The UT Dallas Chamber Singers and University Singers recently visited El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on a trip aimed at uniting people through music.
“We wanted to offer friendship, peace, respite, and dignity to our brothers and sisters living closest to the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Dr. Jonathan Palant, associate professor of music at UT Dallas. “Be it residents, asylum seekers, new immigrants or those reeling from a recent mass shooting, we know that music has the power to lift spirits and unite hearts.”
The UT Dallas musicians participated in two concerts — one in Ciudad Juarez and one in El Paso. Singers from both of those communities joined the UTD choir, as well as Dallas’ Credo Community Choir.
Palant said the weekend was a success, resulting in new friendships and a common bond.
For 80-year-old Suzanne Stricker, a hobby of taking college classes soon will turn into a UT Dallas bachelor’s degree. And, even then, she will not be stopping her path of lifelong learning.
Stricker plans to participate in commencement ceremonies for the School of Arts and Humanities on Friday, May 11, as she earns her degree in visual and performing arts.
“I’m excited about it. And my family is proud of me,” she said.
Born in New Zealand, Stricker speaks with a slight accent, which was much stronger when she moved to Texas in 1967.
“Because I felt that people were having a hard time understanding me, I practiced rolling my R’s,” she said.
Stricker stayed at home as she raised her family. But when the last of her three children began high school, she saw it as an opportunity to begin taking classes: first at a community college and then, after she worked for a local nonprofit organization, at UT Dallas in 2006.
Because she enjoyed music and played the piano, Stricker chose an academic path that focused on the humanities. Her classes included history, geography, communication and, of course, music.
“She came into my classes probably over age 70, yet she was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic members of the class,” said Dr. Kathryn Evans, senior lecturer and director of the UT Dallas Chamber Singers.
As a member of the Chamber Singers, Stricker participated in “The Best of Broadway,” a traditional University show that involves singing, costumes and movement. But none of that proved to be an issue.
“I appreciated that they would let me be in it because I was so much older than everybody else,” she said.
Evans said Stricker kept up well.
“She’d get up there and do the steps, and do her best, and she would say she was a little bit older, but it didn’t even slow her down,” Evans said.
For Stricker, one of the major attractions to enrolling at UT Dallas was the special state of Texas tuition waiver for individuals 65 years old and older. The waiver allows senior citizens to take up to six hours each semester with no tuition costs, as long as a minimum GPA is maintained.
“That means I don’t have to pay for classes,” she said. “It was something I could take advantage of so that I could continue my studies. And since I’m retired and have good health, thank the Lord, I can do things like this that I enjoy.”
Stricker said she has enjoyed her time at UT Dallas, and especially appreciated her “excellent” instructors and the diverse student body.
“You’re getting to know others of different persuasions, and what they can do. It’s such a diverse community at UTD,” she said.
Evans said Stricker is a great role model and inspiration for students, as well as for Evans herself.
“She was a very wonderful student and, in some ways, I think she inspired me to go back to school,” Evans said. “Suzanne is a great example of lifelong learning.”
Stricker said she hopes to continue taking classes at UT Dallas, perhaps working toward a master’s degree.
“I believe it’s good for your mind to be able to keep learning,” she said.
UT Dallas freshman Alissa Dover will showcase her musical versatility at the upcoming Musica Nova orchestra concert. She will perform much of the program as a cellist. But at one point during the concert, she will put down her cello and move to center stage to sing a solo.
That, according to Dr. Robert Xavier Rodríguez, is quite a feat.
“Instrumentalists and singers draw on the same set of musicianship skills, but it is rare for a musician to be both an instrumentalist and a singer,” he said.
The dual performance will occur Friday, April 27, when Musica Nova, the University’s Advanced Orchestra and Chamber Music Ensemble, performs the music of Beethoven. Rodríguez, Chair in Art and Aesthetic Studies and professor of music in the School of Arts and Humanities, directs the ensemble.
Dover has been playing the cello since she was in kindergarten. She said she has been singing for most of her life. Her mother has extensive training in musical performance, which inspired her to keep singing. At the concert, she will sing “Ich Liebe Dich.”
In the minutes leading up to 7 p.m. the air is full of the scuffing of chairs across carpet, the metal scraping as music stands are unfolded, and the shuffling of sheet music being passed through the ranks. Two students wheel a pair of double basses from a back closet stuffed with instruments in black cases. Reeds are wetted and affixed to mouthpieces, and a chorus of metallic clicking accompanies the limbering of both fingers and keys. Bows are tested against strings as the players tuck violins against their cheeks. The students of the UT Dallas Wind Ensemble and String Orchestra, though they meet in different rooms, enact this ritual every week in order to prepare for rehearsal.
