The American Academy of Arts and Letters has named Professor Laura Schwendinger and librettist Ginger Strand winners of the Charles Ives Opera Prize for their opera Artemisia. Based on the life of 17th-century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi, Artemisia premiered at the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in 2019 and received an OPERA America Discovery Grant.
The Ives Opera Prize is is the largest and most prestigious award for opera composers in the US. As composer, Schwendinger will receive $35,000, and Strand, as librettist, will receive $15,000.
Operas were nominated by the Academy’s members, and winners chosen by a jury comprised of members John Harbison (chair), Anthony Davis, Tania León, Tobias Picker, and Shulamit Ran, who met in 2022. The awards will be given at the annual Ceremonial in May.
The first composer to win the American Academy in Berlin Prize, Schwendinger is a professor of composition at the Mead Witter School of Music.
Susan C. Cook sums it up perfectly: “You can take the professor out of the classroom, but not the classroom out of the professor.” After a decade as director of the Mead Witter School of Music, Cook will step down at the end of this year. But this isn’t the grand finale of Cook’s career; it’s just the beginning of a new movement.
Having worked 15 years without a sabbatical, Cook is looking forward to taking some time off. Then, she’ll be back to doing what she loves: teaching music history.
“My area of interest has always been contemporary music,” Cook says, “which used to mean the 20th century, but now it’s the 21st century as well. The world keeps changing around us and we have to change with it. I think it’s always important for faculty to be continuing to think about what it is our students need now and to be not teaching just the way we were taught, or just the way we used to teach even 10 or 15 years ago.”
That adaptability and forward thinking have been the cornerstones of Cook’s term as director. They served her well when things looked precarious for the school.
“I came into the role in somewhat of a challenging time,” she recalls. “The previous director had stepped down a couple years early, so it was a transition that we weren’t expecting.”
The school was experiencing budget cuts and limited hiring and had been struggling to move ahead with a new building project. Then, there came a new chancellor, provost, and dean in quick succession — all starting around the same time that Cook assumed her new role. The future was uncertain. However, following campuswide discussions, Chancellor Rebecca Blank quickly decided to move ahead with plans for a new music building, which would become the Hamel Music Center.
“That decision proved to be a really smart one,” Cook remembers, because it was the vote of confidence that signaled to the Mead Witter Foundation that the university was invested in the future of the school, and “that there was a real critical need here.” The foundation made a major gift that allowed the ambitious building project to proceed and attracted even more support.
“One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about this job was working with the incredibly generous philanthropic individuals who have helped make this building a reality and have continued to support our students, again, through scholarships and support of all kinds,” Cook says. She beams as she talks about the “larger culture of philanthropy and support” that has sprung up around the school. “We have wonderful fans that come and write students notes (after performances) and tell them how terrific they sounded and that has just been something really unexpectedly wonderful to be a part of.”
The Hamel Music Center opened its doors in fall 2019, glistening like a jewel at the heart of campus. Then came the blow that nobody expected: COVID-19. But as it turned out, even though the center wasn’t designed with a pandemic in mind, it met the needs of the moment perfectly.
“Had we not had this building, the pandemic would have been so much worse for all of us,” Cook says. “Because we did have the technology and the extra spaces in this building that allowed us to do things safely to continue to connect with each other and to connect with audiences, even if we couldn’t be in person. I know there were people who felt like the building was closed and empty, and I kept saying, ‘It’s not. There’s still life going on there.’ I would drive by, and I would see the lights on in the lobby. To me, it was a beacon of hope and a reminder that we would be back together and that the building was helping keep us connected even then.”
Looking ahead, Cook hopes that the school will continue to build on what the Hamel Music Center started, continuing to be “inventive in our programming, inventive in our use of the space.” She also hopes to get the additional rehearsal spaces and financial assistance that students need, though that is a quest that will pass to the school’s next director — and to the new Humanities building project, which is in development.
“This clearly is a big job, a challenging job,” Cook says. “Sometimes people have asked me what have been the rewards? And I would say that the rewards have been in the music.”
She says it’s like “being in this wonderful garden” and not knowing what’s going to spring up and blossom. “You’re doing a lot of digging and a lot of heavy labor at times, but then (you’re) rewarded with this kind of beauty that you couldn’t have imagined.”
