The music of summer

Students may not be in full session this summer, but Corthell Hall will still be echoing with the sounds of music as we prepare to welcome participants in our USM Summer Youth Music & Theatre Camps. This year we’re expecting a large crowd of students grades 5-12 to come to residential or day camp for a week of intensive music with our professional instructors. These summer camps have dual purpose for us – not only is it a way to maximize use of our space and talents, but it’s also a means to reach out to young musicians from all over the region and encourage them in their musical endeavors.

USM Summer Youth Music and Theatre CampsA camp experience can mean more to a student than a week of playing an instrument. It’s an opportunity to meet like-minded peers, to experience the world beyond their home and school, to perform in a more formal setting, and to absorb the guidance of our professional music instructors. And, they have fun, too. In the words of one camper: “I went into the camp not knowing anybody. By the time the week ended, I had made a new best friend and a group of people that I couldn’t wait to see again… I love the staff at camp. They are the most helpful, caring, funny, and talented people I have ever met. They all share a strong passion of music and to help kids do well with music… I had such a great time at band camp that I went back two more years.” Read more about our camps, including more testimony from campers and parents on our camp site.

If you’re not around this summer, you won’t miss out on the fun. We’re auditioning singers and instrumentalists for our Youth Ensembles this week. The ensembles meet throughout the academic year and perform each semester. With four instrumental ensembles, plus our Southern Maine Children’s Choir, there’s a musical experience here for everyone.

The USM School of Music is dedicated to our youth programs as a way of encouraging and nurturing our future musicians. Hear What’s Happening Now!

Posted by on May 21st, 2012 Read More No Comments

A fond note for our graduates

This Saturday we will celebrate USM’s 132nd Commencement Ceremony at the Cumberland County Civic Center, and the School of Music will be well-represented among the students walking in the ceremonies. Our graduating students will be awarded the Bachelor of Arts in Music, Bachelor of Music in Music Education, and Bachelor of Music in Performance with concentrations in Musical Theatre, Jazz Studies, and Classical. And four School of Music students will be awarded the Master of Music in Performance – including Voice, Viola, and Piano – and in Composition.

The commencement exercises are a recognition of the years of hard work the students have put into earning their degrees. And our music students do, in fact, earn them. They spend their time here at USM not just studying and taking exams, but practicing and performing in ensembles, stage managing recitals, serving as ushers, taking part in the annual holiday gala, and providing helping hands behind the scenes in a myriad of ways. And as if that doesn’t keep them busy enough, on any given day you can walk through Corthell Hall and find students who have stopped by to see a professor between classes, to work on an assignment, or to simply meet up with their fellow music students to share their latest projects. The School of Music is a true community of musicians working and learning together.

Which makes Commencement a bittersweet event for us. Watching our graduates prepare to complete their time here is like watching a bird preparing to leave the nest. We’re proud of our graduating students and know they will excel in whatever course their lives take. And we look forward to hearing about their successes in the future.

Posted by on May 7th, 2012 Read More No Comments

An alumni weekend to remember

Open House

This weekend we celebrated a Musical Homecoming here at the School of Music. After years of planning, we are now the sole occupants of Corthell Hall and our renovations are in the final touches – which means more space for classrooms, studios, rehearsals, and general collaboration among our students and faculty. But our Open House on Saturday acknowledged more than a building, it was a testimony to the musicians who have walked (and played) in Corthell Hall.

Open HouseGenerations of alumni gathered with our current students and reunited with faculty this weekend in a performance of Carmina Burana that can only be described as truly impressive. What a joy to see so many of our graduates return to perform with us, and to hear about their many successes. We are so proud of our alumni, and showed their accomplishments in the Alunni Wall of Achievement displaying CD covers, performance photos, and letters from alumni all over the state, country, and world.

We could report on stories shared by alumni throughout the weekend – remembrances of their time here at the USM School of Music as well as the long-lasting effect of their education – but who can say it better than an alumnus?

Mike McGinnis is a graduate from the class of 1995. He now lives in New York, where he is a composer, performer, and music educator:

“The education I received at USM was on a world class level. This became clear to me when I was attending graduate school at the Eastman School and realized that my undergrad had prepared me as much if not more than many students from major conservatories. The low student-to-faculty ratio and continual presence and availability of the faculty allowed me to learn more about music outside of class. There are so many things that I learned at USM that I can attribute to my success today have spent the last 15 years in NYC as a professional musician.”

Mike joined us for our Carmina performance and taught a master class as part of our Musical Homecoming weekend. He is one of many music  alumni in whom we take great pride. Thanks to Mike and all the alumni who gathered here this weekend.

Posted by on April 23rd, 2012 Read More No Comments

Carmina Burana brings musicians home to USM

On any given day, walking through Corthell Hall creates an auditory buffet, with classical violin coming from one end of the hallway, jazz trumpet at the other, and a little opera singing in-between. The sounds of the School of Music create a pervading energy in Corthell Hall, making it a unique location on campus.

