Ernest Butler School of Music

Audiences broke the concert hall stage barrier Saturday “crawling” to and from the museums of Austin’s Cultural Campus to listen to five different chamber concerts by Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music student musicians.

The Austin Cultural Campus is a collection of participating museums including the Blanton Museum of Art, Harry Ransom Center, Texas Memorial Museum, Visual Arts Center and Lyndon B. Johnson Library. Students played in the front of each museum to encourage audience members to try to visit all of them in a single day.

Evan Leslie, the school’s outreach coordinator, said the crawl highlights the rich variety of art, history and science exhibited on the UT campus.

“The crawl also acts as a learning experience for the students at the Butler School of Music,” Leslie said. “They are challenged to curate a music program that relates to the collections of a specific museum and to interact with their audiences more directly than in a traditional concert.”

Music performance senior Thales Smith, who performed in the Blanton Museum of Art, said holding the concerts in museums allowed audiences to feel more relaxed while listening than if the concert had been held in a traditional hall.

“In our first performance, we had two little girls dancing in the front, and in our last performance there were some older couples that asked a lot of question and joked around,” Smith said. “Making music in a large, beautiful space [like the Blanton atrium] just feels good.”

Leslie said classical musicians rarely have the opportunity to perform with their audience in close proximity.

“The crawl format allows us to reach a large cumulative audience, while also enjoying intimate interaction with museum guests in an aspiring setting,” Leslie said. “It allows cross-fertilization of audiences as well — people that love history might realize they also love classical music and vice versa.”

Music performance junior Meera Gudipati said the Texas Memorial Museum was especially appropriate for her performance.

“There was a skeleton hanging right above us, which I found very fitting as a flutist, since the first flutes were made out of bones,” Gudipati said. “The acoustics of the museum fit to the baroque era music we played, because it was often performed in spacious churches and cathedrals with similar acoustics.”

Each of the five concerts was tailored to the museum it was performed in. For example, students who performed in the LBJ Museum presented a concert of jazz pieces from the 1960s to honor Lyndon B. Johnson’s heroic legacy in campaigning for civil rights. 

In addition to the annual Concert Crawl, Butler School students perform a “Beat the Rush” concert every third Thursday at the Blanton, in which each part of the museum has a different type of performance.

To help remove boundaries that prevent aspiring dancers from continuing their training, patrons of UT’s Sarah & Ernest Butler School of Music donated $250,000 to Ballet Austin’s Trainee Program.

Ballet Austin announced the donation from Dr. Ernest and Sarah Butler on Wednesday. Sarah Butler is the chairwoman of the Ballet Austin Foundation, created in 1998 to benefit Ballet Austin. The Butlers donated $55 million to the music school in 2008.

“I am grateful for this wonderful donation and for the Butlers’ ongoing generosity. This gift helps remove barriers that could potentially deny some exceptional young people the chance to continue their training,” Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills said in a press release. “The Butlers understand the importance of the opportunity for focused and intensive study in order for a young dancer to be ready to enter a highly competitive artistic discipline.”

Ballet Austin named its downtown headquarters the Butler Dance Education Center after the Butlers when they donated $3.5 million to the organization.

With more than 800 students enrolled, Ballet Austin is one of the nation’s largest classical ballet academies. The Academy is split into five areas of study and the Trainee Program is the most senior level of the Academy. The intensive professional-track program allows students to practice up to 17 hours per week.

The program offers trainees instruction in classical ballet and more contemporary forms of dance. Ballet Austin selects trainees through a nationwide audition and the trainees have the opportunity to rehearse and perform with Ballet Austin in selected performances. Although most of the training occurs in the studio, the program provides opportunities for trainees to attend educational workshops, lectures and meetings with dance professionals from related industries.

Tuition for one trainee for 35 weeks is $5,500. Thirty percent of Ballet Austin’s main company roster graduated from the Trainee Program, according to Ballet Austin’s website.

UT’s Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music was renamed in honor of the Butlers following their donation, the largest single gift to a music school at a public university, according to an article in the Austin Business Journal.

Psychology sophomore Mike Leberknight, who takes classes in the Butler School of Music, said the building is well equipped with instruments and spaces for students to practice music.

“The school is great. There are two floors full of music practice rooms and most include pianos. It is one of my favorite places on campus because of its modern architecture,” Leberknight said. “I am happy to see the Butlers continue to donate to the Austin community.” 

Printed on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 as: Butlers give $250,000 to Ballet Austin program