The halls are alive with the sounds of music

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Walking down the narrow hall on the third floor of Paul Creative Arts Center is like flipping a radio dial and finding that music has trumped talk shows on every station. The escalating warm-up scales of a soprano give way to flute trills, followed by halting--but persistent--piano chords and then a saxophone jazz riff. You want to close your eyes to better absorb this amazing cacophony. But if you do, you might trip over a student camped out in the hall waiting to use one of 13 tiny practice rooms. Go down a flight of stairs or two, and you find the same--music leaking from behind almost every door.

Photos by Perry Smith

Performance is central to the music department, even though two-thirds of its students are music education majors. "We think good music teachers ought to be good musicians, first and foremost," says Mark DeTurk, professor and department chair. The number of events held in the department each year is staggering. This year's calendar lists 71 events, including 54 student performances and 13 faculty concerts. Add to that scores of student recitals and juried performances, and you have music, if not 24/7, at least 12/6.

It was a much slower beat in the 1980s, when college music programs across the nation suffered as public schools slashed their music budgets and, consequently, the music major's job prospects. At UNH, there were as few as 70 music majors at one time, making it difficult to even muster a quorum for ensembles. Today there are 180 majors and 200 non-majors enrolled in music classes.

Enrollments began to grow in the 1990s with the arrival of new faculty, creation of new scholarships, and the continued expansion of outreach and early recruitment programs. The 61-year-old Summer Youth Music School, for instance, was attended last year by 800 middle and high school students.

Another attraction is a strong sense of community. Unlike many music programs, says DeTurk, there is little breaking down into camps, such as instruments vs. voice or classical vs. jazz. That's a good thing, since the demand for space could easily come to blows in a less amiable atmosphere. "We really need a new building," says David Ripley, a professor of voice. Others agree. "It's not as much more space, as different space--performance space--that we need," says DeTurk. Even so, faculty and students are deeply loyal to the program and mutually supportive. Students often call their performance professors by their first names and faculty routinely make time for extra lessons and lend their office keys to students for late-night practicing. As Ripley notes: "There's a sense of unity here; a strong connection about what the conversation is."

In full swing

Photos by Perry Smith
Yvonne Aubert '08 and Dave Seiler

"IT'S TOO HOT in here to worry about pitch today," Dave Seiler tells the 21 members of the UNH Jazz Band as they gather for a late-afternoon practice. It's unusually warm for mid-November, the heat is on and the room in Paul Creative Arts Center is toasty. The horn players climb to the higher risers, the saxophones sit in front. Yvonne Aubert '08, the only woman in the band, is at the grand piano.

Seiler, UNH director of jazz and professor of clarinet, listens intently and stops the music frequently to make comments: "You gotta put the sound through the mute, man," he calls up to the trumpet players. He talks with the drummer about a particular beat. "Make those chords stubborn," he instructs Aubert.

"Dave's got a really strong intuition for music," says Aubert, who grew up in Londonderry, N.H. "And he's really good at connecting with musicians, saying things that get them to play what he wants."

Seiler has worked hard to make those connections since he arrived at UNH in 1972. "I individualize students," he says. "If you can't do that you're in trouble. They all have different needs, different levels of talent, different egos. You have to understand who needs more support; who is nervous. Some are good soloists; some are not. In the jazz band, I know where everyone came from; a lot of times, I know their parents."

Seiler talks fast and packs a lot in. His conversational riffs shoot out in many directions--making connections with people and events, past and future.

"When I first met Dave at a jazz clinic he ran at my high school, I was thrown back by how fast he talks," recalls Aubert. But she also was impressed with the relationship he had with the UNH musicians he brought along: "Everyone laughed a lot and seemed to be having fun."

The daughter and granddaughter of musicians, Aubert started to demand her turn at the piano when she was 2. Even then, she had a soft melodious touch on the keys. Lessons with her mother began when she was 6. Soon her father, a professional jazz pianist, was taking her along to his gigs and teaching her how to improvise. "I used to just sit there hitting the F note over and over, not knowing what to do and he'd be yelling, 'Play anything!'"

