Huskie Spotlight: Matthew Kiser

Huskie Spotlight: Matthew Kiser

Matthew Kiser
Bachelor’s in Music Performance, emphasis in Steelpan Studies

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you pursuing that as a major, or have you taken another path?
Matthew KiserAs a kid, my interests were always evolving and changing. I always was interested in music, but I felt like I hadn’t found my voice yet. That all changed when I joined my high school Steelband. I loved playing the instrument and picked it up very quickly. As soon as I heard about NIU, I knew it was the place for me.

What is your favorite thing about studying and/or playing music at NIU?
One of my favorite parts of studying music at NIU is getting to collaborate with people from many different backgrounds and cultures. As a member of the NIU Steelband and Steelpan Studio, I got to interact, learn from and become friends with people from the Caribbean and all over the United States.

Why did you choose NIU to study music?
I chose NIU because it is the only university in the country to offer both an undergraduate and graduate degree with an emphasis on the Steelpan as a primary instrument. Also, I could not pass up an opportunity to play with one of the world’s best, if not the best, Steelpan players in the world, Liam Teague.

Who has been one of your favorite instructors/professors and why?
Easily professor Liam Teague, director of the NIU Steelband and my primary lessons instructor. Not only is Liam an amazing player, but he is a fantastic educator who truly cares about all of his students.

Where is your favorite spot on campus or in the community? Why are you drawn to it?
The East Lagoon. It is the perfect spot to unwind after a long day!

What advice would you give to a student who is applying to colleges?
Follow your passion, whatever it is. You are going to be spending a lot of time studying your chosen degree, so it better be something you are truly passionate about!

Coming to college, what is something that you have had to learn to do differently?
I had to learn how to manage my time more effectively. Juggling music classes, gen eds and rehearsals was a daunting task as a freshman and is something I had to adapt to overtime.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
Playing video games, watching a movie, or taking a walk outside are all things I like to do to relax.

NIU Philharmonic Orchestra joins Rockford Symphony Orchestra for “The Orchestra Sings” online

NIU Philharmonic Orchestra joins Rockford Symphony Orchestra for “The Orchestra Sings” online

Due to the pandemic, the Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s annual Youth Concert for students in grades three through five was not able to proceed “as usual.”

However, the RSO wanted to find a way to offer the concert because it is a  valuable experience for the students in the region to have. The RSO partnered with the NIU School of Music and Benjamin Firer, visiting professor of music and director of the NIU Philharmonic Orchestra to produce a Virtual Youth Concert.

Recorded just last week, RSO musicians served as principals and performed side-by-side with our students in the Philharmonic. The concert featured Carnegie Hall’s Link Up curriculum The Orchestra Sings. Teachers and students have been using Carnegie Hall’s curriculum for this program during the school year to learn how melodies can make the orchestra “sing.”

As bringing elementary school students to a performance this spring wasn’t an option, the RSO shared this interactive recorded concert was shared with registered teachers across the region.

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Huskie Spotlight: Izabella Gieron

Huskie Spotlight: Izabella Gieron

Izabella Gieron

Izabella GieronSpring 2021 graduate, Bachelor’s in Music Education and Violin Performance, Independent Study in Orchestral Conducting

“I decided to study these majors because I want to be able to share my knowledge and passion for music through playing, teaching, and conducting.”

What is your favorite thing about studying and/or playing music at NIU?
One of my favorite things about NIU is having the opportunity to collaborate and perform with the faculty such as the Avalon String Quartet.

Are you involved in any student organizations or extra-curricular activities?
I am the President of the National Association of Music Education Student Chapter as well as the Vice President of the American String Teacher Association at NIU.  These chapters have shaped me into being a leader and have given me opportunities to collaborate with guest speakers as well as the community.

Why did you choose NIU to study music?
I decided to study music at NIU because I had the opportunity to study violin with Blaise Magniere and also the wonderful Music Education program that has given me many opportunities.