From L to R, Amy Lewis (Music Education), Michael Weinstein-Reiman (Music Theory), and Lindsay Flowers (Oboe) joined the School of Music faculty this fall.
The School of Music is excited to welcome three new faculty members this fall: Amy Lewis (Music Education), Michael Weinstein-Reiman (Music Theory), and Lindsay Flowers (Oboe).
Dr. Amy Lewis is the daughter of Jayne McShann Lewis and Bennie Lewis and is the granddaughter of Frances McShann Shelton and jazz pianist Jay McShann. Dr. Lewis is a research associate as an Anna Julia Cooper Fellow in the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Her research is focused on systemic oppression, equity, and racism in music education. As a public music teacher, she taught K-1, 6-8 general music, beginning band, middle school choir, and jazz band in the Chicagoland suburbs. She received the 2022 Compass Visionary Award, the 2019 Black Faculty, Staff, and Administrators Association Emerging Leader Award, and was also named the 2015 Illinois Education Association Teacher of the Year.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be named an Anna Julia Cooper Fellow at the UW–Madison,” Lewis said. “I look forward to working with incredible colleagues in the Mead Witter School of Music and contributing to such a rich history of research in music education.”
Michael Weinstein-Reiman is a historian of music theory. His work seeks to elucidate music theory’s role in the history of ideas over the longue durée. His related research interests include eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European philosophy, music pedagogy, literature, gender and sexuality, and disability studies.
In 2021, he received the Ph.D. in Music Theory from Columbia University, where he wrote a dissertation on the changing understanding of touch—considered as an action, a sense, and as a metaphor for music’s effect on the psyche—across the span of two centuries of French intellectual history. Research for the dissertation was supported by Columbia’s Dean’s Fellowship, a Georges Lurcy Fellowship, an honorary Chateaubriand Fellowship from the French Embassy, and several travel grants. He holds degrees in music from The University of Oregon, Mannes College, and Brandeis University.
“It is a real honor to join the community of musicians and scholars at UW–Madison,” Weinstein-Reiman said. “I am excited about working with the School of Music’s top-notch and diverse performers. As I embark on my own research projects, I cannot wait to see our students flourish and forge their own paths.”
Dr. Lindsay Flowers is the Assistant Professor of Oboe at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music where she is a member of the Wingra Wind Quintet and guides student-generated community engagement projects. She received a Doctor of Music degree from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music under the tutelage of Linda Strommen and Roger Roe. Her background in athletics distinguishes her pedagogical approach in her emphasis on performance visualization, disciplined commitment, and supportive teamwork.
Lindsay is an Oboist and English Hornist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and Quad Cities Symphony Orchestra. She previously was a member of the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, New Mexico Philharmonic, and Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Lindsay was a founding member of the Arundo Donax Reed Quintet, Bronze Medal Winners of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and recorded a duo album with Dr. Andrew Parker to be released in 2023. She has performed with the Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis, Utah, and Nashville Symphony Orchestras and during recent summers with the Santa Fe Opera, Grant Park, Midsummer’s, Lakes Area, Apollo, Lake George, Castleton, Aspen, and Banff Music Festivals.
Dr. Mariana Farah, director of Choral Activities, and incoming DMA choral conducting student Liz Olson are presenting as part of a panel session at the National Conference of the American Choral Directors Association. This session will feature five active women conductors and a first-year doctoral student in a candid discussion about past, present, and future challenges for women in choral music. The presenters will offer strategies on how young and experienced conductors can fight new and longstanding matters involving gender bias in the choral field. Members will learn to:
a) identify instances of gender disparity in the choral profession;
b) fight challenges related to gender bias;
c) support students and colleagues who experience gender discrimination;
d) advocate for themselves and others;
e) promote change to help create more equitable spaces for women conductors
The conference will be held February 22-25, 2023 in Cincinnati, OH.
Professor Margaret Butler has received the IAML Vladimir Fédorov Award for her article “Opening a Celebrity’s Closet: Cecilia Davies and the De Bellis Collection,” Fontes Artis Musicae 68/4 (2021): 288–314. The award honors the best article published in the journal during a given volume year.