Aubert was a self-described "psychotic" about practicing when she arrived at UNH. With the help of piano professors Chris and Arlene Kies, she cut her daily practice hours from six to three or four hours a day. They also taught her the fundamentals of classical music and how to better use her fingers, wrists and arms when playing. "I feel now that I'm really learning how to play the piano, not just the music," says Aubert.

The opportunity to play a lot with groups before audiences attracted Aubert to UNH. "If I was at Berklee [College of Music in Boston], I would probably only play in one jazz combo once a week." Instead, at the end of last semester she had three concerts in one week. She's also subbed with the Seacoast Jazz Band and was an accompanist at the New Hampshire All-State Jazz Festival. "Dave is a good connection," says Aubert. "He knows everybody. He has a very big heart and is willing to help whomever he can."

Hearing the music

ANDY LALOS '00, band director at Cawley Middle School in Hooksett, N.H., wanted an original piece of music three minutes long for a school concert, "starting strangely and coming together at the end." He commissioned Tim Miles '01 to compose it.

"I started brainstorming what I could do with three minutes," says Miles. He decided to base it on a haiku, and wrote the haiku himself. Meanwhile, he was also composing a major work to be premiered in April by the UNH Wind Symphony and another piece for Nashua's Bishop Guertin High School, where he was band director for three years.

Photos by Perry Smith
Andrew Boysen Jr. and Tim Miles '01

"I really liked teaching high school. It was fun," says Miles. "But I wanted to work with college-level music and musicians." So last year he returned to UNH to earn a master's degree in conducting, a first step toward a doctorate and, he hopes, a job with a college music department.

Miles, who started on clarinet in the fifth grade, switching to a trumpet in high school, was a music education major as an undergraduate at UNH when he took classes in orchestration, conducting and composition with Andrew Boysen Jr. and realized how much he enjoyed systematically analyzing a piece of music.

Boysen, an assistant professor who is Miles' graduate mentor, has a national reputation as a composer and conductor, with more than 30 published and recorded works, including many for elementary through high school bands, choirs and small ensembles. "Composing is not a requirement for good conducting," says Boysen, "but it certainly helps. If you've put a piece together, you understand better how others have done it."

Conducting, he says, demands "knowing what you want to be hearing at the same time that you are hearing what is being played, and instantly knowing how to reconcile the two." It also includes being able to inspire musicians to do it.

In their sessions together, Boysen and Miles review every aspect of a particular score, parsing the most subtle nuances of melody, harmony, pacing, phrasing and balance. Then Miles conducts the piece as if there were an orchestra in front of him. He and Boysen sometimes sing the score as he conducts. There are the hand gestures: the left hand signaling phrasing, loudness, transition, emotion, and the right keeping the time.

"Your face must be showing things as well," says Miles. "It all must be clear, convincing and inspiring if you want them to follow you." And when they do, he says, when everything comes together the way it should and the entire ensemble is feeling connected to the music and to each other, "it's an indescribable feeling."

Ready to fly

Photos by Perry Smith
David Ripley and Kathleen O'Boyle '07

KATHLEEN O'BOYLE ARRIVES at her voice lesson knowing exactly what she wants to work on-a piece from the opera "Romeo et Juliette," specifically the timing in one part.

"Anything in three-four time is all about push and pull, give and take," Professor David Ripley tells her. He helps her with what he calls a "subtle hemiola"-how the notes are best grouped in a particular phrase-and soon he is asking her to "give more attention to grace notes; they have to do with the playful character of the piece ... Make sure the short notes speak. I want you to put makeup on them."

She listens intently, makes notations on her music and sings the same stanzas over and over, always with a full, round, soaring soprano voice. They've been working on this piece since last summer. She could easily be working on it for the next few years.

Photos by Perry Smith

"It's like a fine piece of wood," says Ripley, whose enthusiasm for similes is well known. "You sand it and then get a finer grit and sand it again, and an even finer grit and sand again, and again. Then there's the varnish and polish and then, finally, every week, the polishing of the polish."