The orchestral ensembles are designed to enable all interested students, whatever their major, to integrate music performance into their education. Other performance opportunities include Vocal Ensembles, Jazz and Classical Guitar. The Advanced Chamber Music Ensemble, conducted by world-renowned composer Dr. Robert Xavier Rodríguez, professor of music and Chair in Art and Aesthetic Studies at UT Dallas, performs each semester as Musica Nova.
The orchestra class has been around at UT Dallas for 10 years, half of that time under the stewardship of Hustis and Salisbury. In that time, the number of students enrolled has grown each semester.
Salisbury collects data showing the representation of different departments within the orchestra. The largest contributor is the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science with 45 percent, followed by the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at 14 percent, and both the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at 11 percent.
At the end of each semester, the ensembles and orchestras gather in the University Theatre to perform pieces months in preparation.
Students can also benefit from collaborating on musical arrangements. All of the students agreed that it takes more than rote participation for the pieces to come together — everyone contributes no matter their skill level.
“Do the Tuesday night rehearsals enhance the education of these students? Recently the parents of a graduating senior — a biochemistry major — wrote that their daughter’s ability to participate in the string and full orchestras during her academic career at UT Dallas has allowed her a rounded and truly enriched education,” Kratz said.
At UT Dallas, the creative arts are for everyone.
Larce Blake remembers being “forced” at age 10 to take piano lessons.
Three years later, stirred by listening to old-school jazz and funk artists like the Gap Band and Earth, Wind & Fire, he started tinkering with tracks and composing music.
Blake is hoping to take his talent as a regional record producer and composer to the national level.
At 23, Blake is an in-house producer for the Dallas-based record label IRAS (Independent Recording Arts Society), making tracks for hip-hop and rhythm and blues artists.
He also composes his own music, a blend of R&B, hip-hop and dance styles. His smooth, contemporary sound provides an easy listen, and his digital compositions showcase layers of intricate sounds.
In 2014, Blake released his first extended play album “Balmes” on SoundCloud. His second EP “Why Can’t I Sleep” came out in April 2017. The single “Can’t Do It” from his second album has had nearly 200,000 plays on Spotify. This month, Blake released a new single, “For Me,” and in June his first full-length album of 10 original songs, “Concord,” will be available on SoundCloud, iTunes and Spotify.
When he transferred to UT Dallas from Collin College in 2015, Blake extended his local fan base and added Twitter followers by hosting a program on Radio UTD called “IRAS Coast Radio.”
Blake rounds out his musical interests by working parties as a DJ and doing sound design work for short films. His dream is to expand to a national audience and hopefully make a living at it. That would likely mean a move to a music hub like Los Angeles.
“I definitely see myself achieving more, getting a major label to receive funding for my projects,” Blake said. “I want to be able to provide for myself and my future children. Getting a few accolades along the way, like a Grammy nomination, would be nice.”
UT Dallas choir director Dr. Jonathan Palant is on a mission to help people through music, but his work doesn’t stop at the UT Dallas campus. The musician also leads a choir made up of the homeless who live on the streets of Dallas.
Palant said music is an ideal way to provide respite to both students and the homeless.
“The UT Dallas student comes to choir looking for a creative outlet — to escape chemistry or mathematics for just a short while. The Street Choir member comes to escape the cold, looking to escape what lies ahead for their day — or perhaps, what doesn’t. In that regard, they are very similar,” he said.
Palant said every ensemble he conducts has a different attitude about it, because each person comes to the experience with a different journey in life.
Palant, who began working at UT Dallas in 2016, conducts the University Choir, teaches a music appreciation class and soon will lead the University’s Chamber Singers. He also leads music at Kessler United Methodist Church in Oak Cliff, the Temple Shalom Jewish congregation in Dallas and the Credo Community Choir, and serves as a consultant for the Dallas Independent School District. He previously was the artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale in Dallas.
Other coverage of Jonathan Palant and the Dallas Street Choir:
Choir of homeless people rocks Carnegie Hall, 11/28/17, on today.com
Choir of homeless people rocks Carnegie Hall, 11/28/17, on youtube.com
To read the full article, as it appears in the Fall 2017 Edition of UTDallas Magazine, please visit blurred lines.
