About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.
Ann Ellsworth, a horns professor in the Lawrence Conservatory since 2018, continues to blend passions for performing, recording, and teaching, all while using art as an avenue toward social change.
From her adventurous solo recordings—EUPHORIA, Rain Coming, Late Night Thoughts, and Leningrad—to her recent music project with the Lawrence Graduate Bayreuth Tuben Quintet, Ellsworth has never been shy about pushing musical boundaries.
She brings that same curiosity and excitement to her teaching.
Grow your artistry, build your technical facility, and expand your musical possibilities in a community of empowerment, collaboration, and support.
Ellsworth also is a published author. Her memoir about adopting five foster kids is distributed by Simon and Schuster. The book arrives in paperback Nov. 1 with a new title, Whelmed—adopting 5 high-risk foster kids all at once.
A renowned soloist, recording artist, and chamber musician, Ellsworth attended the Eastman and Juilliard schools, with further study in Oslo and St. Petersburg, Russia. We caught up with her to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.
In the classroom
Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?
My teaching is very much inspired by the Hindu Deity Ganesh, “the Remover of Obstacles.” A life in music is very rich but not always linear. Your voice and journey as an artist is unique to you. Our paths as musicians share a common terrain, and that is where I can do my work as a teacher to help you navigate the ups and downs, encourage your exploration, listen to you, challenge, coach, and clear the path in front of you. And you may wonder how you will know which is your path. Lawrence is a safe and rigorous place to mature as a musician, and as you study and grow, your voice will become stronger and it will lead you to your path and also guide you on your journey.
Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?
I am very engaged with the idea of “art for social change,”—how music and art can affect and inspire our culture on campus, which in turn can guide and pressure the policy and systemic changes that are holding us back.
Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?
I came to a point well into my career where I felt like I wanted to be closer or feel more connection to music. I had a lot of breadth as an instrumentalist but was lacking depth as a musician. I was 43 and my partner and I decided to adopt five kids aged 5-10, all at once. I kept teaching but cut my performances by 90% and gave myself completely to my children. My colleagues were like, “What are you doing? You love music, you can’t leave!” Turns out, I was lacking depth as a human—loving and caring for my children was the most musical thing I have ever done. It deepened my understanding of the human condition and connected me to my own humanity. I returned to music to help me process and celebrate my new range of emotions, joys, and sorrows and could see that I missed a lot of life experience while focusing on my career, using the stage to compete and distance myself from others. Music is so much more than a career: it can lift people up, heal us, change us, and bring us together. That was something I could not learn in a practice room.
Out of the classroom
This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?
I would be performing more and trying to write more. I’ve written a few things, and a reader called to tell me they had laughed and cried. And I think wow, that’s amazing! I have played so many concerts, but as a horn player, to actually make someone laugh or cry?—it would probably be for the wrong reasons! [that’s a little horn humor there - let’s just say it’s easy for us to sound really bad!]
Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?
Easy. The pool in the Wellness Center. It’s a beautiful space and when I am in the water, I am in another world, off the grid, weightless but resisted, sound is traveling differently and I am totally alone—and yet—I still feel connected to the community of lifeguards, other swimmers, and even the Lawrence swim teams that let us layfolk jump in and enjoy their realm when they are not practicing or competing.
One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?
Movie: Anything by Hayao Miyazaki. His movies are so visually fantastic, they make me feel like I am dreaming while I am awake. And Miyazaki is so respectful of the child’s view when telling stories, he reminds me that while as an adult I am inclined to look back at childhood as a simpler time, it was actually incredibly complex trying to navigate an adult world in a small body, with no frontal lobe or life experience to help regulate very intense emotions.
Recording: This is so hard. It’s like imagining a menu listing every food in the whole world and having to choose one meal. I’m going to go a la carte and say I have been listening to Montgomery’s string quartets, piano reduction extracts from Mahler symphonies (I am trying to focus on the structure without being overcome by the orchestration), and the new-to-me breathtaking recordings of contralto Marian Anderson. Wow, and our own Loren Kiyoshi Dempster’s new album, Circle, is the perfect cool down when everything around us is invading, surging and spiking.
Book: Salt, a book of poems by Nayyirah Waheed. This collection of poems turned me upside down. The poems are true, succinct, and move me like mantras.