O'Boyle started singing on stage in first grade when she earned the lead role in "Alice in Wonderland" and was so nervous she tried to trade roles with the Cheshire Cat. She sang her way through Goffstown (N.H.) High School, including the national anthem at sporting events. She played piano, trombone, flute and French horn. But she never had voice lessons until she arrived at UNH. "I really didn't have a good grasp on what classical music was all about. I didn't know what it meant to concentrate my voice, and I probably had bad intonation, along with a definite lack of confidence."

Ripley helped her to slowly release her tension, calm her nerves and understand her voice. "David is just such a caring, kind, genuine person," says O'Boyle. "He has never pushed me, just guided me. He's like a second father."

Photos by Perry Smith

Last winter she studied in Vienna, immersed in a city where cobblestone streets still echo with the footsteps of Beethoven, where opera is everywhere. She returned home with increased confidence in her voice and a deep desire to change her major from music education to performance. It was not an easy decision. She went to talk to Ripley. "I didn't tell her what to do," he says, "but the choice had already been made; she just had to have the courage to act on it."

O'Boyle chose to follow her heart. "She's confirmed her persona as a singer; she has her feathers and is getting ready to fly," says Ripley. But flight will entail many more years of study and strategically selected performances in an extremely competitive field. Her voice won't even reach its full maturity physically for another 10 years.

The lesson is over. O'Boyle gathers up her music. The next student waits in the hall. Ripley can't help but add parting advice: "Just relax. You're getting it. Use a metronome; borrow mine. It's OK to take time in this piece. You just need to have a sound musical reason, and convey clearly what it is."

Dual passions

CHRISTOPHER KIES WHIRLS into his studio, apologizing for being late. "I'm just out of theory class and everyone seemed to want a piece of me," he says, faking a shiver and nodding to student Eric Beauregard, who's already seated at the piano. "They were pulling at my sleeve, as if I were a rock star."

He's smiling, of course. He may be a major Beatles fan and play a mean ragtime piano, but he's no Bruce Springsteen. He is, however, funny, quick, engaging and passionate about music. He and his wife, Arlene, are the reason Beauregard, who majored in both music and chemical engineering, chose UNH.

Photos by Perry Smith

Arlene Kies, Eric Beauregard '07 and

Christopher Kies

"I didn't know much about the engineering program at UNH, but I auditioned here with Chris and Arlene," Beauregard recalls. "It was just such a relaxed environment and they were so personable."

He wasn't disappointed. "Chris has these really great ears and is so in tune with such a huge repertoire. Every time I pull out a new piece of music, he knows every note. He and Arlene are both amazing musicians and teachers."

They also accommodated his rigorous schedule, coming in weekends to make up lessons, giving him the keys to their offices so he could practice at night, offering extra support before recitals. It's how they treat all their students.

"What Chris and I try to do as a team," says Arlene, "is to keep the level of piano playing as high as possible. We train students to play correctly and beautifully at the level where they are."

Beauregard has just returned from an American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference in California and a visit to Starkville, Miss., where he will begin doctoral engineering studies this winter, and where his fiancee-they met in an organic chemistry class at UNH-is now in veterinary school.

But now there are fingerings to master for a challenging piece that Beauregard, Chris and Arlene Kies will perform with the UNH Symphony in less than two weeks. The piece, "The Warriors," was performed with 18 pianos in Chicago. There will be only three on the Johnson Theatre stage. "We asked Eric to play with us because he can play with power and he likes big pieces," says Kies. "He also puts a lot of excitement and enthusiasm into his playing."

Photos by Perry Smith

They go over a particularly fast, trilling part, and Kies advises Beauregard to "leave out one of those B-flats if you must. It's damn inconvenient and not worth giving yourself carpal tunnel."

A few days later, as the first full rehearsal for "The Warriors" gets underway, conductor and associate professor William Kempster leads one soaring passage and then asks for it again, instructing: "This most glorious moment has to be even more glorious."

Beauregard sits behind a grand piano. Arlene Kies is at the piano to his right, Chris Kies on his left. They have been his musical mentors for four years. But they've also become friends, confidants and musical colleagues. For Beauregard, it's been a glorious four years.

C.W. Wolff is a freelance writer in Kittery, Maine.