An internship provided Izabella Gieron the conducting experience she’s long waited for

An internship provided Izabella Gieron the conducting experience she’s long waited for

Izabella GieronIzabella Gieron knew she wanted to be a conductor since high school, and as she completes her degree in the NIU School of Music, an internship this year with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO) has given her the chance to get hands-on experience.

“My high school band teacher, Jeanette Soebbing (Argo High School, Summit, Ill.), is an amazing conductor,” Gieron said. “Watching her movements; the way she expressed the music only through hand and arm gestures felt unreal. From that moment, I knew that was something I needed to study. I tell her to this day that she’s the reason I am doing conducting.”

Gieron is majoring in music education and violin performance, with independent study in conducting. She’s a senior who will graduate in May, and is grateful for a long awaited opportunity to study conducting.

“I knew all along I wanted to be a double major, so I stuck with that. We had conducting classes which were fun, but it wasn’t until Dr. [Benjamin] Firer came that this opportunity was given to me. He emailed us and asked if anyone would like to take lessons with him and I responded in a heartbeat. It was something I always wanted to do, and when that opportunity came up, I was going to take it.”

Firer is a visiting assistant professor who teaches music theory, orchestration, advanced orchestral conducting, orchestral literature and directs the NIU Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera Theatre. Last summer he was named to replace retiring, longtime MYSO music director Lawrence Sisk, and it turned out to be a great opportunity for Gieron, too.

“Dr. Firer had mentioned that he had an idea of how to keep me involved, as he knew this was something I have always wanted to do,” Gieron said. “He helped create an internship/assistant conductor position, and ever since then, I have been part of MYSO. It’s always something I look forward to during the week. It’s so much fun, and I get to make music with all of these young musicians.”

MYSO was founded in 1959 and seeks to promote and challenge talented young orchestral musicians by providing an opportunity to perform repertoire of a wide variety of styles and historical periods. Membership includes junior high and high school students form Joliet and 21 surrounding communities, as well as students from Lewis University and Joliet Junior College.

Gieron’s duties as assistant conductor puts her in charge of sectionals, marking the bowings, doing playing tests, grading playing tests and provides her opportunities to conduct the orchestra, which includes being given a piece of music to conduct in every single concert.

“Witnessing Izabella’s journey into a skilled conductor has been a highlight of my time at NIU,” Firer said. “Her natural ability on the podium and outstanding leadership qualities make her a perfect match for the MYSO internship.  It’s a special experience seeing our students take what they’ve learned at NIU and make an impact.  Izabella has an extremely bright future in music, I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

COVID-19 presented challenges for the orchestra. “Everyone is six feet apart and this year, we’re only doing strings,” Gieron said. “In the beginning, it was quite challenging; the sound reflection was totally unbalanced and delayed as we were all spaced out. To adapt to the unordinary circumstances, Dr. Firer and I had to train the musicians to not try to listen to others, but to concentrate more on watching the conductor to resolve the sound delay dilemma. Eventually, the students started adapting and teaching in an uncommon environment was normalized. Things are going well.”

Gieron has also had the chance to study and perform with the Avalon String Quartet, the artists in residence at NIU. “Blaise Magniere [Avalon String Quartet member and Richard O. Ryan Endowed Chair in Violin in the School of Music] was my primary teacher,” Gieron said. “He opened my eyes to how important it is to study basic material. When you really understand the fundamentals, you can perform or do anything. Now in my teaching, I apply all that I’ve learned and make it a good habit to pass on the knowledge I have been given. There’s a quote I always like to use, ‘In order to be a good teacher you have to be a good musician.’ I’m so happy he prepared me for that.”

As she looks at graduate schools, Izabella also reflects back on the opportunities she was presented with at NIU that have helped her chart her path. “It’s definitely been life changing and eye opening,” she said. “Especially with conducting. Dr. Firer knew I was serious, and he definitely raised the standards and had very high expectations. I studied Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” which is one of the most challenging pieces ever written. I conducted a Beethoven symphony and a Haydn symphony as well. We have done intense score studying and provided me with different resources and materials to practice. It is one thing to learn how to wave around your hands to conducting, but what I cherish the most from these experiences were learning the deeper side of the art of conducting. To understand the meaning of the piece, to study how the composer wrote each piece and what they did to achieve such musical success – things that are often forgotten when studying music. I can move around my arms and conduct a musical composition, but music is more than that. It’s about the meaning and the feeling of performing it.”

Reggie and Mardra Thomas featured in immersive online experience “Into The Mist”

Reggie and Mardra Thomas featured in immersive online experience “Into The Mist”

Reggie Thomas, professor of music and head of jazz studies and his wife, jazz vocalist Mardra Thomas are part of the cast of characters and performers in the immersive, online musical experience, “Into the Mist” developed by Evanston artist Steve Rashid.

