February 18, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 10

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    Ensemble members give and receive musical pleasure

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    While nationally known for its scholarly research in music, the University also supports a vigorous musical performance program. Ensembles sponsored by the Music Department feature 450 musicians in more than 90 concerts a year. University ensembles include two orchestras, three choirs, a wind ensemble, a jazz ensemble and even a Javanese gamelan ensemble.

    These performance groups are an artistic melting pot, bringing together novice and veteran musicians as well as performers from the College, graduate and professional schools, faculty, staff and local community. In this way, Chicago’s musical performance groups differ from those at conservatories or at other Ivy League-Plus schools, such as Brown or Harvard, said Barbara Schubert, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Performance Program. “This mix is one of our strengths because our younger players get to share the wealth of experience provided by veterans––some of whom were playing before their fellow musicians were born.”

    Fourth-year, general studies in the humanities major and recent Rhodes scholar Mira Lutgendorf, who plays viola in the University Symphony Orchestra, agreed with Schubert. “It (diversity) is one of the things that makes our orchestra unique––we are not all music majors.” Many of the performers, said Lutgendorf, study physics or math, and some are doctors or teachers. “When we come together to make music, it is even more special because we are coming from such different backgrounds.”

    Just as the University is a community for “learning collectively,” so too are the ensembles, said Schubert. She believes that kind of environment appeals to the many musicians who audition each fall, including students who have already graduated. She believes the exciting and enduring value of music––or any performing art––is that “we can all participate by giving to and getting something from it.”

    Fourth-year biology major and choral singer Marisa Dahlman spends much of her time working independently in a lab. As president of the Motet Choir and a member of the Rockefeller Chapel Choir, she enjoys the sense of community found in the ensembles. Through choir, she met her closest friends and learned to be a team player. “In order to be a part of a successful performing group, you sort of have to check your ego at the door and become a part of something that is bigger than you are by yourself,” said Dahlman. “I have learned to take immense satisfaction from being part of a group that is much more than its individual parts.”

    The diverse ensembles also have the opportunity to work together on large-scale events. The University Chorus traditionally performs with the Wind Ensemble during Winter Quarter, and the combined choirs collaborate with the University Symphony Orchestra in the spring. Directors of the ensembles take turns conducting from year to year. Director of Choral Activities Randi Von Ellefson appreciates the willingness of his colleagues to share their podiums. “At many other institutions, conductors are more territorial. Here, there is not only a willingness, but an eagerness, to collaborate,” said Ellefson.

    Although music-making at Chicago is an extracurricular activity, most of the musicians are committed to long hours of practice and rehearsal. Ellefson noted that members of the Motet Choir make time for four and a half hours of rehearsal each week and give up their spring breaks to tour with the group. Schubert attributes this commitment to the members’ passion for musical excellence. “Musicians are very goal oriented. They always want to be better, to play the music as well as the orchestras they hear on their CDs at home. As conductors, we try to make their commitment worthwhile––by challenging our musicians artistically and creatively.”

    Mathematics graduate student Martin Pergler plays clarinet with the University Symphony Orchestra and sings with the Rockefeller Chapel Choir. Pergler said the repertoire the University offers is something musicians do not want to pass up, “but playing a less familiar work––or a brand new composition with the New Music Ensemble––is often as much fun as playing the blockbusters,” Pergler said. Pergler, like many of the musicians, also appreciates the opportunity to perform. “If I were at a university with a large music performance degree program, I just would not, as a non-major, get to participate in groups at this high a level,” said Pergler.

    As a conductor for the University Symphony Orchestra, Schubert seeks to raise the caliber of performances by selecting what she believes is aesthetically pleasing, yet challenging, music. Lutgendorf, in her fourth year with the orchestra, said, “We do amazing music, and there have been several concerts where I was sure that we wouldn’t be able to learn all of the pieces. But Barbara Schubert sets her sights high and makes us meet her challenges.”

    Schubert ultimately hopes the extracurricular programs help participants develop a musical passion and nurture a lifelong commitment to music.

    Peggy Moran, a fourth-year student, is a music major who plans to pursue a master’s degree in performance. “Music performance, although it will appear nowhere on my transcript, is one of the main focuses of my life here.” Having played French horn in the University Symphony Orchestra and University Wind Ensemble for four years, Moran said she appreciates being able to receive an education from Chicago while challenging and developing her musical skills at the same time.

    Alumnus and former philosophy major Daniel Doņa plays violin in the Symphony and Chamber orchestras, sings in the Motet Choir and plans to study musical performance in graduate school. He believes his Chicago education gave him a larger world perspective––one he would not have received from a music conservatory.

    Doņa said there are pros and cons to extracurricular performing, but playing in the University ensembles is very rewarding. “We get to play for the sheer pleasure of it.”

    For upcoming Music Department performances, see the Calendar on page 6 of this issue.