From the Chair: Music@Webster

From the Chair of the Department of Music, Webster University in Saint Louis

Fun

Oh, the fun we have in classes at Webster University.

This photo from Friday says it all….

But too bad we were not studying Renaissance music!

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Andrew Gibson

One of an occasional series of stories about students and colleagues in the Department of Music at Webster University.

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Andrew Gibson (BA Music ’13) is doing some fine things at the Freedom Arts & Education Center in Saint Louis.

I visited with Andrew this week to learn more of what he’s done since graduating from Webster University.

Freedom Arts &  Education Center serves students primarily in north Saint Louis, providing arts education, academic tutoring, and leadership training.  Andrew tells me that the organization is serving between 3,000 and 4,000 students each year.  In the arts, the center teaches everything from ballet to graffiti art.

Says Andrew: “I remember thinking ‘I need to take a break,’ so I quit school for a while. And in 2010 all of my gig-economy part-time jobs took a hit with the economy tanking.  Everyone was struggling.  Six of us were hanging out and complaining, and we decided to make something happen.

“We started with putting together some classes in bucket drumming, creative writing, hip-hop dance — and I started sending it out — to libraries, to home-school coops.  

And then it all happened so quickly. We started teaching classes all the time.  I saw how dire the need was, and more in parts of the city, and we decided to focus on that.  Arts were the start, but then we moved into academic enrichment and mentoring as well.”

Andrew tells that the center is focusing resources and energy primarily on ‘doing life’ with these kids from north Saint Louis.  They share space on a church campus in the Lewis Place neighborhood, and serve the most western parts of the city of Saint Louis, plus some of the suburbs.

“I graduated with a BA in music, and minors in philosophy and audio production.  My music business class was invaluable, especially with what I do now.  The freedom within the BA degreewas also a major plus as I came back to school.  I was doing projects in media and audio classes that were focused on the work I was already doing.”

Andrew is married now, with a family, and he is a living/breathing example of the kind of work we tell our students to expect to do — living with a portfolio of activities and incomes that include gigs, recording sessions, church work, and a day job that almost pays the bills.

And Andrew is yet another example of a student who is doing now something that he never dreamed of doing at 18 years old.  This is the story of so many of our alums.

And we are delighted to share their stories!

 

 

NCCO

Webster University Chamber Singers performed today at the biennial gathering of the National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO).

A colleague from Northwestern University wrote me minutes after the performance ended:

Your choir just hit it out of the park.  Great variety, well done, and extremely well received.

Congrats to them all and Webster University.

The standing-room-only audience held their applause for the full 25 minutes, and then burst into a sustained ovation as the choir beamed in response.  The applause continued until the last choir member had left the stage.

This was a momentous concert . . . certainly the largest and most important stage on which members of the Webster choral community have performed, and a testament to the work the Dr. Trent Patterson has accomplished in his just-over-seven years on the faculty.

Two concert shots, from University United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge:

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And several fun shots from before and after the concert, including one of Dr. P listening as he knelt at the altar rail, and another with all of the graduating seniors in the choir:

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Scholars-Recital

Christy

One of an occasional series of stories about students and colleagues in the Department of Music at Webster University.

Christine Brewer Residency Final ConcertChristy Timberlake is an adult student who has been picking away at a degree in music education (choral/general certification) for several years.

Christy’s story:

My desire to return to school to become an educator stems from my time as a coordinator of a performing arts after-school program.  For seven years I worked with at-risk youth in the St. Louis area, helping them discover and explore their passion for the arts.  In 2015, I co-founded Ignite Theatre Company, a non-profit youth theatre company that believes in ‘creating great people first, and great performers second.’  As the Director of Music and Costume Director, I helped children find their voice on the stage, and made sure they looked amazing while doing it. 

Returning to school was a difficult decision, and financing school even more so.  I didn’t realize my already having a degree would prevent me from qualifying for scholarships, grants, even decent financial aid.  There were times that I’ve worked as many as five part-time jobs, and times where I’ve had to rely on the kindness of family to help pay my expenses.  On numerous occasions, my father has been my saving angel.  One eventful semester, my brother offered up his half of the money left to us by our mother to pay off an outstanding tuition balance, and that upcoming semester’s balance.  I wouldn’t be here right now, finishing my final semester, had it not been for the unwavering support of my family.

