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A FOND FAREWELL TO KATE

by Suzanne Hegland
Faculty Editor

 

The stars aligned in December of 2013. I was looking to revamp our school news­paper, and Kate Lemmon was looking for a job.

Kate arrived for her initial interview armed with a portfolio of her past work and a list of great ideas for the future of The Penguin. During our meeting I did my best to appear neutral and professional, but poker face is not part of my repertoire. I nodded and smiled on the outside, but on the inside I was distracted by the chorus of angels singing “Hallelujah,” accompanied by Queen belting out “We Are the Champions.” (And here you guys all thought I knew nothing about music!)

Farewell_LemmonThree short semesters later our little student newspaper has become a must-read, not just for students, but also for staff and faculty. In fact, The Penguin is so good that President Woodcock is an avid and faithful reader, and often orders extra copies so the Board of Trustees and Overseers can have a Penguin to call their own.

As musicians, you’re all familiar with what goes on backstage: the hours of preparation behind each and every note you play. But you may not be familiar with what goes on behind the scenes of a newspaper. Choosing a theme, writing content, providing photos, recruiting writers, tinkering with layout and just generally getting the word out – Kate does it all.

Those of you who know Kate know that she’s the Queen of Multitasking. In homage to Kate the Flutist, Kate the Photographer, Kate the Editor and oh yeah, Kate the Student, I offer up this wonderful image below which I hope will pop into your head each time you think of Kate.

Kate will walk across the stage of Jordan Hall to receive her Master’s degree in a few short weeks, and you can be sure she will be wearing fashionable shoes. I’m honored to have worked with her and endlessly grateful for her countless hours of hard work, her good humor and her remarkable creativity. Congratulations Kate, we will miss you!

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A WORD FROM OUR NEW EDITOR, ANDREW NISSEN!

Welcome_NissenSo it’s the end of the year already? It’s funny how time flies.

It doesn’t feel like a year ago that I met with my future teacher at NEC in a Starbucks across from Carnegie Hall, still being undecided on what school to attend “next year”. The BSO was in New York City to play three concerts at Carnegie Hall. I managed to see all of them (Mahler 3, an all-Wagner concert, and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra), and coupled with the Starbucks chat I was pretty convinced at the end of their tenure at Carnegie that I’d be moving to Boston soon enough.

I knew it would be a challenge. I wanted to rise to that challenge, and whether I have done so or not is debatable. One thing is certain, Boston was never going to be easy.

 

I love my teachers, my colleagues, my school, but I’m still undecided on Boston.

But that’s the thing about this city: Boston doesn’t care if you like it or not.

Boston isn’t an attention seeker. It doesn’t fawn to your expectations. You don’t come here to climb to the peak of its highest building like some cities. People don’t flock to this region because of its weather like others. They don’t do tours to celebri­ties’ houses as if the entire city is an extended theme park.

No, Boston is a working city. Its stubborn defiance in the face of seeming just criticism is admirable, if not infuriating, but it ain’t going to change any time soon.

Writing for The Penguin has been a great therapy for me. You’ve seen me write about inane things all year. Maybe you’ve enjoyed it, maybe you haven’t. In any case, writing for The Penguin is a privilege that I am honored to have. And it’s a privilege that I share with lots of other talented NEC students that have an urge to write.

It may be a challenge, but if you have that urge to write – to be heard – then submit something to The Penguin in the future! You may rise to it. You may not. But I bet you’ll have a great ride along the way.

Boston wasn’t necessarily easy for me, but I’m kind of happy it didn’t make it that way.

 

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effot, pain, difficulty … I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and let them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

Have a great, but not easy, summer!

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A WORD FROM OUR COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER, LIZ TOBIAS

Culture_TobiasIs it graduation time already? It feel like it was only yesterday that we picked up our orientation packages at the Beethoven statue, feeling completely overwhelmed by the thought of enter­ing a new school full of so many mysteries and new people.

