auditioned for a position in a highly competitive music festival in Switzerland, which he won in three consecutive summers. Between performances and academics, Wiggins also co-founded The Annex Quartet, which ultimately led him to perform at Carnegie Hall alongside The Kronos Quartet, who are well known for their experimentation with string quartets and electronics.
There is no doubt that Wiggin’s success was the result of perseverance and dedication, but by the end of his senior year, he was ready to decelerate. He realized that his fast-paced lifestyle was not sustainable and needed to take a step back to improve his craft. Aided in the decision by instructors and professionals, Wiggins decided to go to graduate school and leave The Annex Quartet. “I wanted to learn more … because chamber music is my passion,” says Wiggins. “It was difficult to leave after four years together, it became part of my life.”
Through Paul Kantor’s guidance, Wiggins chose to attend UW–Madison under the mentorship of Felicia Moye. Relocating to the Midwest alleviated some of the pressures of competition and performance in a large city.
“I feel that being at UW, the program taught me a lot but gave me a lot of freedom to hone in on my skills, and to figure out more of what I wanted to do — experiment with certain things.”
As he ends his fellowship with Civic, Wiggins will be moving once again to be part of the prestigious Miami New World Symphony in the fall. As he navigates his passion in new directions, he remembers what Felicia Moye once said to him, “You have to love your sound. Techniques serves the music and not the music the technique.”
In May 2017, Samantha Sinai graduated with a degree in cello performance. Her story, of working as the first Music Therapist at Madison’s American Family Children’s Hospital, was featured on NBC News in May. Click here to watch the video.
“Given that I was an extremely shy child, it is almost humorous that I am now a music therapist and musician. Whereas I never would have sung in front of anyone, I now play the cello in front of hundreds of people and sing with and for patients in a hospital for a living. I am so thankful that I pushed myself, over and over again, to be vulnerable.
“I grew up in Huntington Woods, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. It was there that I fell in love with playing the cello. In high school, I decided I wanted to pursue music professionally. Playing the cello was, and still is, my way of expressing myself. I needed the outlet and was energized to continue learning and growing. A part of me also felt called to do something that would allow me to directly be there for others. I learned about music therapy and decided it was the perfect combination of my passions.
“I ended up pursuing a bachelor’s degree in both music performance and music therapy from the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music. Directly afterwards, I completed my music therapy internship on Whidbey Island in Washington State, providing music therapy to adults in a hospital setting.
“After receiving my board certification in 2013, I practiced music therapy for a couple years. I worked with kids with special needs, veterans who were previously homeless, and women who had experienced chronic anxiety and/or trauma. It felt very meaningful to be there, providing music for people who benefited from it. I enjoyed my work, but began to really miss playing the cello. It was then that I realized I needed a better balance of playing the cello for my own expressive needs as well as giving to others through music therapy.
“I decided the next step in my professional career would be to work with Uri Vardi in pursuit of my master’s degree in performance at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. This was a great decision and I am now proud to say that I am about to graduate, having grown as a cellist and person more than I imagined I would.
“While pursuing my degree, I was hired as a contractor to develop a music therapy program from the ground up at UW Health’s American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH). After eleven months of meetings, completing the hiring process, and program development, I am now seeing patients. Since January of this year, I have been working on three of the in-patient units at AFCH. Patient populations on those units vary immensely. Some patients are in for pneumonia, some for the flu, and some are in for more chronic conditions such as cancer.
“Every time I receive a consult to see a patient, mainly from doctors and nurses, the first step is to learn about them. I want to know why they are in the hospital, what some of their interests are, what the healthcare team is working on with them. I then make a general plan of what I might offer for the child based on their diagnosis and their goals. I meet the kids where they are by allowing them to choose much of what we do, especially at first. Once a strong rapport is built, I can focus more directly on the music therapy goals such as decreasing pain, decreasing anxiety, encouraging self-expression, and improving diaphragmatic breathing.
“Working at AFCH has been such a humbling experience. I am in awe of the strength that I observe all around me. The strength of the staff, the families, and the patients is inspiring. I am lucky to get to be a part of a team that cares so deeply about their patients and to be able to use music, something that I’m passionate about, to make an impact on kids. As a result of the music therapy sessions, I’ve seen so many patients smile, sing, and become energized even in the midst of a very tough situation. I feel so grateful to be able to be doing something that makes a difference in the lives of others.”
Double-majoring in Russian Language & Civilization and Music Composition, Yasha Hoffman is a third-year student from Morris, a small town in western Minnesota. His interest in Russian culture was piqued by his family history.
On his background
My mother and grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union to escape government-sponsored anti-Semitism. When I was very young, I had a Russian nanny who spoke Russian with me. I could speak the language fluently when I was 3, but over time, as my family moved from one place to another across the country, I lost my skill. I always told myself I would regain my language abilities at university, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I now know English and Russian, can read Hebrew, and am interested in learning Spanish.
