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.

Art History’s Sinclair Bell named 2021 Presidential Teaching Professor

Art History’s Sinclair Bell named 2021 Presidential Teaching Professor

Sinclair BellIn nominating Prof. Sinclair Bell for the Presidential Teaching Professorship, Judith Testa, professor emerita of the NIU School of Art and Design, described Bell as “that rare individual among university faculty members: a brilliant, innovative and extraordinarily productive scholar who is also a brilliant and inspiring teacher.”

Bell, professor of art history at NIU, is a world-renowned scholar and researcher with the ability to bring his knowledge of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art, architecture and archaeology, and his experiences in the field, to his students in the classroom. In recent weeks he has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study ethnicity in antiquity, was awarded an Ailsa Mellon Bruce Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, as well as being named one of this year’s four NIU Presidential Teaching Professors.

Fittingly, recipients of a Presidential Teaching Professorship are those who have demonstrated their commitment to and success in the many activities associated with outstanding teaching. As one undergraduate student wrote, “Professor Bell is a highly knowledgeable instructor who takes teaching seriously. He makes students work hard and think critically. These are both very helpful tools for the real world.”

For Bell, his interest in art history and archaeology originated from his parents, beginning with their travels together when he was a child.

“My parents have a passion for history, even though they both had careers in medicine. When I was eight, we left the US for Saudi Arabia,” he said. “As a result of being there for several years, I ended up seeing ancient sites all over the Mediterranean. I was not only able to visit all of the great monuments of antiquity in Egypt, Greece, and Italy, but I also witnessed firsthand my parents’ passion for the ancient world. It was very encouraging for me at an early age to know that studying the past was a legitimate interest.”

Bell majored in classical studies and history at Wake Forest University. He furthered his studies through a summer term at Oxford University, followed by a semester in Athens, Greece. He went on his first archaeological excavation in Carthage, Tunisia in 1994.

“In Carthage, we were digging at a site near a Roman circus—a venue for chariot racing—and that was when I first became intrigued by Roman entertainment,” he said. “It sparked a real interest in this topic.”

That interest led Bell to develop an expertise that has provided opportunities to present his research at conferences all over the world, write for dozens of publications including book chapters, journals, and encyclopedia articles, and to serve as lead presenter for the Smithsonian Channel series, “Rome’s Chariot Superstar.”

He says that one of the things he most enjoys about teaching ancient art and architecture at NIU is the challenge and the opportunity it provides to expand students’ horizons.

“Most students have only the slightest background knowledge of the material I teach every semester in my introductory and upper-level courses,” he said. “Few, or none, possess any knowledge of the ancient languages—Greek, Latin—that are key to the understanding of these cultures. There is no better example of this than my course on the Etruscans, a once-powerful but now-obscure ancient Italic people who lived in the modern region of Tuscany.

“They are commonly referred to as ‘mysterious’ because we lack a full understanding of their origins and their language, and because they were largely written out of history by the Romans who conquered them, the Etruscans are the subject of very few college courses nationwide. But in teaching this unfamiliar material to mostly first-generation college students, I frame it broadly as the story of a people who – although ‘mysterious’ now – left a material record of their lives, hopes, and dreams that is both radically different from and hauntingly similar to our own. Students learn several words of Etruscan and their English derivatives (such as the word augur) and hear about the contributions that the Etruscans bequeathed to our own civilization.

“By the end of each semester of this course, many students confess their enchantment with this ‘lost’ civilization: it is as if an entire new world has opened up to them. Each year, several even head to Italy on digs, to personally search for the Etruscans. This is my greatest source of joy in teaching: to promote a passionate interest in the past by those who had no or little previous knowledge or interest.”

Bell is returning to the field again as part of an excavation near the city of Viterbo in central Italy, a project which is directed by two colleagues, Profs. Lea Cline and Kathryn Jasper at Illinois State University. NIU students are already asking him, “Do you need any help in 2022?” He said he feels gratified that so many of his students develop an interest and enthusiasm in material that they had little or no exposure to before taking his classes.

“It’s not that they just graduate and disappear,” Bell said. “They tell me about how they continue to try to find ways to gain access to the material, whether by integrating ancient imagery into their own artistic practice or through visits to museums or going off on a dig in Italy.”

Bell said one of the things he appreciates about teaching at NIU is the opportunity to work with and learn from other faculty members who are able to integrate their fieldwork into the classroom. He considers retired colleagues Dan Gebo, a professor of biological anthropology, and Jeff Kowalski, professor of art history, to be two of his role models in this regard.

“Students really appreciate when you can ground your lessons with specific examples and not just speak in generalities,” Bell said. “That is, provide examples of you as a researcher at work, so that they can actually imagine: How does art history work? How does archaeology work? I’ve always done my best to illustrate my arguments through examples, such as ‘When I was in the field, this happened.’ I try to contextualize my lectures with examples from my own professional experiences and research interests.”

This approach has clearly resonated with his students. As one undergraduate wrote, “Dr. Bell’s knowledge and stories back up his claims. I love when professors can bring real life experience to their lectures.”

Echoing Prof. Judith Testa, another student remarked, “Dr. Bell is a spectacular professor who creates an environment that inspires his students to do their best work. I came in for a writing infused course and left an educated mind with a greater art historical appreciation.”

This article originally ran in the April 15, 2021 edition of NIU Today