Transylvania's music program has expanded to meet the needs of majors and non-majors alike
By William A. Bowden
When music professor Gary Anderson arrived at Transylvania in 1973, his title as director of choral ensembles could have been cast in the singular, since there was only one such group—the Transylvania Choir.
Thirty-seven years later, the music program offers four choral ensembles, along with greatly expanded opportunities in instrumental ensembles, a plethora of student and faculty concerts and recitals throughout the academic year, and a rigorous curriculum with three variations on the major, including a recently established major in music technology.
“The fact that we now have four choirs instead of one shows more student involvement in the music program today than ever before,” Anderson said. “There are many more opportunities now for students to make music, and that includes our instrumental ensembles and all the musical events that take place each year. It’s been a huge change, which is exciting to see.”
Music professor Gary Anderson has been director of choral ensembles for all of his 37-year Transylvania tenure.
Anderson is the longest-tenured member of a five-person full-time music faculty, supplemented by an adjunct faculty teaching specific instruments, that offers students an array of expertise in music theory, history, composition, performance, conducting, and lessons. The traditional majors in applied music and music education are now augmented by the technology major.
The creation of these new opportunities characterizes a program that is both dynamic and innovative, all with the mission of making the music experience at Transylvania for majors and non-majors, and for the general campus community, the best it can be.
Among the students who have taken full advantage of what the program has to offer is senior Kris Olson, an applied music major who is bass section leader in the choir, plays guitar in the jazz ensemble, and is music director for the student-led group TBA (Transylvania Boys A Cappella). He also sang in the Pioneer Voices men’s chorus, one of three choruses established by Anderson. (The other two are the Transylvania Singers women’s chorus and the Madrigal Singers.)
TBA is a student-directed choral ensemble with a repertoire that includes do-wop, pop, gospel, spirituals, and barbershop.
Olson had never performed with a vocal ensemble before coming to Transylvania, and arrived on campus intending to major in writing, rhetoric, and communication while minoring in music. His encounter with the music program caused him to reverse the order of those subjects.
“I took several music courses and began singing with the Pioneer Voices, but in the fall of my sophomore year I joined TBA,” Olson said. “TBA was the biggest factor in my wanting to pursue music on a higher level. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”
TBA, which has varied from eight to 11 members, originally focused only on do-wop, but now includes pop standards, gospel, spirituals, and barbershop. The group just produced its first CD.
Olson included TBA, an alumna friend, and the jazz ensemble in his senior recital, an unorthodox approach, but one that allowed him to use highlights of several of his arranging and composing projects.
“I didn’t want to go through a formula in terms of being a music student, and the faculty members were absolutely supportive of that,” Olson said. “It’s not just that they allowed me to do these things, but that they’ve pushed me to do them.”
Unlike Olson, senior Kathy Shewmaker came to Transy already decided on a music education major. She will probably teach at first, but has the ultimate goal of singing on Broadway.
At Transy, she has sung in the choir and for the Transylvania Singers, played oboe in the concert band, played saxophone for the pep band, and taken on various instruments in the percussion ensemble. She won Transy’s 2009 Concerto/Aria Competition with a performance of the first movement of Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C.
“One of the things I like about the music program here is all the opportunities we’re given,” Shewmaker said. “Who would ever ask an oboe player to hop back and play percussion? The professors are very willing to let you try new things.”
Shewmaker is smitten with the stage and hopes to sing in Broadway musicals some day. She remembers seeing a stage version of Grease in Louisville when she was 7, and still counts the teenage love story among her favorites. She’s likely to head to New York City after graduation, whether or not she has a teaching opportunity there.
“My all-time favorite movie musical is The Sound of Music,” she said. “I studied abroad in Salzburg, where the movie was filmed. That was amazing. I want to be on Broadway, and I don’t care if I’m the lead or in the back row. I love performing. It’s what I think I’m best at.”
Kasey Price thought she might be a Spanish major when she arrived at Transy, but after taking a music theory course and a computer class, the relationship between the two subjects appealed to her and led the junior to a music technology major.
Like students in any of the three music major areas, Price will take core courses such as theory and history, and demonstrate performance proficiency, in her case as a vocalist. But it’s the technology that really has captured her imagination.