The Publications Awards Subcommittee commented that “this article could well stand as a model description of uncatalogued collections: it provides historical background of both the collection and collector; description of the content together with the extensive research required to compile the listing; further reading and research suggestions, and a tantalising problem that set our detective pulses racing: there are still some unidentified pieces in the collection.”
Professor Anthony Di Sanza recently premiered “Ancient Echoes,” a new concerto by Michael Udow commissioned by the Longmont Symphony Orchestra. In addition to a modern lithophone and percussion instruments from around the world, Professor Di Sanza played on a set of 6,000-year-old lithophones discovered by Longmont archaeologist Marilyn Martorano.
Women have always been at the core of every major development in music history, with historical and contemporary composers such as Hildegard of Bingen, Amy Beach, Clara Schumann, Eleanor Daley, Andrea Ramsey, Elaine Hagenberg, Dale Trumbore, and Ingrid Stolzel leading the way for generations to follow.
However, a major lack of documentation often leads to important contributions by women composers going overlooked, an issue Director of Choral Studies Mariana Farah sees as an educational opportunity. Farah is committed to programming more music by women composers.
“A lot of music by women composers has been neglected for a long time, and some music remains unpublished and unknown,” Farah said. “I know that programming music by women composers will help our students better understand the role of women in music history and it will also empower our female students to come forward with their own contributions.”
Through performances, Farah and her colleagues can educate students and audiences about the lack of representation and the importance of furthering our perspective on how women have contributed to the canon of literature throughout history.
A student in Women’s Chorus describes the impact the programming decision has had. In a conversation with her mother (who was also in Women’s Chorus during her college years), the student noted that her ensemble was working on pieces by women composers that were both beautiful and meaningful. The student’s mother was pleasantly surprised, as she remembered Women’s Chorus mostly consisting of love songs and lesser pieces written by men.
Her comment got the student thinking.
“I didn’t realize how much I was affected by sexism in classical music culture,” the student said. “I never considered creating music, because women are just supposed to sing what they are given. Women aren’t talented enough to compose. We’re better as passive vessels for the artistry of the opposite gender. I’ve never heard female composers because men just have a special gift. I didn’t realize the above were my subconscious thoughts until being accepted into Women’s Chorus. Experiencing the excellence of Andrea Ramsey’s work has made me feel empowered.”
Farah conducts the UW-Madison Concert Choir, Advanced Treble Choir, and Choral Union. She also teaches courses in graduate choral conducting and oversees all aspects of a comprehensive choral program. Prior to her appointment at UW-Madison, she served as the Associate Director of Choral Activities at the University of Kansas.
The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education has announced that Professor of Trombone Mark Hetzler is one of 26 faculty winners of the Vilas Associates Competition. The competition recognizes “new and ongoing research of the highest quality and significance.” The award is funded by the William F. Vilas Estate Trust.
“I am proud to have received this award,” Hetzler said. “The project is called Pulcinella Reimagined and it feels pretty ambitious. Essentially, I plan to use a classic ballet as the inspiration to produce a contemporary performance piece in various formats.”
In a collaboration with members of Hetzler’s band Mr. Chair and LA-based producers Amy Ryerson and Selena Moshell, the goal is to reimagine Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score Pulcinella and the commedia dell’arte stock characters on which the ballet is based to produce an audio recording, a short film, and a live concert production.
In reimagining the musical aspects of Stravinsky’s musical score to Pulcinella, Hetzler and collaborators inspired to consider ways to use the commedia dell’arte stock characters featured in Pulcinella as vehicles to tell a contemporary story. Commedia dell’arte stock characters fit into four categories (servants/clowns, wealthy masters, lovers, and braggarts) and are meant to be easily adaptable to local events, specific regions, and current situations.
In collaborating with producers Ryerson and Moshell, they pitched a plan to lead a creative team in which one guest artist per segment of music (for a total of five guests), in any medium they choose (dance, song, acting, animation, etc.), will tell a unique story that adheres to the overall theme of Pulcinella in modern times. These productions will feature a reimagined version of Pulcinella that focuses on social issues relevant in today’s world and features underrepresented voices and perspectives.
