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LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts Combines Education with Community Outreach

In any society, performing arts are often seen as a uniting force. For centuries, music and theatre have provided a forum for entertainment as well as enlightenment.

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The LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts, or CMDA, continues this practice by offering not only opportunities for education in hundreds of music and theatre avenues, but an outlet for cultural expression and expansion of arts appreciation in society.

As one of LSU's 10 senior colleges, CMDA boasts numerous concentrations and a family of students, faculty and staff whose résumés are as worldly as the arts which they perform and study each day.

"Changes in society, the global economy and culture are accelerating at a faster pace, without regard for traditional ways of doing things," said LSU CMDA Dean Laurence Kaptain. "Creative people will always have an advantage in a world where innovation is not only valued, but demanded. The international student body and elite faculty in the College of Music & Dramatic Arts play an essential leadership role in creativity on LSU's campus and in the world."

As part of that ongoing mission, the college has undergone some changes and renovations in recent years. These improvements have allowed CMDA to keep pace and even surpass other regional institutions in terms of facilities, programs offered and involvement in the community.

In September 2009, the college's Music & Dramatic Arts Building celebrated its grand reopening, following a 4½-year, $22 million renovation that included not only restoration of classrooms and practice space, but performance venues such as the Claude L. Shaver Theatre and creation of a new Studio Theatre.

"The restorations have given both LSU and Baton Rouge one of the finest performance and training facilities not only in the region, but in the country," Kaptain said.

LSU Bands will also have a new home this year, as work is nearly complete on the new band hall site on Aster Street near Highland Road, on the site of the marching band's current practice field. Built through a public-private partnership, the new 19,500-square-foot facility offers the band program's many elements the ability to practice indoors each day, regardless of weather conditions.

The Claude L. Shaver Theatre hosts many LSU Opera and other performing arts productions. The theatre was renovated as part of the Music& Dramatic Arts building renovations in 2009.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

"With the new facility, the program will be able to continue to recruit the finest band members and faculty from around the world, furthering the tradition of producing the best and the brightest musicians as representatives of LSU," Kaptain said.

Throughout the year, the college hosts numerous concerts and theatrical performances at many venues. These include the recently renovated Claude L. Shaver Theatre, along with the Reilly Theatre, the School of Music Recital Hall and the Studio Theatre, among other sites both on and off campus.

"I believe we're one of, if not the most visible colleges on the campus because of the multitude of events and programs we offer," CMDA Associate Dean Willis Delony said.

School of Music

The LSU School of Music offers students one of the nation's most comprehensive programs, including a choice of three undergraduate degrees, three graduate degrees, and countless opportunities. Accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music since 1931, the program includes approximately 70 faculty and staff members, 300 undergraduates, and 150 graduate students. Divisions include academic studies, bands, ensembles and conducting, instrumental, keyboard, music education and voice/opera. Programs include brass, choral conducting, collaborative keyboard, composition, harp, jazz studies, music education, music theory, musicology, orchestral conducting, organ, percussion, piano, piano pedagogy, strings, voice, wind conducting and woodwinds.

In an effort to maintain the best equipment on which to instruct its students, the school recently received 17 new Steinway pianos, which are on loan as part of its initiative to become an All-Steinway School.

This June, Swine Palace's 2007 world premiere production of "Cocktail" was one of 35 chosen by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology to represent the United States at the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, the world's largest theatre design exhibition and competition.
LSU Department of Theatre

The school also works to stay ahead in terms of technological advancement, Kaptain said.

"In the LSU School of Music, several of our faculty members are internationally recognized leaders in technology," he said. "Our students are expected to understand digital media in all forms, while studying and performing in traditional areas of education, academics and composition."

For those wishing to be part of a musical ensemble, there are many student and faculty groups within the LSU School of Music. These include the Bengal Brass athletic pep band; various choirs and orchestras; wind, percussion and jazz ensembles; and symphonic bands and symphonic winds.