“I like the hands-on aspect of the program, the fact that I get to experiment with the equipment,” Price said. “I think Transy is very fortunate to have a program like this. Being able to go to a liberal arts college and have a music technology program is an ideal situation for me.”
Price had an internship at a Lexington studio, which helped prepare her to work on the recording and engineering of TBA’s recent CD. She is also a producer for Transy’s student radio station, WTLX.
“I would love to be a studio engineer, working for a record label,” she said. “I don’t think of myself as a performer. As long as I’m around music, I’m going to enjoy it.”
An accomplished faculty
Providing the teaching, advising, and overall encouragement for Transy’s music majors, and for the many other students who participate in the various ensembles and performances, is a talented group of full-time faculty members with an interesting variety of specialties in their teaching and performing lives.
As director of choral ensembles for all the years he has been at Transy, Anderson has seen many changes and enhancements to the music program. He teaches music history and conducting, and rotates with the other professors on classes such as music appreciation and non-Western music.
Under his direction, the Transylvania Choir has gone on six European tours and sung in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City with a consortium of choirs performing Beethoven.
An Evening at the Cabaret is a popular event for students in choral programs and others who wish to participate.
Anderson began Evening at the Cabaret as a way to let students have fun with some lighter music after a long academic year focused on classical composers.
“I started Cabaret because the university was not doing anything in music theater,” Anderson said. “The choir members performed it at first, and then members of the other ensembles joined in. Now we have some students on stage who are not part of the choral program, so it’s become a co-curricular moment. We pick a different theme each year, such as movie music or songs from great musicals.”
One of his outside professional interests is the Lexington Chamber Chorale, which he founded 19 years ago. He feels his Transy students benefit greatly from this work.
“There is no question in my mind that working with that high level of musicians has changed the work I do with my students here,” he said. “I’m using my time a lot more wisely, which lets me get to more repertoire. It makes me expect more of our students. I don’t think you can push too hard, as long as you’re doing it with care and love.”
As director of instrumental ensembles, Ben Hawkins directs the concert band, chamber orchestra, and pep band, teaches conducting, music education, and music theory, and gives lessons on the French horn. He is typically the adviser for music education majors.
One of his outside professional interests is his involvement with the Kentucky Music Educators Association, which includes about 2,000 members who teach in kindergarten through university level. He has served as editor of the group’s magazine, Bluegrass Music News, for the past seven years.
“My focus has been on getting more Kentucky music educators to share their experiences through the magazine by writing something,” Hawkins said. “I like to think that has enhanced the spirit and capabilities of the educators.”
Music professor Ben Hawkins, director of instrumental ensembles, conducts the annual holiday concert.
Hawkins has also been to Mexico on six occasions, the last time at the invitation of the federal government, to teach band directors there. The project has been intertwined with his sabbatical.
“There are 11 Mexican citizens who have one course of credit from Transylvania as a result of my visits there,” Hawkins said. “That’s a big deal for them, since most of them don’t have the opportunity to attend college.”
Larry Barnes teaches composition, theory, world music, and jazz and rock history, as well as May term travel courses that have been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, New York City, and Costa Rica.
The Costa Rica trip supports Barnes’ efforts to bring world music into the experiences of Transy students. The class visits elementary and high schools, where local students perform native songs in native costumes, then heads to clubs in the evening for intimate performances by jazz or folk singers.
“The whole purpose of international travel is immersion,” Barnes said. “You should witness the music as part of the culture, not something apart from it.”
Music professor Larry Barnes composed the soundtrack for the feature-length movie Euphoria.
Barnes has also worked to bring world music to campus, including performers from Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Argentina, among other locations.
For his own composing, Barnes has been busy with a score for the feature-length movie Euphoria and with writing music that practitioners of Tai Chi could use while moving through the various forms of the Chinese meditative exercises. He recently rewrote the film score with all new music, to replace the original version that was largely computer created and very orchestral. The latest version is available on CD.
