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Music and Performing Arts
Big decisions often have unexpected benefits. When Johanna Pan left her native Singapore to attend Ithaca College for theatrical production arts, a key factor in her decision to come to IC was the financial aid she was able to secure. Once here, she discovered she was enrolled in one of the most respected programs in the country.
“I like to call Ithaca a lucky accident because I didn’t realize how good the program was before I got here. And for that I’m very grateful,” she says.
In the theatrical design concentration, Johanna applied classroom lessons in costume and scenic design to Ithaca College Theatre’s yearly productions. As a senior, she was the costume designer for two period pieces: Translations, set in 1830s Ireland, and An Enemy of the People, in 1880s Norway.
Johanna researched the kinds of fabrics that were made at the time, how clothing was layered, and even the way seasons and climate in those locations dictated wardrobe choices. By understanding these factors, she and the production staff could apply them to their portrayals on the modern stage.
"What a lot of people don't realize about theatre design is that there are certain rules we create as a team. What does a short skirt mean as opposed to a long skirt? What are the colors of the world? What does this color mean to everyone across the board, and how are we going to use that to portray something? The audience may not notice them consciously, but the picture as a whole and what it presents is noticeable.”
Johanna spent a semester at the Ithaca College London Center, where she attended over 50 performances—from the West End to small pubs—for class and her own enjoyment.
“Seeing so much theatre in a country that loves theatre so much helps you understand why we do what we do. You are reminded of the magic when you’re not working on a show because you’re not involved and can just appreciate someone else's work.”
Johanna took on several internships and jobs after graduation, including one with Beautiful: The Carole King Musical that had her traversing New York City’s clothing and fabric stores. The show is scheduled to open on Broadway in December 2013. She also plans to return to Singapore to fulfill a commitment she made to the Singaporean theatre industry when she received a scholarship from the Singapore National Arts Council. She then plans to head back to New York City to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts and rejoin the theatre scene.
“I want to live in New York City. I love the sheer amount of musicals that happen there and the sheer amount of theatre.”
Brian Diller had questions and knew where to get answers.
“How can I conduct better? How can I listen better? What am I not even hearing yet? What is the next level for me? It’s those kinds of deeper questions that I went back to school for,” he says. “Ithaca was the place to ask those higher-level questions.”
Brian conducted a high school band for three years after he received his undergraduate degree. During that time he developed as a teacher, learned how to delve into problems, and gained insights into conducting and music. But as those questions emerged, he knew it was time to pursue his graduate degree.
And for help finding the answers he was looking for, Brian had one person in mind: Ithaca College professor Steve Peterson. Brian was aware of Steve’s reputation as a conductor and teacher already. His first chance to meet and work with the renowned instructor came during a weeklong summer workshop that Steve hosts at Ithaca College every year. “It really opened my eyes to a lot of new things about music, teaching, conducting, and everything I wanted to be as a musician,” Brian says.
Brian applied for and was accepted into the graduate program two years later, its small size allowed for plenty of class, practice, and consultation time with professors, as well as continuous opportunities to conduct pieces with the various groups in the School of Music. Brian considers the time spent with the ensembles incredibly meaningful, especially the capstone to the program—the master’s recital.
“Steve gave the wind ensemble to us graduate students for three weeks to do a whole program. We did all the rehearsing, all the planning.” In addition, one of IC’s cello professors performed a solo during the program. “It was a great opportunity to collaborate with the faculty and have a soloist with the group,” Brian says.
Shortly after earning his master’s, Brian was named to a one-year position as an associate lecturer of music at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. He’s exploring doctoral programs in music as well. And though he’d love to continue teaching at a college level, he says he’d be perfectly happy to return to the high school level—now that he has those deep questions answered and is equipped with the skillset to answer new ones on his own.
“Professors at Ithaca College weren’t teaching us [graduate students] so much as they were guiding us in our own research and giving us the tools to search for our own answers. And it was done in a really meaningful and effective way by the entire faculty,” Brian says.
Growing up in the Virgin Islands, Luben Daniel listened to his parents’ CDs of calypso, reggae, soul, gospel, and rhythm and blues. “Early on,” he said, “I knew what good music sounded like.”