The most visible representations of the LSU School of Music and one of the most visible units of the university as a whole, is the LSU Tiger Marching Band. With a closed membership of 325 students, "The Golden Band from Tigerland" has been recognized nationally for its outstanding achievements. The Tiger Band is comprised of students from all over the LSU campus and includes the LSU Golden Girls and Colorguard teams. The group regularly performs for thousands of LSU Tiger fans at football games and other university events. The group also performs across the country and around the world. Earlier this year, the Golden Girls and members of the Tiger Girls athletic dance team traveled to Hong Kong to perform in the world-renowned Cathay International New Year Night Parade during Chinese New Year celebrations.

Each year, LSU Tiger Band hosts "Tigerama," an event that gives the public a chance to see performances by the LSU Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Winds and Tiger Band, featuring the Golden Girls and Colorguard. This year's Tigerama event will take place on Friday, Oct. 7, at 8 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. To learn more about Tigerama, visit www.lsutigerama.com.

With the retirement last year of longtime Director of Bands Frank Wickes, LSU Bands underwent a change that it had not made in more than 30 years. In a redesign of its leadership, the department hired Donald McKinney to serve as director of wind ensembles and conducting and moved Roy King into the role of director of athletic bands.

The LSU Symphony Orchestra is a major performing ensemble at the School of Music. Its repertoire encompasses established masterworks in orchestral literature from the Baroque to the 20th century, as well as works by contemporary composers. Its membership of 90 players represents some of LSU's most talented student musicians who are from 25 states, as well as from 15 foreign countries.
LSU School of Music

The LSU School of Music also enjoys a thriving relationship with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. LSU has had numerous representatives, both student and faculty, perform with the symphony over the years. In turn, the symphony provides assistance with School of Music programs and events and offers students the opportunity to perform.

"It's an opportunity where a student can sit next to their professor with the symphony and perform together as equals," Delony said. "You don't see that a lot in other disciplines."

The LSU School of Music also works with high school band departments throughout Louisiana to help promote musical education. As part of this initiative, it will host this year's Louisiana Music Teachers Association conference in October, Delony said.

"This conference rotates between colleges in the state," he said. "This year, we're hosting the conference. It's a great opportunity to bring music teachers to our campus to learn and discuss how to continue to improve music education at all levels."

The school's opera program is also highly regarded. Dating from the 1930s, LSU Opera was one of the first major university workshops in the United States. Historically, the program has produced exceptional singers who have sung at the MET and on world opera stages.

LSU Opera offers two annual main stage opera productions in the newly renovated Claude L. Shaver Theatre. These productions are fully staged and costumed and are accompanied by the LSU Symphony Orchestra. Most performances are sung in the original languages with supertitles.

In addition to its regular performances, the LSU Opera Outreach Program, or LOOP, presents one-act operas and scenes in elementary and secondary schools throughout the greater Baton Rouge area. Scenes programs and occasional premieres of new works provide additional performance opportunities.

The LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts is currently in a partnership with From The Top, an independent non-profit organization focused on music education for pre-college students. As part of the endeavor, Christopher O'Riley - acclaimed pianist and host of the "From the Top" NPR and PBS program - has visited LSU to perform and tape an episode of "From the Top" in the Shaver Theatre.
Communications & University Relations

"LOOP is a great program which brings opera to the area schools," Delony said. "It helps to get these students interested in opera early in life and to see the classic beauty – both visually and musically – that opera conveys."

Department of Theatre

LSU's Department of Theatre has a long and rich tradition extending back to 1928. The undergraduate program offers a Bachelor of Arts degree with concentrations in performance, theatre studies, history/literature/criticism, design and technology, and arts administration. The graduate program offers a Master of Fine Arts degree with specializations in acting, scenic technology and design, costume technology and design, properties technology and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in theatre history, dramatic literature and dramatic theory, and criticism.

"We're very much a student-driven theatre operation," said Kristin Sosnowsky, interim chair of the LSU Department of Theatre, managing director of Swine Place and CMDA associate dean for finance and operations. "Our students can learn from top theatre educators, while also taking part in performances and programs that engage the audience, while providing valuable on-stage and behind-the-scenes experience. Plus, our students have the chance to bring their own spectacular performances to the community."

