Living Music Institute Hosts Leading Opera Soprano

Inaugural opera aria workshop brings renowned soprano Kallen Esperian back to UM

Kallen Esperian

OXFORD, Miss. – The Living Music Resource at the University of Mississippi is holding its inaugural Living Music Institute this weekend. This intensive opera aria workshop includes a residency by world-renowned soprano and recording artist Kallen Esperian.

A member of the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala Opera, Esperian has performed in leading roles at major opera houses around the globe.

This is not Esperian’s first time at Ole Miss. In 2011, she led master classes and special topic courses, taught private voice classes and worked alongside the Ole Miss Opera Theatre ensemble as a one-year artist-in-residence.

“I had the immense privilege of working with Kallen when she came to Ole Miss and experienced her greatness firsthand,” said Nancy Balach, co-director of Living Music Resource in the Department of Music. “She left an invaluable mark at Ole Miss and helped us keep our pulse on the professional world of music.”

Esperian will appear at two of the three public events this weekend.

The activities open at 7 p.m. Friday (Jan. 19) with a documentary showing, mini-concert and Q&A session in Nutt Auditorium. Accompanying Esperian are filmmaker Steven John Ross and pianist Gary Beard.

The documentary “Vissi D’Arte” explores challenges Esperian has faced throughout her career. Tickets are $5 each, available at the Ole Miss Box Office or at the door.

At 1 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 20), a performance of “Aria Matinée” in Nutt Auditorium will feature emerging artists from nine states who are participating in the workshop. This event is free.

Later that evening, Living Music Resource will host its signature live show, “LMR Live,” hosted by Balach. This production’s guests will focus on Esperian, and she will be accompanied on stage by Beard. This 7:30 p.m. show is free to the public.

“At Saturday’s ‘LMR Live,’ we will dig even deeper into how one finds balance in life, professional and personal,” Balach said.

Balach also said she expects this to be a unique showing of “LMR Live,” since participants of this weekend’s Living Music Institute will be in the audience. She anticipates an engaging show with much more interaction than usual.

“I am thrilled to have Kallen back in Oxford as the featured guest artist for the inaugural Living Music Institute,” Balach said. “Her journey is relatable to anyone who has faced adversity. She is inspirational and to experience Kallen’s artistry is an absolute gift.”

Balach described Esperian as “inspirational” and “one of the leadings sopranos of our time.” It is significant to have an artist of Esperian’s caliber to share knowledge and experiences with the Living Music Institute participants and with Ole Miss students and faculty, she said.

UM Student Chosen for SEC Student Music Ensemble

Lazarrus Miller played piano during Football Championship festivities

Kirby Davis (left), of the University of Kentucky; David D’Angelo, University of Georgia; Erik Alvar, University of Florida; Lazarrus Miller, University of Mississippi; SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey; Xavier Scaife, Auburn University; Mason Soudelier, Louisiana State University; Ben Keith and Michael Pendowski, both from Auburn University, gather after their performance at the 2017 SEC Legends Dinner. Photo courtesy SECU

OXFORD, Miss. – Lazarrus Miller, a senior music performance major at the University of Mississippi, recently participated in the 2017 SEC Football Championship festivities in Atlanta as part of the conference’s Student Music Ensemble.

For the second year, the SEC Student Music Ensemble provided jazz music for the football championship activities, including for the SEC Legends Dinner and SEC Pregame Hospitality Party. The group was made up of six student musicians from league universities, including Auburn University, Louisiana State University and the universities of Florida and Kentucky.

Miller, from Shannon, was the group’s pianist. He was nominated for the ensemble by Michael Worthy, Ole Miss associate professor of music. Miller said he was “excited and delighted” when he found out he had been selected for the group.

“I feel like the music department has helped me mature as a musician,” Miller said. He explained that his versatility and flexibility, fostered by his professors, have made him a successful jazz musician.

In the improvisational spirit of jazz, the student musicians and directors, David D’Angelo of the University of Georgia and Michael Pendowski of Auburn University, met and rehearsed for the first time just hours before their first performance at the SEC Legends Dinner.

All the students were individually recognized by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey following their performance at the dinner.

“It is quite an honor for Lazarrus to be chosen for the SEC Music Ensemble,” Worthy said. “Not only is this an incredible opportunity for him, but it reflects well on the music department and Ole Miss.