Into the Mist is performed live every Friday in April, online beginning at 9 p.m. CDT, tickets are $18, and the creators say the show is best experienced on a computer rather than a mobile device or tablet.

In the live, immersive experience, Flappers, bootleg liquor, silent films and more await you in a maze of hallways and secret passageways featuring a cast of world-class performers.

At times those viewing the show will simply be watching, but at other times they may interact with a room’s inhabitants. T?he evening culminates with a performance by the band, Chicago Cellar Boys.

April 22 Wind Symphony concert to feature world premiere music

April 22 Wind Symphony concert to feature world premiere music

As the spring semester nears an end, the NIU School of Music presents a special Wind Symphony concert that will not only showcase the hard work of NIU students, but will also feature a pair of premieres of newly composed music.

The concert will feature the world premiere of a composition by Tom Bough, professor of music, Wind Symphony conductor and director of Athletic Bands at NIU. Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Trombone features a trombone solo by Andrew Glendening, director of the NIU School of Music.

Impulse Control: Concerto for Drum Set and Wind Ensemble, composed by Evan Ziporyn, will have its Illinois premiere, with a drumset solo by Dan Piccolo, assistant professor of percussion at Bowling Green University.

Also featured will be Ballet for Band by Cindy McTee, conducted by Ben Randecker, graduate assistant, NIU Bands, and Soul to Soul, by Quinn Mason, conducted by Annie Sun Chung, graduate assistant, NIU Bands.

The concert will be live streamed online, Thursday, April 22 at 8 p.m. Due to COVID restrictions, seating is limited and tickets must be pre-purchased online.

Dan Piccolo

Dan Piccolo

Dan Piccolo has performed, taught, and studied internationally during his twenty-year professional career. He is currently Assistant Professor of Percussion in Bowling Green State University’s College of Musical Arts.

Dan holds both a DMA and BM in Percussion Performance from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and during his Master’s studies in U of M’s Jazz Department he focused on improvisation. He has studied concert percussion with Michael Udow, Salvatore Rabbio, Joseph Gramley and Jonathan Ovalle, among others, and his drum set and improvisation teachers have included Michael Gould, Steve Curry, and Ed Sarath. Dan is also skilled in several forms of non-Western percussion, having studied frame drumming with Jamey Haddad and tabla with Pandit Kuber Nath Mishra in multiple visits to Varanasi, India. A grant from the University of Michigan’s International Institute funded the first of these visits, and he returned to Varanasi in the winter of 2015 thanks to an award from the Presser Foundation. An additional award from U of M’s International Institute made it possible for Dan to begin formal studies of West African music in Ghana in the summer of 2014. From 2014 to 2019 Dan served as a member of the Percussive Arts Society’s World Percussion Committee, and he currently serves as Associate Editor for Professional Development for the Society’s journal, Percussive Notes.

Dan’s debut solo recording, Monobot, was released on the Equilibrium Recordings label in December 2020. In October 2019 Dan gave the world premiere of Evan Ziporyn’s concerto for drum set and wind ensemble, Impulse Control, which written was written for Dan and for which he led the commissioning consortium. Dan has also premiered works by Emma O’Halloran, Jonathan Ovalle, Payton MacDonald, and Anthony Di Sanza, as well as his own compositions, and he continues to actively work with composers to commission new solo and ensemble works for percussion.


 

Evan Ziporyn

Evan Ziporyn

Composer/conductor/clarinetist Evan Ziporyn‘s music has taken him from Balinese temples to concert halls around the world.

He has composed for and collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Brooklyn Rider, Maya Beiser, Ethel, Anna Sofie Von Otter, the American Composers Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Iva Bittova, Terry Riley, Don Byron, Wu Man, and Bang on a Can. In 2017, his arrangements were featured on Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War, and on Silkroad’s Grammy-winning album Sing Me Home.

Most recently, his orchestral reimagining of David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, was recently released on Islandia Music, featuring Ziporyn conducting his own Ambient Orchestra with Maya Beiser, cello soloist. Since its 2017 premiere, Ziporyn has conducted the work in Boston, Barcelona, New York Central Park Summerstage, Australia’s Adelaide Fringe Festival, Strathmore Hall, and numerous other national and international venues.

 


tom bough

Tom Bough

 

Thomas Bough serves as the Director of Athletic Bands and Wind Symphony Conductor at Northern Illinois University.  His 29 years of teaching experience includes 7 years as a high school band director.  As a Yamaha artist, he leads dozens of clinics and workshops per year.  He has presented three times at the Midwest Clinic and dozens of state music education association meetings around the United States.