One of the most recognizable arms of LSU's Department of Theatre is Swine Palace, the department's non-profit professional Equity theatre partner. The partnership allows students the opportunity to work alongside leading professionals and to give patrons access to some of the brightest theatre talent in the country. Among recent Swine Palace productions are performances of William Shakespeare's "King Lear," Noel Coward's "Design for Living" and the interactive crime caper, "HEIST!"

"Our Department of Theatre supports Swine Palace, a professional company devoted to plays that address current issues of social justice," Kaptain said. "When people attend an event at Swine Palace, they expect to have their viewpoints and beliefs challenged."

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this season, Swine Palace operates with a dual mission to provide South Louisiana with high quality, professional productions of classical and contemporary theatre with an emphasis on plays exploring issues of social equity, while also serving as a training ground for students in LSU's Master of Fine Arts professional actor and technology/design training programs. As part of its production schedule, Swine Palace includes student matinee performances, allowing area schoolchildren the opportunity to watch and learn from both professional and student actors.

Through Swine Palace's educational outreach initiatives, it provide patrons with access to high-caliber, professional theatre produced locally rather than brought in from out of state. "Pay-What-You-Can" performances and $12 sneak previews place live theatre within reach of any citizen who desires to experience it. Furthermore, through its Project Lagniappe program, Swine Palace provides hundreds of free tickets to social service organizations to ensure that price is not a barrier to attending live theatre. Swine Palace also provides reduced-price tickets to area schools and complimentary curriculum guides to area teachers. More information on Swine Palace, including a schedule of performances for the 2011-12 season, can be found at www.swinepalace.org.

LSU Theatre's Mainstage and Lab also produce numerous performances each year. Recent Mainstage productions include Stephen Adley Guirgis' "Our Lady of 121st Street"; a British punk twist on Sophocles' Greek classic "Antigone"; and William Gibson's "A Cry of Players." Meanwhile, the student-organized Theatre Lab season has offered productions of "In Between," an aerial silks ensemble performance; Frank McGuiness' "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me"; and its annual "Outworks" festival of one-act plays featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes.

While LSU's Department of Theatre is certainly recognizable throughout the region and country, international performances and tours also highlight its student and faculty talent. At the same time, these opportunities provide students with the chance to perform professionally on an international stage and to see emerging and developing theatre from around the world.

In July 2007, LSU Theatre, in partnership with Swine Palace, toured China with a three-week production of Wendy Wasserstein's "The Heidi Chronicles." Performers played to sold-out houses at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre and the Beijing Central Academy of Drama, two of China's premier arts organizations.

In July 2010, LSU Theatre received the honor of being the only American university invited to perform in the renowned Young Theatre Festival in Seoul, South Korea. LSU Theatre Mainstage presented "Antigone," with three performances at the NaeMo Theatre. This international performance was a homecoming trip for LSU Theatre Associate Professor of Sound Design EunJin Cho.

LSU Theatre has also produced two original physical theatre pieces for the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Associate Professor of Movement Nick Erickson traveled with 14 LSU Theatre students in August 2010 to present "M: Purged-Ritualistic," in Augustine's Sanctuary. Based on the Greek myth of Medea, the production was student directed by Robert E. Lee, who spent time in Serbia learning with the Dah Theatre in Belgrade, and returned to LSU Theatre with a strong passion to develop the techniques learned there. In August 2008, LSU Theatre students performed "Love Still Unrequited (LSU)," a piece based loosely on Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."

"The most fascinating aspect of each of our trips is to witness the transformation of our students as they discover how modern, how warm and welcoming and how technologically advanced our country truly is," said Richard Holden, assistant professor of acting and directing and co-head of the department's undergraduate performance division. "Our students' lives will be forever changed."

This June, Swine Palace's 2007 world premiere production of "Cocktail" was selected as part of an international exhibition, standing alongside productions spanning from Broadway productions to one-person devised works. The production was one of 35 chosen by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology to represent the United States at the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, the world's largest theatre design exhibition and competition. Original designs by LSU Department of Theatre faculty EunJin Cho in sound design and James Murphy in set design, as well as LSU alumna Polly Boersig in costume design, were on display at the exhibit.