“We are very proud of Lazarrus and his talent.”

Music Students, Faculty Stand Out at Regional Competition

UM well-represented in final rounds of the National Associate of Teachers of Singing event

Among the group performing ‘Master Class’ at this year’s NATS competition are (from left) Erik Gudiel, Patricia O’Neill and Sandra Moon of Louisiana State University; Nancy Maria Balach and Amanda Johnston of UM; Susan Ruggiero from the University of Southern Mississippi; and Kyle Davis, a UM alumnus on the faculty at the University of Alabama. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Several University of Mississippi students fared well in the recent 2017 National Association of Teachers of Singing Southern Regional Competition in Hattiesburg, which draws voice teachers and students from universities, high schools and private studios in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Senior music major Lacey Hindman was a finalist and placed third in her category, Senior Women.

“I felt accomplished,” said Hindman, of Atoka, Tennessee. “Senior Women has always been filled with amazing talent and tough competition.”

Of more than 50 competitors in Hindman’s category, only 19 advanced to the semifinals and only five qualified for the finals.

“I cannot express the amount of support I have from the amazing music faculty,” Hindman said, crediting associate professors Nancy Maria Balach and Amanda Johnston with preparing her for the performance.

Balach noted how hard-working and dedicated Hindman is to her craft, saying that Hindman is the “whole package” when it comes to musical talent.

Six other music majors were semifinalists in their respective categories. They are: master’s students Melanie Culhane, from Cordova, Tennessee, and Caitlin Richardson, from Mahomet, Illinois, in the Younger Advanced Women category; Madilyn Morris, a freshman majoring in music from Pheba, Freshman Women category; Lawson Marchetti, a freshman music major from Jackson, Freshman Men category; Carley Wilemon, a sophomore music major from Aberdeen; Sophomore Women category; and Jocelyn Sanabria, a senior music major from Atoka, Tennessee, Senior Women and Upper College Music Theatre Women categories.

Lacey Hindman, a senior music major at UM, was a finalist in her division, Senior Women, and placed third overall at the 2017 NATS Southern Regional Competition. Submitted photo

Besides several student competitors, Ole Miss had three faculty members from the Department of Music serve as judges: Balach, Brad Robinson and Jos Milton, all associate professors. Cynthia Linton, an emerita faculty member, also helped judge the competition, and Johnston served as a collaborative pianist for the competition.

The competition provides many opportunities for the student performers, Balach said. They get to see how they stack up against other singers at their level, receive feedback from other teachers and get an opportunity to network.

“I am extremely proud of all of our students. They represented themselves and our university with great artistry, confidence and poise,” Balach said.

Several UM faculty members, students and alumni also were invited to perform the Tony Award-winning play “Master Class” at this year’s NATS competition. This production was a collaborative effort with Sandra Moon and Patt O’Neill, faculty members from Louisiana State University; Susan Ruggiero, a faculty member at the University of Southern Mississippi; and Kyle Davis, a UM alumnus who is on the faculty at the University of Alabama.

The show featured Balach and Johnston, along with student performers Culhane, Hindman and Sanabria.

The play was selected as a showcase event for this year’s competition after its October 2016 production with LSU and Theater Baton Rouge. It was produced by Ole Miss’ Living Music Resource, an effort to produce an online library of interviews and music, led by Balach and partially funded by a Southeastern Conference Travel Grant.

UM Professor Lectures on African Music at University of Georgia

George Dor invited as fall speaker for the Institute for African Studies

George Dor works to promote diversity through music research and education. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – George W.K. Dor, professor of music at the University of Mississippi, recently delivered the fall lecture for the University of Georgia’s Institute for African Studies.

Dor was invited as guest lecturer by Akinloye Ojo, the institute’s director. The institute highlights a different discipline each year for the lecture series, and this year’s focus was music.

“African studies is highly multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary,” Dor said. “I gave a lecture that emphasized the interplay between music and other domains of culture and disciplines.”

His talk covered a multitude of related themes, including diversity in African indigenous music cultures, how historical evidence can be derived from music, and the common features across different genres of African music despite their differences. It touched on links between music and diverse fields such as history, politics, religion, gender and ecology.

Dor, who also is the UM McDonnell-Barksdale Chair of Ethnomusicology, is known throughout the community as founder and director of the Ole Miss African Drum and Dance Ensemble.

