In every quarterly issue of the Alumni Newsletter I will speak with MSM alums and ask them to share with us their journeys and insights.
In this issue:
Dr. Justin Bischof, Chair
Ms. Monica Abrego is considered one of Mexico’s most outstanding and versatile sopranos. She has performed in stages around the world with a diverse repertoire that includes opera, soloist concerts, recitals, and popular folk music. Her orchestral performance collaborations include the Colorado Symphony, Idaho Falls Symphony, Idaho State-Civic Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Key West Symphony, La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, Aguascalientes Symphony, Orchestra of Baja California, the Opera Philharmonic Society; as well as the Chihuahua Philharmonic Orchestra. Some of the operatic roles she has performed include Serpina in Serva Padrona, Norina in Don Pasquale, Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, Gilda in Rigoletto, Magda in La Rondine, Violetta in Traviata, Manon in Manon, Musetta in La Boheme, Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann, Nanetta in Falstaff, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Gretel in Hansel and Gretel, María in María de Buenos Aires, and Micaela in Carmen. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Concert Hall, the World Music Panama Festival, the Festival Culturel International de Musique Symphonique in Algeria, and the Gran Teatro Nacional of Peru. Founder and Executive director of the Baja Musical Arts Initiative, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the lives of children and young adults in New York City and Mexico through musical education and performances. Ms. Abrego developed the program Sharing Notes, an academic exchange program between Mexico and the U.S., for musicians with a passion for teaching and interest in community work, by offering master classes, lectures, and concerts to the students in Mexico to inspire them in their musical growth, and using music as an instrument to promote values such as discipline and solidarity. Ms. Abrego’s recordings include Alma Mía and Cancion Mexicana by Vientos del Sur Productions. Her debut recording includes bossa nova, Mexican traditional song, opera, musical theater, and tango.
Of the many enriching experiences, I lived at MSM, I remember the teachers with much appreciation and respect for their vocation in nurturing and sharing their knowledge to our younger generations. Of my fellow peers, their dedication and passion put into their instruments in the practice room for hours, their fun spirits and friendships to this day. To all the people I worked with whether it be backstage or elsewhere, for sharing their love of service. But mostly, I cherish the endless hours of making, sharing, and listening to beautiful music whether in a classroom, a friend’s recital, an orchestra concert, an opera production, or simply the thrill of learning a new piece.
Take advantage of the time to focus on your craft and enjoy the process. More than ever humanity and our society are in need of creative minds, arts, beauty, and music. Learn the most you can about the business and be open-minded to the possibilities where music can take you. If you can, share your talent with the youth and plant the seed.
Pianist/composer Hsia-Jung Chang lives in New York City, where she has performed frequently on the Piano Lunch Series. She graduated with a DMA in Piano from MSM in 1997 with Constance Keene, a BMus & MMus with both Ruth Tomfohrde & Abbey Simon at the University of Houston, before working with Dr. Nelita True at the University of Maryland. In 2002 she formed the independent record label Mandala Studio LLC with her mother: composer/ yodeler/guitarist/TV star Ho Lan, and her sister: singer/pianist/Grammy-nominated recording engineer Hsi-Ling Chang. Since then the three artists have combined their talents to produce first-rate recordings and mind-bending music videos. Chang’s albums of close to 60 works by Frédéric Chopin include the Complete Preludes, Etudes Op. 10 & Op. 25, and the complete Impromptus, Ballades & Berceuse. These recordings have been showcased on WQXR’s Reflections from the Keyboard with David Dubal, CBC Radio’s As It Happens, and in interviews on KPBX, WNYE, WJFF and WKCR radio stations. On listening to her album Debussy, music critic Marvin J. Ward wrote: “Hsia-Jung Chang channels Debussy. . . this recording easily places itself among the best interpretations, those that serve as benchmarks for Debussy’s sound world… Chang’s composition album Inside the Piano – 21st Century Improvisations uses the strings and resonating surfaces inside the piano to produce sublime and sometimes harrowing soundscapes. This innovative recording has become a favorite of experimental DJ’s across the U.S. It was featured in an hour-long interview as part of the New York Alive series on WKCR. Most recently Mandala Studio has been releasing Chang’s songs in the varied styles of funk, gospel, and pop, in which Chang sings all of the parts. Most of these works were composed for her small, dedicated volunteer choir at Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church, where Chang is the Music Director. Since the quarantine, Chang has decided to use the time to release these works as singles on streaming services such as Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Hungama, Amazon, etc. so that music lovers around the world can sing along from home.
My single most fond memory of MSM was my chamber music recital, where we performed Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns with Ken Cooper and many other wonderful musician friends from around the world. Constance Keene narrated the Ogden Nash poems with her wonderful dry sense of humor and impeccable comic timing. The hall was standing room only, because who’d ever heard of faculty performing on student recitals? To this day I’m still not sure how it all happened, probably Dr. Cooper’s idea! But the memory of that magical coming together of multiple talents is one I will always treasure.
Most of us are not new to social isolation. For me it’s a time to do those things that I kept saying I don’t have time to do. Some of my friends have been learning a new piece a week and posting it on social media. Up until yesterday my piano was too out of tune for that. I go out daily to the park and vocalize, because my church has been zooming services, and I suddenly have to Elton John everything. While in the park I talk to birds and squirrels, and sometimes trees. I try to enjoy everything every day, because I know this too shall pass. I suppose it’s a lot like improvising a piece of music. Your gut will tell you when to modulate and when to cadence. As musicians, we can rely on trusting those strong instincts that come so naturally, because honestly, no one else has the answer.
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