When I was a kid, I attended Lesnoe Ozero, a Concordia Language Villages Russian language summer immersion camp. My interest in Russian folk songs was ignited there during our daily singing time. I bought a songbook of Russian songs and would play through them frequently.
One of my favorite activities was putting on ‘concerts’ for my parents where I’d loudly sing Soviet children’s songs and bang on the piano. In 5th grade, I convinced my parents that they needed to sign me up for piano lessons. In 6th grade, I took up the French horn in my high school band. In my horn book was a CD with a copy of Finale Notepad. The discovery that I could write my own music and have it played back, printed and shared was astounding and I spent much of my free time in high school composing.
Befriending and convincing performers to play my pieces required top-notch communication. Building creative models of solo flute pieces in my composition course taught me how to extrapolate data from sets and think outside the box.
On his composition
I find that my music is inspired by my interest in folk music, specifically Jewish folklore and the music of Russian-speaking lands. To this end, I am very interested in melody and rhythm, as well as imbuing a certain energy into my pieces. I write for any group of instruments that is available — chamber ensembles can be quite charming. I find choral writing enjoyable as well.
A couple pieces I’ve written during my time at UW that I’m proud of are my Allegro for Strings which I composed for a reading with JACK Quartet when they came to Madison in May 2015, and my piece “Tiles,” for bass clarinet and marimba.
Last fall Yasha attended the Pussy Riot concert and discussion, held at the Memorial Union.
Pussy Riot showed their audience a variety of public protest art. Any kind of public art has the potential to make its viewers confront social, political, or cultural issues, and I believe it’s important for artists to be aware of this potential impact and act on it accordingly.
They also spoke of injustices happening everywhere—their solution was to surround yourself with a supportive community. I think if a person does that and keeps on creating, they’ll find contentment.
Music is a direct appeal to emotions, and if you can move people’s emotions, or at least make them consider another viewpoint, then your music has the power to enact social change.
On his future
In summer 2015, I studied abroad in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where I intensively studied Russian for two months. This sparked my interest in Central Asia, whose enigmatic (to Americans) yet ancient cultures played considerable roles in world history. Kazakhstan prides itself as a ‘nation of 130 nationalities’, including Jews. Now, my current plan is to apply for a Fulbright to study Jewish music in Central Asia, most likely Almaty, the cultural capital of Central Asia.
I hope to use my degree and experiences to launch me into some type of creative field. I’m interested in affecting as many people as possible, so one of my goals for the short term is to learn how to produce electronic music, both so I can create electro-acoustic classical works, but also perhaps to work in the popular music industry.
Last summer, Yasha received an honorable mention in the UW System’s Liberal Arts Essay Scholarship, which invited students to write an essay to their hometown newspapers on the value of a liberal arts education. In his essay, which he titled “My Stupid Degree,” Yasha described a new one-credit class he took in Letters & Science that buttressed his confidence in being a liberal arts major. Here is an excerpt.
“At first, I was concerned about the amount of work the class required. It was only one credit out of my total 17, but the weekly journals, readings, and projects took longer than the work of any other one-credit class I’d ever taken. However, from the moment I opened up the class textbook, ‘You Majored In What?,’ by Katharine Brooks, I knew all the effort would be worth it.
“A few weeks into the course, we were assigned an activity that entirely changed my attitude about my majors and dispelled my biggest worries. We were to create ‘major maps’ where we mapped out what we did in each of our majors and how they could relate to skills employers desire in the workforce. I found that setting aside time to practice an instrument required discipline and self-motivation. Making sure I knew my part in choir and listening to those around me to achieve the best sound required effective teamwork skills. Befriending and convincing performers to play my pieces required top-notch communication. Building creative models of solo flute pieces in my composition course taught me how to extrapolate data from sets and think outside the box. Picking a piano piece to arrange for orchestra and meticulously proofreading each part showed me that the more time and effort I put into a project, the more pride I’d take in the final result. I could finally begin to cast off the doubt and shame that society had subconsciously instilled in me.”
About the School of Music
The School of Music has been able to provide amazing resources to its students, such as orchestral readings for composition students (getting to hear their works performed by the excellent UW Orchestra or Wind Ensemble), abundant concerts both in the school and mere blocks away at Madison’s other performance venues, established theory and history departments. This is all not to mention our expansive music library, something not all colleges and universities are lucky enough to have!”
So much learning is done out of the classroom. Whether it’s learning how to maintain and clean your own apartment, or working on professional and social skills, I have learned so much and grown as a person in every way. College has definitely been a worthy investment.
Juliana Mesa-Jaramillo came from the country of Colombia to study bassoon performance with Marc Vallon, professor of bassoon. We asked her how she became involved in music, with the bassoon, and why she chose Wisconsin.