My beginning at NEC was like a comedic episode out of a TV sitcom. I knew only one Bostonian before I moved here and that was my studio teacher, Dominique Eade. I was geared up for the adventure of meeting anyone and everyone who would cross my path, but found myself so frustrated at the way no one could understand a word I said. Words like “ketchup” instead of “tomato sauce” or “PowerPoint“ instead of “power outlet“ would haunt my day-to-day interactions. I was completely lost linguisti­cally…. and so were my new NEC friends, though they tried not to let on.

The entrance testing and placement exams posed new obstacles to overcome. Utterly exhausted up from the flight and jet lag that comes from traveling over 30 hours to get to Boston, I was a mess. It must have been a mixture of the adrenaline and excitement that stopped me from sleep­ing properly, but I stupidly gave into the temptation of Skyping with my family and friends every night at 2 a.m. to talk over the details of the international move. If you had looked over at me around one hour into the master’s theory placement exam, I was facedown in a small puddle of drool with a big pencil streak across a half-finished four-part vocal harmony. I remember waking up as the proctor said, “pencils down.” Needless to say, I failed the test in style. From that moment on, I took every opportunity to redeem myself in exams, laughing to myself about the challenges of Orientation 2012.

I remember the nervousness that accompanied lying awake at night wondering exactly how competitive this school was. I found myself praying so hard that I could truly have “what it takes” to survive NEC, which I had built up in my head. My, how we have come through so much together! The mystery of NEC has gone away to be replaced by wonderful familiarity and a sense of home. With that said, I don’t think the magic has disappeared. I don’t know if it is the freakishly superhuman faculty, the patient staff (shoutout to the Student Services people), the passionate students or the weekend serenades by Special Elvis from his apartment window next door; whatever it is, this place has a sweet vibe to it.

For some of us this is the end of an era. Whether it is undergrad, graduate, or doctoral, diplomas and degrees alike, so many of us are finishing off this chapter in our lives and gear­ing up for a new beginning. I hope that each of you can look back on your NEC adventures as a fun and challenging time of your life. May this place send you off better than you came both musically and personally.

As for myself, I face the beginning of a DMA degree at NEC with a new sense of energy and excitement. I’m curious to see what these next few years will hold, but I know they’re go­ing to be great. You’ll all be very happy to know that I was fully awake for those entrance exams… (all six hours of them). See you on May 18 at commencement, NEC!!!

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CHARACTER BACKSTORIES

Dawis_Profileby ISABELLA DAWIS
First-year UD Voice

 
 

One of the best parts about singing is that you get to invent a character. And now that the school year is almost over, I’ll have more time to come up with character backstories! Sometimes it helps to compile a list of questions like this:

  • What is your character’s name? Age? Height? Weight? Shoe size? Toe ring size?
  • Why doesn’t your character wear toe rings? Please provide a logical explanation.
  • Who has been the biggest influence in your character’s life? Please have your character type up a five paragraph, double spaced essay on this topic.
  • What is your character’s deepest fear? If it is bats, you may be Christian Bale, which is good, please analyze Jack Kelly from Newsies instead.
  • Please provide a drawn-to-scale diagram of your character’s house. Draw arrows leading to the exits from each floor, so that your character can evacuate in case of emergency.
  • Is your character over the age of 18? Please leave the room for a minute so that he/she can answer a few questions in private.
  • What did your character have for breakfast this morning, and has he/she burped any of it back up throughout the day?
  • How socially well-adjusted is your character? Really? You think so?
  • Follow up to the above question: Did your character’s par­ents organize themed birthday parties for him/her? Could a related incident perhaps be the root of your character’s crushing anxieties? You can take over from here.
  • On August 16, 1977 at 2:00pm, where was your charac­ter? If the answer concerns toilets, you are probably in Las Vegas. Just an observation.
  • If given the option, would your character rather read a text­book on microeconomics or a textbook on macroeconomics?
  • What does your character want right now, in this moment? Besides not having to answer any more questions?
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BYCE: THE FUTURE OF NEC

Lemmon_Profileby KATE LEMMON / photos by KATE L PHOTOGRAPHY
Second-Year MM Flute

 
 
 

BYCE_1Mike Avitabile and I have just finished a promotional photo shoot for the group he recently founded, the Boston Young Composers Ensemble (BYCE). Coordinating a group of eleven people is no small feat, and I’m exhausted—but Mike has enough energy for both of us. He excitedly launches into the story of the ensemble before I even have a chance to start taking notes.

