MPOW Day: Inspiration and Education for Local 5th Graders
A student-run organization, Michigan Performance Outreach Workshop (MPOW) provides performing arts education and programming to local students through workshops, performances, and educational events. Their main program is MPOW Day, which this year took place on March 17. For this free community event, about 100 fifth graders from Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy and Burton International Academy came to campus for performances and workshops run by students from SMTD and LSA. Twenty-six students performed, including Jackson Kanawha Perry (BFA ’25, musical theatre) and Aquila Sol (BFA ’25, musical theatre), the current co-leaders of MPOW; the philanthropic a capella group Heartbeat Vocal Outreach; and Groove, a percussion and performance group. MPOW day also included six workshops (two each in dance, theatre, and music) centered on BIPOC contributions to the arts, focusing on history, impact, and representation across the industry. MPOW participants feel it is essential to give back to the communities they belong to. MPOW programming aims to inspire and encourage young students to create and express themselves.
Yeo Ryeong Ahn
Yeo Ryeong Ahn (DMA ’24, orchestral conducting) was invited to the Gstaad Conducting Academy in the Gstaad Menuhin Festival in Switzerland for summer 2023. As one of the top 10 participants worldwide, Ahn valued the unparalleled opportunity for rising conductors to work with a world-class, leading orchestra in Europe. She made her debut in Korea with the Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra in June, and she is thrilled to present a contemporary Korean orchestral work commission with the University Symphony Orchestra this fall.
Pianist and composer Brendon Davis (BFA ’20, jazz studies, piano; MM ’23, improvisation) recently released his first single, “I’m Done Hiding.” As an undergraduate, Davis studied under Benny Green and Ellen Rowe. He recently completed his master’s degree, studying with Andy Milne, Roger Jones, and Robert Hurst. His goal with his single is to convey a message of self-acceptance; he expressed the hope that when people listen to it, they will no longer doubt their gifts and abilities.
Several student playwrights had the honor of being selected from among multiple submissions for SMTD’s 2023 PlayFest Reading Festival. Their scripts were developed throughout the semester with student directors and dramaturgs, culminating with readings of the plays. Guest artists from the professional theatre world were invited to adjudicate for the festival and give creative teams critical feedback on the performances and script developments. The winning playwrights and their works are: Nicholas Daly (BFA ’23, musical theatre), Can I Help You; Sam Aupperlee (BTA ’24, theatre), My Name Is Not John; MacKenzie Mollison (BTA ’23, performing arts management), Passenger; and Adina Aaron (BFA ’23, musical theatre), Lilith.
In March 2023, Zhengyi Huang (MM ’23, piano) won the grand prize at the Naftzger Young Artists Auditions and Music Awards, a competition for advanced music students held at Wichita State University. As grand prize winner, Huang was awarded $5,000.
Brian Kachur (BM ’21, MM ’23, saxophone) was named a winner of the 2023 Yamaha Young Performing Artist Competition. He was also selected to compete in the eighth Adolphe Sax International Competition in Dinant, Belgium. As part of Aero Quartet, Kachur will be releasing a debut album on the UK record label Orchid Classics. Starting in September, Brian will be pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in saxophone performance at Northwestern University.
Sunhong Kim received a Rackham International Student Fellowship in 2022, and she was selected to join the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG) and the Rackham summer fellowship program, Community of Scholars. Kim is pursuing a PhD in ethnomusicology, and her research focuses on gender hierarchy and power dynamics in South Korean music culture. She is a music teacher, leader, and musician. During the summer of 2023, she held weekly Korean drum workshops.
Jillian Kouzel (MM ’20, DMA ’23, oboe) has been hired as a tenure-track assistant professor of oboe at Illinois State University. As a passionate oboist, educator, scholar, and performer, she is tremendously excited for the rewarding work ahead.