Who has been one of your favorite instructors/professors and why?
The School of Music has wonderful faculty that I enjoy working with however, there are a few that have been my mentors since the beginning of my time here at NIU. My favorite professors at the School of Music are Blaise Magniere (Violin), Dr. Mary Lynn Doherty (Music Education), Dr. Christine D’Alexander (Music Education), and Dr. Benjamin Firer (Orchestral conducting). These professors have shaped me into the person and musician that I am today and I am very thankful for all of the opportunities and knowledge that they have shared with me.

CVPA faculty serve as mentors on College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Senior Design Day projects

CVPA faculty serve as mentors on College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Senior Design Day projects

Every year seniors in NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology engage in a year-long design project that involves creating or improving commercial products or industrial processes. They are mentored by faculty and industry professionals to get hands-on, real-world experience. This year, three of those projects were the result of proposals written by College of Visual and Performance Art faculty who then served as project mentors.

Gregory Beyer, professor of music and director of percussion studies worked with “Team 35” as they designed a berimbau, an Afro-Brazilian percussion instrument, traditionally made with one string.

Yuko Asada, musical instrument technician, assistant director of the NIU Steelband and director of the Community School of the Arts Steelband worked with “Team 51” as they sought to create a method to mechanically forge the construction fo the steelpan, a process that when done manually can be physically taxing.

Kelly Gross, instructor in the Art Education department in Disability Studies and Technology, mentored “Team 44” on creating a photography system for persons with physical differences.

Design of Berimbau Instrument

“I am delighted to report that the year of work in pursuit of developing a two-string model of an Afro-Brazilian berimbau, a traditional one-string musical bow, has produced remarkable results,” Beyer said. “Not only have we created an instrument that allows one performer access to a wider and more complete compass of pitches, we have also developed an instrument with a unique timbral profile.”

Team 35 was made up of CEET seniors Michael Joseph Abukhader, Matthew J Hasto, and Clayton Lee Smith.

Mechanical Forging for the Construction of a Standardized Steelpan Instrument

Part of NIU’s world-renowned Steelpan Studies program involves the actual building of the instrument, and Yuko Asada sought help from Engineering to help automate the process. “Steelpans are all hand made,” she said. “The most high tech tools we use are pneumatic hammers. It takes a long time for us to create steelpans, and it also causes a lot of strain on the wrists, hands, arms, really the entire body to make them. An automated process would make it faster and easier, and it would also cut down the time that we’re exposed to the noise and vibration as we make them.”

The design team created a machine that used an increment forming process to build one of the small pans. Asada was pleased by the results, though the process still needs some fine “tuning.”

“The issue we encountered is that each note isn’t isolated, so when you strike a note the surrounding area rings,” she said. “So there are some things that can be improved, but as a first step it’s very exciting.”  She said she hopes next year another senior design project team will take on the next step in the process to get closer to the long-term goal of being able to mass produce steelpans which will allow us builders to concentrate on tuning the instrument.

Asada said she was very impressed by the knowledge of the Engineering students and how easy they were to work with. “Being able to work with students from another college and work with those who have the knowledge I don’t have was something I really enjoyed.”

Team 51 was made up of CEET seniors Gabriel Gandara, Nicholas Grimes,  and Josefina Buan.

Photography System for Persons with Physical Differences

Gross submitted a proposal for a senior design project to create an adaptive tripod for wheelchair users. Gross helped set up interviews with the design team and wheelchair users to provide specifics about the factors to consider in developing a tripod that meets the users exact needs.

She worked to familiarize the design team with the kinds of equipment the photographers would be using and the challenges that issues with lack of hand strength or range of motion provide and would need to be factored into the design.  The design team used all of that information to create a prototype mount for a tripod controlled by a remote.

Camera Mount

Gross said the next step in the process will be to create functionality to control the tripod’s movements through a phone app instead, similar to the way users are able to control their DSLR phones.

“One of my goals with this project, which was met was to open their minds in terms of engineering in terms of accessibility,” she said. “The conversations they had with wheelchair users and people with physical disabilities really helped them understand limitations. In terms of moving forward as engineers and thinking of accessibility in the arts and in all aspects of life, I think the project was really successful.”

Team 44 was made up of CEET seniors Daniel Avila, Daisy Hernandez, and Malak Zayed.

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.”