“I was born in Medellín, but my family moved to Cali when I was 11. I started music when I was very young. I participated in my middle school and high school choirs and Orff Ensembles, and I started to play bassoon when I was 13 years old. I actually wanted to play the oboe, but the teacher at the conservatory left, so I was given the bassoon and I fell in love with it (after a few months!).
“At first, my mom was hesitant that I would pursue a career in music, but after I got admitted into two important universities in Bogota, she realized this was a big deal for me. Both my parents have always supported me in all of my projects and my dad’s part of the family is very artistic. Most of them are designers, architects and all of my uncles can sing. No one took music as a career but they are all very appreciative of music.
I will have a chamber recital at the end of May 2017, and prior to that, a performance on March 31, 2017, at noon for Friday Musicale at the First Unitarian Church.
“I guess every place that I have been to is different in some aspects. I come from a big family and this is an important aspect of my life. I grew up in Medellin at a difficult time in the 90’s, and my mom decided to move to Cali to live with my grandfather. I was very fortunate to go to a very good school and attend the conservatory there. My life in the US has been different in some ways, but I have been able to adjust to the culture very quickly. It was hard at the beginning to just think in another language all the time. One thing that I love is when it snows!
“I think I was involved in music since I was about three years old. My mom tells me stories about how I would sing along with a toy keyboard and try to make up songs. My mom loved to go to concerts and I would go with her often. There was a time when I told my mom that I didn’t want to just be in the audience, I wanted to be with the people on stage!
“I like jazz, country music, rock, and traditional Colombian music: bambucos, pasillos, porros and currulaos are some of the most common rhythms.
“Since I did not choose the bassoon at first, what made me fall in love with it was the sound. It is possible to feel the vibrations of the instrument and the air passing through the fingers. I always have enjoyed playing in the orchestra. I worked in Medellin in a symphony for five years, and I had a great time.
“I would not say the bassoon is under-appreciated, but maybe less accessible. It is not an easy instrument to start with because of its size and it requires a great deal of time to make a decent sound. Also, the reeds are usually handmade. I actually learned to make reeds when I was 16 and it has become a passion for me. I hope some day to have a reed making company.
“I did my undergrad in music performance in the University El Bosque in Bogotá. I studied with Leonardo Guevara, the principal bassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra. I learned very much while at school and I was able to play with many chamber ensembles when I was still in school. My first job as a bassoonist was in the Symphonic Band of Cundinamarca, and I worked there for a year during my last year of school. It was challenging, but I learned very much from this experience.
“In 2010, I received a master’s in bassoon performance with Saxton Rose at the University of North Carolina-School of the Arts. As I started to look into going back to school, I talked him, and he recommended that I applied to study with Marc Vallon at UW-Madison. I think it is one of the best decisions I have made in my life!
“I love making reeds, playing in chamber ensembles and teaching. Right now my minor is in curriculum & instruction. This is only a small taste of how to learn how to teach, and I am enjoying it very much.
“My hobbies are yoga and hiking. I do have a soft spot for video games, but I try to stay away from them since they can become very addictive!
“I miss my family and friends, sometimes the weather and the food. I do miss having a small store close to my house to buy small amounts of groceries. Politics in my country are complicated, but I must say I am looking forward to this peace treaty that will change the history of Colombia in many ways. I will go back eventually, but for now, I am hoping to focus as much as possible on taking advantage of having the opportunity to get a doctorate in music. There is no such degree in the Universities in Colombia, and I hope it can be included in the curriculum there some day.”
Green Bay native Emily Borley, 22, came to UW-Madison to study music education and English. Next spring, she’ll graduate with a double major in both music education and English with an emphasis in Literature Studies.
College is challenging for everyone, but Emily’s challenges went far beyond the norm. In January 2015, her mother, Ann, was diagnosed with cancer. Nine months later, Ann died. In the spring of 2016, Emily dedicated her senior recital to her mother.
Emily’s story is really two stories: her love of her mother, and her love of music and teaching. It isn’t possible to write one without the other.
“I grew up in Green Bay and was fortunate enough to go to a high school, Green Bay East, that really supported music.
“When I was in middle school, I started going to summer band camp at UW – Green Bay. There was a faculty member at the camp, Scott Wright from the University of Kentucky, who basically embodied everything I realized I wanted to be. He was a fantastic musician, and luckily for me, a fantastic clarinetist, a great conductor, and worked with kids better than anybody I’ve ever seen. By the end of the first rehearsal, my stomach ached from laughing so much. That camp was one of my main reasons for going into music education. Scott Wright showed me how fun it could be.
“Then there was my mother. I almost quit band altogether in high school. Through a long, complicated chain of events, I didn’t, and part of the reason was that Mom sent me to UW-Green Bay for private lessons to study with Eric Hansen, one of Wright’s former students.