In the words of Moshell, this production will be “a series of five vignettes of Pulcinella through modern lenses—how this archaic and archetypal character would exist in the current society today. Ideally, we are seeing this trope in new lights—as a person who identifies as a woman, through a new racial perspective (being Black in America, etc.), as a character navigating issues that the historical Pulcinella never had to experience. What would this mischievous character look like, perform like, act like, what would they have to say in 2021?”
Pulcinella Reimagined involves the creation of a studio recording of Hetzler’s band’s arrangement of Pulcinella, and the development of this recording into a live concert production and film. Hetzler will be recording the music with Mr. Chair and a collective of nationally recognized vocalists and instrumentalists at a recording studio in Madison, WI.
“What excites me about this project is the collaborative aspect,” Hetzler said. “My band Mr. Chair lives for collaborating with all kinds of people: musicians, dancers, actors, artists, film makers, educators, you name it. The subject of Pulcinella seems like a fantastic vehicle for opening doors and inviting in ideas, influences, and inspiration from all kinds of people.”
Recipients of the Vilas Associates Competition are chosen competitively by the divisional research committees on the basis of a detailed proposal. Winners receive up to two-ninths of research salary support (including the associated fringe costs) for the summers of 2022 and 2023, as well as a $12,500 flexible research fund in each of the two fiscal years.
“I am very motivated to get things going and beyond grateful to UW-Madison for the support of research endeavors such as this,” Hetzler said.
Current members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet include, from L to R, Gilson Da Silva, Mark Hetzler, Jean Laurenz, guest Matthew Endres, Tom Curry, and Daniel Grabois.
After a long hiatus due to the pandemic, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet is back on tour beginning February 14, with scheduled stops in several locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. School of Music faculty ensembles—Wisconsin Brass Quintet, Pro Arte Quartet, and Wingra Wind Quintet—routinely travel to regional high schools, colleges, and concert halls, working with young musicians and performing for local concert series patrons.
The upcoming Wisconsin Brass Quintet tour includes stops at several high schools in and around Minneapolis, as well as performances at Nicolet College, theWestby Area Performing Arts Center, and the Prairie du Chien Arts Center.
“This tour presents an incredible opportunity to connect with hundreds of music students,” Music Engagement & Outreach Coordinator Dann Petersen said. “The Wisconsin Brass Quintet will help each of them to establish a lifelong love for music through their genuine energy and passion for the art.”
Regarded as one of the “superb brass ensembles in the USA” (Musicweb International) and praised for “remarkable musicianship and versatility” (International Trumpet Guild Journal), the widely acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet has maintained a position at the forefront of brass chamber music since the group’s founding in 1972.
In addition to its regular concert series on the UW-Madison campus, the quintet performs extensively throughout the Midwest and nationally, including appearances in New York at Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Concert Hall. WBQ players have been members of the Seraph Brass, Empire Brass Quintet, and Meridian Arts Ensemble.
School of Music faculty ensembles continue to expand its involvement with regional communities by providing mentoring, educational leadership, and training opportunities to students of all ages and backgrounds. Faculty ensembles are available for chamber ensemble coaching, collaborative performances, community recitals, open rehearsals, and performance classes.
Concert at Nicolet College, Rhinelander, WI
Performance class at Minneapolis South High School, Minneapolis, MN
Performance class at Thomas Edison High School, Minneapolis, MN
Performance class at Irondale High School, Minneapolis, MN
Performance class at Mankato West High School, Mankato, MN
Performance class at Farmington High School, Farmington, MN
Performance class at Onalaska High School, La Crosse, WI
Performance class at Mayo High School, Rochester, MN
Concert at Westby Area Performing Arts Center, Westby, WI
Performance class at La Crosse Central High School, La Crosse, WI
Clinic at Prairie du Chien High School, Prairie du Chien, WI
Concert at Prairie du Chien Arts Center, Prairie du Chien, WI
Professor Martha Fischer is one of twelve faculty members on campus to receive a UW-Madison Distinguished Teaching Award this year, an honor given out since 1953 to recognize the university’s finest educators. An in-person ceremony is planned for 5 pm April 19 at the Pyle Center. The event is open to the public, and anyone wishing to join can contact the Office of the Secretary of the Faculty at email@example.com for information on how to attend.