The excerpt appearing below has been sampled to feature only School of Arts & Humanities staff and faculty who appeared in the original article.
Blurred Lines: Artists and Scientists Are More Alike Than Different
While the traditions and audiences of scientists and artists may be diverse, the creative processes they use to achieve success are more alike than different, and they are motivated by the same shared goal — to understand and describe the world around them and to communicate that understanding and insight to others. At UT Dallas, researchers often blur the lines between science and the humanities, using concepts and tools from the arts to inspire or inform scientific inquiry, and vice versa.
Dr. Alexander Fleming was a Scottish bacteriologist and an amateur painter, mostly with watercolors. He also would paint faces and figures in another medium — bacteria — carefully placing microbes of different strains in a Petri dish so that as they matured, their various colors would form a scene. Fleming’s experience with pigments and painting may well have contributed to one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the 20th century — the first modern antibiotic, penicillin. That discovery resulted when he noticed the abnormal appearance of bacteria in a dish that had been invaded by the penicillin mold while he was away on holiday.
“We see quite often in the literature that people are able to take experience in one domain and by means of analogy, use that experience in another domain,” said Dr. Magdalena Grohman, associate director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology in the School of Arts and Humanities at The University of Texas at Dallas. “That can broaden your possibility of inspiration and, later, a solution. If it weren’t for the fact that Fleming was using bacteria to paint, would he have recognized that something unusual had happened when he saw penicillin mold growing in a dish?”
Defining Creativity Across Disciplines
Since she was a high school student in her native Poland, Grohman has been interested in the psychology of creativity, creative thinking and the creative process. At UT Dallas she teaches courses on creativity, including how it is measured and defined. Students from a mix of majors take her survey class.
When asked whether creativity and inspiration are different among traditional artists versus scientists, she said the issue is complex.
What is known, she said, is that creative people across domains are good at defining a problem, as opposed to strictly solving a problem.
“In cognitive psychology it has been shown that people who spend more time on constructing the problem often come up with more novel, useful and unique solutions to the problem,” Grohman said. “In scientific inquiry, this will be trying to define the problem to solve, while in artistic domains, it may be choosing the right idea to convey.”
While some psychologists contend that creativity is domain specific — it’s different for a mathematician and a poet, for example — others say it is domain general, she said. The debate is open.
“But what we do know from the areas of cognitive psychology and personality research is that there is strong evidence that creative people across domains share one trait: They are open to experience,” she said.
This characteristic includes being imaginative, inquisitive and curious, and having the propensity to hold two mutually exclusive thoughts, Grohman said. It’s also being open to “weird associations” and recognizing atypical analogies or connections in the world around us.
Can Music Make You Smarter?
Whether it’s the physicist who plays the guitar or the sculptor who does backyard astronomy, from a psychological standpoint it’s tricky to prove that experience in one domain can make someone actually perform better in another domain.
“This kind of transfer is hard to prove,” Grohman said. “We still don’t know if that happens or not.”
Dr. Kathryn Evans is on a mission to find out.
Evans started out wanting to be a mathematician. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math and taught the subject. But she also has always had a passion for music, so she got a master’s in performance and has toured the world as a vocalist and conductor. In the 1990s, she came to UT Dallas to help restart the campus’s music and arts programs. She currently teaches vocal and choral performance in the School of Arts and Humanities and is working on developing curriculum across the arts, sciences and humanities with colleagues in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication. In the spring of 2018, she will teach a class called Music, Science and Technology, open to students in any major.
With both math and music constantly in her thoughts, Evans began wondering why certain people pursue both the arts and science, and why those in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — often are also good musicians.
For her doctoral dissertation in the ATEC program, Evans surveyed UT Dallas students about their experience studying music, performing music and in sound design, and how those experiences related to their academic performance in other areas. The student population offered a unique pool: About three-quarters of UT Dallas students major in a STEM field.
“We found there was something about studying music theory that was the No. 1 indicator of academic success,” said Evans, who earned her PhD in 2016.
Music theory involves analyzing the structure of musical pieces, including drilling down to smaller and smaller bits like individual notes, measures and phrases, which leads to a greater understanding of the whole.
“Having to break a big piece down into little pieces — and practice it over and over again — well, that’s how you learn stuff,” Evans said. “That’s how you learn biochemistry, or how to move your fingers on the violin. That’s how you learn the Krebs cycle, which is how we digest our food to get energy.
“That’s what these students said music had taught them.”
The next step for Evans will be trying to test whether experience in one domain actually improves performance in another.
