Summer Academies to take over camp-us

The USM Summer Youth Music and Theatre Camps are on their way! Hard to believe that we’re already talking about summer – especially since it feels like winter only just arrived – but we’ll be opening registration this week (Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 9 a.m.) for our annual academies. As in past year’s we’re offering four camp opportunities:

Classes may be out for university students this summer, but campus will still be packed with music and theatre students. Our performing arts camps have become extremely popular over the years, and we believe one reason for that is the teamwork and camaraderie inherent in playing and performing music with other musicians, and expanding your character with other actors. That experience is irreplaceable in its ability to help a young student not only with his or her artistic growth, but personal growth as well. Similar to our Youth Ensembles, we hear from past participants who remember their time spent learning music here at USM with a true fondness – and we love to host new students every year.

That’s music to our ears!

Posted by on February 13th, 2012 Read More No Comments

CreateMusic / CreateMaine

CreateMaineThe School of Music is about to play host to one of Maine’s more innovative entrepreneurial events – CreateMaine. A part of Maine Entrepreneur Week, CreateMaine offers an evening of wisdom from three of our area’s finest business entrepreneurs including Cindy Thompson of Transformit with Fabric; Emily Danchuck of Ferman, Gregory, LLC; and, most notably to those of us in the music business, Tony Boffa of the Tony Boffa Band.

If you think music isn’t a business, think again. We at the School of Music want to provide our students with the skills they need to not only understand, perform and share music, but to simultaneously make themselves an economic success. And we’re not alone. CreateMaine is co-presented by the USM Department of Theater, USM Department of Art, and USM Department of Environmental Science, the College of Science, Technology, and Health and the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Science. So come to the CreateMaine event on Monday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m. in Corthell Concert Hall, to discover how you can become an entrepreneur and help build our economy and community. It’s free!

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

Highlighting student compositions

Here at the USM School of Music we share a lot about performances – for instance, our spring season is getting underway this week with “Favorite Works, A La Carte,” a Spotlight Concert from our own Brian Diehl on trombone. And we enjoy highlighting our student talent throughout the semester as our student ensembles take the stage. But a recent surge in interest in writing music has shifted our attention to the composers among us. The School of Music just held its first-ever Composition Competition, with three winning student compositions to be performed at the upcoming Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra concert on Feb. 11.

The orchestra will perform “Unbearable,” by Aaron Pettengill, a junior violin performance major from Saco and Lewiston; “Symphony of Stars,” by Timothy Burns of Buxton, who recently achieved his undergraduate degree in Music Education and is now starting graduate studies in composition; and “Opening Id” by Nicholas Merriam, a third-year music student from Bucksport.

“This competition came about because of the tremendous growth of composers in our midst,” says SMSO conductor and School of Music faculty member Robert Lehmann. “Thanks to Drs. Dan Sonenberg and Nancy Gunn’s efforts, the School of Music has been a hot-bed for up-coming composers, so much so that the Composer’s Ensemble is bursting at the seams. It’s an honor for SMSO to give the world-premieres of these winning works.”

The student composers have written three vastly different pieces:

  • Tim Burns has written a 4-movement piece for orchestra that shows his knowledge of the 20th-century orchestral literature, featuring outer movements that are defined by Bartok-infused dissonant counterpoint, and inner movements alive with the humor and color of Prokofiev.
  • Aaron Pettengill has written a work for string orchestra, a relative of Barber’s Adagio for Strings in both its extended tonality and its lyrical, sustained build to a gripping climax.
  • Nicholas Merriam’s work is characterized by complex polyrhythms in its opening, and lush, jazz-infused harmonies as it continues.

School of Music faculty member Daniel Sonenberg, who directs the USM Composers Ensemble, finds each skillfully conceived and accessible. “The competition and performance has given these composers an opportunity to have an orchestral composition rehearsed several times and performed – a rarity in this day and age for composers at any level,” he says. “The three pieces were selected from a pool of very strong entries, demonstrating that student composition at the University of Southern Maine is as strong as it has ever been. All three of these composers have experience playing in USM’s major ensembles, in some cases extensive experience, and this is demonstrated by music that is idiomatically conceived for its instruments, and cognizant of the relevant orchestral literature.”

The students may have extensive experience in the ensembles, and some have had original works performed in the past, but they are still experiencing a nervous excitement as the concert approaches.

“I really like writing my own music because it allows for more personal expression but I find that performing my own music is far more nerve-wracking than performing someone else’s music,” says Pettengill. His creation process relies on a strong start. “For me, a piece starts to come together once I have a good beginning. Once I had an idea in my head for that, the rest just fell into place.”“I write music because it’s in me to write,” says Burns. “Just as any author or poet doesn’t write to replace the works of others, I simply have ideas that I want to share with the world.  I’m honored to have my piece played side by side to one of the greatest composers ever – Jean Sibelius.”The SMSO will perform the winning compositions as well as the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. at Gorham Middle School, 106 Weeks Road, Gorham. Tickets cost $6 general public; $3 students, seniors, USM employees and alumni, and will be sold at the door. Snow date is Feb. 15.

