Butler School of Music

Karina Alvarez (left), an alumna of Texas A&M International University in Laredo, and Mirla Lopez, a UT alumna, go over their speeches before testifying at the Capitol against a bill that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

On this week's episode of the Daily Texan NewsCast we discuss a bill to repeal the Texas Dream Act, a bomb threat at the Butler School of Music, student organizations advocacy for divestment related to Palestine, and a retrospective on the Rady-Strickland administration.

UTPD ordered an evacuation of Bass Concert Hall on Monday night because of suspicious activity and a bomb threat.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Bass Concert Hall and Texas Performing Arts Center were evacuated Monday after a bomb threat was reported to the Butler School of Music.

UTPD responded to a call that reported a bomb threat in the Butler School of Music area around 8:50 p.m. The Performing Arts Center and then the Bass Concert Hall were evacuated completely in response to the threat.

This event is the second threat to UT this semester — the first being to a food trailer in West Campus this February. There was also a threat in September 2012 resulting in the evacuation of the entire campus. In both cases, UTPD did not properly notify students. 

UTPD did not send out an email notifying students of Monday’s potential threat, but the official UTPD Twitter account sent out two tweets about the threat. 

Although both buildings were cleared for entry, there was confusion among UTPD regarding the location of the threat.

“The PAC was also evacuated,” UTPD Lt. Darrell Birdett said. “Originally, the PAC got evacuated, and then we came over here. There was some confusion, I think, about what building the actual threat came into.” 

Birdett said he was not sure how many people were evacuated in the threat, although UTPD mandated a full evacuation of all possible buildings.

Attendees of a concert at the Performing Arts Center were evacuated to the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for 30 minutes. James Ellerbock, an attendee and teacher at Bowie High School, said there were armed police officers on the scene.

“We were watching a show, and this woman came in and said there was a serious threat, and we were asked to leave,” Ellerbock said.

Students rehearsing and preforming in the Butler building were asked to leave, as well. While most were evacuated, UTPD failed to notify music performance sophomore Adam Lundell of the threat.

Lundell said he was rehearsing in a practice room when the evacuation began. He said a group message between other music students notified him of the threat. Lundell was in the building for about an hour before leaving.

“I texted one of my friends, and he said he told an officer what room I was in, and he came in, and [the officer] came in and got me,” Lundell said. 

Lundell said it was exciting at first,  but then he grew nervous because he knew he should not be in the building. 

“I was scared for a little bit, so I kept playing the piano to calm my nerves,” Lundell said.

Music studies junior Hugo Ramirez said he was asked to evacuate after a concert, but he was not too shocked by the threat because he was previously evacuated during a previous University bomb threat.

“At this point, this is, like, the second time that I’ve been here that this has happened,” Ramirez said. “I was a little surprised, but in the end I wasn’t too shocked.

Additional reporting by Wynne Davis

Pakistani musical group Khumariyaan performs at South by South West music festival in Austin.

Photo Credit: Amil Malik | Daily Texan Staff

The rich culture of Pakistan still thrives thanks in part to the Butler School of Music here at UT, and the school’s three-year partnership with the National Academy of Performing Arts in Karachi, Pakistan. 

The four regions of Pakistan — Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan — each represent unique sets of sounds. The more we, as musicians from Pakistan, collaborate and perform with artists around the world, the more we realize the uniqueness of our own sound.  

Through NAPA, one of the first performing arts academies in Pakistan, Pakistani musicians have the opportunity to work with some of the best music and theater faculty available — individuals who have survived in Pakistan’s fragile entertainment industry. 

Established in 2005, NAPA aims to mold students into artists who can express the uniqueness of Pakistani music. Professors at the institute do this by offering a unique set of academic courses that are not available in other schools or universities in the country.

The three-year partnership between Butler and NAPA has only furthered this goal. Facilitated by The South Asia Institute at UT and financed through a federal grant, the partnership allows 12 scholars from NAPA to visit and study at Butler for a semester. The first batch of four NAPA musicians came in the spring of 2014; a second batch of two artists came in the fall of 2014. I am part of the last batch of six scholars on this program, here to observe and audit music classes. My peers and I were selected for this program by our senior music faculty at NAPA based on our grades in music theory, the results of our practical/viva exams and our overall participation in music performances back home. 