SMTD Students Perform at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
During the fall semester, several theatre & drama students in the cast of The Heart of Robin Hood performed scenes from the play at Sophie’s Place, a music therapy and recording studio at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The students performed in front of a green screen, and their performance was broadcast into the hospital rooms. Donovan Rogers (BFA ’24, theatre), who is pursuing minors in playwriting and performance management & entrepreneurship, initiated the idea for the Robin Hood cast to engage in a service project. He is the founder of the Black arts and research organization the DR’s Laboratory, through which he developed a “process-production” framework of “going to the community our stories are about and involving them in the artistic process,” he said. This framework inspired him to apply the notion of community care from the story of Robin Hood by sharing the show with hospitalized students who couldn’t otherwise see it. “I hope our service with Sophie’s Place inspires SMTD to consider how the morals of the stories we produce can also be practiced in how we care for the marginalized students, staff, and communities our stories reflect,” Rogers stated.
During the winter semester, SMTD students once again performed for hospitalized children at Sophie’s Place. This performance was led by Aquila Sol (BFA ’25, musical theatre) and Jackson Kanawha Perry (BFA ’25, musical theatre), the directors of Michigan Performance Outreach Workshop (MPOW). Aiming to, as Sol said, “bring some joy” to the children at Mott, a group of musical theatre students gathered at Sophie’s Place to sing a selection of popular songs, including several Disney favorites. The performances were broadcast to rooms within Mott (and recorded for later viewing), and the doors were open for any families visiting patients at Mott to watch the performances live. Perry noted that, in addition to being “engaging and fun,” art has “a spiritual quality that can reach anybody, wherever they are, at any phase of life.” Both performances at Mott were coordinated with the support of Karin Waidley, SMTD lecturer in theatre & drama and resident dramaturg, and Abigail Labbé (BTA ’24, performing arts management).
The 2023 Cohort of the 21st Century Artist Internship
Each year, UMS and SMTD work together to match students with internships at dance, theatre, and music ensembles around the world. The students spend the summer working with performing arts organizations, and in the fall, they continue their work via a one-credit independent study, serving as campus ambassadors, educators, and marketers to support their respective artists when they visit Ann Arbor as part of UMS’s performance season. The 2023 cohort of interns is Matthew Eggers (BFA ’24, theatre design & production), working with the Javaad Alipoor Company in Manchester, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland; Alexandra (Sasha) Gusikhin (BM ’25, voice), working with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Philadelphia and Saratoga Springs, New York; Katherine (Kate) Klassa (BTA ’26, theatre), working with the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York City; and Emilia Vizachero (BFA ’24, theatre), working with the Druid Theatre in Galway, Ireland.
Veronica Koz (BM ’24, voice), who is also pursuing a minor in business administration (Ross), covered the lead soprano role as the governess in The Turn of the Screw at Chicago Summer Opera.
Cinderella Ksebati (MM ’24, voice) was an encouragement award winner of the newly founded Sam Vitale and Aaron Caruso Neapolitan Song Vocal Competition at U-M. Sponsored and adjudicated by Department of Voice alums Vitale and Caruso, the competition highlights the beautiful song repertoire of Italy.
Robert Wesley Mason. Photo credit: Heather La Kor
In June, Robert Wesley Mason (BM ’09, DMA ’24, voice), lauded for his performances of contemporary works, stepped into the starring role of Jack Torrance for the West Coast premiere of Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell’s operatic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining with Opera Parallèle in San Francisco. The Shining has received praise from critics and audiences alike since its premiere at Minnesota Opera in 2016. Mason also recently joined Pensacola Opera for his third career run as Billy Bigelow in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, closing out the company’s 40th anniversary season this past March.
Giancarlo Medrano (right) and Paolo Zepeda
Giancarlo Medrano (BS ’25, sound engineering) and Paolo Zepeda (BBA, Ross) cofounded Música Para La Gente (MPG), an organization that aims to implement and improve musical resources in low-income Latino communities across Michigan, providing access to instruments, recording equipment, and musical mentorship. As first-generation Latinos, Medrano and Zepada struggled to access affordable musical resources, whether in pursuit of a career or as a hobby. MPG, founded on the principle that access to creative resources should not be available only to the privileged, earned funding and the Best Community Engagement award through U-M’s Innovation in Action program. This funding helped them gather research, interview stakeholders, and turn possibilities into reality, bringing their innovation to life.