Posted by on January 30th, 2012 Read More No Comments

We’re thinking spring

The weather outside has finally turned to winter, but we’re thinking spring here in Corthell Hall. Our Spring 2012 season brochure was just sent out full of musical opportunities you won’t want to miss. I know we’re often expressing our enthusiasm for the music we offer, but there’s a reason for that – we are thrilled with the opportunity to work with such talented and promising music students as we have here at USM. And our spring season highlights some of the best we have to offer.

This season starts strong, ends strong, and has a myriad of treasures in between. Starting with a Spotlight Concert Series performance from faculty member Brian Diehl, we are offering our first solo trombone concert in three years. This is quickly followed by a Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra concert performing the winning compositions in the USM School of Music’s first ever Composition Competition (we’ll be posting more about our winners as the concert approaches). Then faculty member Laura Kargul joins with Ronald Lantz to present a Valentine to French Romanticism on violin and piano, followed by our next Spotlight Concert featuring Robert Lehmann performing Two Sonata Blockbusters on violin. Some may think those are enough notable performances for one season – but not us. We’re offering our annual Graduate Showcase, Composers Showcase, Youth Ensembles performances, Jazz Ensembles and Opera Workshop concerts, plus the 35th Annual Honors Recital and the SMSO performing with winners of the Concerto Competition. To top it all off like a cherry on a sundae, the USM Chorale and USM Concert Band will be joined on the Merrill Stage in April by School of Music graduates from throughout the years for massive performance of Carmina Burana. If you’re a School of Music alumn, you’ll want to get in on this!

Walking through Corthell Hall now, you here rhythms and melodies bursting from nearly every classroom door, the sounds of our students preparing for the coming performances. Their enthusiasm and energy are what makes the School of Music the outstanding educational institution we are today. Be sure to come to a performance and experience it for yourself.

If you haven’t received our brochure, we’ll send you a digital version – sign up for our email list here.

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

The audition of your life

While most people are concentrating on the upcoming holidays and students take a break from classes, School of Music faculty are busy thinking about something else – our future musicians. ‘Tis the season for auditions here at Corthell Hall. Students applying to the School of Music don’t just fill out a paper form (although they do that, too), just as they will if they enrolled in the School of Music – they perform.

Auditions are an important part of the application process, providing our faculty the opportunity to assess current skill levels and propensity. While we’ve already held one audition day, we have an additional six Fridays set aside starting in January to hear from our prospective students. Audition information, including Music Talent Scholarship dates, is posted on our website. Please note the specific dates set aside for musical theater studies.

It’s important to us that we find the right mix of instruments and musical interests to enrich the learning experience. Could that mix include you?

Posted by on December 19th, 2011 Read More No Comments

Calling all alumni

Tune your instruments and warm up your vocal chords – it’s time to perform!

We’re planning a musical homecoming this spring when we invite all our alumni to join the USM Concert Band and USM Chorale at Merrill Auditorium to perform a tremendous production of Carmina Burana, conducted by faculty Peter Martin with Robert Russell. You’re already familiar with Carmina (listen to this NPR story), made popular through movie and commercial placements. The music combines the rich, full sound of dissonant chords with driving rhythms that make it an amazing experience to hear – and perform. And this is your chance!

Come for the concert Sunday, April 22, or stay the weekend and enjoy masterclass instruction from School of Music graduates, as well as a special Saturday evening reception. Alumni who would like to join in the performance should contact Peter Martin at for rehearsal and lodging information. Not an alumni? You can still enjoy the concert. Mark your calendars now.

We’re looking forward to seeing (and hearing) you this spring!

Posted by on December 12th, 2011 Read More No Comments

Another fabulous gala evening

Last Friday the School of Music hosted our 21st annual Music Scholarship Holiday Gala.

Each year we gather our friends and supporters to help us raise funds toward student scholarships, and each year we’re impressed anew with the generosity of our community. Friday’s event was attended by more than 250 music lovers who gathered for fine dining and entertainment. The night started with an hors d’oeuvres reception followed by a banquet dinner including menu items from New York’s 21 Club – an homage to our 21st year and theme, “21 – Coming of Age.” Directly following dinner, University President Selma Botman offered a toast, and then everyone had the opportunity to take part in a live auction.

While the fine food and friends would have made for a wonderful evening, the student performances were the real highlight. Whether it was the members of our Holiday Jazz Combo and USM Wind Ensemble who played from the balcony during cocktails, the table serenaders strolling through the dining halls, or the soloists, Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and Chamber Singers who formed the centerpiece concert – our music students underscored the importance of the evening.

Many thanks to our supporters and friends who attended the gala, who donated to our online and live auctions, and who in fact support the School of Music throughout the year. We would especially like to thank members of our Host Committee, lead this year by Co-Chairs Bob and Jill Blackwood, as well as our gala sponsors Portland Volvo and Portland Saab. As our student scholarship speaker Owen Conforte declared in his remarks, having an acclaimed musical program with nationally and internationally recognized faculty in Maine is irreplaceable to our students. The support of our community makes that possible and we thank you.