Transylvania’s piano man
Greg Partain, an accomplished international concert pianist, mainly teaches courses related to the piano, such as pedagogy and repertoire. He also teaches music appreciation, history, and theory, as well as a May term collaborative travel course titled Introduction to Fine Arts. He is the music program director and coordinator of applied music, and is typically the adviser for applied music majors. He also gives piano lessons.
In his 23 years on the concert stage, Partain has appeared as recitalist, chamber musician, and concert soloist throughout the United States and in Germany, Poland, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Russia, and Greece. His wide-ranging repertoire spans the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries.
Music professor Greg Partain’s second solo CD centers on the Appassionata of Beethoven.
“Music is a performance art, and every time I get a program ready, I’m studying music that I might be teaching to one of my students,” Partain said. “Performing also keeps my creative imagination alive as I think about technique and all the live performance issues our students go through. All of these things feed directly into my teaching.”
Partain, who is also a composer, has produced two critically acclaimed solo CDs. The first covers many eras and stylistic themes and features works by Byrd, Ravel, Chopin, Liszt, and Beethoven. The second centers on the Appassionata of Beethoven and also includes pieces by Rachmaninov, Scarlatti, Brahams, and a composition by Barnes titled Toccata: Act of War.
Tim Polashek has primary responsibility for the music technology curriculum, but also teaches courses in theory and appreciation. He oversees the music program’s use of the Fine Arts Technology Lab and consults on needed computer and audio resources for the facility.
He describes the music technology curriculum as a multi-faceted experience that not only gives students the tools for a traditional career in recording but also educates them on the complexities of computer manipulation of sound and the creation of software to accomplish that.
Senior Ben Grisham works in the Fine Arts Technology Lab.
“Our students are learning the art of recording and editing, but they also learn how to imagine new tools and different ways that technology can help them be creative,” Polashek said.
He views the major as being very interdisciplinary, and an excellent example of that is a special topics course he is teaching titled Music Cognition.
“The human mind organizes music and sound in a variety of complex and mysterious ways,” he said. “Music cognition is an interdisciplinary field that applies the methods of cognitive science to musical issues and problems.”
As a composer, Polashek’s work includes pieces that combine audio and video, and some that are purely audio. His electronic composition Sonata for Tape, featuring transformations of piano sounds, was performed in Fullerton, Calif., as part of the World Electro-acoustic Listening Room Project.
Music after Transylvania
Transylvania music majors have pursued teaching and performing careers in the field, as well as other occupations such as healthcare or law, where their music studies become a way to stay connected with and appreciate the art form throughout their lives.
Chris Anderson ’88 completed an applied music major with organ performance and a German minor, both of which have served him well in his higher education career. He earned a Ph.D. in performance practices from Duke University and is now associate professor of sacred music in the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. A respected and honored scholar in his field, he received the prestigious Max Miller Book Award for 2006, given by The Organ Library of the American Guild of Organists, for his book Max Reger and Karl Straube: Perspectives on an Organ Performing Tradition.
“The thing I carried away from Transylvania was the value of an education that doesn’t try to study a thing in isolation, but pushes the student to see a subject as contributing to the development of the intellect in toto,” Anderson said.
His German minor, under German professor Rick Weber, was a highlight of his Transy years, he says, and is now integral to his scholarship and teaching.
“Dr. Weber had the ability to turn me on, not only to a language, but to an entire culture,” Anderson said. “This was a real turning point in my education. I could not do my work now without daily use of the German language. It fit my music education like a hand in a glove.”
A passion for music
In the end, the excellence of the music program at Transylvania is driven and energized by the expertise of the music faculty, their devotion to teaching, and their passion for music as an expression of humanity that fits perfectly in a liberal arts college setting.
“I think the reason most of us get into this field is because we have a deep love of music,” Partain said. “In terms of teaching, when you find something you are passionate about, you have an overwhelming sense that you want to share it with others.”
Hawkins related his love of music to its essential role in helping to shape human experience.
“Humans create meaning through exploring how things are related to one another, and music is the pure relationship of tones,” he said. “Music sounds inside of us, in the cavities of our bodies, and we experience it physically, cognitively, and emotionally. It opens a person up to reflection, understanding, evaluation, and interpretation of every experience. It’s such a close metaphor for life that it almost is life.”
For more information about the music program at Transylvania, click here.