Turns out he also knew how to make good music. Taking up the clarinet in fourth grade, he became first chair and section leader in his high school band. He also joined a steel band—a group of musicians who play steel pans tuned to various pitches.
“Steel band is our thing,” Luben said. “It represents all things Caribbean.”
His clarinet and steel-band gigs took him on melodious journeys to venues as far away as Argentina and the United States. Though performing resonated with him, Luben decided his musical future lay in teaching.
“It wasn’t a popular decision,” he said. “People told me, ‘With your talent, you could play in a big-time orchestra for big-time money.’ But without a school music program, I wouldn’t have discovered the fulfillment music brings. As a teacher, I could introduce that joy to others.” Luben set his sights on the music education program at IC. “A friend went there, and his musicianship skyrocketed. I wanted that.”
Luben traveled 1,600 miles to IC to focus on the clarinet but was surprised to find a slice of home on campus in the School of Music’s steel band. “I never expected to find one in Ithaca,” he said. “For my senior recital, I composed a work for the ensemble. The rehearsals were a joy for us all.
Something else unexpected happened his senior year. A teacher from his high school called. The band director was retiring. Would Luben be interested in the position?
“Going back home and teaching was all I’d ever wanted,” Luben said. “I never thought it would happen that quickly, because it’s rare for new graduates to find teaching positions at their high school alma maters.”
But Luben wasn’t scheduled to graduate in time to take the offer.
“Luben told me that spring that he’d just been offered his dream job and wondered what we could do to help him complete his degree earlier than he’d planned,” said Keith Kaiser, chair of music education. “A lot of people worked hard to make that happen—including Luben. He’s now back home, improving music education in the Virgin Islands.”
“Ithaca College redefined my comfort zone,” Luben said. “I discovered my strengths and weaknesses and how to confront them. Now I’ll be sharing how that growth process works with my students.”
>> More on this story: IC Steel Band
Many young musicians have role models—artists they look up to and respect—whose success fuels their growing aspirations for musical achievement. Not many get the chance to have one of their most influential role models as a mentor and teacher. But at Ithaca College, Jordan Morton got just that opportunity.
“Nicholas Walker had so much to do with my development as a musician and as a professional personality. He opened up the horizon to what I could accomplish,” Jordan says of her double bass professor. “Nicholas treats his studio like family. He cares about and guides each one of us throughout our entire undergraduate career and remains a valuable mentor and professional contact after graduation. Without him, I would definitely not be going to Paris.”
Jordan is the recipient of the Harriet Hale Woolley Scholarship and residency at the Fondation des Etats-Unis in Paris, France. Four exceptional American artists and musicians are selected for the award each year. Through the scholarship, Jordan will pursue a year of private study under the tutelage of François Rabbath—a contemporary French double bass player, soloist, and composer—who also taught Nicholas Walker.
“For me, Paris will be an apprenticeship with the teacher of my teacher. I’m going straight to the source, becoming a part of the tradition. I’m going to absorb everything I can from François and explore the possibilities of my own musical voice. Now is the time to do that—to build on the foundation that Ithaca College has provided.”
Through close guidance, dedicated training, and industry connections from her professor and mentor, Jordan graduated well prepared for an innovative and fulfilling musical career—and she can’t wait to share her passion with the world. “I feel ready to connect with the public and to revitalize soulful, spiritual, intellectual music, because we need that as a culture whether we know it or not.”
A lot of people dream of traveling the world. Not many dream of educating it. Shannon Burns came to Ithaca College with an interest in multicultural music education, which led her to an exciting future teaching and learning about music across the globe.
Shannon’s international travels began with a class she took during her senior year at Ithaca College. "I’ve always been interested in other people’s cultures and the impact that music has, but it really came into focus while I was studying African drumming and dance at Ithaca," says Shannon. Assisting in class was the School of Music’s artist in residence, Sulley Imoro. At the end of the semester, Shannon spent four weeks in Ghana with Imoro, studying the music and dance of another culture.