As an author, he has contributed twenty articles to the Instrumentalist magazine and hundreds of new music reviews. His compositions are published by Alfred Music, Cimarron Music Press and others. Visit his website at www.TomBough.com to hear excerpts of his many compositions for concert band, marching band, and solo instrumentalists with band accompaniment.

 


 

Andrew Glendening

Andrew Glendening

Andrew Glendening is the Director of the School of Music and Professor of Music at Northern Illinois University. A native of Logansport, Indiana, he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Trombone Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music before attending Indiana University, where he was awarded the school’s highest honor: the Performer’s Certificate. He also earned a Master of Music degree and was the first ever recipient of the Doctor of Music degree in Trombone Performance from the Indiana University School of Music. His primary teachers were M. Dee Stewart, Per Brevig, Thomas Cramer, and Frank Crisafulli. For fifteen seasons he served as Principal Trombonist of the Redlands Symphony Orchestra and has performed as a substitute with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and the California Philharmonic. Six of Dr. Glendening’s trombone students have won the U.S. Army Band National Solo Competition. Dr. Glendening was host and artistic advisor for the 2017 International Trombone Festival and has performed, judged and/or presented at the International Trombone Festivals in Cleveland, Illinois, North Texas, Eastman, Iowa and Ball State as well as the 2019 International Women’s Brass Festival.

 

David Maki named finalist in Zodiac International Music Competition

David Maki named finalist in Zodiac International Music Competition

David Maki

David Maki

David Maki, professor and coordinator of composition and theory in the NIU School of Music is a finalist in the Third Zodiac International Music Competition in the composers category.

The Third Zodiac International Music Competition aims to discover exceptional musical talent, both in performance and composition, from across the globe, and bring it to the stage of the Zodiac Music Academy & Festival in the South of France and New York.

The competition invites artists from all parts of the world to participate via recorded video submission (or score submission for composers).

Maki’s entry in the competition is a Bagatelle he wrote for the Avalon String Quartet, internationally renowned artists in residence at the School of Music.

The Avalon String Quartet commissioned Maki’s Bagatelle for a series of concerts in 2019 and 2020 where they performed the complete Beethoven quartet cycle.

A live, online concert of the composition finalists will be presented Saturday, April 10 at 1 p.m. CDT.

Learning to take risks at NIU helped Jermaine Stegall’s work on “Coming 2 America”

Learning to take risks at NIU helped Jermaine Stegall’s work on “Coming 2 America”

For Jermaine Stegall, composing the music for the long-awaited sequel to the Eddie Murphy hit movie “Coming To America” came with a set of challenges, seen and unforeseen, but the final product reflects a film where music is as much of a character as any of the recognizable faces on the screen.

Stegall is a 2000 graduate of the NIU School of Music with a Bachelor of Music in saxophone performance and composition. He went on to earn a master’s at North Texas University and completed the University of Southern California’s Advanced Studies in Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program.

His process for “Coming 2 America” started with creating demos for the cast and crew to use as they shot.

“There are a lot of musical moments in the film,” Stegall said. “The director, Craig Brewer, is very musical, and he loves music. He always uses music very purposefully, and he mentioned he would love the opportunity to use themes in the movie. We dove straight in with having very distinct sounds for the very specific characters, as well as giving a nod to some recognizable music from the first film, specifically the song, ‘Coming To America.'”

Music was a huge part of the original movie, but the sequel takes it even farther. “They literally needed music to shoot to on set,” he said. “There are dance sequences, and there are percussionists on set. I was given the nod to the things they were going to need and I read the script. Based on those descriptions, I ended up creating music that ended up working. Sometimes it might be a groove that was similar to a song that’s coming up, or to set something up in that way, or even a choir that you see on screen.”

Jermaine Stegall

Photo: Jermaine Stegall

Major portions of the movie are set in a fictional African country, and being on set helped Stegall immerse himself. “You walk onto that set and feel like, OK, I’m not just on the set, I’m in this place called Zamunda. We’re here. We’re in a place you can actually touch. The producers talked a lot about having a distinctive sound for Zamunda, and the sky was the limit.”

Stegall got his first assembled cut of the film in January 2020, not yet aware of how COVID-19 would affect the rest of his process. The film was originally scheduled to open around Christmas 2020, and that date continued to be the goal as restrictions due to the pandemic were put in place.

