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Higher Education

Dear Mrs. Dromi…

By | Higher Education, Music, Music Education, Performance | No Comments

Dear Mrs. Dromi,

I attended your faculty recital tonight. I must admit, I came primarily because it was required of me. I supposed that was the case for a few of us tonight. The whole “Recital Attendance” course has never really been my favorite part of being a Music Major. In fact, I’ve been guilty of conquering multiple levels of Candy Crush during several of these “culturally broadening opportunities.” However, tonight, I feel there are a few things you should know about how your recital impacted me.

First, as you were in the middle of your second German set, I realized that your diction had been and continued to be impeccable. You talk to me a lot about diction in our lessons – how it is a part of musical excellence, how it communicates story and how it enhances and propels melodic phrases and lines. I get it now. I know I’ve told you that I understand in my lessons, but I really understand now. Watching you do what you teach and seeing how much that small detail changed the entirety of each piece, took my cognitive understanding to a higher level and birthed an emotional understanding that I believe will be invaluable.

Second, your French set was breathtaking. I mean, truly breathtaking. It could be the romantic in me, but hearing you sing this music reminded me that you are not only a teacher, but you are also an artist. The precision of your intervals mixed with lines and phrases that told every story left me teary in my seat. I could hear your voice in my head telling me that good technique would give me the freedom to really be an artist and reach deep places in people. Again, I get it now. I also get that all of tonight’s recital must have taken an insane amount of preparation. You must have spent the majority of your summer preparing for this. I don’t think you had to do that, but I’m really grateful that you wanted to. It was really inspiring to see that performing and making music is such a high value for you. I love that you still want to be an artist in the midst of teaching and mentoring the rest of us.

Finally, I really want to thank you for being so accessible to us tonight. As you sang your encore piece, I was taken aback by what a privilege it is to know you as a person. Tonight, we watched you and your sister perform for the first time together an entire (very ambitious) professional recital. We watched your family file into the center section of the auditorium, already proud of their daughter, wife, mother, and friend. We watched your father walk to the stage and give congratulatory flowers to his two daughters, and if we were watching closely, we saw the almost tear that he wiped from his right eye. You even let us listen in as you sang a lullaby to your children. Tonight, you weren’t just a JBU faculty member delivering a memorable performance in terms of difficulty of literature, professional artistry and near flawless technique. Tonight, you were a woman who chose to be vulnerable with a room full of people in hopes that they might experience beauty. Thank you for that.

I’m really looking forward to our lesson next week. Thanks for your willingness to help me be better. After tonight, I realize you could have chosen a much more glamorous path. Thanks for choosing us.

Sincerely,

Your student

Pride and Prejudice

By | Higher Education, Theatre | No Comments

Today, I got a sneak peak at the preparations for the upcoming JBU drama production, Pride and Prejudice. I also had the chance to ask some of the actors a few questions about their experience in the show so far. Watching the novel come to life on stage made me extremely excited to see the final product. Already, the production is brimming with life, wit, and charm. The cast has dedicated themselves to portray their characters with all the color that Jane Austen intended, and their work is paying off.

Joel, cast as Mr. Collins, told me about the process of bringing his on-stage character to life: “My favorite part of preparing for the show is probably figuring out which of my lines have great potential for comedy, and using different body language than I normally would.” Every small detail is important. Joel has spent a long time refining the “postures, motions, and facial expressions that distinguish this character from others I have portrayed.” Today I could see that each actor was striving for their own set of emotions and expressions that make their characters unique. Alec, who is playing Mr. Darcy, explained his character: “He is not a character you can judge from the outside alone, and I think that applies to many people in the world.”

The play is definitely taking shape, but there is still much work to be done. With less than two weeks until production, Kaitlyn, who is playing the role of Mrs. Bennet, understands the pressure of limited time. “Right now we’re trying to cram as many lines as we can into our heads,” she told me. Memorizing lines is a challenge in any play, and Pride and Prejudice is no exception. Joel explained that the dialogue for this show contains “difficult and wordy language that we no longer use,” which makes memorization even more difficult. The show places demands on the backstage crew as well. Joel also told me, “There will be no black-outs or scene changes that occur without lines. The lighting crew has a great task set before them, and it will be fantastic to watch.”