A Standout Year for Chamber Music Ensembles
Spring 2023 brought a number of accolades for several SMTD chamber music ensembles, both within the SMTD realm and in national competitions held around the country. In March, two SMTD ensembles performed very well at the MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) Chamber Music Competition. Trio Matisse, featuring Nickolas Hamblin (BM ’23, clarinet), Benjamin Penzner (MM ’25, viola), and Ariya Laothitipong (BM ’25, piano), won second place in the string category. The Chiral Quartet, a saxophone ensemble with Leo Schlaifer (MM ’24), Nicholas Napier (MM ’24), Alex Toth (MM ’23), and Matthew Dardick (MM ’24), won third place in the winds category. In April, the Cerus Quartet – a saxophone ensemble featuring Roberto Campa (BM ’23), Laura Ramsay (BM ’24), Kyle Kato (BM ’24), and Samuel Dishon (BM ’24) – won first prize and the Michigan Composition Prize at SMTD’s Dale and Nancy Briggs Chamber Music Competition. Second prize went to Trio Amabile, with Jordan Bartel (MM ’23, violin), Emma Cary (BM ’23, cello), and Tzu Kuang Tan (SM ’23, collaborative piano). Third prize in the Briggs Competition was won by Trio Blank Slate, with Minseo Kim (MM ’23, flute), Heeseung Lee (MM ’23, bassoon), and Hyerim Lee (DMA ’23, piano). Later in April, Trio Matisse again earned distinction, winning the Kronos Award for the best performance for a contemporary work at the Glass City Chamber Music Competition. And in May, the Cerus Quartet added another honor to a stellar season, earning the silver medal in the senior wind division at the prestigious Fischoff Competition.
Jack Morin (right) with composer Beverly Benjamin Cole
During the winter 2023 semester, Jack Morin (BM ’25, voice, choral music education) organized concerts that premiered the works of Beverly Benjamin Cole, an SMTD alum who graduated in 1952. Morin and nine other performers, including Stephen West, professor of voice, held these concerts in Ann Arbor and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where they performed for an audience that included Cole, who was hearing many of his songs sung for the first time. Morin presented Cole with digitized engravings created from his handwritten manuscripts. Cole’s scores are now in the U-M music library and accessible to all SMTD voice faculty, and Morin plans to publish them to spread Cole’s music further.
In late 2022, Gavin Ryan (MA ’23, media arts; DMA ’25, percussion) was awarded the Brehm Prize in Instrumental Composition for his work Opaque and Infinite. The award includes a cash prize and the performance of the work by the U-M Percussion Ensemble during the 2023–24 concert season. Ryan’s composition, which is scored for eight percussionists, was inspired by the work of American artist James Turrell. The Brehm Prize in Instrumental Composition, endowed in 2015 by Delores and William Brehm, was established to encourage the composition of instrumental works by SMTD students.
Cindy Sang (BM ’23, piano, musicology) has received the 2023 Presser Undergraduate Scholar Award. Presented by the Presser Foundation, the prestigious award recognizes exceptional students in music studies at dozens of institutions of higher education. One student is selected annually by SMTD faculty, and the award comes with a $4,000 cash prize for recipients to advance their musical studies. Sang’s research focuses on cultural diplomacy, transnationalism, and Eastern European history. She is also a recipient of the Young Musician Award from the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, and she received the Amelia Kulesa Konopka Fellowship and the Copernicus Summer Grant from the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia. This summer, she completed internships in the fields of music publishing and museum education while living in Kraków, Poland.
Eli Stefanacci (MM ’23, oboe, chamber music), who studied with Nancy Ambrose King at SMTD, was recently appointed the principal oboist of the Detroit Opera Orchestra.
Amelie Vidrio (front), Alana Packo, Caitlyn Wade, Arianna Stadler, Kevin Wang perform during Jack Randal’s senior capstone concert. Photo credit: Kirk Donaldson
Dance Work Chosen for National Conference
In collaboration with his cast of dancers, Jack Randel (BFA ’23, dance) choreographed a seven-person ensemble dance for his senior capstone concert in November 2022. Randel presented the piece, Рапсодия на прелюдию к сжиганию цветов керосином (Rhapsody on a Prelude to Burning Flowers with Kerosene), at the Mid-Atlantic North regional concert for the American College Dance Association (ACDA) this past March, and it was selected to be performed for ACDA’s national conference at California State University Long Beach in May. Randel was honored to be presenting their work at such a large scale.