That energy has been increasing exponentially as our Musical Homecoming weekend approaches. Starting Friday, we’re expecting to see a lot of familiar faces on campus as our alumni start sifting into town in preparation for performing this weekend’s Spotlight Concert: Carmina Burana. And as if a concert in such a grand scale wasn’t enough, we decided to pack the weekend with events for alumni and everyone who loves music – including an Open House here at Corthell Hall.

Here’s a taste of what Carmina Burana Weekend will offer:

Become a Music Master:
Join School of Music alumni for two separate music masterclasses on Friday, April 20 at 11 a.m. in Corthell Hall, USM Gorham. Trombonist Sam Woodhead will offer a Brass Masterclass, accompanied by Derek Herzer. And alumni Elisabeth Marshall, soprano, and Jason Plourde, baritone, will offer a Voice Masterclass. Both classes are free, no reservations required.

Composers Showcase:
Hear new music in its first public performance as students from our Composers Ensemble share the culmination of their semester’s work in the Composers Showcase on Friday, April 20, at 8 p.m. in Corthell Concert Hall, USM Gorham. The free event will also feature a new piece by USM faculty composer Dan Sonenberg.

Corthell Hall Open House:
Hear What’s Happening Now at our Open House! We’ve taken over Corthell Hall and want to show everybody our new students spaces  Saturday, April 21, 2-4 p.m. in Corthell Hall, USM Gorham. The building will be open to all – students, faculty, alumni, neighbors, friends, and anybody who loves music. Tour the building, learn what concerts the School of Music will offer next season, and enjoy student music in open workshops. Free.

Carmina Burana:
You’ve heard the music in film scores and TV ads, now experience the impact of a live performance when the University of Southern Maine’s Concert Band and Chorale take the Merrill Auditorium stage in Portland with more than 50 School of Music alumni for an epic performance of Carmina Burana on Sunday, April 22, at 3 p.m. The generations of USM alumni joining in this colossal performance create our first musical homecoming of its kind, conducted by School of Music faculty members Peter Martin with Robert Russell. $15 recommended donation at the door. Proceeds go toward music scholarships. Sponsored by HeadInvest; Murray, Plumb & Murray; Macdonald Page & Co LLC; and Down East, the Magazine of Maine.

The Music Business:
USM alumni Mike McGinnis will offer a free masterclass on Music Business “Street Smarts” and Jazz Combo coaching on Monday, April 23, at 12 noon in Corthell Hall, USM Gorham.

Don’t miss our biggest weekend of the year!

Posted by on April 16th, 2012 Read More No Comments

Celebrating students in our Honors Weekend

The USM School of Music would be nothing without our students. So we love when April rolls around and we can take part in our traditional recognition of our outstanding students with our annual Honors Recital. This year, the 35th Annual Honors Recital falls on a weekend with so many other exceptional student performances that we just had to trumpet it as Honors Weekend.

The weekend starts a little early with a Thursday, April 12, evening performance from the USM Youth Ensembles at Merrill Auditorium. These students have worked hard all semester to prepare an impressive program, and all as part of their extracurricular activities. The ensembles, sponsored by Macy’s, have proven themselves from year-to-year as the breeding ground of  star musicians.

Next, the Graduate Showcase, another School of Music tradition, steps front and center in Corthell Hall on Friday, April 13. Friday the 13th is considered a bewitched date, and reviewing the lineup of graduate students prepared to perform, we think they just might be charmed. The free event lives up to its name as it showcases our graduate students and their many talents.

But the Honors Recital might be the hot ticket of the weekend, this Saturday, April 14. Seven students were selected this year by a jury of outside musicians for solo performances in the crowning event of our academic year. The recital, which is sponsored by Macy’s, is free and so popular that we recommend advance reservations. This year student performers include Sable Strout, mezzo-soprano; Alexander Prezzano, guitar; Aaren Rivard, voice; Melissa Bills, musical theater; Wil Bristol, piano; James Michael McDonald II, musical theater; and Joshua Witham, voice.

Finishing the weekend, we offer our infamous Opera Workshop on Sunday, April 15, with highlights from a variety of popular operas including selections from Carmen by George Bizet, The Goose of Cairo by Wolfgang Mozart, Cinderella by Giachinno Rossini, and the Courtroom scene from The Crucible by Robert Ward based on the play.

Our students never fail to impress us with their ever-growing talents. Join us in celebrating them!

Posted by on April 9th, 2012 Read More No Comments

Coming of age in Youth Ensembles

PYWENext week, more than 200 youth will step onto the stage at Merrill Auditorium, Portland, to perform. They are the members of the USM Youth Ensembles.