Studying in Austin has been a great learning experience thus far. In my classes, I study sight reading, composition, music theory, and voice. At the same time, another NAPA scholar, Arsalan Pareyal, and I are helping develop music curricula for NAPA and are also preparing for a collaborative ensemble performance. The ensemble consists of 12 people, six from Butler and six from NAPA, and we will perform in the spring of 2016 in both the United States and in Pakistan. 

This semester Yousuf, another NAPA scholar and I are taking part in the Concert Chorale — singing great choral works of Haydn, Bach and Bernstein. We are also taking vocal pedagogy lessons from David Small and performing in the UT Middle Eastern Ensemble conducted by Sonia Seeman. 

Waqas, another NAPA student and talented tabla player, is performing in the ensemble as well. He is also getting to learn music notation and drum lessons at Butler. Arsalan is learning jazz and working with the Jazz Combo at UT. Another student, Kashan Khan, is studying classical guitar and western music theory. Kashif Hussain from the theatre department at NAPA is learning acting. Needless to say, Butler has opened up a breadth of opportunities for us and other Pakistani artists who have gone through the program. 

It feels great sharing the rich musical heritage of Pakistan with our peers through our lectures and recitals as well as through presentations at Butler and other colleges in Austin. 

In such lectures, we always try to find a common tonality between traditional Pakistani music and American music — something that never ceases to amaze the audience. We all have many more opportunities to look forward to in the coming months. 

My fellow students Arsalan and Kashan had their dream come true when they went for a guitar workshop with English guitarist Guthrie Govan and had the chance to meet and interview him. Waqas looks forward to meeting Ustad Zakir Hussain next week in San Francisco. I am looking forward to continuing to attend workshops and master’s level classes and recitals.

One of the best features of the program is an online video link set up by the State Department grant at NAPA. It enables NAPA and BSM faculty and students to interact and have live video lessons in real time. The first in the  series of online workshops this semester was with Small, during which NAPA students in Pakistan learned about voice technique, breathing and posture. 

Along with integrating in the UT community, NAPA students have been performing for greater Austin. We played Pakistani folk and Sufi songs at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and in The Fine Arts library at UT. Both performances were very well received. We also performed Turkish songs at a Nowruz, or Iranian New Year, festival at Central Market. 

I look forward to our upcoming performances with the Middle Eastern Ensemble, Concert Chorale, Jazz Combo and at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. But most of all, I hope that such exchanges continue, as they help facilitate a higher level of communication and understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan. I would like to thank the U.S. State Department, the South Asia Institute, NAPA and the Pakistani community in Austin for their support.

Shabbir is a visiting research scholar at the South Asia Institute in the College of Liberal Arts from Karachi, Pakistan. 

As a professor in the Butler School of Music, I read with interest the article published Dec. 1 and the response published as a Firing Line on Wednesday by UT alumnus Kenny Bergle. (Full disclosure: I arrived at UT long after Bergle graduated, but I do purchase for UT audio gear from Sweetwater Sound, where he works.)

First, it is indeed lamentable that two programs in music have been terminated. But given the intense pressure to reduce expenditures, I can understand why Mary Ellen Poole, director of the Butler School of Music, has targeted programs largely (though not entirely) taught by non-tenure track instructors.

However, it would be incorrect to assume that UT-Austin is insensitive to a rapidly changing cultural market. Last year, the Texan published a report on the formation of the new Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies, of which I am the director. This is a very exciting and forward-looking program that hopes to admit the first cohort of students into a BA in Arts and Entertainment Technologies (BA-AET) in the fall of 2016. The center is also working hard to create deep and lasting relations with cultural enterprises in Austin and beyond toward a truly integrated learning experience for these students. We envision numerous internships and company-sponsored research initiatives for all the undergrads in the new program.