"Having the opportunity to perform and present our student and faculty works in countries as Korea, China, Scotland and the Czech Republic reinforces LSU Theatre's commitment on international outreach and also supports our academic degree programs," Sosnowsky said.

Along with traditional theatre programs, another aspect of LSU's theatre department moves performance from the stage to the air. Under the guidance and supervision of Erickson, students from various concentrations can gather in the Music & Dramatic Arts Building's movement studio to study the art of aerial silk performance. While not yet an official program within the department, those interested can learn the art from Erickson, himself a founding member of the world renowned acrobatic dance company Diavolo.

The Department of Theatre has also partnered with Playmakers of Baton Rouge, Louisiana's only professional theatre dedicated to bringing quality live theatrical productions to young audiences across the state. With the partnership, Playmakers moved their administrative offices and performance location to the Reilly Theatre. The partnership also featured a recent summer theatre camp offered through Playmakers of Baton Rouge and LSU's Performing Arts Academy. During the camp, Playmakers' students performed the hit musical "Godspell," with professional and college representatives directed and choreographed the performance.

LSU Theatre students also have the opportunity throughout the year to learn from highly regarded visiting professional artists. One such program is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in the Shaver Theatre, as director and artist Robert Wilson will conduct a lecture and demonstration inviting students into his astonishing aesthetic universe. Combining hundreds of striking images from through his prolific career, Wilson will provide an intimate self-portrait of his creative process in opera and theatre.

Overall Community Involvement

For CMDA, making a connection with not only the local community, but throughout the state, region, country and even world are a vital part of the college's mission.

"Everything we do touches the community in some way," said Delony, who also serves as the interim director of the LSU School of Music and is the Barineau Professor of Keyboard Studies and Professor of Jazz Studies. "It's very important that we provide our students with the best education in music and performing arts as possible, and that includes giving them a chance to learn from experience by performing before audiences and working in the community."

A newer part of the college's community outreach initiative is the Performing Arts Academy, which opened in January. Formerly the Music Academy, the Performing Arts Academy is an expansion of the program, which unites music and theatre to bring the best arts instruction in the state.

"Louisiana has such a rich cultural and artistic heritage, and it would be a mistake not to help build that next generation of great musicians and performers," said Performing Arts Academy Director Blake Wilson. "We can do that by making sure that people from all walks of life have access to excellent arts training."

In addition to offering private music lessons, the Performing Arts Academy is expanding its lineup to include early childhood programs such as Music Together, and programs like the LSU New Horizons Band, tailored for adults looking to learn a new instrument. In response to the growing local film industry in Louisiana, the academy is also branching out to offer classes in acting, film and digital media, such as Final Cut Pro.

The college is also in the middle of a partnership with From the Top, an independent non-profit organization focused on music education for pre-college students. As part of this partnership, noted pianist and "From the Top" program host Christopher O'Riley has visited the campus to perform and hold educational sessions. Riley also brought his Emmy Award-winning National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service program to LSU to tape an episode. From the Top is also collaborating with LSU for a two- to three-year project of community engagement, partnerships, arts leadership and communication. Local schoolchildren have already benefitted from the partnership, through a recent initiative to collect and repair used musical instruments for donation to area schools.

CMDA also offers an annual Performing Arts Series, which features chamber music, cutting-edge theatre, solo artists and dance companies. The series is supported by a special fee approved by the student body in 1997. The subsidy helps underwrite the costs associated with bringing world-class performances to the LSU campus and community. Frequently, the guest artists also present master classes and clinics while on campus. These latter events are usually available to students and the general community free of charge.

Through its many programs of study and its spirited support of cultural appreciation, CMDA continues to provide education, as well as entertainment, not only to its own students and the LSU community, but to an ever-growing audience around the world.

"At the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts, our students, faculty and staff are dedicated to the highest standards of excellence in the performing arts," Kaptain said. "As we enter our second century of service to Louisiana and beyond, we are proud of our heritage and excited about our future."

For more information about the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts, including academic requirements and schedules of all performances, visit www.cmda.lsu.edu, or follow Kaptain and many of the college's departments and programs on Facebook and Twitter.

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