“Mom drove me there every week, handed me a $20 bill, and was there to pick me up when I got out an hour later. It seems like a small thing, but it wasn’t.
“When I turned 16, Mom bought me the clarinet I currently play on, which was a huge deal. When I was a junior in high school, I became the assistant drum major of the marching band, and when I found out that I got the position, I went and hid in a bathroom stall, called my mom almost screaming, and she screamed with excitement right back. And, of course, until I got my license, she drove me to every game and every rehearsal.
“I guess that’s a long way of saying that, if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be here.
“In spite of the fact that it means I’ll be here a fifth year, yes, I’m glad I’m double majoring. Being multidisciplinary is so important to me – the age of ‘specializing,’ I kind of believe, is passé. People need to be able to do multiple things well in order to be competitive in the work force. For me, that came out of a love of reading, talking about what I’ve read, and analyzing and writing about what I’ve read, and ultimately turned into a double major in English, emphasizing Literature Studies. I don’t particularly enjoy writing, which might sound odd, but oftentimes that’s how I really start to understand something I’ve read really in-depth, is by going through that process. Writing skills will help anybody, I believe.
“Music education is “my baby” though…you know, you take all these classes in pedagogy and history and theory and you think to yourself, why am I doing this? I have to take psychology and educational policy and literacy and for what? I think this deters a lot of people from the major, but for me, it all became worth it when I started my practicums. This past semester, I worked with kindergarteners at Crestwood Elementary School, and I realized, yep, this is why we do all of this. The kids will ALWAYS make it worth it.
“I originally came to Madison because of the marching band, if you can believe it, but after a week of tryouts before my freshman year, I realized that I would’ve been pretty miserable in marching band, and that the culture wasn’t what I was looking for. Also, try being a clarinet player trying out for the marching band! I’m glad I came to Madison for so many other reasons though: the city is beautiful, there’s always something to do, the people I’ve met and friends I’ve made are priceless, and in a smaller school on a large campus, people make a point of developing close relationships, which I love.
“Right now, I’m really interested in conducting. Last spring, I studied with graduate student Jacob Klingbiel and took a few lessons with Professor Scott Teeple, and I just love what a beautiful language it is. (We’ll see what a couple years working in a high school do to my interests, though. 🙂
“Down the road, I want to move somewhere else. I like traveling, I enjoy moving around… right now I’m looking at Minnesota. I also want to teach high school band for a couple of years. But I really have a bug for grad school. My campus job these last four years has been working for the graduate program director in geography, and it’s really showed me what you can get out of an education like that.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in music school, it’s that everybody comes with a chip of varying size on their shoulder, whether they realize it or not. So what do you do with that? I had one, and I became really frustrated. I mean, I had been first chair in high school, so I should be doing better here, right? Haha – I learned so much that first year about hard work and what it takes to get you where you want. However, starting at the bottom and working my way up little by little, through time in the practice room and listening to recordings and taking lessons and whatnot, has really made me appreciate where I am now all the more.
“Why do I like the clarinet? I really can’t describe why I like it: it just makes so much sense to me, the system just clicked with me. And once I went to camp and heard someone play it so well and heard it played beautifully for the first time, there was no going back.
“This year, I’m a fifth-year senior, finishing up my last English credits, some lingering breadth requirements, and getting some more conducting and teaching experience. I am the conducting intern for the Madison Flute Club, a group of about 30 adult flutists who come together once a week to play flute ensemble music, and then perform in gigs and a large concert at the end of the semester. It’s been so fun! I’ll also start teaching private clarinet lessons through the Sun Prairie Lesson Academy in October, at Prairie View Middle School. That should also be a lot of fun! I’m also participating in Richard Davis’s Institute for the Healing of Racism; I think I really need this since I’m going to have a classroom of my own one day. I want to create as inclusive a space as possible.
“We found out about Mom’s cancer in January 2015, around the New Year.”
“I didn’t want to go back to school, but Mom wouldn’t hear of it – getting my degree was just as much her goal as it was mine. That was also the semester that the UW Wind Ensemble went to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall, and she didn’t want me to miss that. So, I traveled to New York, I got through the semester, and I went home for the summer. Going back in fall was hard, because at that point I knew I wouldn’t see her again. During the third week of classes, she passed away. I got the call from my dad on a Thursday, went home, helped my Dad to sort out Mom’s affairs, and returned to school on Monday. I got through that semester through work, hard work, and staying distracted – that was Mom’s way of getting through hard stuff; I call it the ‘suck it up’ approach. When things got difficult, I told my professors, and they were very understanding and flexible when it came to work and deadlines.
“Mom saw how happy music made me, and knew that I wanted to be a teacher. This was the plan all along, and she was just doing everything she could to help me follow the plan. That kind of faith, where it’s never even a question really, is hard to find. I think it’s the kind of faith you can only get from a mother or mother-figure.”