We are also embarking on a project with the Fine Arts Library to provide new resources not just for College of Fine Arts students, but for the entire student body. We are calling this the Creativity Commons. In the near future, all UT students will be welcome to explore and develop their own creative projects within the commons. We intend that many of these resources and activity units will be company-sponsored, thus providing new career opportunities.

All this is to say that while the Butler School of Music has chosen to make certain kinds of decisions in support of its mission, the College of Fine Arts and UT-Austin at large are acutely aware of the growing student demand in arts and technology and have responded with the formation of an entirely new center and degree program.

Please visit our website! http://caet.finearts.utexas.edu

— Bruce Pennycook, music professor and director of the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies in the College of Fine Arts, in response to last week’s coverage of the suspension of the Butler School of Music’s music recording technology and music business programs.

As a (very busy) designer of K-12 and higher education music technology curriculum programs around the country, and as an alum of UT Austin, I find [the music school’s freezing of admissions to the music recording technology and music business programs] so out of touch with the current and future music culture as to be sadly humorous (and it clearly illustrates the administration’s lack of foresight). I am personally ashamed that the UT administration is so backward-thinking. Why cut out the ONLY music program a student has a chance of making a decent living in music with and force a 300-year-old dead music microcosm on our students (who blindly trust UT to show the way for their musical financial future)? Hate to say it, but classical musicians today are not moving forward, and many can never get well-paying jobs.  Yet there are myriad opportunities in the production, recording and music business industries right inside Austin itself!

Are the heads of the UT adminstration so archaic and old that they don’t realize classical music is an elitist dead-end in terms of job prospects? Taking away the Music Recording Technology and Music Business programs at the Butler School of Music to focus on classical music is like eliminating the business programs in the McCombs School of Business to focus on telegraph production and manufacturing techniques (yeah, telegraph!). UT was making good strides during the past few years in trying to catch up with the ‘80s and was close to getting there, e.g., senior lecturer Gary Powell’s Intro to Audio Recording class. 

With the discontinuation of the recording and music business program, UT has slunk back to the myopic and misguided focus of classical music only, a la the ‘70s — days when I played the harp and organ as a UT student because there wasn’t an electric or electronic instrument anywhere in sight (and forget recording back then — just like next semester. I guess that’s progress, folks, back to the ‘70s!). Maybe in the ‘20s UT can once again try to catch up with the ‘80s or even the ‘90s.

Even in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the music industry and recording industry are minimal at best, we have a thriving music technology program at the University of St. Francis that houses about 130 recording and music business students and another music technology/recording program at Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne, with about 80 students (also soon to unveil a master’s in music technology).  They mostly all get placed into decent jobs, with benefits!  That’s on the strength of the music tech and recording industries now, growing ever more present every day. Can you say iTunes? 

Does the UT administration not know what most people (read: their kids!) spend their time doing? Answer: listening to music or trying to listen to music (and very little of it is classical music)! All that music has to be written, recorded, mixed, mastered, duplicated (posted), distributed, marketed, sold and attached rights to, and somebody gets paid to do each step (not to mention the same job-inducing processes for all the hundreds of hours of new music daily on cable and web shows!). Since the UT administration has abolished the only truly forward-looking music degree program, UT Austin students will not be able to participate in the new music economy until UT administrators gets their heads out of the 18th century. So ironically sad, especially since it’s due to ambiguous “budget cuts” from one of the richest universities on the planet in the middle of one of the foremost music economy cities on the planet.

—  UT alumus Kenny Bergle, in response to Eleanor Dearman’s Monday article titled “Butler School of Music removes programs in response to budget cuts.”

Music production senior Kelsey Harper records a trombone track for her recording class. The Butler School of Music cut the music recording technology and business programs because of budget cuts.

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

The Butler School of Music is discontinuing its music recording technology and music business programs because of University-mandated budget cuts to the school and a deficit in the school’s budget.

Butler School director Mary Poole could not disclose the exact amount of the budget cut or deficit, but called the financial circumstances of the Butler School “dire” in an email sent to students in the programs on Nov. 21. According to Poole’s email, faculty members were not involved in the decision to stop admission to the programs.

