Music Department Embraces Mission in New Ways

Online series and events continue to deliver music experiences

UM music professor Micah Everett plays several instruments for his arrangement of ‘Rolling Thunder’ that is part of the department’s ‘Midday Music’ online series.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Department of Music at the University of Mississippi is finding new ways to advance its mission to teach and share music.

“In the days of COVID-19, we’re developing new strategies to connect with our students and our community,” said Nancy Maria Balach, the department’s interim chair.

“We’re moving our Honors Convocation to an online format that will bring together all of our faculty, students, and friends and families of graduating students and award winners for a moment of collective celebration. And we’re creating performance opportunities and other online spaces to support a broad learning environment.”

In lieu of recitals, for example, music faculty members are sharing music through the “Midday Music” online series, posted each weekday. Some selections are from recording projects faculty members have already done, and some are recordings of performances from quarantine.

Nancy Maria Balach

Online formats can create new opportunities, said Micah Everett, associate professor of music and director of the Low Brass Studio. The videos he’s produced during the quarantine ensure “that I am practicing sufficiently, while also improving my skills in recording, editing and mastering audio and video files,” he said. “I get just a little better and learn a few new tricks and techniques with each one.

“I have used alto, tenor and bass trombones, euphonium, and tuba in the series,” said Everett, who plays each of the parts on the pieces he’s posted.

Everett’s arrangement of “Rolling Thunder” appears in the “Midday Music” series, and more of his pieces are compiled into a “CoronaTunes” playlist he created on YouTube.

Other “Midday Music” selections highlight faculty members’ side projects.

“I enjoy hearing music from our faculty,” said Ricky Salazar, who is working toward a master’s degree in music and appreciates seeing different sides of his professors. “They show professionalism and commitment, whether they are on stage or doing a video recording.”

“Midday Music” posts music to @olemissmusic social media channels each weekday, and is compiled into a Midday Music Playlist on the department’s YouTube channel (UM Music Department).

In another online series, Balach offers support and community to Ole Miss music students through “Liaison,” her daily share of music and ideas.

“As we entered new and unsettling territory, I felt compelled to cultivate connectedness with our students and the Ole Miss family,” she said. “Every day, I offer a motivational message and a correlating musical selection. I hope this series brings some calmness in our time of chaos.”

Haley Tyrrell

Haley Tyrrell, a junior vocal music education major from Ridgewood, New Jersey, said she looks forward to the daily series.

“Some videos are more serious, while others are upbeat and fun, and I love seeing these different sides of Professor Balach,” Tyrrell said. “The ‘Liaison’ series has given me inspiration, new music and some good laughs through this difficult time.”

The department is taking some special events online, as well: the department’s 2020 Honors Convocation will be held online at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (April 29). The event is being broadcast via Zoom, and students should have received links to share with family and friends to view the activities. The activities will be shared later via the department’s website and social media channels.

“We are thrilled to have a chance to be together as a full department,” Balach said.

Taylor Medal winner Ava Street, of Purvis, is excited that her family will be able to join her at the virtual event, especially since they would have been unable to make the four-hour trip to campus for a traditional weekday afternoon ceremony.

“The Taylor Medal is one of the highest awards a student can receive from the university,” Balach said. “It will mean so much for Ava’s friends and family to be with us when our department celebrates her achievement.”

Street also welcomes the chance to see classmates.

Ava Street

“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone, even if it is virtually,” she said. “Being a student teacher this semester, I’m not engaged in regular class meetings, so it will be nice to see everyone.”

Master’s student Benjamin Rorabaugh said his family, friends and fiance will all be able to join the online ceremony. “I’m looking forward to seeing some of my peers in a different setting than class,” he said.

“I will be graduating in May, and I’ve been struggling to find closure as classes and final projects are coming to an end with little celebration. This convocation will provide that ‘last day of class’ feeling that my peers and I have been needing.”

Michael Worthy, associate professor of music and director of the Mississippians Jazz Ensemble, is also making use of technology to create opportunities for students through an online master class and recording project.

Worthy had arranged for Tom Walsh, a saxophonist and chair of the Jazz Studies Department at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, to visit Ole Miss to perform with the Mississippians and offer a master class for music students. Master classes give students an opportunity to learn from an expert in the field in a practical, hands-on way.

“We were very excited to bring Tom Walsh to Oxford to perform with the Mississippians and work with students,” Worthy said. “He’s an excellent musician and teacher and connects well with students.”

The session with Walsh will be taught via Zoom, which will allow for a modified version of the coaching and interaction that are typical of a master class. “We’re so fortunate to have technology that will allow us to meet up online,” Worthy said.

The Mississippians are using an online multitrack recording website to put together a recording of one of their favorite Count Basie tunes, “Splanky.”

“We have found a way to collaborate and make music together during this time,” Worthy said. “The process of remote multitrack recording is painstaking, but it’s been satisfying to have a musical project to work on together.”

Like the rest of the department, the Mississippians will appreciate being back together once the pandemic recedes. Until then, they can count on the Ole Miss music department to continue to find new ways to learn, collaborate and connect through music.