Despite the challenges of the production, the cast is enjoying themselves. In addition to the usual fun that accompanies acting on stage, Kaitlyn told me, “We’ve also discovered the joy of rapping in our British accents. Such fun!” Putting together a show like Pride and Prejudice requires a cast that is willing to band close together, and that closeness often creates lasting friendships. “At JBU specifically, the hearts of the cast are always what make the production so enjoyable and memorable,” Alec told me. Kaitlyn agreed: “I’ve been in shows with a lot of these people before and they’ve become some of my best friends.”

The biggest takeaway of the day? This show is going to be great. Alec called the script “a very fun and entertaining version of the novel.” Combine a great script with a great cast, a great crew, and a great director (Jan Lauderdale), and you have the recipe for a fantastic show.

In the words of everyone I interviewed, “You don’t want to miss this show!”  In fact, click here, and buy your tickets now!

~Steven

Steven is a Junior, majoring in Music Education. He is one of two student conductors for the JBU Cathedral Choir, the Concertmaster for the JBU Chamber Orchestra, and a talented actor in many JBU stage productions.

Songs That We Sing

By | Higher Education, Music, Oxford Adventures, Theology | One Comment

“These are the songs that we sing, to make the day better.” – Matt Costa, “Songs We Sing”

Saturday morning I woke up late (like, three hours after I had been planning on getting up) and groggily pulled myself out of bed, still wrapped up by terrible dreams, still worrying about work I hadn’t finished, and conversations that had said too much or not enough the day before. A depressing heap of dirty laundry sat at the foot of my bed, a heap composed of every piece of clothing I’d brought across the Atlantic except for one formal dress, a few scarves, and two sweaters. Those were still marginally “clean.” I needed to buy laundry soap (and to buy groceries for the week while I was out: bread, eggs, milk, bananas…), to respond to that professor’s emailed question, to catch up on emails from friends that I had somehow still not gotten to answering…. I sat blearily on my bed, and some voice in my mind began to sing a little ditty that I had made up a few days before as I biked up the steep Headington Hill, coming home after a long day of studying and lectures. The lyrics go like this:

[Verse 1a]

It is dark

And it is cold

And my fingers

Are trying to hold

Onto

These frozen handlebars

 I rummaged through the laundry pile for something that was clean-ish, mumbling vaguely-coherent morning prayers, and glanced at the stack of books that I had to read, at least one of which is already overdue (I’ve only been here two weeks; how have I already managed to forget to renew a book?). So, like a mature adult, I didn’t do anything and scrolled through Facebook and Instagram. Then I didn’t read my Bible and shuffled downstairs to find something for breakfast, still hearing the now-familiar tune in my head:

[Verse 1b]

It is dark

And it is cold

Oh, why was I so bold

As to think

This was a good idea?

This was clearly not a good idea.

Breakfast is a good thing (scrambled eggs, muesli in yogurt, hot coffee mixed with hot chocolate powder). There are friendly people, conversations, dishes, and laughter, and I somehow manage to partly engage and still partly remain in my own unhappy head, singing my unhappy song:

[Chorus Part A]

But I’m here now, aren’t I?

I’m afraid, and I’m alone.

I’m here now, aren’t I?

Singing about my woes.

Though I could stay and linger with my cup of coffee-cocoa and talk with people, I don’t. I carry my isolated self to my third-floor room and, still lacking the energy to read Scripture or pray properly, I plug headphones in and listen to Krista Tippet’s interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a program titled, “A God of Surprises.” The fifty-minute conversation ranges across Tutu’s spiritual influences, the Truth and Reconciliation Council, forgiveness, apartheid, racism, and overall, a God who is in the business of putting things right. Near the end of the interview, there’s this exchange:

Ms. Tippet: …I think people might look at you and the life you’ve lived and also, you know, the bad things that continue to happen in South Africa and all the rest of the world, and say, “This guy says this is a moral universe?” And there’s this line you’ve just echoed, you’ve written so many times, “God is in charge,” and they might also say, “How can he say that?” I mean, tell me, you’ve been saying God is in charge for a long time, for decades. And so what do you mean when you say that and what that means to you, has that changed? Has that evolved? 