Sarah Richardson is a doctoral candidate in vocal performance and a Milwaukee-based soprano and voice teacher. She is also a Wisconsin native from a farm family. For her dissertation project, she decided to explore the history archives in search of a story that she could illustrate through music. And she found one.
Last year at UW-Madison I was seen in the role of the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, gave a recital featuring women composers, and also performed songs of Debussy and Webern with my sister Michel for Marc Vallon and Les Thimmig’s concert, Le Domain Musicale: An Hommage to Pierre Boulez’s Legendary Group. This fall, my sister and I doing something new and different.
“Are there a lot of musicians in your family?” That’s the question people usually ask after my sister and I perform together.
The answer is yes, but also farmers. We were raised on a dairy farm in north-central Wisconsin, part of the younger generation of two large Catholic families of Czech and German descent. I recently learned of the Czech saying that basically translates to “Every Czech is a musician,” and find it to be pretty accurate in our family. My first voice teacher was my aunt, my grandfather played tenor sax for over sixty years, my uncle records, writes, and plays in rock and roll bands, and many other extended family members play instruments or sing. Our parents are supporters and lovers of music but not musicians themselves. They run an agricultural feed mill that serves local farmers.
One of the first performances my sister and I gave was for Esther, a goat farmer. We rode alongside our dad in the dusty, loud delivery truck to her little goat farm. After unloading goat feed and visiting with the goats, we performed a song or two for Esther in her cozy farmhouse living room.
My sister and I are close. We earned our music degrees at the same universities, Viterbo University and UW-Milwaukee, and have continued to perform together as I pursue my doctorate in music performance at UW-Madison. When it was time for me to plan my dissertation project, I knew I wanted to perform with my sister and create a more personal work, so I set out to commission a new song cycle for us to perform.
I wanted to find texts that would reflect our rural roots in some way and be interesting to a wide audience. My voice teacher, Paul Rowe, suggested checking out the archives in the Wisconsin Historical Society for material. After reading some interesting, but not quite music-worthy writings by turn-of-the century Wisconsin women, I read about Nellie Kedzie Jones, a suggestion by archivist Lee Grady. While living on a dairy farm in central Wisconsin, Jones wrote a home-making column for The Country Gentleman, a popular agricultural magazine. This immediately piqued my interest.
Nellie compiled a particular series of articles into a book manuscript that can be found on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website. In this series, Jones writes to an imaginary niece, “Janet,” as “Aunt Nellie.” The letter format was immediately appealing to me as a vehicle to create songs. The more I read, the more I became enthralled with this woman and her quest to make a science out of house work. I felt nostalgic and homesick reading these old articles, so it was clear I had found something with personal meaning.
I already had a Wisconsin composer in mind for this project, Paula Foley Tillen. I had previously sung Paula’s music with the Milwaukee Choral Artists, where Paula was a founding member and composer in residence until the ensemble’s final season in 2013. I knew Paula’s music to always be sensitive to the text, with a colorful and universally appealing quality. As a pianist and singer herself – and just a really cool person – I was extremely happy when she agreed to take on this project with me.
I sent Paula my initial selections from Jones’s manuscript and she has artfully crafted a song cycle using what worked well and spoke to her. Whether it’s something simple, like decorating the dining room, or amusing tidbits like “Janet” gossiping about a snoring deacon at Sunday mass, or “Aunt Nellie’s” more profound statements on life and individuality, the texts used for these songs will induce smiles as well as deep contemplation. This summer, I successfully crowdfunded this project and am preparing to share it with the world. Read about Sarah’s campaign.
On September 25th, Nellie’s Letters: Songs for the Homestead will be premiered in the dining hall of UW-Extension’s Lowell Center.
Some of you might be thinking, “wait, it’s not in Morphy?” As someone who has worked with music groups that like to think and perform outside the box, like Milwaukee Opera Theatre, I wanted to place my premiere in a non-traditional venue that would add meaning to the project, and maybe even entice people I don’t know to check it out. Jones has ties to the School of Human Ecology and she also headed the UW Extension Service from 1918 to 1933. The dining hall in UW Extension’s Lowell Center has a piano, presentation equipment, and plenty of light and seating. Also, the second song happens to be all about the dining room, so there you have it! I hope to see many friendly faces there when I present my final project at noon on the last Sunday in September.
Steve Carmichael, saxophone. Student of Johannes Wallmann and Wesley Warnhoff.
Not all students at the School of Music are between 18 and 25 years old. Some are adults making mid-life career changes. Steve Carmichael is one of them.
We asked Steve a few questions about why he’s at the School of Music, where he came from, and what he hopes for the next phase of his life.
Editor: I’m probably not assuming too much by stating that you are a returning adult student.