Works by Pierre Boulez, Dai Fujikura, Isang Yun, Unsuk Chin, and Hideaki Aomori make for a program that highlights music by composers of Asian descent and Boulez’ iconic work exploring the dichotomy between live performance and pre-recorded material.
For what will be her second such residency, Professor Laura Schwendinger is one of nine composers to receive the prestigious 2021 Copland House Fellowship. The nine composers are awarded all-expenses paid stays for three to eight weeks in Aaron Copland’s National Historic Landmark home near New York City, where they can focus uninterruptedly on their creative work. As Residents, they also become eligible for a wide variety of post-residency performance, recording, and commissioning opportunities.
“These highly-accomplished, richly imaginative outstanding artists were selected from the largest group of applicants that we have ever received–221 composers from 33 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and four countries,” Copland House Artistic and Executive Director Michael Boriskin said. “Ranging in age from 25 to 73, they come from widely-varied backgrounds, and work across the creative spectrum, from concert, symphonic, and chamber music to jazz, electronics, and theater compositions.”
The composers were chosen by a large, diverse jury of eminent composers comprised of Karim Al-Zand, Chen Yi, Sebastian Currier, Pierre Jalbert, Laura Kaminsky, Carman Moore, Shawn Okpebholo, Dan Visconti, and Zhou Long.
A 2007 Copland House Resident, Schwendinger’s music has been heard at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Berlin Philharmonic, London’s Wigmore Hall, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Carnegie Hall, and the Tanglewood, Aspen, and Ojai Music Festivals, and championed by such renowned artists as soprano Dawn Upshaw, the Arditti and JACK Quartets, violinists Jennifer Koh and Janine Jansen, cellist Matt Haimovitz, International Contemporary Ensemble, Eighth Blackbird, New Juilliard Ensemble, American Composers Orchestra, Liszt Chamber Orchestra, and Trinity Wall Street.
She has also had fellowships from the Guggenheim, Fromm, and Koussevitzky Foundations, Radcliffe Institute, and Harvard Musical Association, and residencies at Copland House, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Bellagio, and Bogliasco. She is the first winner of the Berlin Prize in Music, and has also been recognized by the American Academy of Arts & Letters.
An award-winning creative center for American music, Copland House has, for over 20 years, championed and collaborated with musical explorers and innovators, who, like Copland, change the way we interact with the world around us. The only composer’s home in the U.S. devoted to nurturing and renewing America’s vibrant musical legacy, Copland House’s broad range of programs singularly embrace the entire artistic process, from creation and development to performance and preservation.
Praised by The New York Times for “all the richness of its offerings,” Copland House’s activities resonate far beyond its walls, and are built upon multi-faceted composer support, live and recorded performances, and educational and community engagement. For more information, visit coplandhouse.org
In 2018, a new street in the Darbo-Worthington Neighborhood on Madison’s east side was created in honor of the legacy of Richard Davis, a Madison jazz legend and Professor Emeritus of Bass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he taught for nearly four decades. Now, after a fundraising effort throughout the pandemic, Davis’ former student and mentee, Wilder Deitz, has honored the man who inspired him and so many others with a commemorative plaque to accompany the street sign on Richard Davis Lane.
Director of Jazz Studies & Associate Professor of Music Johannes Wallmann is releasing a new album on Shifting Paradigm Records on June 25, 2021.
Elegy for an Undiscovered Species is the Wisconsin-based German-Canadian pianist’s ninth album as a leader and his most ambitious effort to date: a full-length album of new compositions for jazz quintet and string orchestra. The album is the centerpiece of the work Wallmann did with his Emily Mead Baldwin award from the Division of the Arts.
The 19-piece ensemble is fronted by two New Yorkers, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (member of jazz super group ARTEMIS, first-choice soloist for the bands of Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue, bandleader, and Director of Jazz Arts at Manhattan School of Music) and tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens (winner, “Rising Star—Tenor Saxophone,” DownBeat Critics Poll). Both have been long-time key contributors to previous Wallmann albums. Jensen and Wallmann share musical roots on Vancouver Island, and Wallmann first met Stephens when he moved from New York to Oakland just as the saxophonist was making his move in the opposite direction. Throughout Elegy, the stars are given plenty of room to blow.
