September 18, 2011 - 9:38pm
BY DHRUV MADEKA
This year’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance portion of the Presidential Societies Weekend — held at Hill Auditorium to recognize some of the largest donors to the University — aimed to commemorate not just the achievements of the students and the school, but also an artist the school believes resembles the University in many ways: composer George Gershwin.
School of MT&D dean Christopher Kendall kicked off the proceeding, titled “Rhapsody in Maize ‘n’ Blue,” with his welcome speech in which he described Gershwin’s music as a ”soundtrack of American identity.” He followed his speech by conducting, with fervent passion, the University Symphony Orchestra as it performed the soothing tunes of Gershwin’s “Promenade (Walking the Dog).”
The show also commemorated Gershwin as not just a virtuoso of music, but also as a scholar who never stopped learning about music. It paid tribute to the chances he gave to young musicians on the rise and mourned his untimely death.
The weekend also unveiled the UM-Gershwin Initiative. The initiative is a collaboration between the University and Mark Gershwin, nephew of George Gershwin, which would include new critical editions of Gershwin’s works, premiere performances and educational material amongst other exciting musical opportunities.
The show would not have been complete without a special tribute to the University, which was undertaken by Gil S. Chapman, a gifted jazz studies major. Chapman, to the delight of the audience, inserted “Hail to the Victors” in his reworking of one of Gershwin’s pieces.
The highlight of the show was, of course, soprano Jessye Norman, a four-time Grammy Award winner, winner of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a University alum. Norman captured the audience’s attention with her rendition of “Our Love is Here to Stay” and “I Got Rhythm,” which she performed to a standing ovation. In a speech, she spoke of the art in all of us, and how the University teaches its music and dance students not just to be great artists, but a great part of culture as well.
The show was a fitting tribute to the greatness of Gershwin, and a reminder of the school’s talented student body and its influential, world-renowned alum.