“It was a painful decision indeed to suspend admission to the music business and recording technology emphases within the music [bachelor of arts degree], and I am acutely aware that it must seem ironic,” Poole said. “I very much hope that one day soon, UT will be able to support programs exploring all aspects of the music industry with the facilities and resources our brilliant students deserve.”  

The programs, which Poole said have about 60 students enrolled in them, instruct students in the production and business aspects of the music industry and focus on areas outside of classical music.

“I think that ours holds a lot of merit, in that it’s extremely useful in mainstream jobs that are related to music, because it’s not solely focused on classical music or preforming it,” music production senior Kelsey Harper said. “It’s more of the industrial side of things.”

The programs will continue as normal, until students currently enrolled in the programs have graduated, according to Ed Fair, music business adjunct professor and music attorney.

“In the short-term, those who are in the program will certainly be fine,” Fair said.  

Music production senior Andrew Schindler said he wishes the decision had been discussed with students prior to it being made.

“There’s never been any sort of connection between the administration at the Butler School and the students,” Schindler said.  “As far as who to blame, there’s not anyone to blame. It’s more of a situation where students are pretty apathetic about the school because they’re just there to study their instrument.”

Fair said he is disappointed to see the program go.

“I’m especially sad for students who are in the program and have recently gotten out of the program,” Fair said. “Because it’s a little uncomfortable that the program you’ve just completed no longer exists.”

Harper shared this concern and said she and her classmates are worried the degree will decrease in merit and be less marketable for jobs now that it is being discontinued.

Schindler said he thinks the Butler School of Music is trying to be more like a traditional music conservatory.

“To be a prosperous musician, you have to understand business and how to record music,” Schindler said. “The fact that they are closing those two programs, I feel you’re disenfranchising a lot of students.”

In an email, music production senior lecturer Gary Powell said he would like to see the Butler School look at areas like music business and production again in the future.

“The Butler School has made a decision in line with its academic pursuits,” Powell said. “My hope is that, in time, in a different economy, and even with the same leadership, we will see these pursuits broaden.”

Patrick Hughes, a French horn soloist and UT associate professor, has played the French horn since he was in fifth grade.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Patrick Hughes | Daily Texan Staff

Since arriving in Austin 14 years ago, Patrick Hughes and his French horn have accompanied everything from the Austin City Brass to Willie Nelson. His next performance will be Tuesday alongside other Butler School of Music faculty members.

Hughes, a music associate professor at UT, will be performing with five other professors in a Faculty Artist Concert at the Jessen Auditorium. The ensemble will also feature the piano, clarinet, bassoon, violin and string bass. 

Coming from a large, musical family, Hughes first picked up the french horn in fifth grade not because of a specific desire to play the instrument but because of a desire to be different from his family.

“My family had picked other instruments, and [the horn] was one that was left,” Hughes said. “I also wanted to be with my friends who were also picking band instruments.”

Despite his unorthodox way for choosing an instrument, Hughes became skilled with the horn, performing in a number of orchestras and ensembles around the country. After attending both St. Olaf College and University of Wisconsin-Madison, he taught at a number of universities before coming to UT in 2001. Hughes said that he came to the University because of the reputation of the school and its faculty.

“It’s a great school,” Hughes said. “The faculty are top-notch. They’re just the cream of the crop. I was happy to join such an exciting school of music.”

Hughes works closely with a small number of students who play the French horn and he meets with each of them for a private lesson once a week. He also meets with all of the students together twice a week for a studio class. Hughes said he enjoys working with students from all levels.

“I love teaching those huge range of students — from freshman all the way up to the master’s- and doctoral-level players,” Hughes said. “Every hour is different, and every day I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I like that.”

In addition to regular lessons, Hughes’ horn class features guest residencies and master classes with visiting artists. The class also performs recitals and plays in chamber ensembles regularly. Although Hughes mainly teaches his students classical music, he said he enjoys showing them how to play modern pieces as well.

“Primarily, I’m teaching classical French horn — teaching students to play in orchestra and professional chamber groups,” Hughes said. “But we end up playing a lot of other stuff. You’ll see French horns everywhere, so we also play popular music.”

