Spring 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.
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.
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.
Izabella 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.”
Those looking to make a difference at NIU have a new tool to help raise much-needed financial support. NIU Impact, the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program at http://crowdfund.niu.edu and features ten campaigns.
One of those campaigns is “Curtain Call! – Support Graduating Senior Arts Projects” to assist with the funding of capstone projects and industry standard portfolio and audition materials for students in the College of Visual Performing Arts as they prepare to start their exciting careers in the arts.
Here’s an example of just one of the senior arts projects funding could benefit.
The crowdfunding campaign for supporting arts students will run through May 10, with a goal of raising $2,000 for students in each of three schools that makes up the College of Visual and Performing Arts (College of Art and Design, College of Music, College of Theatre and Dance.)
The NIU Foundation has experienced significant growth in its digital giving program, seeing an increase of over 100% from fiscal year 2018 to fiscal year 2020 in dollars raised. “In 2018, we raised nearly $290,000 through digital giving ,” shares Michael Adzovic, Director of the Northern Fund. “Last year, in 2020, we raised $580,000. Already, in fiscal year 2021, we’ve raised $683,000.”
Much of this growth can be attributed to the NIU Foundation’s Day of Giving program implemented in 2019, but other factors have fueled growth as well.
“The pandemic has been a factor,” shares Adzovic. “We’ve relied more on digital giving opportunities during this season and have found that many people are comfortable and prefer giving online. This is the future of our direct response program.”
That growth has inspired the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program.
How Crowdfunding Works
Crowdfunding is not new, of course. This method of raising funds has been common for years, popularized through sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe. However, it has just recently become popular in higher education fundraising.
“We see great potential in crowdfunding at NIU,” shares Adzovic. “The platform allows us to work with campus partners to conduct targeted, goal-oriented and time-sensitive campaigns that harness the power of volunteers and their individual networks.”
A key difference between crowdfunding and the NIU Foundation’s traditional methods of fundraising is that crowdfunding is driven primarily by volunteers reaching out and amplifying a cause to their individual networks, as opposed to communications being institutionally driven. The dollar goal for crowdfunding campaigns tends to be smaller—commonly between $3,000-$5,000. These funds usually support very specific initiatives, such as student travel to conferences, research projects, and scholarships. The duration of a typical campaign is four weeks.
“We see crowdfunding being a great fit for many of our campus partners to fund needs for which we wouldn’t normally fundraise through traditional methods,” shares Adzovic. “We also view it as an excellent way to attract new donors to NIU.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.