Steve: I am 56 years old and love being with these younger students. We all share the same dreams.
Editor: Why did you decide to do this?
Steve: In today’s higher education market you must have a DMA or PhD to get a full-time position at a university. I love teaching, but struggled with the uncertainties of being an adjunct professor without a solid contract. Additionally, one can never acquire enough education!
Editor: Why here?
Steve: Two simple reasons: UW-Madison is one of the most affordable universities in America offering a DMA, and the faculty here are world renowned as experts in their field.
Editor: Your background is quite varied and interesting. You had a position with the Navy; can you tell us about that?
Steve: Yes! I loved being a sailor musician. I spent twenty years performing in over 40 countries as a musical ambassador for the United States. It was a wonderful career playing saxophone and flute in big bands, wind ensembles, woodwind quintets, and parade bands. Who could want more?
Editor: Why did you leave? What did you seek? (Certainly not more world travel… seems you are ready to settle down!)
Steve: I do miss the world travel! But, after twenty years it was time for me to retire from the Navy and begin a new chapter.
Editor: You were the jazz studies director at Carthage College and now you are here. Does UW offer something different? Did you know Johannes Wallmann (director of jazz studies) prior to coming here?
Steve: Jazz Studies has been a part of me my entire life. I spent 20 years leading jazz ensembles in the Navy, as well as being fortunate to play in some of the best big bands around the country. When I applied and auditioned, I did not know of Johannes Wallmann, but am very grateful for his insight and leadership in music.
Editor: Do you have a primary focus or interest? Composition, classical, jazz?
Steve: Yes, music! Though my DMA major is classical saxophone performance, and my minor is jazz studies, I prefer to be a musician that is comfortable with classical, jazz, composition, history, orchestration, etc.…
Editor: Were you raised in the Midwest?
Steve: No, I was actually born in England and raised in Tennessee. But I do love it here in the Midwest.
Editor: How have you felt as a returning adult student? You aren’t the only one, I know. Have you gained anything different this time around?
Steve: It has been a thrill, with plenty of ups and downs. Age does not define talent. I have met freshmen with DMA skills, and DMA students with years of experience. I have come to expect greatness from my colleagues, and that challenges me everyday to become more than I am.
Editor: What do you hope to do after leaving UW?
Steve: My plan is to get a position teaching higher education in classical saxophone and jazz studies.
Editor: And do you have a DMA project?
Steve: With the assistance of clarinet professor Wesley Warnhoff, I am working on a recording of contemporary saxophone pieces for solo saxophone, duo, and trios that are recent commissions I have done with Mark Mellits, Alan Theisen, Nathan Froebe, and a piece for saxophone that I have composed. It is all cutting-edge music, with plenty of extended techniques. I am very excited about this project as it is all high quality new music that adds to the repertoire of my instrument.
Nathaniel Greenhill, tenor voice. Student of James Doing.
Nathaniel Greenhill is a Milwaukee native from a musical family, who discovered his love of voice through that city’s specialty arts schools: Elm Creative Arts Elementary School, Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts, Milwaukee High School of the Arts, and, for his undergraduate degree, UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts. As a child, he sang in church and also with a children’s show choir that focused on music by 20th century American composers. He came to UW-Madison to study voice with James Doing, professor of voice.
“Dr. Valerie Errante, my voice teacher at UW-Milwaukee, recommended that for my graduate studies that I should study with James Doing. Prof. Doing is an excellent mentor who’s given me personal one-on-one discussions as far as direction of my career path goals, and because of him I’ve been able to further advance in technique. He continually pushes and challenges with positive reinforcement. I was welcomed into his studio with open arms from day one.
Mr. Doing is very open to understanding diverse backgrounds, no matter where you come from or who you are. I couldn’t be more grateful.
“Opera stylistically in my opinion is highly entertaining, challenging and overall beautiful. The orchestrations and astounding vocal technique that is produced on a professional level is absolutely amazing. A culmination of those magnificent qualities captures my attention.
“The UW opera program has been a phenomenal learning experience. The curriculum is highly intensive and fulfilling as far as academic expectations. I definitely can say that I received my money’s worth. My time in Madison has gone by so quickly, but I’ve gained so much knowledge. I just wish there were more days in the year in order for the experience to be able to last longer.”
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Kirsten Larson, mezzo soprano-voice. Student of Julia Faulkner and Elizabeth Hagedorn.
Denmark, Wisconsin native Kirsten Larson graduates this spring with bachelor of science degrees in both vocal performance and communication sciences and disorders (CS&D).
Kirsten comes from a family of amateur musicians — her dad was a rock’n roller! — took piano lessons as a child, sang in church, and played a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz when in second grade. She credits the Denmark school system for her deeper exposure to music, and graduated high school as the class valedictorian. After arriving at UW-Madison, she considered majoring in mathematics but wound up with music after singing in two choirs, Masters Singers and Chorale, both open to non-majors. Once accepted as a major, she sang with Madrigal Singers and helped with University Opera’s productions and scenes programs.
