Message from the Dean – April 15, 2019

First some good news:

Songs by ACM@UCO students, Chloe-Beth Campbell, Ashliann Rivera, and Dallas Parker were recently selected from 74 entries as finalists in the second annual Jimmy LaFave Songwriting Contest, proving once again that we rock!

More good news:

Recent Musical Theatre student/graduate Laura Renfro was cast as Chloe Valentine in Saint Louis’ New Line Theatre production of “Be More Chill”. The show runs May 30 – June 22. Our Musical Theatre students continue to shine on the larger stage. Congratulations Chloe!

And:

Musical Theatre professor, Dr. Greg White has been cast as the outrageous Franz Liebkind in “The Producers” at Casa Mañana in Fort Worth. The show runs June 1-9.

Now a story:

I read to Taryn every night at bedtime until she was in her teens. The poet, Delmore Schwartz famously wrote, “Time is the school in which we learn. Time is the fire in which we burn.” I treasure the memory of the hours I immolated reading to my daughter, and I would joyfully burn them all again. When Taryn was young, I recited Greek Myths for Young Children, and Shakespeare Stories for Young Readers to jumpstart her introduction to classics. As time progressed, our reading ritual also backfilled missing bulwarks of my literary education. I read her landmark series such as Ann of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie that I had snubbed during my rambunctious boyhood. I credit those nightly reading sessions and the scores of books we experienced together with igniting a lifelong love for literature in her heart.

One of the coming-of-age stories I read to Taryn was The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt by Patricia MacLachlan. The novel’s primary character grew up in a family of writers and artists who proclaimed “facts and fictions are different truths” and grappled with questions like, “what is the quality of beauty” over the dinner table. In the story, Minna is a young cellist on the cusp of junior high, frustrated by the quirkiness of her family, and her inability to play with authentic vibrato. The quest for a vibrato worthy of Mozart becomes the primary metaphor for self-discovery in the book. I surmised Taryn might find echoes of her own experience in the eccentricities of the Pratt family. Artists, musicians, actors, dancers and designers are all obsessed with creative qualities that frequently deviate from standardized expectations. My preoccupations with art and music were certainly tangential to those of the average dad in Taryn’s elementary school. If I wore camouflage, it was ironically. At the end of the book, Minna learns to love and appreciate her family’s idiosyncrasies and surprisingly achieves her distinctive vibrato when she is not looking for it. I hoped my daughter would reach similar conclusions concerning her unconventional father.

I recently learned that classically trained clarinetists typically play without vibrato. After a goosebumps-inducing concert performance by Dr. Dawn Lindblade-Evans, a fellow audience member commented that she squeezed every expressive sound from the clarinet with pure, unwavering notes. As a former saxophone player, this fact shocked me. Needing confirmation, I corralled Dawn after a recent event in Radke Hall and quizzed her. She confirmed that vibrato is a controversial subject among clarinetists, but that the majority of classical players adhere to the archetype of clean tone, rejecting the wavering pitch deviations and undulations that are standard practice for most instrumentalists. Like the straight man in a comedy sketch, a clarinetist introduces an impeccable pitch as a foil for the surrounding quivering cacophony of sound. This commitment to a single tone demands a sophisticated ear. While a vibrato may allow other instruments a bit of tonal flexibility, the clarinet offers no quarter. Traditionally, the unique colors of clarinet timbre are created without vacillating tone.

As creatives, there are times when the singular individuality of our vibrato, representative of our unique imagination and originality, is a crucial strength. Fighting for inclusivity and acceptance for all the varied pitches of human experience is a prime function of the arts. We offer comradery and community for those who dance in the moonlight to the beat of their own drum. We celebrate the uniquely tuned individuality of all artists. Sometimes letting our freak flag fly, so that others know they are not alone, is our greatest gift. There are also moments when we must embody the clean, unwavering note, maintaining integrity and focus while those around us waiver. As teachers, we are most often the clear, steady foil that allows our students to safely and freely explore until they find their inimitable, creative voice. Thank you for sounding a true pitch, and committing to burn the hours necessary to help our pupils discover their authentic vibrato.