Archbishop Tutu: Well, I mean, you must add that I’ve sometimes said to God, “It would be nice for you to make it slightly more obvious that you’re in charge.” [laughter]

When the program ended, I pull out my headphones, take the stack of books in my arms, and head to the “typing room” (computer lab). As I thud down the stairs, I finally finish the second-half of the chorus, the final two lines that had been resisting my attempts to make them fit the way I wanted them to:

[Chorus Part B]

I’m here now, aren’t I?

So what am I to do?

But keep pedalling

And crying out to you.

Because that’s all I really know to do: to bring myself to God and say, in a very basic way, “I’m unhappy. Please help.” And perhaps the strangest, deepest mystery of faith is that my prayers have been answered. Not in clear-as-sunlight ways. But in, choose-to-have-eyes-of-faith ways. When I suddenly understand the significance of Handel’s switch from opera to oratorio. When a connection is made and an acquaintance feels like a friend. Being invited into an unplanned dance-party in the kitchen after lonely hours studying. A warm radiator to lean against after a cold bike ride. Someone asking, “How are you?” The opportunity to ask another, “How are you?” The strength to get out of bed in the morning. Seeing a friend via Facetime. Hearing a song I know.

Tiny answers to tiny prayers that give me the energy to keep pedalling (and, when the way gets very steep, the humility to step off my bike and push it the rest of the way up.) It’s not much, but it’s enough. The point of today is not to accomplish a lot of things but to echo Tutu and every other biblical prophet and say, “God is in charge.” And then, to prove my belief by doing what I’ve been given to do: essays and groceries and people and emails and paying my overdue fine. And I am comforted in that.

Biking to the Wycliffe Library, about a fifteen minute ride down a hill, over speed bumps, across a field, and on the bike path, I composed and sang Verse 2:

Today the sun is shining bright

Sending sad thoughts

Into flight

Like pigeons,

Startled by my bike.

 

So I’ll raise my head up high

And drink in that blue, gorgeous sky

And praise God

for his tender mercies

For truly, they are

tender mercies

 

[Chorus]

Because I’m here now, aren’t I?

Not afraid and not alone

I’m here now, aren’t I?

And grace is what I’m shown.

 

And I’m here, now asking,

What am I to do?

But keep pedalling

And singing praise to you.

~Jewel

Jewel is Senior, majoring in General Music.  Jewel is spending the semester studying music and literature at the University of Oxford in England.  She is an accomplished cellist and is very involved with the Chamber Orchestra at JBU.

 

Counting the Hours

By | Higher Education, Music, Music Education, Music Theory | No Comments

“So, how many hours are you taking this semester?”

This question is always really hard for me to answer. I know that what the other person really means is, “How busy are you this semester?” For me, those two questions aren’t the same. Being a Music Major comes with some strange and unique difficulties that make small talk like this difficult.

The hardest thing to explain about being a Music Major is that credit hours don’t always equal workload. While most of my friends are taking from five to seven classes, I’m usually enrolled in 10 or 11 class sections every semester. However, only four of them count for the standard three credit hours. The rest are classes like orchestra and choir and voice lessons that count for one hour of credit but require a lot of practice time outside of class. On top of that, there are always plenty of extra performance opportunities like musicals and plays and the small a cappella group that’s getting ready for the talent show, or the string quartet that’s playing for a wedding. As a result, a semester with 18 hours of credit can be lighter than one with 16. It all depends. It’s confusing, I know.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to having a lot to do. Sometimes when I get back to my room after a long day of classes and rehearsals and more rehearsals, I realize that I haven’t even started on my homework or practiced for my voice lesson the next day. I find myself wondering if I should have chosen a degree program that is less time-intensive.

But I stop myself there.

Somebody wise once said, “Nothing that’s easy is worth having.”

Someone else wise once said, “You should do what you love.”

Despite the quirks and challenges of studying music, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because I love it. I love learning more about the things I’m passionate about. I love the fact that the JBU Department of Music and Theatre feels like a family. Believe it or not, I even appreciate the hard work that stretches me intellectually. And at the end of the day, I look forward to waking up the next morning and doing it all over again.

So, yes, friends, it is a little bit crazy. But I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.

~Steven

Steven is a Junior, majoring in Music Education. He is one of two student conductors for the JBU Cathedral Choir, the Concertmaster for the JBU Chamber Orchestra, and a talented actor in many JBU stage productions.