Spending time abroad sparked Shannon’s desire to compare Irish and African music, and to explore music as a tool for bridging cultural gaps. When she learned of the School of Music’s ties to Ireland’s University of Limerick, she applied to the master’s program in ethnomusicology there and was accepted.
After completing her master’s degree, Shannon was recruited by the University of Limerick to teach music theory to undergraduate students. She and some friends also launched a music center in the local community. The purpose of the center is to "make music more accessible, whether it’s through providing scholarships, production fees, or an instrument bank," she says.
Pursuing music education in Ireland wasn’t the last stop for Shannon—she recently returned to Africa on a volunteer trip to Mozambique. "My experience with African drumming and dance at Ithaca and in Ghana helped me bond with people in Mozambique—talking about dance, dancing, or singing with them.
"Visiting Africa again reaffirmed for me how important music is to the overall being and how it is a medium through which people can connect and experience life, regardless of language barriers," Shannon says.
Jeff Ball decided he wanted to be a band director while in high school. That made Ithaca College’s renowned music education program the easy choice.
“School districts know that Ithaca College is the best music education coming out of the Northeast,” he says. “A degree from IC puts you at the top of every pile of interviews.” After graduation, Jeff had his pick of jobs in multiple school districts but was dedicated to working in an urban setting. After starting as a general music teacher in the Bronx, he transferred to Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn to take over the band director position. The out-going director was an IC music grad who brought Jeff in because of their shared background.
“She told me, ‘I saw Ithaca on the diploma and I wanted to interview you,’” Jeff says. He landed the job and has been building the program ever since—from 45 kids to 180 currently. This growth is all the more significant considering the vast majority of students in the school are below the poverty line.
“These are kids who really can’t afford their own instruments and can’t afford private lessons. But the quality of performance is extremely high, even though the kids have only been playing for three years,” Jeff says.
This year, Jeff is coordinating the entire performing arts department at the school. As if all that wasn’t enough to fill his calendar, he also conducts the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, a premier wind ensemble composed of 75 semiprofessional adult musicians—many of them IC grads.
“Other people go to their jobs and in their spare time do the things that make them happy,” he says. “Conducting and teaching are the things that make me happy. I’m very fortunate that I get to do what I do.”
>> More on this story: Music Education Teaching Programs
As Queen of the Night in the Ithaca College Theatre production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, Mengchun Yang delivered one of the world's most well-known arias to a packed audience. She stunned the crowd with her pitch-perfect performance, bringing the vengeful queen to life with her commanding stage presence.
For Mengchun, the journey to the IC stage was a long one—halfway around the world—but she knew that a graduate degree in performance at Ithaca College would be well worth the trip. She auditioned in her home country of China and wowed visiting faculty with her powerful soprano. Late that summer, Mengchun packed her bags and was on her way to Ithaca.
In IC's welcoming community, Mengchun quickly found a second family—music professors invited her over for home-cooked meals, music school peers helped her overcome the language barrier, and the women's chorus and choir provided a place for her to sing with new friends. She soon learned of an opportunity to broaden her range: "During my first semester, they had auditions for The Magic Flute. I just went to try. I never thought I would get a role or be a part of the opera, but I got it," Mengchun says.
She was cast as Queen of the Night, which has one of the most vocally demanding arias in opera. In nightly rehearsals with a supportive cast and crew, she developed her passion for opera. "I learned many things. I know how to prepare a whole opera: to learn the music and then read the dialogue and then the acting—and mix it together with the orchestra."
When opening night arrived, her music school family helped calm her nerves. "I was very excited and a little bit nervous. My friends and my teachers were all sitting in the audience to see me. That made me feel like family. I felt like, 'Okay. I can sing to my family.'"
Mengchun hopes to go on to sing opera professionally in China, where it’s becoming increasingly popular. With one outstanding performance already under her belt, she has a promising future as one of China's next stars.
"Being on stage, you are not yourself. You are that person. You have another personality. You need to build a person and have yourself and mix them together. I feel like I can see my value being on stage."
Allyce Barron had a problem when it came to deciding how to approach her future. “Since high school I had been torn between music and neuroscience. I actually applied to schools for both, so I could determine what I wanted to do.” Lucky for Allyce, she found she could do both at Ithaca College.