In addition to teaching horn students, Hughes performs frequently in University concerts. The faculty concert Tuesday will be different from others in that Hughes will be the only performer to play in each piece.

“Each piece involves me with a different group of performers,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the concert, which will focus on chamber music, is a great way to play that style with other professors.

“I love to give recitals, and it’s a joy to play with my colleagues in the school of music,” Hughes said. “It’s fun to all get together and play different music, and chamber music is great.”

Rosalind Meaux has been taking music lessons from UT music students for three years as part of the Piano Project. Every Tuesday evening, Meaux has a private 30-minute lesson at the Butler School of Music.

Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

The fifth floor of the Butler School of Music is flooded with children waiting with their parents before starting their 30-minute music lesson. Some kids have conversations with other music students and some are quiet. As students enter small practice rooms along the narrow hallways, the floor comes alive with music. This is the Piano Project.

Children accepted into the Piano Project take private music lessons every Tuesday from 5-7 p.m. Students currently enrolled in piano pedagogy courses lead the lessons. After a semester-long Piano Project session, each child performs a piece at the program’s recital.

Elementary school student Rosalind Meaux has been with the Piano Project for three years. In addition to Rosalind’s weekly lessons, her teacher expects her to practice piano daily.

“I’m almost on book two,” Rosalind said. “I only have five more [pieces] to finish in book one. This means I get to play new things. It’s fun.”

Rosalind said her favorite part of the Piano Project is the recital performance at the end of the semester. 

“Dressing up is fun,” Rosalind said. “Last year I got to wear a sparkly dress.”

Rosalind’s father, Mark Meaux, waits outside as she practices. Although Mark never had the opportunity to play music growing up, Rosalind has become his teacher back home.

“I am slowly learning how to play music with her,” Mark said. “She teaches me something new every day.”    

Students like Rosalind would not have the opportunity to play music at the Butler School of Music without Sophia Gilmson, director of the Piano Project and music associate professor. Gilmson, who has been teaching music for 22 years, said her love for music and passion for teaching makes the Piano Project very special to her.    

“Music has disappeared from many lives, but it is not too late to fix this,” Gilmson said.

Gilmson said children are ideal students because they can start to learn from a young age how to play music correctly. She said the Piano Project also aims to teach young music students how to have performance manners.

“Proper concert behavior is important,” Gilmson said. “I don’t think many other music programs do this enough.” 

Each semester, children audition to be part of the Piano Project. Gilmson said there are currently only 22 students because there are only 22 teachers. She said the number of teachers is often uncertain, but the small number of students in the Piano Project makes the program more personalized.

“Every child has individual prospects, and all are special,” Gilmson said. “We have 22 students, and we have 22 special projects.”

One of Gilmson’s favorite parts of the program is being able to watch her own students learn how to teach the children in the Piano Project.

“Critiquing is not hard if it’s with a good heart,” Gilmson said.    

Gilmson said it is a serious program — but an exciting one.

“We work very hard to make students into young artists,” Gilmson said. “But seeing children play music makes me feel that there is a genuine joy in this. It is a genuine joy.”

When the Cordova Quartet was asked to play at the Butler School of Music’s 100th Anniversary concert, they knew that it would be the perfect opportunity for their first performance in Austin. 

The Cordova Quartet, composed of violinist Andy Liang, violinist Niccoló Muti, violist Blake Turner and cellist Matthew Kufchak, all graduate students at the Butler School, will perform Friday at the “Centennial Concert: A Taste of Texas,” a concert featuring several ensembles from the Butler School of Music to mark the school’s 100 years of operation. 

While obtaining graduate degrees at Rice University, the four played together for a couple of years before deciding to officially form the Cordova Quartet in fall 2013.

“[Rice] is where we all met, where we became friends and really formed a passion for playing chamber music together,” Turner said. “Really, just last fall … we decided that this is something that we’d like to pursue professionally.”

After auditions with three different programs, the quartet decided to attend the Butler School of Music for the opportunity to study under the Miró Quartet, the quartet-in-residence at the school.    

