The piano department offers a remarkable variety of performance opportunities for its students. To begin with, the basics: each studio holds a weekly studio class, the department holds area recitals each term, all students present a required half recital as juniors and a full recital as seniors. In addition, many students present non-required recitals during their freshmen and sophomore years, all students perform in both large and small ensembles, most appear frequently as collaborators on vocal and instrumental recitals, and each studio presents at least one concert at Björklunden, in beautiful Door County on Lake Michigan, each year.
Beyond these basics however, lie myriad other possibilities. Many students are active on the contemporary music scene at Lawrence, playing music written by their own peers or performing new music by guest composers who come to campus. Students perform frequently in the numerous masterclasses given by eminent pianists visiting campus as well (see our list of recent guest artists). Both the keyboard department and individual studios organize annual projects in honor of composer anniversary years or other specials events: Messiaen’s 100th birthday, for example, saw performances of many of his large and small piano works, Chopin’s 200th anniversary a performance of the complete mazurkas, accompanied by lectures on Polish history, slides of French art, and dance demonstrations, Debussy’s 150th birthday saw a full day’s worth of activities, including performances spanning almost the composer’s entire solo output, a cakewalk competition, a gamelan demonstration, and an exhibit of Parisian poster art.
As usual at Lawrence, music is presented in a larger context, with colleagues in the college pitching in to place what we do in historical context—and bakeries pitching in to give us a literal taste of the times! The Conservatory has recently hosted a Latin American Chamber Music Festival, a Russian Music Festival, a Festival of Women’s Music, a Symposium on the Holocaust, and a commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation: students have contributed to all of these. Furthermore, studios fashion their own projects annually: in recent memory, individual Lawrence piano studios have presented Bach’s entire Well-Tempered Clavier, Chopin Preludes and Etudes, programs to celebrate Liszt, Schumann, and Mendelssohn anniversaries, an all-American program, a recital of all 21st century compositions, 20th century variants on the Bach Goldberg Variations, and programs as far afield as one titled “Flying Objects Through Sound.”
In addition, we at Lawrence are also increasingly concerned about reaching out through our music to the greater community. This year the Conservatory is inaugurating a Community Outreach concert series in tandem with New York City’s cutting-edge chamber ensemble Decoda. Individual studios present outreach performances at schools, hospitals and senior centers, and are in the process of applying for grants to visit homeless shelters, food pantries, and the local Boys and Girls Club. And in November, Lawrence students collected over 600 pounds of food for the burgeoning Music for Food program during various ensemble concerts they presented.
In sum: we believe that each student should have the chance to plan his or her own performance agenda, whether it entails entering numerous competitions, designing thematic lecture-recitals, integrating classical and jazz, working in the community, or pursing the works of a particular living composer. Our students have done all these things and more; we rely on their creativity, and we are never disappointed!