“CS&D was intriguing to me because it encompassed so many concepts of my music degree, but from a slightly more academic perspective. For instance, CS&D gave me insight into the anatomy and physiology of the voice, acoustic science, linguistics, and language development.
“One of the reasons vocal performance is so fulfilling for me is the sheer breadth of knowledge it requires. Music itself is a foreign language, written in code. When you add to that singing in a language such as German, Italian, or French, then I suppose you’re interpreting and communicating two foreign languages at the same time!
“Music is based in acoustic science, a perfect pattern of ratios. Music must also be understood in historical context – learning performance practice and interpreting the intention of the composer based on the time period and style in which the music was written is essential. Performance is also a largely physical phenomenon: through vocal performance, I have become more connected to my body, more aware of my posture, and more in control of my breath. All of these elements are just pieces in the puzzle, and a quality performance must integrate all of them!”
This fall, Kirsten will attend Louisiana State University as a master’s candidate in vocal performance.
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Mikko Rankin Utevsky, viola. Student of Sally Chisholm.
In Madison, Mikko Utevsky became especially known due to his founding of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which he started as an East High School student while performing in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. WYSO offered a composition class, which introduced him to music theory, which led him to the study of music scores, and finally to counterpoint lessons with graduate student Jerry Hui, now director of choral music at UW-Stout.
“I figured out that nobody hands a 15-year-old a baton and an orchestra. You have to make your own opportunities, which is what I did. I picked something everyone would want to play – Beethoven 5 – and programmed a concert around it, and then I started asking people to volunteer a week of their summer to play. I was determined to make it happen, because I knew it would be easier the second time. Starting something is always the hardest: nobody wants to invest time and effort in a project that might not happen. A certain amount of naivete is also valuable.”
For the first concert, Mikko programmed an overture by Borodin, Vivaldi’s “Summer” concerto with Suzanne Beia of the Pro Arte Quartet, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
“I don’t remember nerves at the concert, just the panic of trying to find enough players. One of our hornists had a death in the family during the week. I didn’t find a bassist until Wednesday, with a Friday concert. But we had 40 players in the end, and the concert was, I’m told, surprisingly good. We had over 100 in the audience in Mills Hall. I was tremendously proud of the orchestra. It was all about young musicians making music together, without a teacher or an “adult” present or in a position of authority. I felt that everyone had really committed to the project, and only by that virtue did it succeed. A conductor can’t do anything alone.”
Despite offers from other music schools, Mikko decided to attend UW-Madison in his native city which, he says, he loves.
“There’s a sense that this is a cooperative institution. Faculty are collegial, students aren’t in constant competition for opportunities, and we all generally want to make music together. UW-Madison had opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten at [other schools]. I’ve kept MAYCO running, found work as a music director with a local community orchestra, played chamber music with great people, and studied voice with a superb teacher, in addition to my viola degree.”
Mikko studied viola with Chisholm and added voice lessons to his schedule, while taking nearly every musicology (music history) class offered.
“I sang Mozart arias and Schubert lieder in the shower and riding my bike for a few years, and finally auditioned for non-major voice lessons after my freshman year. I’d never had any vocal training, but they put me in Elizabeth Hagedorn’s studio – she had just been hired to replace Julia Faulkner. I’ve now been with her for three years. I’ve performed Schumann’s song cycle Dichterliebe in recital and had two opera roles in that time, so I’d say it’s gone pretty well. It’s been satisfying to learn to sing. Instrumentalists should all do it, and even if they don’t study voice, they should sing in the practice room and in chamber rehearsals. It’s the fastest way to clarify your musical intent and know how you want to phrase something.
“Sally is a tremendous musician. There is a very specific energy – fiery, I would call it – about her playing, and she can pass that on to her students. Some violists become anonymous in a string quartet. She is always individually present, which I love about the Pro Arte in general: it’s the sound of four accomplished musicians playing together, not one faceless sound.”
With his clear intellectual bent, Mikko also seriously delved into the School’s music history classes.
“I’ve taken about twice the required musicology and theory coursework here at UW – things like historical performance with David Crook, history of Italian opera with Charles Dill, and Schenkerian Analysis with Brian Hyer.
I think we are fortunate as students to have faculty here who value teaching as much as or more than they do research or performance.
A lot of other institutions have absentee performance faculty, or musicology professors whose TAs do all the instruction while they prepare their next big paper, and as great as the research our professors do is, I’m glad as a student that they really put an enormous amount of energy into the classes they teach, and into connecting with students. If I do end up a musicologist, I’ll be very fortunate to have had models like them for what a professor can be.”
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Ivana Ugrcic, flute. Student of Stephanie Jutt.