Christy is in her final semester, student-teaching this semester in Saint Louis.  She graduates in December 2017 with the degree Bachelor of Music Education.

Chamber Singers concert

Monday night is the  night!

Chamber Singers preview their conference program in a free performance in the Central West End….

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How to find work

mdmtThe prompt came from by email from a student at another university.  He had flirted with the idea of transferring to Webster to pursue our degree in Music Direction for Musical Theatre, but has stayed at a southern university in piano performance.

“I am becoming increasingly interested in musical theatre composing, arranging, orchestrating, and music copying. I was wondering about any advice you may have concerning these areas especially on how to find work in these areas.”

I wrote back this morning:

The best way to find work in the areas that interest you is to get out there and start doing it.  NYC is the place to be after college. 

When I talked with music directors this summer here at the Muny and in NYC, they all said ‘be the guy who shows up willing to do any of the work, and be quick and efficient with it.’  So proficiency at both Finale and Sibelius will be a key for you. Take every orchestration course you can. Read the books I’ll paste below.  Find a local theatre that needs some help with re-orchestrating or reducing, and start doing it.  Try to visit with the pianist and the MD for every show that comes through Huntsville or Birmingham.  Make connections and follow up with email. Nurture relationships with those doing what you want to do.

As for composing, start doing it.  Write something UNoriginal — make it sound like Richard Rodgers, then a song that sounds like Lloyd Webber, than a Jules Styne kind of sound.  The mimicry will cause you to understand more about their style. Then start being original.  

There’s no single path for this kind of work.  Most MDs will tell you they started as rehearsal accompanist and worked up from there.  Some just found work locally and then that spread.  A key theme seems to be incredible piano chops.  

I continue to think that our MDMT degree includes everything necessary for success as a music director. A key at age 22 is thirst, gumption, grit.

Finding one’s way without the degree means starting the same way many others do — as copyist, arranger of a dance break, rehearsal accompanist.

And these books will help tuckpoint some of the areas too:

  • Clark, Mark Ross.  The Broadway Song: A Singer’s Guide.  New York: Oxford, 2015.
  • Henson, David and Kenneth Pickering.  Musical Theatre: A Workbook.  New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013.
  • Suskin, Steven.  The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations. New York: Oxford, 2009. 
  • Viertel, Jack.  The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Musicals are Built.  New York: Sarah Crichton, 2016.
  • Woolford, Julian.  How Musicals Work and how to write your own.  London: Nick Hern, 2012.

Happy Chair

We are at that spot in the semester, just prior to mid-term and a week break, where concerts are taking place right and left.

And this department chair is very happy this month.

Last week the Webster University Orchestra played a concert that featured idiomatic Johann Strauss, powerful blasts of Shostakovich, and three concerto/aria contest winners — two juniors and an alumnus — in concert.  The orchestra was in very fine form; the audience, wildly appreciative.  And well they should have been.

Tonight we saw three choirs in a season-opening concert.  Students from fourteen states and four foreign countries.  Provocatively themed programming asking serious and difficult questions.  And a large and enthusiastic audience.

One of my joys as department chair is seeing how our students support and encourage each other.  First- and second-year students have been quietly reporting recently that they feel such camaraderie and kinship with their classmates.

This tight bond starts with faculty.  Just this evening several parents said “best choice ever” in sending their kids to Webster University, and two of them specifically mentioned how their children are reporting nurture and care from faculty members that far outweighs what other older children in those same families experienced at other schools.  This is the model at a small, private, residential college — but it’s also the Webster Way.


We have one more major ensemble concert before Fall Break.  I expect to be proud again on Monday.

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Wind Ensemble

The Webster Wind Ensemble kicks off their year on Monday!

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Choirs

Webster University choirs promise a most moving and engaging concert on Sunday evening!

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