I can’t help but notice the contrast between the Mike that now sits in front of me and the Mike that I knew back in the fall semester. After finishing his Bachelor of Music at the University of Michigan and spending a busy summer playing in the National Repertory Orchestra, Mike arrived at New England Conservatory feeling lost.

“To be honest, I had a hard time adjusting to NEC because it’s so different from the large and diverse university scene,” Mike admits. “At Michigan, I gigged a lot and enjoyed a very established life. When I moved here, I had to remake my entire world. The joke amongst the new graduate stu­dents was, ‘How do we make friends again?’”

Mike found the answer in NEC’s new music community. Inspired by his teacher Paula Robison’s personal work with composer Luciano Berio, he began to work with student composers in Boston. Mike found joy in working one-on-one with the original source of music, and the unconventionality of new scores helped bring him out of his comfort zone.

“In new music, you have to be a little more daring and adventurous [than when you play orchestral mu­sic],” Mike explains. “If someone hands you an unconventional score and you don’t know how to play it, sometimes you just have to dive in and figure it out. You can’t always judge a score on its first appear­ance.”

That mentality helped Mike feel more connected to the NEC community; he began hanging out with people outside of the classical department, including Contemporary Improvisation majors. He found contemporary music to be socially stimulating and intellectually chal­lenging because he couldn’t resort to “auto-pilot” thinking and playing. “When working with a composer, nothing is set in stone,” says Mike. “The piece might change ten minutes before the performance if the composer decides to change a detail. You’re always on your feet!”

Mike remembers the exact moment when his musical ap­proach changed: his discovery of Claire Chase’s 2013 commencement address at Northwestern University. Founder of the International Con­temporary Ensemble, after which BYCE is modeled, Chase spoke about creating one’s own opportunities.

“It was the first time I had ever heard someone say the music world is not dying, it’s just changing,” Mike recalls. Chase encourages musicians not to wait around for management to produce CDs and concerts, but instead to bring a grassroots approach to classical music. “I said to myself, I want to do that at NEC. I want to play the music of my peers.”

BYCE_2Out of that moment, BYCE was born. Mike started with just one colleague, a talented, humble, and purple-haired flutist named Allison Poh. As he began the planning process, the Entrepreneurial Musician­ship office became Mike’s new home. “I must have been in that office at least once a week with a new version of my grant proposal,” he laughs. Through the process of revising the proposal, he refined his mission statement.

“Initially I just wanted to play new music, but I had to figure out how to distinguish the group,” Mike tells me. The city hosts many small groups and a large orchestra, but few that follow BYCE’s model of a large core membership with rotating personnel. The group will produce and promote its own concerts. “There are so many qualified mu­sicians and not a lot of managers, so you have to manage yourselves. We’re bringing art out into the world.”

BYCE will display that art for the first time in their inaugural concert on May 11th at 8 p.m. in St. Botolph 113. The group will survey electro-acoustic music by a number of composers, including four new pieces by NEC’s own artists. As BYCE’s founder, Mike will take center stage along with two colleagues in a daring performance of George Crumb’s Voice of the Whale, featuring black masks and blue lights. As BYCE continues to grow, the ensemble will eventually incorporate interdisciplinary work featuring dance, theater, and other multimedia presentations.

“I’m a lot more fearless in everything that I do now; I just don’t see limitations anymore. Before starting BYCE, I felt as if I was always waiting for an acceptance letter. Now, if my group can think it, we can do it, and that gives me a lot of faith in being a musician and an artist.”

 

“IF MY GROUP CAN THINK IT, WE CAN DO IT, AND THAT GIVES ME A LOT OF FAITH IN BEING A MUSICIAN AND AN ARTIST.”

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