Increasing awareness of cultural diversity is the focus of Dor’s creative works. He initiated and coordinated the Black History Month concert at UM, even composing music for it.

Widely known in his home country of Ghana as a composer, performer and teacher of Ghanaian music, Dor has composed more than 60 choral pieces, a symphonic suite and five one-movement orchestral works.

Dor said he was “honored, but humbled” to be invited to lecture at Georgia, and while on campus, he also was interviewed as part the Athens public radio station’s 20th anniversary of its “African Perspectives” program.

“Our music department has been honored by George Dor’s invitation to be the guest speaker for the University of Georgia’s Institute of African Studies fall lecture,” said Robert Riggs, chair of the UM Department of Music. “He is one of our many outstanding researchers, and I am confident that he made an inspiring presentation.”

UM Music Majors Fare Well in Statewide Competition

Christopher Scott won his category at the Mississippi Music Teachers National Association Competition

Adam Estes (left) congratulates Christopher Scott on Scott’s win in the Young Artist Solo Woodwind category at the Mississippi MTNA Competition. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Several University of Mississippi music majors competed at the annual Mississippi Music Teachers National Association Competition recently at Millsaps College in Jackson, with one student taking top honors in his category.

Christopher Scott, a senior music major, won the Young Artist Solo Woodwind Performance category. This win advances him to compete in the Southern Division MTNA Young Artist Woodwind Competition representing Ole Miss in January at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

“I’m extremely excited to represent myself, the University of Mississippi music department and the state of Mississippi in a positive light,” said Scott, a New Albany native. “Winning the Young Artist Solo Woodwind Performance portion proved to me that hard work, consistency and determination does indeed pay off, and that is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Scott performed four pieces during his winning performance, including works by Giovanni Benedetto Platti and Takashi Yoshimatsu.

“Every member of the music faculty here at the University of Mississippi has been valuable to helping me prepare for this audition,” Scott said. He particularly credited Adam Estes, assistant professor of music, and Stacy Rodgers, associate professor of music, with being significant in his growth and maturation as a musician.

Other institutions competing at the event were the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State University and Jones County Junior College.

Besides Scott’s win, the Ole Miss Saxophone Quartet received an Honorable Mention in the Woodwind Chamber Music Competition, and Austin Brooks earned an Honorable Mention in the Senior Woodwind Solo Performance.

Estes said he believes that Scott and Brooks both peaked in their competition performances, and that the rest of the Ole Miss students who performed represented themselves and the university well.

“I am proud of all the students who competed, both those who received placings and those who did not,” Estes said. “For the students, receiving medals and honors help validate the work that they are doing.

“The goal of every competition is to win, but in my opinion, the process of preparing a full program of music: the day-in and day-out work of developing skills, score study, becoming a better ensemble mate, exploring and trying out new interpretive ideas, and learning more effective strategies in rehearsing with collaborators – this is the goal.”

Music Faculty Members Release Album

Trio explores compositions of François Rossé for new recording

UM music faculty members Adam Estes (left), Stacy Rodgers and Amanda Johnston have released a new album of music by French composer François Rossé. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi music faculty members have released a new album of material by French composer François Rossé.

Adam Estes, assistant professor of music, is the lead performer on saxophone, accompanied on piano by Stacy Rodgers, professor of music, and Amanda Johnston, associate professor of music. “François Rossé: Métissage” is on the MSR Classics record label.

Rossé is considered avant-garde because of his distinctive techniques for playing instruments that break from tradition. Knowledge of contemporary music and training is essential to perform Rossé’s work, Estes said.

“I have devoted much of my creative energy to exploring Rossé’s music,” Estes said. “I hope that as this music becomes more fully integrated into the saxophone repertoire, familiarity will allow audiences to experience the expressive power of these unique compositions.”

Recording is essential to music research and scholarship, and Rossé’s music is Estes’ primary research interest. Releasing an album of the composer’s music has been a longtime goal, Estes said.

Estes also had an opportunity to interview and collaborate closely with Rossé in efforts to better understand the work and assist other musicians to perform the “dramatic and demanding music,” he said.

This album is Estes’ fourth; he has done two solo recordings and two with his quartet, the Assembly Quartet. This is the first album that Estes and Johnston have recorded together, but the second between Estes and Rodgers.