For the past 15 years, the School of Music has hosted five musical ensembles for youth grades 12 and younger – the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra, Portland Youth Junior Orchestra, Portland Young People’s String Consort, Portland Youth Wind Ensemble, and the Southern Maine Children’s Choir – each offering members the opportunity to study with School of Music faculty, local professionals, and peer musicians from all over the state. Their work culminates in a performance each semester.

But the ensembles are more than another concert. They’re an opportunity to grow musically, intellectually, and emotionally. And they can open doors for innumerable possibilities in a student’s life. Elizabeth Chaplin, 1st Clarinet with PYWE, will be graduating high school this June and plans to attend Nazareth College where she will major in Music Therapy. Her mother Cathy writes:

“I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful program and the opportunities and learning experiences it has provided. Wednesday evenings have always been the highlight of Elizabeth’s week and she adores and greatly admires Dr. Martin. … Her participation in such a prestigious program as PYWE really helped her in the admissions process and we are very grateful to USM and everyone there who helps make the Youth Ensembles such a success.”

Happily, Elizabeth and her parents plan on still attending future Youth Ensembles performances, and so can you. The Youth Ensembles, sponsored by Macy’s, have their Spring Instrumental Concert on April 12 and the SMCC concert on May 10. Come hear them perform, but be ready – you’ll be so impressed you’ll want to join us come fall. Try out for Youth Ensembles at auditions May 23-25.

Do you have a Youth Ensembles success story? Email us, or share it on Facebook.

Posted by on April 2nd, 2012 Read More No Comments

Carmina Burana becomes a musical homecoming for alumni

If you’ve read our season brochure, you’ll have noticed that we’re finishing off our Spotlight Concert Series this year with a magnificent gathering of musicians for Carmina Burana. On April 22 at 3 p.m., the USM Chorale, USM Concert Band, and more than 50 School of Music alumni will take over Merrill Auditorium, Portland, to perform this epic, moving piece composed by Carl Orff.

If you’re familiar with Carmina Burana, you probably don’t have to ask why so many people are interested in playing it. For the audience, it’s the familiar strains of discordant, rhythmic notes that you recognize from movies and commercials. For musicians, it’s an opportunity to dig into a rich musical piece that has a true power behind it. We thought it would be fun to hear why some of the special alumni soloists are taking part in their own words:

“Carmina Burana is a piece of music that’s been surrounded in controversy, largely due to the praise given its composer Carl Orff by the Nazi regime in 1940s Germany. For this reason, it is certainly a significant piece in musical history. But whatever people’s speculations about its message or the socio-political affiliation of its composer, it is simply, unarguably one of the most powerful and moving pieces of music ever written. As if this wasn’t reason enough to take part in this concert! I am also just thrilled to be coming back to my old stomping grounds at the USM School of Music. My life was so enriched by my education at USM, and I hope that by taking part in this concert–especially as its proceeds benefit School of Music scholarships–I am somehow giving back even just a little of what I got from my time at USM.”

–Elisabeth Marshall, soprano

“There are so many reasons why I am taking part in this performance of Carmina Burana. It’s a truly great piece of music…almost theatrical in scope, and as an opera singer I love theatrics. It’s so moving and intense and visceral, and I just love singing it. More so, I am overjoyed to be returning home. USM is where it all began for me, this musical journey of mine. Now, 10 years later, I get to return to that starting point and work with friends and colleagues from my days as a student, incredibly talented people with whom I have always enjoyed making music. I also get to make new friends and new colleagues and get the opportunity to sing and work with bright, new and young talented students. I get to take part in the evolution of the USM School of Music and this is very exciting to me. USM will always have a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to be home again!”

–Jason Plourde, baritone

In addition to the concert itself, we’re holding a series of alumni-taught music masterclasses that weekend, as well as a special Corthell Hall Open House to celebrate the School of Music’s expansion into the entire building. Find out more about the entire weekend of events on our Events Calendar.

Posted by on March 19th, 2012 Read More No Comments

Guest blog: Music Education majors to attend conference

The School of Music’s Music Education students are hard at work sharing and learning in area classrooms. Nine junior-level students teach weekly beginning band lessons through a partnership with David Kent of Windham’s Manchester Elementary School. On top of that, we have 16 sophomore-level Music Education majors teaching song-based lessons to first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in Windham, South Portland, and Gorham. These students will also be running choir sectionals and rehearsals with middle school choirs in March and April in Yarmouth and Standish. And four of our Music Education students are busy preparing to attend the 2012 Biennial Music Educators National Conference in St. Louis at the end of this month.

Student Christina Zahn is one of those who will attend the conference, and has written a guest blog for us today:

“As future teachers, the MUE majors in the School of Music all register as collegiate members to the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).  We also have our own University of Southern Maine NAfME chapter, run by four students elected every spring: a President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary. This year’s officers include Joshua Champagne, President; Jenna Guiggey, Vice President; Leah Churchill, Treasurer; and Christina Zahn, Secretary. We work to keep a family-style community within our major so that all the students can learn and grow from one another as well as from the coursework presented to us.

