View from the Pond

Pius Cheung
Releases ‘Goldberg Variations’ for Marimba

Pius Cheung

Pius Cheung, doctoral student in percussion with Michael Udow, was featured in a New York Times article on Sunday, August 30, on the occasion of the release of his Goldberg Variations for marimba. The article noted that Cheung “surmounts the contrapuntal hurdles and offers a stylish, deeply expressive interpretation notable for its clear voicing, eloquent phrasing, and wide range of color and dynamics.”  To read the whole article, visit (photo by Peter Smith).

The Bronx Is Up, but
The Battery’s Down

Some of the School’s musical theatre alums have been contributing to The Battery’s Down, a new Web series that follows Jake Wilson, the show’s writer and director, as he struggles his way through auditions, day jobs, and bad dates, waiting for his Big Break in the Big Apple. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (BFA ’06) wrote the theme song. Each episode contains a new song by an established musical theatre writer or team, with guest appearances by the likes of Sutton Foster, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jennifer Laura Thompson (BFA ’91). You can find The Battery’s Down on YouTube. See how many Michigan references you can name in the theme song This Is Your Life from part two of the first episode, called “The Big Apple” (adult content, so beware).

Tonys Go Blue

At the Tony Awards ceremony in June, it was announced that Gregory Jbara, ’81 (musical theatre and voice), won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a musical for Billy Elliot, the Musical for his turn as Jackie Elliot, Billy’s dad, a role he originated. Other U-M nominees that night included Gavin Creel (BFA ’98), for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, for his portrayal of Claude in the hit Broadway musical Hair (Creel performed in a number from Hair at the televised ceremony). Another nominee, this time for costume design, was Martin Pakledinaz, MFA ’75, theatre & drama, for Best Costume Design of a Play for Blithe Spirit. Read more about Martin in the profile on
p. 6-7.

Percussion Students Live! from Lincoln Center
Three students from the studio of percussion faculty member Joseph Gramley joined their teacher on stage at a performance of Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble on Live! From Lincoln Center in June. Gramley is a member of the Ensemble and lobbied to have the U-M students included. The Silk Road Project has entered a partnership with the Manhattan School of Music and was drawing primarily on their students for the televised performance. But for two performances, Nick Rifken, Michael Colette, and Ian Sullivan—all local to NYC—joined Gramley in works by Osvaldo Golijov, Tancas Serrada a Muru and Wah Habibi, which closed the show.

Cycling for Alzheimer’s

Kendal Sparks (BFA ’07, musical theatre) and Greg Battista (BFA ’08, euphonium performance and music education) recently completed a cross-country bicycle trip to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. With three other friends, the group visited nursing homes across the country, making music with senior citizens. Starting in Anacortes, WA on May 21, the team cycled together to Wichita, KS. Due to prior commitments, the team disbanded in Kansas, but Kendal continued by himself to Yorktown, VA, finishing the ride in Washington, D.C. on September 1.

Altogether, the team raised nearly $12,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. You can still make a donation and read the team’s blog, by visiting