“It’s not as clean as saying, ‘If you can do this, you can do that.’ This type of skills transfer is diffuse and hard to prove,” she said, echoing Grohman’s perspective. “It’s not as simple as saying, if your kid takes music theory and can identify the key of A major, then they’ll be able to figure out stochastic chemistry. It’s not that clean and simple.”
What is clear is that in both the creative and the scientific realms, it takes multiple steps — and sweat — to reach that “Aha!” moment, Grohman said. Innovators who are passionate about their pursuits will spend hour upon hour in the most boring aspects of that pursuit before reaching a final product, she said.
“Success comes only after you go through a certain process,” Evans added. “Whether it’s music or drawing or sculpture or particle physics, the process has a lot to do with breaking the subject down into smaller pieces that are manageable, until your mind puts all those pieces together in a whole that makes sense.”
The Big Picture
As UT Dallas researchers and students practice creativity and inspiration in artistic and scientific endeavors — and often both — Evans cautions that universities and educators should keep their eyes on the big picture.
“One of the takeaways from my time at UT Dallas and my research is that having experience in those two domains, what some consider very disparate areas, is really valuable,” she said. “This is why I worry about us losing one or the other as kids come into college. We have a creeping major problem, where departments keep adding requirements to the point where they essentially lock out everything else that a student could do. Some students take only one course in the arts, or maybe only one science elective, and then they work on their major. And I think that’s terrible. To experience all the other things in life that also matter, that maybe make us human, is also important.
“It’s clear that we need both/and, not either/or.”
The mission of the commission, which was created by the Texas Legislature in 1965, is to advance economic and cultural development in the state of Texas. The agency invests in cultural tourism, art education, and direct funding of nonprofit arts organizations, arts institutions and schools, local agencies, community groups and individual artists throughout the state.
Yu laid the groundwork to his commission appointment by serving on boards of directors of such nonprofit organizations as the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce, where he served 10 years. He also served on the board of the Multi-Ethnic Education and Economic Development Center and Chamber Music International.
Yu is the founder and CEO of Coregami. The company specializes in what he calls “performal” wear — formal attire that keeps musicians comfortable during concert performances.
On Friday, Sept. 9, in the University Theatre, the Duo Cuenca will present a chamber program for guitar and piano. The performance begins at 8 p.m.
Alongside flamenco dancer Raquel Parilla, brothers José Manuel Cuenca and Francisco Cuenca Morales will play a tribute to their home of Andalusia, Spain with colorful pieces celebrating the people and culture of the place. With Francisco on guitar and José Manuel on piano, they will perform music from their new CD, Amanecer en Granada.
The duo has developed a vast artistic career with performances worldwide, and the brothers have performed in auditoriums such as Carnegie Hall in New York, the National Auditorium in Spain and the Andrés Segovia House Museum Auditorium in Linares, Spain, on its opening night.
José Manuel studied piano and clarinet at the Superior Music Conservatory in Cordova, with Teresa García Moreno and Rafael Quero and Bartolomé Conde. Francisco started his guitar studies with his father, Francisco Cuenca Domínguez, and continues at the Superior Music Conservatory in Cordova with José Rodríguez and Miguel Barberá.
The concert is free to UT Dallas students presenting school ID at the box office the night of the event. Discounts are available to faculty, staff, alumni, retirees and students. General admission tickets for the show are $15 for non-UT Dallas attendees.
Tickets can be purchased in advance online or by calling (972) 883-2552. Tickets purchased in advance may be picked up at the door prior to the show.
Dr. H. Bryce Jordan, the first president of The University of Texas at Dallas, died April 12 in Austin. He was 91.
Jordan served as UT Dallas president from 1971 to 1981.
Jordan took the helm of the University just two years after the campus became part of the University of Texas System. The rapidly growing institution expanded its faculty from 50 to 215 and increased student enrollment from 40 to more than 7,000 during his tenure.
UT Dallas offered only graduate degrees until 1975, when it began accepting juniors and seniors. Jordan awarded the first bachelor’s degrees at spring commencement in 1976.
“I was not privileged to spend much time with Dr. Jordan, and mostly remember visiting him at his Austin home,” said Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, UT Dallas president ad interim. “All of the admiring tales I had heard from UT Dallas faculty colleagues about him were immediately validated during that visit. He exuded dynamism, cheerfulness and engagement, and we traded questions and answers about the many luminaries he had worked with over his long and distinguished career. He was blessed with a superabundance of those human traits that draw admiration, affection and respect.”