We’ll be posting some photos from the evening on our Facebook page. To learn more about the School of Music and our upcoming spring season, sign up for our e-news. We’ll see you at future events!

Posted by on December 5th, 2011 Read More No Comments

Catching up with music alumni

USM School of Music alumnae Nancy Penna Curran and Silvia (Sam) Moore-Young were part of a team of music educators who visited with senators on Capitol Hill during Music Education Week. The two were recently featured in an article on stimulating federal support for music programs in the October issue of Teaching Music journal. Nancy, who received both her bachelors and masters degrees at USM, is president-elect of Maine’s Music Educators Association, while Sam, who has her bachelors degree from USM, is the immediate past president. Well done, to you both.

The USM faculty doesn’t just invest in our students during their studies, but continues to keep in touch with them as they move off into the musical world. We’re immensely proud of the achievements of our alumni. They go on to become leaders in music education, performance … and advocacy. We love to hear what our graduates are doing, and even have a contact form just for that purpose. And we offer an alumni website where you can keep up-to-date on the accomplishments of your former classmates.

In celebration of our alumni, we’re preparing to have a homecoming of the musical variety in conjunction with our spring performance of Carmina Burana. We’re still ironing out the details, but mark your calendars for April 22 for a performance combining our current students with our former students – all on the stage together. Even if you’ve moved out of Maine since graduation, this will be a performance worth traveling for. Sign up for our email notices to make sure you hear all about it.

And all you alumni out there – keep in touch!

Posted by on November 28th, 2011 Read More No Comments

21 – Coming of Age

Our annual Scholarship Gala is almost upon us! The gala, our major fundraiser for music scholarships, is our traditional kick-off to the holiday season, offering an evening of fine dining and fine entertainment – all for a good cause.

This year marks our 21st anniversary celebration, “21 – Coming of Age.” The evening will start out with hors d’oeuvres during cocktails, with a backdrop of holiday music performed by our own student ensembles. Then attendees will enjoy a festive dinner banquet featuring recipes from New York City’s 21 Club Restaurant while being serenaded by strolling carolers. University President Selma Botman will offer a welcoming champagne toast, followed by a spectacular live auction and the grand centerpiece concert performed by our talented School of Music students. The evening concludes with dessert and coffee in the grand lobby accompanied by more seasonal music.

The gala offers a highly entertaining, musically exciting, delicious and unique evening – it’s no wonder it has become a holiday tradition for hundreds, a tradition that has changed the lives of the music students who will be performing that very evening. Being able to provide scholarship funding to our students means attracting a diverse collection of musicians that adds to the strength of our program.

The gala takes place Friday, Dec. 2, 5:30-10 p.m. at the Abromson Education Center, USM Portland. Cash bar – black tie optional. Reservations are required. Tickets cost $90 per person ($40 tax deductible per person) or $900 for reserved Table for Ten ($400 deductible per table). Purchase tickets by calling 780-5003, or emailing Sponsored by Portland Volvo and Portland Saab.

In addition to the gala, we’re hosting an online auction through Bidding for Good, also raising funds for music scholarships. Bid on a variety of local treasures, and support music students in the process. Bidding is open through November 29. Many thanks to our generous donors and those bidding on items. You make it possible for our students to study and perform the music we all love.

Posted by on November 21st, 2011 Read More No Comments

Bringing music to the next generation

Our USM School of Music faculty isn’t just teaching college students about music – we’re teaching them to share their love of music with others. That’s one of our goals when our students travel to local schools to perform and teach.

This week the Chamber Singers will conduct a mini-tour of local schools – including stops at Noble High School in South Berwick, York High School in York, and Holy Spirit Parish in Wells – where they will perform parts of their current repertoire under the direction of faculty member Robert Russell. Later this semester, our music education students will be teaching in classrooms throughout the area. These excursions allow our college musicians to connect with a student audience, grabbing their attention and sparking new interests in the students, who may be drawn to a particular instrument, a style of music, creating and sharing their own songs, or just the idea of enjoying more live performances.

Of course, the audience isn’t alone in reaping benefits from the visits. Whether the travelers are performing for the first time as a group or a USM student is developing teaching skills, the school visits are a plus for everyone. Once the younger students are inspired, we try to make sure there are plenty of opportunities for them to take an active role in studying and performing music. We administer the Southern Maine Children’s Choir, the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble, the Portland Youth Junior Orchestra, and the Portland Young People’s String Consort. These Youth Ensembles are open to grades 12 and younger by audition and perform each fall and spring, with the fall instrumental concert coming up this Thursday, Nov. 17.

Within our classroom visits and youth ensembles, we know we’re reaching members of the next generation of musicians and keeping a love for music alive and well in our communities.

Posted by on November 14th, 2011 Read More No Comments