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Michigan Muse Magazine

Spring 2020 – Commencement Edition

Message from the Dean

Like each of you, all of us at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance have been grappling with the profound implications of the pandemic, reordering the patterns of our daily lives and reimagining how to flourish in a world in which human interactivity —so essential to the university experience, and at the heart of the performing arts —is mediated and restricted. In March, within a few short days, the campus transitioned to fully remote instruction, and our faculty and staff worked tirelessly to support every student’s scholarly and artistic growth and paths to degree completion. They made the necessary adaptations with positivity, resolve, and creativity, and our students displayed remarkable resilience. I am proud to be part of a community that responded so rapidly and so effectively to a series of unforeseen challenges.

While this moment has given us an opportunity to display some of our best qualities, it has also been exceptionally trying. Last spring, we had to cancel all public events, including much-anticipated concerts, productions, guest artist appearances, conferences, and more. Our talented students were poised for performances on the stages of Hill, Power Center, Mendelssohn, and Arthur Miller. They were prepared to give final recitals to audiences filled with faculty, family, and friends. The disappointment and sense of loss was palpable.

None felt this loss more acutely than our graduating students, who had to forgo their culminating recitals, presentations, ensemble concerts, productions, showcases, and the last walk onto the Hill Auditorium stage during graduation. We can never replace those moments, but we did celebrate our 2020 graduates with virtual festivities on April 30 and May 1, and we continue to celebrate the Class of 2020 by dedicating this issue of Muse to them.

In these pages, you will read reflections from our graduates and see some of their favorite SMTD photos. We highlight our award winners, student speaker, and our scheduled commencement speaker, celebrated composer and SMTD alumna Laura Karpman. Our faculty also share a special tribute to the Class of 2020 with photos, well wishes, and encouragement for the future. Our graduating students are a remarkable group, and we are thrilled to be able to highlight them here.

As last semester came to a close, we turned our attention to planning for a public health-informed, in-residence fall semester. In April, I organized six working groups that focused on the unique challenges we face at SMTD with regard to health and safety; delivering instruction in remote, hybrid, and modified in-person contexts; integration of technology; and more. Each working group collected information from our community (including a poll of our students), and kept an ear on the national conversation, as well. Their reports have directed our course of action for the upcoming semester and beyond.

While the crisis is driving our current focus on technologically supported modes of teaching and performing, we know that what happens in real time, in a shared space, is irreplaceable. We all look forward to the day when we can enjoy the full richness of our scholarly and artistic community in person. But the performing arts are needed more now than ever, and I have no doubt that SMTD will continue to be the dynamic and irrepressible creative hub that it has always been, and our students will learn and create and grow in ways that will inspire and delight us.

Stay safe and be well.

Dave Gier, Dean
Paul Boylan Collegiate Professor of Music School of Music, Theatre & Dance


In this issue

  1. Student commencement speaker, Johanna Kepler (BFA, dance).
    Johanna Kepler – 2020 Student Commencement Speaker

    Johanna Kepler completed a BFA in Dance with a minor in Latino Studies. During her time at U-M, Kepler served on the Student Advisory Board for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and was an SMTD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Student Ambassador. Kepler also founded Arts in Color, a student organization committed to diversity,…

  2. Jacob Ryan Smith - Albert Stanley Medal Recipient
    Jacob Ryan Smith – Albert Stanley Medal

    Jacob Ryan Smith completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theatre and was one of the first-ever graduates to earn the new Musical Composition minor. He has been writing for over a decade, having written four full-length musicals; two short, 15-minute musicals; a short musical film; a song cycle; and hundreds of pop…

  3. Mallory Avnet - Earl V. Moore Award Winner (Acting)
    Mallory Avnet – Earl V. Moore Award (Acting)

    Mallory Avnet completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Acting this spring. She would like to thank all the wonderful professors who challenged and cared for her during her time at SMTD, as well as her beloved classmates for their constant support, and her family, who raised her with so much love and joy….

  4. Sean Grier - Earl V. Moore Award (Music)
    Sean Grier – Earl V. Moore Award (Music)

    Sean Grier completed a master’s degree in Music Education and will begin his PhD, also in Music Education, at Michigan this fall. Before beginning his master’s in the Fall 2018, Grier taught middle and high school choral music for nine years in Durham, North Carolina. Grier’s teaching and research interests include examining music education’s intersections…

  5. Jillian Kouzel
    Jillian Kouzel – Earl V. Moore Award (Music)

    Jillian Kouzel completed a double master’s degree in Oboe and Chamber Music at U-M as a graduate student instructor under the direction of Nancy Ambrose King. She will continue her academic career at Michigan as a DMA student in Fall 2020. Kouzel aspires to cultivate a lasting career as a professor, orchestral musician, and chamber…

  6. Hannah Marcus - Earl V. Moore Award for Dance winner
    Hannah Marcus – Earl V. Moore Award (Dance)

    Hannah Marcus graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance and a minor in Performing Arts Management & Entrepreneurship. She enjoys collaborating across disciplines to create work that explores how physicality can be supported and deconstructed by visual design, theatricality, sound, and language.” Academic and career accomplishments Performed works by Rosie Herrera, Shannon Gillen,…

  7. Aaron Robinson - Earl V. Moore Award Winner for Musical Theatre
    Aaron Robinson – Earl V. Moore Award (Musical Theatre)

    Aaron Robinson earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre this spring. He sends heaps of love and gratitude to his family, friends, and educators—without whom no successes would be possible. Academic and career accomplishments 2014 Kentucky Performing Arts Governor’s School for the Arts winner in musical theatre 2016 National YoungArts Foundation Winner in…

  8. Maya Imani Alwan - Willis Patterson Diversity Award Winner
    Maya Imani Alwan – Willis Patterson Diversity Award

    Maya Imani Alwan completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre with a minor in Community Action and Social Change from the School of Social Work. During her time at U-M, Alwan advocated for diversity, equity, and inclusion as a member of the Musical Theatre Student Advisory Committee and as an SMTD DEI Ambassador….