“We spent February talking about themes and March is when I started tackling entire scenes of the movie and making decisions about how a scene would work as opposed to, here’s some music, let’s see how it fits,” he said. “But then as it came time to record, I was told I’d would have to record all of my woodwinds at home, then drums, percussion, bass, guitar, harp all had to be recorded at home. I had this idea for using a choir to do African chants, which you hear in the film, but it ended up being a more intimate approach. I used five vocalists, and they had to record at home. Then I had to assemble all the different elements. You really want your woodwinds to compliment strings in terms of how they’re used in an orchestral setting. But the safety protocols meant they had to be separate. So, we had Zoom calls with each section that had to record remotely. The string section had to be separate from our brass. They had to be recorded on different days. Every member of the orchestra had to get tested for COVID and our director couldn’t attend the sessions.

“Our music editors are basically essential workers in the scoring process. They had to watch via Zoom and chime in. They’re people who are responsible for making sure we’re getting all the takes that we need, all the energy that we need from a certain story point, like giving advice about how the cue came across in terms of recording.”

When Stegall says everyone was recording “at home,” he means just that.

“I was in North Hollywood where my studio is,” he said. “The performers, some of them were in their bedrooms. One of our flute players was on an island in Hawaii. Some hired engineers to help run their session, control their computer from another location. This was a massive, massive project. It definitely took a village to raise a child as it pertained to this score.”

Former NIU School of Music student Donald Barrett (1996-1998) is a featured drummer playing drums/African drum kit on the score.

As with many major movies, “Coming 2 America” is not getting a theatrical release. Instead it will premiere March 5 on Amazon Prime Video. But Stegall said he’s not necessarily disappointed the film isn’t getting a traditional release.

“This movie would have killed it in theaters in terms of how it plays with an audience,” he said. “But we are able to share it with millions of people, as opposed to the current limitations of a theatrical release with 25% capacity.”

Stegall also contributed music to the Kurt Russell film “Christmas Chronicles 2” that premiered on Netflix in December. He had worked on the original film, as well. Next up for him is a supernatural thriller for Universal Pictures. “It’s a complete 180 from the comedic, romantic, sweeping fantasy movie that we’ve just done. I think it’s sure to turn heads. It will include my love of sound manipulation, instruments not sounding like their true selves and probably be a little bit scary, too.”

Stegall looks back at his time at NIU and is appreciative of the support he received from faculty and other students.

“I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know quite how to get there. That’s the biggest mystery. You’re in the Midwest and working on the coast is what you want to do. How do you get there?”

He charted his path to Hollywood from NIU, with a necessary detour. “A lot of the NIU music faculty had gone to the University of North Texas. So when it didn’t work out to go straight to USC after undergrad, I was able to go to UNT for my master’s and develop the portfolio I needed.”

Stegall fondly remembers the final project of his senior year at NIU. A 30-minute, film music inspired orchestral concert.

Photos: Jermaine Stegall’s March 25, 2000 film music inspired concert at the NIU School of Music. The first half of the concert was held in Boutell Memorial Concert Hall, the second half in the Large Ensemble Room. 

“It wasn’t a requirement,” he said. “I just did it as part of my farewell. NIU had the tools available that if you used your brain and a little ingenuity and did some legwork, you could create something special. In my case, this was something I wanted to do. Also, dance was something very important to me, and you can see that in a movie like ‘Coming 2 America.'”

“Before my concert at NIU I went to a dance class. I didn’t know anyone, I just literally knocked on the door during a class. I told them I know it sounds crazy, but I would like some dancers for the introduction to my recital. There was no rehearsal, I just asked them to wear red and show up and when they heard the music to start dancing. Some of the dancers showed up in red and black and it was just magical. That’s a great aspect of studying at a place with all these different kinds of resources. You can create part of your own education. And now, I find myself in situations where we’re shooting and things, musically-speaking are being changed right on set. It all works out when you are willing to take chances. I’ve experienced making things happen with a few talented people by taking risks and trying things and seeing what happens.”

“Coming 2 America” premieres March 5 on Amazon Prime Video.

Alexis Lamb earns scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Alexis Lamb earns scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters

alexis lambAlexis C. Lamb, an alumna of the NIU School of Music with bachelor of music degrees in both percussion performance and music education, has been selected as one of six winners of the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Lamb studied music composition with David Maki, professor and coordinator of theory and composition in the NIU School of Music before going on to earn her master’s in music from Yale University in composition.

Along with Gregory Beyer, professor and director of percussion studies at NIU, Lamb co-founded Projeto Arcomusical, a world music sextet reimagining the Afro-Brazilian berimbau through unique and powerful chamber music.

Harmony Ives, the widow of Charles Ives, bequeathed to the American Academy of Arts and Letters the royalties of Charles Ives’s music, which has enabled the academy to give awards in composition since 1970. Two Charles Ives Fellowships of $15,000 each and six Charles Ives Scholarships of $7,500 each are awarded annually.