This spring, Iva Ugrcic, a graduate student in flute performance, received a new, much higher quality flute, paid for by a local philanthropist. She is very grateful to her patron, and plans a personal recital this summer as a thank-you gift.
“I was born and raised in a mid-size town called Pančevo, Serbia. After completing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 2005 at the University of Belgrade Academy of Music, I moved to Paris, where I have received a full scholarship from the Albert Roussel Foundation. During three years in Paris, I studied flute performance and chamber music at two music conservatories and worked intensely with legendary flutist Pierre-Yves Artaud, and flutist George Alirol obtaining artists diplomas.
“There are many reasons that brought me to the University of Wisconsin-Madison but the most important one is my mentor, Prof. Stephanie Jutt. Her unconditional support and believing in me gave me the strength to leave everything behind and start this program. It was the best move I could possible make! I was awarded the prestigious Paul Collins Fellowship.
“I was playing for more than ten years on a silver Muramatsu pre-professional model. It’s been a wonderful instrument to start with, and get me to this point in my career.
“I was very blessed to have a patron who believes in me and was willing to give the funding necessary to purchase a new flute. A loan would have been a viable option, but fortunately this alternative source of funding came through.
“The donor of my new instrument was very moved by my life story. We met at one of my recitals. Unbeknownst to me, my patron was in the audience. After the performance, he/she introduced themselves to me and told me they had never been so touched before. It was a very emotional moment in my life. We were both in tears.
“My new flute is a 14K gold body and head joint with a sterling silver mechanism made by Burkart, a Boston maker of fine flutes. It is an absolutely wonderful instrument!!! My old flute was entirely silver. Since I started playing on this new flute, I have more artistic freedom to express the musicality I hear in my head and want to project to my audiences.
“I am finishing up my doctorate of musical arts next year and will work towards finding a teaching job at a college or university. I also have plans to push my career as a soloist. I will be traveling next year to perform concerti with orchestras and give masterclasses.
“In June, I will perform with Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. This internship is part of my Arts Administration minor degree. In July, I will be participating in the Atlantic Summer Music Festival as a Fellow. This is a four-week festival in Maine. In August I have plans to begin a recording project, and hopefully relax a little bit!”
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Ryan Kimbrell, saxophone. Student of Les Thimmig.
Ryan Kimbrell is a saxophonist from Blooming/Normal, Illinois, graduating in the spring of 2016. Over his time here, he came to love jazz music, participated in many ensembles (including a cappella choirs), and now will depart for further study in Spain, pursuing performance and music production. He is one of UW-Madison’s first two graduates of the revised Jazz Studies program, with director Johannes Wallmann.
“When I came to audition here I just really liked this campus, and the atmosphere. I also immediately felt at home with the faculty which was great for me because of how frightened I was with the whole process.
“I originally came here for the bachelor’s in music performance so that I would be able to pursue both a jazz education and a classical education, but after a year or two of exploration I knew that I wanted to pursue jazz music and its subsidiaries full time.
“To me personally, the Jazz Program here at UW-Madison has helped to solidify both who I am as a musician, and how I learn from others. Through working with a diverse group of faculty I have found myself at UW-Madison and wouldn’t trade my experience in the Jazz program here for anything.”
“I can’t say that I always knew that I would pursue music as a career, but I definitely always knew I would continue to be a musician for my whole life. During high school I think I solidified the notion that all I wanted to do was play and learn about music, and here I am now.
“I have many, many irreplaceable memories here at UW, but one that rises above the rest would probably be the time that I performed a solo with the MadHatters, the a cappella group, at the halftime show at the Green Bay Packers game against the Detroit Lions right after Christmas, 2014. I had never performed for so many people at one time, and it was amazing to sing in front of an arena like that.
“Besides making great, life-long friendships, I think that my favorite experience in the jazz program would have to be making music in Richard Davis’s Black Music Ensemble for the past three years. Richard has always fostered a safe and creative environment for students to experiment with new sounds and styles while staying true to the message of the ensemble.
“Next year I will be attending the Berklee College of Music’s master’s program for contemporary performance with a concentration in production at their second campus in Valencia, Spain.
They will allow me to produce myself as an artist, and to experiment with genre fusion and collaboration with artists from around the world. The program is a three semester intensive, and runs for a full calendar year. After that, I will return to the U.S. with a master’s degree!
“What I expect to gain is the ability, knowledge, and connections to produce myself as an artist in today’s ever changing digital music space. Marketing and brand are so important to a working musician and I hope to solidify my brand over the next year.
“To me personally, the Jazz Program here at UW-Madison has helped to solidify both who I am as a musician, and how I learn from others. Through working with a diverse group of faculty I have found myself at UW-Madison and wouldn’t trade my experience in the Jazz program here for anything.”
To read about more students, click the gray arrow at upper right.