The ensemble is powered by a rhythm tandem of Madison bassist Nick Moran, a fulcrum of Wisconsin’s thriving jazz scene, and New York drummer Allison Miller.
Wallmann recounts: “As this project was taking shape, I knew I wanted a drummer with a deep pocket first of all, and also someone who would light a fire under the band. But I was writing intricate contrapuntal string parts, and drums could easily overwhelm that, so the drum chair was crucial and required a very special player. I love Allison’s records as a band leader, and when I saw her tour with her band Parlour Game and heard how deeply grooving and also sensitively she played with [violinist and co-leader] Jenny Scheinman, I instantly knew that I wanted her to be part of my album! As a bandleader and composer, Allison brings the perfect sensibility to my writing.”
The ensemble is rounded out by a 14-piece string orchestra of School of Music musicians, conducted by Michael Dolan. String orchestra musicians include Kaleigh Acord (concert master), Maynie Bradley, Mercedes Cullen (principal), Glen Kuenzi, Chang-En Lu, Anna Luebke, Richard Silvers, Mary Shin, violins; Emma Cifrino, Pedro Oviedo, Rachel Riese (principal), violas; Hannah Kasun, Cole Randolph (principal), Ben Therrell, cellos.
The album was recorded over two days at the Hamel Music Center in Madison directly following a live concert in late February 2020 and just weeks prior to the Covid shutdown.
“I was sweating bullets,” Wallmann recounts. “China and Italy were already on lockdown, international travel shutdowns were increasing, and the virus was knocking on our door as well. We got very lucky to be able to have this one last opportunity to make music with joyful abandon before this awful year of no live music.”
Two years in the making, the album’s six long-form compositions showcase Wallmann’s arranging and orchestration skills. He weaves catchy but idiosyncratic melodies that are playful with a tinge of melancholy through the peaks and valleys of extended solos, shimmering orchestral textures and harmonic and orchestral transformations.
Yet, groove is at the center of each piece: the title track is a musical protest against the Anthropocene Extinction with an urgent melody set over a driving bass ostinato, while Stephens, Wallmann and Jensen are all featured on extended solos. The cheekily titled waltz “In Three,” with Stephens switching to the EWI, reveals its meter only gradually. “Expeditor” is grounded by a swirling 15/4 groove, where Miller, Moran on electric bass, soloists and string orchestra all get the chance to get funky.
The wistful “Longing” is a rare Bossa Nova in 3/4 meter. Wallmann recounts, “‘Longing’ is one of three pieces on the album that began life as small-group compositions. Whenever I brought it into a rehearsal or to gig, players would ask, ‘What’s a Bossa Nova in 3?’ And I would play for them [Antonio Carlos] Jobim’s ‘Luiza’ and they would say ‘Ah-huh!’ and they would get it.”
Building on his early classical music background and extensive study of orchestral scores, Wallmann integrates the string orchestra as an equal melodic voice throughout the album. Far from being just traditional “sweeteners,” the orchestra becomes another player in the group as it swaps melody features and supporting responsibilities with the horns, provides rhythmic counterpoint, contributes extended soli passages on “Expeditor” and “Longing,” and is featured in an a cappella role on “The Greater Fool.”
“Greater Fool,” travels over ten minutes from rubato ballad to frantic drum solo as a musical reflection on humanity’s destructive habit of bidding up increasingly worthless investments, such as coastal floodplain real estate developments, making the calculus that well before a crash, the investment can be profitably sold to an even “greater fool” who will get stuck with the loss. The ultimate losers of such shortsighted thinking are, of course, our society and planet.
Beyond protest, the album also features plenty of joy. “Two Ears Old” is a birthday celebration for Wallmann’s daughter: “A lot of this music was written during a sabbatical from my teaching job in 2019 when my daughter turned two. We had been practicing with her how to tell people her age, but she misheard us, so whenever someone asked her how old she was, she would point at her right ear, then her left ear, and count them, ‘one… two…two ears old!’ It’s one of those many fraught but beautiful moments of children trying to figure out how the world works, and I didn’t want to ever forget it, so I sat down and wrote a piece about it.”