As a music education major, Allyce created a course in music cognition that allowed her to research how children learn in the classroom. “My independent study research was specifically about chunking and immersion learning. Do students learn a song better in pieces or when they are immersed into it all at once?”
With the help of a professor in the music theory department, Allyce experimented with teaching her 10-and 11-year old students songs using the chunking and immersion teaching strategies. She found that the students learned the song better if they were immersed in the entire piece repeatedly. “It was a surprising finding. All of the students felt initial frustration with the immersion, but figured out how to adapt to learn the piece.”
Allyce is now in grad school at Harvard, where she is studying the relationship the brain has with learning, especially in classroom settings. Looking back, she relishes the opportunity she had at Ithaca. “The rigor of the music education program is profound. It’s amazing that undergraduate students can take so much ownership in their learning. Thanks to Ithaca College, I feel ready to change the way students learn.”
School of Humanities and Sciences | Theatrical Production Arts
“I was 10 when I saw the stage production of The Lion King, and I knew right then I wanted to make theatre my career,” said Max Doolittle ’11. “The trouble was, I suffered from stage fright, and that led me to work backstage.”
Max started painting scenery before discovering his calling was lighting and design.
“In high school, I was looking for a college program that would teach me how to create moving theatre in the real world,” Max said. “I picked IC because lots of people told me that if I was thinking about theatre design, I needed to consider Ithaca College.”
By the time Max graduated with a B.F.A. in theatre production arts, the “real world” that he had been aiming for turned out to be the place where he’d studied for four years.
In addition to Max’s experience as lighting designer for two Ithaca College Theatre productions, his undergraduate resume included more than a dozen gigs with central New York theatre companies as well as assignments as associate or assistant lighting designer at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Adirondack Theatre Festival, and Minnesota Opera.
“The spring of my senior year, another student and I collaborated with faculty mentor Steve TenEyck in producing Salome with the Minnesota Opera,” Max said. “We created the scenery and worked with Steve to figure out the lighting for each scene. It was a large-scale opera with world-class singers and musicians. I was amazed to see how the real world operates and also to have that strong credit on my resume.”
Max spent the summer after graduation working on regional shows and is now in demand for various theatre projects in NYC at Access Theatre, Ars Nova Theatre, Soho Rep Theatre, and The Julliard School, among others.
“I could talk forever about model constructing, computer drafting, and all the practical skills the IC theatre faculty taught me,” Max said. “But beyond that, there’s an indescribable something. I’m going to call it professionalism. At IC, they run things exactly the way a regional theatre would, from the proper way to communicate with directors to how to come up with design ideas. The skills I learned at IC are the same ones I’m using now in my career.”
>> More on this story: Department of Theatre Arts
Pianists make music with keyboards. Engineers use mixing consoles. Thanks to IC’s sound recording technology program, Shalini Gandhi ’11 can do both.
“I was a pre-med student in Australia when I decided sound recording was something I really wanted to do and America would be the best place to learn it,” Shalini said. “So I took two years off, worked and saved, and made my way to Ithaca.”
Fortunately, Shalini was already an accomplished pianist, because at IC, studying audio engineering requires majoring in performance.
“After doing all the things performance majors do, I had to find free time to get into the studio. As it turned out, I was quite happy recording until four in the morning because recording was my passion.”
The console Shalini spent four years training on—while being paid as an Ithaca College recording services engineer—was the same she uses now, working for WireWorld Studio in Nashville. Plus, the people who taught her, like her current colleagues, were seasoned professionals, among them Alex Perialas, a Grammy-nominated audio engineer and producer with 131 albums to his credit.
“In addition to teaching us the technology,” Shalini says, “Alex gave us insights into the business end of the industry.”
Perialas, whose recording credits include Brian Wilson and Johnny Dowd, helped secure Shalini a curriculum-required internship, at a studio in Nashville, and introduced her to a former colleague, who offered her a job the summer before her senior year.
“This industry isn’t one where you just wave your degree and expect people to hire you,” Shalini says. “Alex’s connections got my foot in the door, and from there, I showed people that IC taught me how things work, not just how to make things work.”
