Written by Alumni Advisory Council Vice-Chair Louis Alexander (MM ’79)
The ability to step into different worlds with each piece we play is second nature for musicians. Every work is a universe unto itself brimming with sounds, rhythms, and emotions. This world of ours, this music space, is a kind of dream space—an experience that I imagine is somewhat akin to the experiences of aboriginal peoples of Australia singing their way across that vast continent. Through such songs, the aboriginal peoples have for centuries built up an extensive repertoire of maps that guide their journeys. The songlines paint a very different picture of Australia than most of us are familiar with, and one that I think is more vibrant.
As musicians, we too carry songs within us, and each is a kind of map that reflects the uniqueness of our own particular pathway. As we journey through life, it is our inner musical dream states that we realize in a variety of ways. In these articles, we get glimpses into the rich pathways that our fellow alumni have taken since leaving the School. Most of the people I have discovered have surfaced through my random searches in the Online Alumni Directory. Through these random searches, what stands out for me is the sheer excellence of their work and the creativity with which they bring their dreams into reality.
In our student days, Daniel Rothman (BM ’80) was already walking along his own path bringing into the world the music of the spheres he was in tune with. He was collaborating with Ned Rothenberg and Robert Dick, working to bridge the divide between uptown and downtown music. Not long after, Daniel found himself in Europe, where he was commissioned, performed, and recorded at IRCAM, Klangforum Wien, and Musikfabrik Köln. Given to being a big thinker, he was not one to shy away from challenges. Returning to the U.S., he headed to Los Angeles, where the early 1990s scene for contemporary music had been described as a wasteland. Undeterred, Daniel founded Wires, a center for new and experimental music. Its inaugural concert featured John Cage and Luigi Nono and established him as a pioneer in what is now a vibrant city for new music. Wires proved to be seminal, which increasingly led Daniel to focus on ways to approach ideas. In 2004, Sense Absence, his three-month multimedia installation for the Weserburg Museum in Bremen, Germany, opened his eyes to the power of installations. In 2016, his piece Chickpea(ce) at Angels Gate in Los Angeles used soaking chickpeas as its sound source. When they were reconstituted, they were distributed to the poor and homeless. His 2015 piece Pinball Justice was written in response to miscarriages of justice in the police murders of innocents in Cleveland and Chicago. Most recently, Would Inglewood blends together video projections with a trio of instruments and voice to his musical setting of text from James Baldwin’s Nothing Personal. Daniel continues to be not only a big thinker but a big dreamer, and given his track record for bringing dreams into reality we are in store for more of Daniel’s magic. Check out his website here.
One of the most unique voices I have stumbled upon is Eric Lewis (BM ’97), or his chosen name, ELEW. His is a story of searching for a language to best express his inner self—and find it he did. Trained as a classical pianist, and coming from a family of classical pianists going back four generations, ELEW is a musician for whose work there is no adequate description, even his own term Rockjazz does not do it justice. In his highly expressive and unique music, there is a force of nature at work. As he evolved from his early days performing classical music, through jazz, and into the present, ELEW performed with such greats as Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Elvin Jones, and Roy Hargrove, among many others. Before embarking on a career as a soloist, he was with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. ELEW was the first-place winner in the 1999 Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition. He is a Yamaha endorsed artist who has done five world tours and multiple national tours and has performed at the White House, where he became a favorite of President Obama’s. He has appeared on America’s Got Talent as well as at TED conferences and continues to do shows worldwide. On top of this, he has done filmography work for such films as Revival!! and The Great Debaters, and wrote, directed, and scored the 2017 film Another Song.
There is no better way to get a sense of the uniqueness of ELEW’s music than to see him in action in a TED talk (see video above).
