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Music Series: Vocal department

BY CAROLINE BERG | JANUARY 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Stealing a moment with any of the eight UI voice, opera, and choral faculty members is like catching a spare second with the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland. Spring semester has barely begun, and already the vocal program is entwined in a thicket of activity.

Among distractions is the state Board of Regents’ decision on Feb. 4 to determine the site of the School of Music’s new home. The UI is would like to build new music facilities near the intersection of Burlington and Clinton Streets.

“I think moving downtown will provide us a little more visibility … and allow students greater ease getting to and from their classes,” said John Muriello, a UI associate professor of voice. “Some [in the department] felt that being on the other side of the river had a bit of an isolating feeling from the rest of the university.”

Though the upcoming decision may be on the minds of those in the music school, the faculty members remain focused.

“We are holding auditions this [first] week, and every free moment of my day is spent hearing new singers for the choirs,” wrote Timothy Stalter, the director of choral activities in an e-mail with to The Daily Iowan last week.

By the end of January, the vocal department will have débuted Katherine Eberle’s original one-woman show, hosted a Certified Alexander Technique professor for a guest workshop, and premièred Mozart’s La finta giardiniera.

“I think we’re really holding our own here [in the voice program],” said Susan Sondrol Jones, the vocal/opera/choral program coordinator.

Despite the music school’s being displaced by the flood, the members of the voice department remain buoyant.

“The university is taking care of us as a division … we have not been ignored,” Jones said. “The university knows we’re up against a big rock.”

She described the “blessings and challenges” of performing in the department’s temporary venues, including the makeshift rehearsal room in the University Capitol Centre and the Englert Theatre.

“The opera program especially requires a lot of elbow room,” Jones said. “The Englert’s stage, although beautiful, is too small for opera — there’s no room for a full orchestra, and backstage space is limited.”

Even with the constrictions, Jones said, she believes the voice department still manages its broad range of quality education for undergraduate and graduate students seeking postgraduate professional work.

Visiting opera director Gary Briggle argues that the importance of internationalizing oneself in this ever-shrinking global neighborhood is an important factor even for today’s opera performers.

“In the current professional operatic world, singers must be able to sing in Italian, German, French, Russian, Czech, even Chinese and Sanskrit — as well as their native tongue,” he wrote in an e-mail to the DI. “I hope to provide [my students] with a useful and authentic experience in preparation for venturing into ‘the business.’ ”

Jones described her colleagues as a cooperative work unit distinct from most other schools she has experienced.

“Singers are known to be emotional … and often our thoughts are not on the same page,” she said. “But for whatever reason, we get along in this [UI] faculty.”

Communication prevails both within the voice department and outside. A partnership with the theater department allowed for the specifically designed classes Singing for Actors and Acting for Singers.

Jones hopes once the music school is settled under a permanent roof, her colleagues may finally exploit their collaborative creativity.

“New projects will really start percolating once we can better see the end ahead with a bit of light and a new space,” she said.


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