“They are one of the top string quartets in the world, so the opportunity to study with them was a big draw to come here,” Turner said. “Also, the Butler School of Music is a program that is really on the rise, so that was one of the several factors that influenced our decision.”

Liang, Muti and Kufchak are working on artist diplomas, or post-masters degrees focused on performance, while Turner is obtaining his masters in viola performance. The four are the graduate quartet-in-residence at the school, performing regularly in competitions and concerts for the school while studying under the Miró Quartet. The quartet was invited to perform at the Centennial Concert shortly after arriving at UT.

“This is going to be our first public performance in Austin, so it’s exciting to introduce ourselves to the people here,” Kufchak said. “We’re really proud that they asked us to represent what the school is doing here.”

The Cordova Quartet is one of the many groups that will be performing, with ensembles ranging from the Jazz Orchestra to the UT choirs. In addition to their main performance, the quartet will also be a part of some of the other ensembles, such as opera and chorus performances.

“The whole concert is a smattering of all of these different pieces,” Turner said. “We’ll also be playing in the orchestra as well.”

The concert will start at 7:30 p.m. at the Bates Recital Hall, with a pre-concert reception starting at 6 p.m. The hour-long performance will feature one piece from each ensemble.

“It’s the best of the Butler School,” Kufchak said. “They’re really just trying to showcase what the school is doing and what they’ve accomplished in the last 100 years.”

The quartet hopes that the concert will allow students and faculty to recognize the music school’s level of skill and importance on the campus.

“I’m not sure that the UT community realizes what a hidden gem it is,” Turner said. “I feel like that what the audience can look forward to is seeing the high level of musicianship that’s here on the UT campus.”

Christopher Prosser and Brandon Clinton, music composition graduate students of the Butler School of Music, recently composed pieces that were inspired by pieces of art in the Blanton Museum of Art. 

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

In the atrium of the Blanton Museum of Art, students from the Butler School of Music gathered to find something inspiring. Each of the students then composed a personal composition in response to the piece of art that stood out to them the most. The result is the Midday Music Series.

On Tuesday, students from the Butler School of Music will showcase the products of their interpretations to the public as part of the Blanton’s Midday Music Series. The compositions are all based on artworks currently on display in the museum.

“We’re lucky enough that they’ve written new pieces about works in our collection,” said Adam Bennett, manager of public programs at the Blanton. “We did a project like this last year, [and] there was so much interest that it couldn’t be contained within just one program. It’s sort of an extension and a sequel to that program.”

The creative process for the event began at the end of the last spring semester with an open tour of the Blanton for composition students who were interested in the concept. The students were told to choose an art piece that stood out to them. 

Brandon Clinton, music composition graduate student, chose the Shirazeh Houshiary painting titled “Night of Light.”

“The title, ‘Night of Light,’ is pretty evocative,” Clinton said. “Basically, I just thought, first of all, it was really striking. What could it be, this little light in the distance?” 

Stephen Sachse and Christopher Prosser, both music composition graduate students, chose to interpret Morris Louis’ painting “Water-Shot” but in very different ways. Sachse’s piece uses an electric guitar and a computer, while Prosser’s uses clarinet, flute, viola and cello.

“The idea, it’s so stripped down in a way,” Sachse said. “It’s just drops of paint that fall down. I really liked the idea of doing a piece that’s based on a descending kind
of theme.” 

Prosser also found something inspiring in the minimalist techniques used by the artist.

“The piece is kind of quirky,” Prosser said. “It has melodies that come back [and] can represent different colors of the painting — greens, yellows [and] reds.”

Bennett hopes the Midday Music Series and other similar events that the museum hosts can get people to think of the museum as not only a place that houses art but as an active and creative space.

“The museum isn’t just a warehouse where we store creative things that happened 100 years ago but where creativity happens live in the moment, and I think the music and art connections is a great way to demonstrate that,” Bennett said.

The performances are included with admission prices and are free for museum members, UT students, faculty and staff. Clinton hopes his composition will change the way the audience looks at the artwork he is interpreting.

“That they view the painting differently, that there might be a story behind it and that it might be different from the one they’ve seen,” Clinton said. “That it inspires
somebody else.”