“We strive to better our New England community by holding a nationally-recognized symposium every fall. Music Education students from surrounding colleges come for a day and attend sessions on the challenges we will face in the workplace and how to overcome those challenges, whether they be administrative, technological, creative, etc. Each year we like to pick a theme for the symposium and structure our sessions and speakers around that common thread. This coming fall we are working towards a multicultural theme: incorporating music from around the world, as authentically as possible, into our classrooms and music programs. This year we will also be opening this symposium up to area teachers as well as students.

“In addition to this symposium being a great networking and learning experience, it serves as one of our largest fundraisers as well. Sometimes our funds go towards bringing speakers to campus, but more often than not our money goes toward subsidizing student trips to larger professional development conferences. Last spring approximately 30 music education students made the trip to the Eastern Division Music Educator’s National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. We spent three days with hundreds of sessions to choose from, including learning about gospel music, guitar ensembles, incorporating SmartMusic, and how to bring boys into our choir programs. There were so many talented speakers with so many great ideas to offer us. The best part was that, if we didn’t attend a session it was likely that one of our friends did and we could share notes, getting even more bang for our buck.

“There are six divisions of NAfME across the United States and this year all six divisions are coming together in St. Louis, Missouri for the fully National Conference. Unfortunately, this particular conference is too far away and therefore too expensive to send a large number of students, so we are sending four representatives from the University of Southern Maine. Attending the conference from March 28 to March 31 will be Joshua Champagne, Leah Churchill, Christina Zahn, and Jesse Wakeman, last year’s President of CNAfME. We want to continue to be a presence at every conference and to bring back inspiration for our colleagues from the sessions we attend in the form of notes and more than likely a presentation in our Professional Seminar class where all the MUE levels come together as one. Just because everyone can’t attend doesn’t mean everyone can’t benefit.

“Most excitingly, next spring’s divisional conference is incredibly close to home in Hartford, Connecticut. We plan to have all of our major in attendance and are working on a great deal of fundraising to secure that possibility.  Wish us luck!”


Posted by on March 12th, 2012 Read More No Comments

Music and theater go hand-in-hand

Jericah Potvin as Kitty and Matt Defiore as the Man in the Chair in the USM production of The Drowsy Chaperone.

This Friday is opening night of our spring musical theater production of The Drowsy Chaperone, with stage direction by the Department of Theatre’s Assunta Kent and musical direction by the School of Music’s Ed Reichert. The annual spring show is traditionally a joint effort between the School of Music and the Department of Theatre – and one that consistently produces a notably high-quality performance.

We often talk here about our partnerships with the community – whether it’s bringing musical performances to classrooms, after-school activities and senior centers, or partnering with local musical institutions like the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Freeport Performing Arts, or Ovations Offstage. But our community within the university is just as vibrant.

Along with our annual musical theater partnership, the School of Music ensembles traditionally share their talents with their fellow students by performing on both the Portland and Gorham campuses, like our Jazz Combos which play at the Portland and Gorham student centers each semester. Plus, the USM chapter of the Music Educators National Conference sponsors coffeehouse evenings in which students perform to raise funds so they can attend upcoming workshops. And that doesn’t even begin to list our complete semester of events here in Corthell Concert Hall.

We’re proud to be a part of making the University of Southern Maine a true educational and cultural community.

Posted by on March 5th, 2012 Read More No Comments

A musical homecoming

Our plans to perform Carmina Burana with the USM Chorale, USM Concert Band, and School of Music alumni have really taken off! We already have more than 50 alumni signed up to perform, and we’re still getting email requests.

If you haven’t seen it on our Facebook page, the School of Music will perform the epic work Carmina Burana on Sunday, April 22, at 3 p.m. in Merrill Auditorium, Myrtle Street, Portland. If the title isn’t ringing any bells, listen to this clip and you’ll recognize it instantly. Aside from loving the music, this performance has really captured our imaginations since we get to hear from and visit with former students from all over. In fact, we’re so excited we decided to make a weekend of it – offering masterclasses led by alumni, an open house of Corthell Hall (especially exciting since the School of Music just took over the entire building this year), an alumni reception, and an additional reception after the performance. And, of course, there will be a wee bit of rehearsing to do, too. But with Drs. Martin and Russell at the helm, even the work of learning the music will be fun.

Alumni interested in joining us can email Dr. Martin at pmartin at to get on the list – we’ll be sending information on music, hotels, and the rest of our weekend. If you’re not an alumni, don’t be discouraged – we would love to have you at the performance to enjoy the result of our musical homecoming.

Posted by on February 27th, 2012 Read More No Comments