“I am very excited about the release of our album and was honored to be asked to play two pieces by François Rossé,” Johnston said.

She typically performs with singers and enjoyed changing things up a bit to perform two pieces of Rossé’s works, Johnson said.

“It is always a pleasure working with Adam Estes, who is a consummate musician and exciting performer,” she said.

Estes and Johnston are also both part of the 2017-18 Southeastern Conference Faculty Travel Grant Program. They traveled to the University of South Carolina, where Estes graduated, to perform a guest artist recital in September.

UM Jazz Ensemble Aims to Go Global

The Mississippians are crowdfunding for an opportunity to go on European festival tour

The Mississippians will represent UM and the state of Mississippi on its July 2018 European jazz festival tour. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi jazz ensemble, The Mississippians, is pursuing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The group is raising funds to embark on a European jazz festival tour in July 2018.

Last year, the ensemble was invited to perform at the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, which is one of the country’s most prestigious college-level jazz festivals. Now, the group is gearing up to go global.

“Our current students are excited for this unique opportunity to experience new cultures and share their music with an international audience,” said Michael Worthy, director of The Mississippians and associate professor of music.

Some of the stops on the European tour are the Jazz à Juan Festival in France, the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy and various concert venues and jazz clubs across the two countries.

The Mississippians will be representing not only the university on this international stage, but also the state of Mississippi. Worthy hopes that this experience will be a “formative event” for students going on this tour, both as professional development and life experience.

“Performing at an international jazz festival will give our students the opportunity to hear the performances of jazz musicians from around the world, and they will gain insight on how the world has interpreted this American innovation,” Worthy said.

The ensemble has created an Ignite Ole Miss campaign to raise money to help fund their travels. Ignite Ole Miss is the university’s crowdfunding platform.

To make a gift, visit

Price Walden and Alice Anne Light Return to UM for Sarahfest

Living Music Resource and Sarah Isom Center bring alumni to campus for interview series, concert

UM alumni Price Walden (left) and Alice Anne Light (right) join faculty members Nancy Maria Balach and Jos Milton at this week’s taping of ‘LMR Live’ in Nutt Auditorium. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Living Music Resource and the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies are teaming up again to host events for the annual Sarahfest.

UM alumnus and composer Price Walden will perform his original work “A Song of Songs” at 7:30 p.m. Friday (Oct. 27) in the David H. Nutt Auditorium. The Oxford resident will be accompanied by Alice Anne Light, a UM alumna and mezzo soprano; Bruce Levingston, the chancellor’s Honors College artist-in-residence; and Ole Miss students and faculty members.

The concert is free and open to the public.

“It is exciting to be showcasing Price Walden,” said Nancy Maria Balach, associate professor of music and director of the Living Music Resource, or LMR. “I have enjoyed watching him grow as an artist over the years and collaborating with him on various projects.”

Walden is performing some original works, which he said are meaningful to him and his growth as an artist. He describes many of his pieces as “very intimate” because they correlate with personal experiences.

“It’s always very special to share the music I have written with a local audience,” Walden said.

LMR is an online video resource featuring interviews with renowned vocalists and composers recorded on campus, led by  Balach. This partnership led to the two musical performers for this year’s festivities.

Earlier this month, Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band performed for the educational celebration.

LMR brought in Walden for Tuesday’s recording of “LMR Live,” the interactive live interview series run by Balach and her students. Also on stage were Jos Milton, UM associate professor of music, and Light.

“Alice Anne Light is finding great success in the world of music,” Balach said. “Our current students benefited immensely from her insight on last night’s ‘LMR Live’ program, will learn from her as she leads a master class and will experience her great artistry at the concert.

“Our students relate to Alice Anne Light and enjoy seeing how an Ole Miss alumna has successfully transitioned from academia to the professional world.”

Light is a faculty member at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.

“It is an absolute joy to be back in Nutt Auditorium, putting this program together with UM students and faculty,” Walden said. “I am thrilled that our school is working to be a host for these types of conversations and events.”

When asked about his time in the Department of Music, Walden said, “I was able to learn from so many incredible people in my time at UM, and it is an incredible honor that I now get to work with them as collaborators, including the wonderful artists that are joining me for the concert.”

