The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 14, 2013

Dramatic departure: MSU faculty recital includes dramatic expression, student involvement

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

MANKATO — Minnesota State University’s upcoming faculty recital, “An Afternoon of Drama in Music,” promises a departure from the usual recital fare.

Rather than straightforward recitation and predictable presentation, this performance will emphasize the dramatic expression of music. Chosen pieces include a pair of Mozart concertos accompanied by interpretive dance from MSU dance students as well as popular selections from such operas as “Sweeney Todd” and “Rigoletto.

The recital also includes the premier of “By the Waters of Babylon,” an intensely personal work written by MSU instructor John Lindberg that features an uncommon arrangement of timpani, bassoon and bass.

“I wrote it two years ago,” Lindberg said. “It’s been kind of sitting on the shelf since then.”

Lindberg wrote the piece in response to a series of trying circumstances in his life. At the time, MSU’s music department was among many affected by a sweeping series of reductions aimed at closing a nearly $10 million shortfall. At the same time, Lindberg said he was processing the recent deaths of several friends and colleagues.

Coloring all of those experiences, he said, was the same sense of weariness and doom shared by many across the nation in the face of a lengthy recession and increasingly bitter political divides.

The piece itself incorporates the names of deceased friends written into the musical composition (by switching out vowels for solfege syllables) as well as melodies from Gustav Mahler’s “The Hunter’s Funeral Procession,” which meets the occasion of a hunter’s death with the perspectives of his animal prey, who are celebrating his demise.

The result, Lindberg said, is a work marked both by happiness and melancholy.

“In that kind of climate,” Lindberg said, “it felt like we were supposed to keep going on, making music, as if nothing was happening.”

Additionally, Lindberg will perform a pair of Mozart’s bassoon concertos with interpretive dance from MSU students. The dance is choreographed by MSU student Sophia Cecile Pimsler, whom Lindberg praised for her precise and dramatic handling of the material.

For the opera scenes, MSU instructor Kimm Julian will team with students while fellow instructor Lauren Weber will perform “You Can’t Sing Opera if You’re a Country Star” with a full band. The two will perform a scene from “Sweeney Todd” together with a student chorus accompanying

Students from MSU’s music industry department are handling the technical details.

At least in recent memory, none could remember a previous collaboration between MSU faculty and students from so many departments.

“We’re all housed in the same building,” said Robert Johnson, vocal music education student.

To which fellow student Nathan Amundson added: “But we kind of seem to keep to ourselves.”

Julian said the event represents both an opportunity for students to apply their skills in a real-world scenario as well as see for themselves how their instructors incorporate the theatrical elements of music performance.

“We strive with all of our students to help them bring out the dramatic aspects of any music they sing,” he said, adding: “This is unique to anything our department has ever done.”