At its core, Elegy for an Undiscovered Species demonstrates the power of connection, blending east coast and midwest, jazz quintet and string orchestra, into a cohesive and powerful ensemble. It suggests that perhaps we as a collective can come together and overcome the challenges that we face.
When not building Lego towers with his daughter, Wallmann leads the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s jazz program as the inaugural holder of the Peterson Chair in Jazz Studies. Prior to moving to Madison in 2012, he spent five years teaching at the California State University East Bay near Oakland. Wallmann studied jazz piano and composition at Berklee College of Music and at New York University. His formative professional years were his twenties and early thirties in New York City, where he made his living playing jazz in bars, clubs, department stores and concert halls. He has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe, and Asia performing with many notable artists including Ralph Alessi, Seamus Blake, Gilad Hekselman, Matt Penman and Kevin Mahogany.
Wallmann has previously recorded eight critically acclaimed albums as a leader, including The Johannes Wallman Quartet (1997), Alphabeticity (2003), Minor Prophets (2007), The Coasts (2010) and Always Something (2015). His 2015 quintet album, The Town Musicians, was named an Editors’ Pick by DownBeat Magazine, which called Wallmann “a remarkable pianist and composer…his evocative compositions are brimming with melodic cogency and rhythmic pull.”
Wallmann’s work embraces advocacy for human and environmental rights, and the Wisconsin Gazette called his 2018 album Love Wins “one of the most interesting and accomplished jazz albums to come out in recent years. Love Wins has taken the uniquely American art form to the next step of its creative journey.” The album was named a “Best Albums of 2018” by Something Else! And the UK’s Jazz Journal wrote, “Wallmann makes a septet sound like something much larger, as big as his subject, maybe. Love Wins is as musically challenging as it is socially, and deserves to be heard on both counts.” In 2018, Wallmann released Day and Night, his debut album on Shifting Paradigm Records, which DownBeat described as “confident, muscular and elegant.”
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 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 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-Madison, 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 that 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 Wallmann to direct the program. Thimmig took a step back to let Wallmann 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 Thimmig’s tutelage. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Joan Wildman, Professor Emeritus of Jazz Studies at the Mead Witter School of Music, passed away April 8, 2020. She was 82 years old.
Born January 1, 1938, Joan grew up on a ranch near Spalding, Nebraska as an only child. She credited her friendship and mutual appreciation of blues and ragtime with the nearby Glaser family (the same Glaser brothers who went on to form Glaser Sound Studios in Nashville) as a major influence on her own career.
A major influence herself on generations of jazz musicians throughout Madison and beyond, Joan played an especially critical role in establishing the current jazz studies program at the school. Known to deftly explore the area between structure and improvisation, Joan was a professor of music at UW from 1978 through 2002 specializing in music theory, jazz improvisation, and jazz piano.
Double bassist Hans Sturm recalls Joan’s “uncompromising” approach to her music. Hans came to UW-Madison in the early ’80s to study with Professor Richard Davis, and eventually started playing in the Joan Wildman Trio.
“She was a big reason why I stayed in Madison for so many years,” Hans said. “Working with Joan really changed a lot of my concepts with music.”
While she was a classically trained pianist, Joan charted new territory and created her own sounds. She was an early adopter of the Yamaha DX 7, a digital synthesizer that allowed her to experiment with true crescendos and sustained attacks. Joan was also an early pioneer of crafting exceedingly long loops on her computer and emulator, often 80 to 90 bars long with 20 bars of silence and a groove the trio would play along with.
“She was fearless in her music,” Hans said. “We would rehearse for hours, and there might have been some intricate plan, but all that would disappear during the gig and the piece would take another shape. It was about where the music would take us. That’s kind of how Joan lived her life.”
Founder of the Madison Music Collective, a nonprofit jazz organization, Joan had a knack for bringing musicians together and promoting their work, a skill Hans said can’t easily be replicated.
Though she performed less later in life, Joan was an active performer both nationally and in the Madison area. She led her trio for over 25 years, producing recordings such as Orphan Folk Music (1987), Under the Silver Globe (1989), and Inside Out (1992).