Knowing how to perform didn’t hurt either.
“As a student, I complained about spending so much time sight singing and playing the piano, but my boss is an engineer through and through, and he’s found me useful because I can talk knowledgeably to musicians. Fortunately IC faculty pushed me and expected a lot out of me.”
>> More on this story: Recording Services of the School of Music
I came to Ithaca College eager to dive into the world of college slam poetry. When I found out there was no slam poetry group on campus, though, I took the opportunity to start one.
Spit That! turned out to be the perfect complement to my education in the Department of Theatre Arts. I polished my acting skills in classes and gained experience in productions. My work with Spit That! taught me firsthand how to organize shows, coordinate rehearsals, run meetings, work with a board, produce, and direct.
At IC, I was truly blessed with the chance to combine the two things I love most—acting and poetry. Nearly a year after graduation, I’m still bringing them together. I applied everything I learned at Ithaca to produce, direct, and act in Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale, a show I wrote with three others.
Our play blends poetry and theatre to explore issues surrounding gentrification in Harlem while attesting to the rich culture and history of one of New York City’s famed neighborhoods. The show played to sold-out audiences in Times Square and led to an extended run last summer.
Now we’re taking the show on a college tour, starting at Ithaca College, of course! That’s where it all came together for me. IC gave me the tools to build the career of my dreams and the opportunity to expand my education through my own creativity.
Editor’s note: Jaylene continues to take New York City’s performance world by storm, winning first place at Amateur Night at the Apollo. Jaylene impressed her hometown crowd in Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater with an impassioned spoken word piece and secured her place in the historic talent competition. She’ll be competing this October in the final round for the chance to win the title of Super Top Dog and a $10,000 cash prize.
More on this story: "Spit It Out!" - Fuse
For me, musical performance has always been about the visible and tangible effects of art on an audience. Touring with Ithaca College ensembles gave me those experiences locally and in major cities like New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. But a chance encounter at IC is what really set me on my current path.
When I auditioned and got placed in the Women’s Chorale, I was wowed by the level of instruction and guidance I received from director Janet Galván – all before I was an official music major. Her support continued even beyond my time at IC, but to have it during that first year really spoke to how much she cared about her students.
The thing is, she wasn’t the only faculty member like that. I could always drop by a professor’s office and say, “I’m having a hard time with this, please help me brainstorm.”
Through Janet’s summer conducting workshops, I became familiar with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. A year after I graduated IC, I found out they were looking for conductors. In fact, it was during one of those workshops that I approached YPC’s artistic director and said, “Hey, I’m interested in conducting for you.”
Now I’m the one with the baton, and I get to share the artistic experiences I always sought with the next generation of young vocalists, and inspire them to find their own paths.
>> More on this story: Women's Chorale
Alex Canovas and his friends at Ithaca College agree: there’s something above and beyond about the School of Music.
“One of the top things we say is how we out-do the competition, in terms of performance and professionalism,” Alex says. “Our résumés, our headshots, our collegiality are at a totally different level than students we see from other schools.”
The talented tenor plunged right in freshman year when he was assigned two lead roles in the ensembles for two different operas being performed that year.
“Jumping into a real-world situation at 18 years old was kind of scary,” he remarks. “At the end of the day though, it was definitely one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.”
Countless more performances followed, including the lead role in the opera L’Orfeo, and performances with the Ithaca College Choir in Philadelphia and at the Strathmore Center for Music (home to the National Philharmonic and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) outside Washington, D.C.
Now the IC senior has graduate school in his sights. And with graduate-level music programs often wanting applicants to have a certain amount of professional experience behind them, Alex is confident Ithaca College has provided just that.
“The level of experience we have as students is definitely of a professional caliber,” he says.
Editor's Note: In August 2012, Alex began an exciting position as a coordinator for OPERA America's brand new National Opera Center, located in Manhattan. The Center is the first specially designed facility for the opera industry. It will feature a double-height audition hall with excellent acoustics, recording equipment, and other facilities for industry business. For more information, visit www.operaamerica.org.