Following a very different path since leaving MSM is Nina Colosi (MM ’73), the Founder and Creative Director of the Streaming Museum. In addition to her training in classical piano and composition, she pursued film studies. Early in her career, Nina was an award-winning composer of electronic music. In 2008, she founded the Streaming Museum to produce exhibitions and programs of international arts and present them in public spaces and cultural centers, as well as on the Streaming Museum site. Through her visionary efforts, the Museum’s programs have reached millions of people on seven continents, from large cities to locations as remote as the North and South Poles. Nina’s vision is truly global. She recognizes the power of the internet and public spaces to bring a level of interconnectedness through the arts that was not possible before. Most recently, the concepts behind the Streaming Museum have culminated in A View from the Cloud, a multiyear international touring project of art and creative technology that aims to sharpen how we see the world, as well as to showcase innovations that advance humanitarian objectives and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It’s inspired by “the overview effect,” which is the term used to describe astronauts’ transformative experience of seeing the earth in space and comprehending society’s interconnectedness. The program has brought together the general public, artists, astronauts, AI, neuroscientists, global finance experts, educators, UN leadership, and other experts for conversation and art experiences. Visit the Streaming Museum to get a more vivid sense of the scope of Nina’s work.
Photo by Matthu Placek
Opera singers have the unique ability to bring to life a variety of personalities—and in many languages. In my search, I was delighted to find Laquita Mitchell (MM ’01), whose remarkable rise into opera began at age 14 with a ticket from Jessye Norman to a performance of Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera. Laquita’s is one of those magical stories of discovery. Before this, she had not been exposed to opera, and fortunately the lightning bolt of inspiration hit and her life was forever changed. Such moments have the power to open new roads before our very eyes. Right from the beginning of her professional life in her debut role as Bess with the San Francisco Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess, Laquita has brought to life many of the most beloved operatic roles. In performances across the U.S. and Europe, these have included Violetta (La Traviata), Michaela (Carmen), Leonora (Il Trovatore), Musetta and Mimi (La Bohème), and Donna Anna and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), among others. In addition to the SFO, the impressive list of opera companies and orchestras she has performed with includes the New York City Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Opera New Jersey, Cincinnati Opera, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra, among many others. Laquita is a brilliant artist whose work has been recognized by such honors as the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Prize, a 2004 Sara Tucker Award, and the MSM Distinguished Young Alumni Award (2010). To get a more complete sense of the range of Laquita’s work, visit her site here.
Laquita Mitchell singing "Ciel, mio padre" in Verdi’s Aida
The path that Lynn Strongin (BM ’59) has followed since leaving MSM has led her from musical composition to the written word. It was through poetry and literature that she found the medium most in line with expressing her inner self. It proved to be the way in which she could best give voice to her wanderings from New York, her birthplace, through many places in the South, New Mexico, and to her eventual home in British Columbia. It was through writing that Lynn could give shape to some of the adversity she experienced as a Jewish child in the American South. These experiences are partially captured in her book Albino Peacock: Tales of a Jewish Girl in the South. Her resiliency was also tested at a young age when she contracted polio. More recently, she wrote two books addressing the grievances of the Lost Maggies, the Irish sins committed against the young girls exploited in the Magdalene laundries: The Little Sins of Savvanah Street and Aingeal of the Work House Howl. Lynn is a prolific poet, whose work has been published in over 70 print and online journals. She has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and for the Pushcart Prize in poetry five times. She is the recipient of two grants from PEN and an NEA award in creative writing.
Photo by Don Razniewski
Being true to one’s inner music, one’s unique vision, is something all of us understand. When I came across Dustin Gledhill (BM ’10), I was struck by the twists and turns of his path, which has meandered through a career as a classically trained pianist, pop musician, performance artist, educator, ensemble musician, and composer. In whatever sphere he works, Dustin excels. He is an award-winning interpreter of French music, who holds over 20 first prize awards and has toured North America, Europe, and Russia. Dustin is at work mastering Fauré’s complete solo piano works to record them for audio and video release. Outside of the classical scene, Dustin has teamed up with his sister-in-law Mindy in their group Hive Riot, which in 2017 won the best Pop album in the 15th Independent Music Awards at Lincoln Center. When he is not center stage, Dustin is active in fostering education and collaborative efforts to bring various art mediums together through the Gledhill Arts Collaborative. To get a sense of Dustin’s musical range, check out these videos of him performing Liszt’s La Campanella and in Hive Riot’s music video Undercover:
In whatever way we express our inner selves, reflecting reality as we see it, as we lay down our pathways across the planet we define the world. As I have said elsewhere in this series, musicians are dreamers and doers. Just by living our lives, creating our own unique music, we put our stamp on the world. This is the gift we give to others.