One of her more recent releases was the 2015 album Conversations, a live recording with longtime friend and frequent collaborator Joe Fonda during a celebration of Madison Music Collective’s 30th anniversary at the Brink Lounge.
Madison writer Dean Robbins often covered Joan’s work and many of the trio’s performances over the years.
“Joan loved experimentation, but hers was the kind that drew listeners in rather than shutting them out,” Dean said. “No matter how far she strayed from conventional forms, she never lost sight of blue notes, swing rhythms, and other sensual pleasures associated with jazz. She even gave the synthesizer a human warmth, the notes melting under her touch. In this way, Joan’s sounds matched her spirit: big-hearted, soulful, searching. Like her hero Duke Ellington, she madeidiomatic American music that perfectly balancedpassion and intelligence.”
Joan was equally adept at creating computer-generated animations, web pages, and computer-generated drawings. Her extensive overview of jazz history and styles formed one of the first web pages in the country, a site that incorporated multi-media animations, sound and static visuals, and hyperlinked text.
Before coming to Wisconsin in 1977, Joan received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Oregon and had previously taught at Central Michigan University and at the University of Maine, Fort Kent. She is the first and only member of her extended family to have achieved a doctoral-level degree.
“Joan gave so much to the School of Music,” Director Susan Cook said. “She was a path-breaking composer and performer in jazz, and with her colleagues and students, she was a dynamic force in the Madison jazz scene. Personally, she was a mentor to me when I joined the faculty in 1991, and in her retirement she continued to take an active interest in the school and lend her support.”
Like the rest of the world, faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music are adjusting to new routines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Associate Professor of Horn Daniel Grabois talks about a few of the techniques he’s using to stay connected with students during this challenging time.
Tell us more about the drill book you wrote. How did that come about?
As soon as we heard about the shutdown (that very night) and knew we would all be teaching remotely, it became very important to me to make sure my students were hitting all the basics every day in their practicing. Being a smart practicer is hard for ALL of us, no matter the level of education, and it is easy to lose motivation when we are apart from our colleagues.
I sat down that very night of the shutdown announcement and wrote out a lot of drills that would cover the ABCs of horn playing: lots of low notes, some high notes, trills, double tonguing, lots of drills that covered much of the very large range of the horn at different dynamics. I set myself the goal of going from idea to publication in under two weeks.
For about four days, I played the whole routine through twice a day (it’s a one-hour routine), refining the drills, fleshing out details, nixing some drills and adding others, and so on. When I was satisfied, I started setting the book into Finale.
It was a complicated process. I set each drill into its own Finale file, and then I placed the Finale files into an Apple Pages document to lay out the book (I usually use Word for my documents, but Pages is much more friendly when it comes to mixing words and images). In the end, for every drill, I had to create a PDF in Finale, then open the PDF in Acrobat and crop it, then pop it into the Pages document and resize it. Any change I made in the drill after that involved resetting in Finale and going through the whole process again. The text surrounding the drills went through around 10 drafts (thanks to my wife, my brother, and my mom!).
On the eleventh day, I got it off to my publisher with a request that we make it cheap so as not to take advantage of the pandemic in order to make a buck. He agreed to publish it as a download for $10, and released it the next morning, day 12. I beat my goal by two days! We sold 16 copies on the first day, which was a single title record for the publishing company.
What sort of new opportunities are you finding to be possible online?
Online is HARD for teaching. Because of insufficient bandwidth, it is really hard to hear students. Yes, you can hear them, but you can’t hear their actual sound, and you can’t hear details. In this online world of ours, we music faculty are recognizing that being in the room with a student beats every option.
That said, this has opened up new opportunities. For instance, I invited my old horn professor, who is now 88 years old, to talk to my students in studio class and to talk to the brass chamber groups I’m coaching.
I had a friend of mine who is an incredible electro-acoustic violinist talk to my electro-acoustic improv group, and another friend from that world will be doing the same thing in the future. Musician colleagues are willing to do this for each other because it is just a wonderful group of people who perform music for a living.
Any additional advice for students during this time?
We all have more time than we normally do during the semester. That means we can practice more carefully, but we can also listen to more music, get in shape, eat right, and sleep enough. Let’s find the silver lining wherever we can.
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