Living Music Resource Teams with Sarah Isom Center for Sarahfest

Collaboration brings in talented music performances for education celebration

Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band performs their own brand of Mississippi ‘country blues.’ Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The third annual Sarahfest, billed as a multidisciplinary “artistic journey” hosted by the University of Mississippi’s Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies and Living Music Resource, is underway with the theme “Liberty and Justice for All.”

One of the highlights of this year’s Sarafest is a concert by Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. The group is set to perform classic Mississippi folk music at 5 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 8) in Nutt Auditorium.

Thomas is the granddaughter of Mississippi blues legend Othar “Otha” Turner. Turner founded the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, whose music has been featured in films including Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York.” The band also has worked with musical giants such as Eric Clapton and Cyndi Lauper.

“Sharde Thomas continues the legacy of a style of music older than the blues,” said Nancy Maria Balach, UM associate professor of music and director of the Living Music Resource. LMR is an online video resource featuring interviews with renowned vocalists and composers recorded on campus.

This is the second year that the Sarah Isom Center and LMR have teamed to host Sarahfest. The two entities share the same fervor for collaboration and community, so the partnership was a natural step, Balach said.

“The interdisciplinary collaborations between the Sarah Isom Center and LMR are achieving these efforts through innovative educational events that foster human connection, empathy, education and understanding both on and off campus,” she said.

After the Sunday concert, Thomas will appear on “LMR Live,” an interactive live interview series hosted by Balach. In previous years, “LMR Live” was taped at the Yoknapatawpha Art Council’s Powerhouse, but this edition will be staged in Nutt Auditorium.

Scott Baretta, who hosts Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s “Highway 61” program, also will be on set with Thomas.

A group of six Ole Miss music majors, referred to as the “Dream Team,” help Balach with her production of “LMR Live” and will assist with the show.

Former Ole Miss student Price Walden will perform his work ‘A Song of Songs’ Oct. 27 in Nutt Auditorium. Submitted photo

Later this month, LMR and the Sarah Isom Center team up again for more Sarahfest events. UM alumnus and composer Price Walden will be the guest at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 on “LMR Live” and then  is set to perform one of his piano compositions at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27 in Nutt Auditorium.

Walden is one of Southern Living’s first-ever “Heroes of the New South,” and his works explore religion, sexuality and his experience in the region. His latest work is a piece commissioned by Bruce Levingston, the chancellor’s Honors College artist-in-residence, for the Mississippi bicentennial.

“Sharde Thomas and her Rising Star Fife and Drum Band and Cecil Price Walden are amazing artists,” said Theresa Starkey, associate director of the Sarah Isom Center. “Our partnership with LMR made these two dynamic performances possible, which is exciting. It reflects what happens when you’re open to an interdisciplinary approach to programming and have a belief in the power of the arts to create transformative spaces.”

All Sarahfest events are free and open to the public.

Renowned Jazz Musician Engages UM Music Majors

Cyrus Chestnut brought students onstage for a lesson

Music students are guided by Cyrus Chestnut to repeat his melody by ear. Photo by Anna Herd

OXFORD, Miss. – Cyrus Chestnut, the kickoff performer in the 2017-18 Jazz Series at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, conducted a jazz clinic with University of Mississippi music majors and Oxford High School band members recently in Nutt Auditorium.

Chestnut, a critically acclaimed jazz pianist, composer and producer, performed Sept. 14 at the Ford Center. The Baltimore native has recorded with many celebrated artists, including Dizzy Gillespie and Bette Midler.

“Cyrus is one of the most prominent jazz pianists performing today,” said Michael Worthy, UM associate professor of music.

The biggest takeaway from Chestnut’s clinic for budding musicians is the importance of training one’s ears to connect the melodies that you hear in your head with your instrument, Worthy said.

During the clinic, two students were chosen to come onstage with Chestnut to play under his guidance. The lucky students were Liam Mooney, a freshman majoring in music education, and Gabriel Ackermann, a master’s student in music from Brandon.

“It was a neat experience,” said Mooney, a bass player from Chattanooga, Tennessee. “I think it will help me a lot in the future.”

Mooney said he learned a lot from the experience and feels he is better equipped to be a jazz bass player.

“It is such a great opportunity for our students to get to engage with renowned artists from around the world,” Worthy said. “The artists that the UM music department brings in are the best of the best and are so willing to share their knowledge with our students.”