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American music to be celebrated throughout November at Illinois

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


a quilt that resembles an expressive watercolor of an oak tree
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Carol Varian
"Live Oak," quilt created by Carol Varian, inspired Scott Schwartz's concept for the American music celebration.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — When Scott Schwartz was looking for an image to represent the upcoming celebration of American music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he wasn’t sure what he wanted.

But he knew it when he saw it.

The patchwork quilt of a California live oak tree beautifully captured the archivist-musician-scholar’s philosophy about Americas’ rich cultural heritage and the expression of that heritage through its music.

“As I see it, America is a patchwork quilt of people and cultures, and so is our music,” said Schwartz, organizer of “Lifescapes of American Music,” this year’s month long homage to American music, which will, as it did last year, coincide with national American Music Month in November.

Illinois is one of very few U.S. universities that salutes American music with a month long program, said Schwartz, the archivist for music and fine arts at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at Illinois, the main sponsor of the celebration.

black and white photo of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington sitting at a piano
Click photo to enlarge
Billy Strayhorn, right, had a long professional relationship with Duke Ellington. On Nov. 8, their relationship -- and others -- will be explored in "Portrait of a Silk Thread: The Life and Music of Billy Strayhorn and Others."

Woven from personal experience and performance, music reflects the boundless imagination of this country’s diverse heritage and provides inspiration to discover the many common threads that join us as a community and define us as a nation,” he said.

The mission of the 2005 celebration is to “increase awareness of this country’s many dynamic expressions of culture” through a variety of music genres, presentations, performances and venues, said Schwartz – who is something of a patchwork quilt himself. In addition to his day job, he is a classical guitarist and a scholar of Appalachian serpent handlers and of the music of Duke Ellington.

“An exciting assortment of music will be offered” during “Lifescapes,” Schwartz said – everything from a youth fiddling contest to tributes to electronic music and to Billy Strayhorn, a legendary jazz composer.

The celebration at Illinois includes:

• Nov. 8, “Portrait of a Silk Thread: The Life and Music of Billy Strayhorn and Others,” a performance of Strayhorn’s original jazz compositions by Walter van de Leur – one of the world’s leading scholars of Strayhorn’s music and the artistic director of the Dutch Jazz Orchestra, 7:30 p.m., Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana; tickets, $6.

Through words, images and music, the U. of I. Concert Jazz Band, led by director Chip McNeil and guest conductor van de Leur, will reveal the evolution of Strayhorn’s life and music and explore the musical and professional relationships between Strayhorn and Ellington. Van de Leur will give a lecture at 6 p.m. in the Krannert Lobby.

sepia photo of young Billy Strayhorn standing in front of a car
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A young Billy Strayhorn.

• Nov. 9, “Mending the Broken Musician: Music and Medicine” and “Modern Medicine & Music,” 1:30 p.m., Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St., Urbana; free and open to the public.

Dr. William Dawson and Dr. Abe Kocheril will give presentations on music and healing and provide insights into how musicians, who are as vulnerable to long-term injuries as athletes, can maintain a healthy performance life. Dawson is professor emeritus of orthopedic surgery at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Music; Kocheril is head of cardiac electrophysiology at Carle Heart Center in Urbana and clinical professor of medicine and head of cardiology at the U. of I. College of Medicine.

Cardiologist Dr. Abe Kocheril and Dr. William Dawson in an operating room with support staff and patient
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Cardiologist Dr. Abe Kocheril (center) and Dr. William Dawson will present “Mending the Broken Musician: Music and Medicine” and “Modern Medicine & Music” at 1:30 p.m., Nov. 9 at Levis Faculty Center. It is free and open to the public.

• Nov. 13, “Granny’s Porch: Fiddling America’s Tale,” a youth fiddling contest from noon to 4 p.m. for youth ages 6 to 18, the Springer Cultural Center, 301 N. Randolph St., Champaign, a $5 registration fee for contestants, monetary prizes for the winners; and “America’s Music Benefit Concert” at 6 p.m. at the Virginia Theatre, 203 W. Park St., Champaign; tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for children.

Contestants include violinists, violists and cellists from Champaign, Douglas, Edgar, Ford, McLean, Piatt and Vermillion counties.

The evening concert will showcase such bands as Prairie Dogs, Farmers Market String Band, Grass Roots Revival, Bow-Dacious String Band and the fiddle-contest participants. Proceeds from the concert will go toward the preservation of the historic Virginia Theatre and the historic music collections of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music.

“This will be our own Grand Ole Opry – right here in Central Illinois,” Schwartz said. “We want to kick up a storm. We want to demonstrate that music is to be shared and that folk music is just as legitimate an artistic expression as opera and jazz.”

• Nov. 17, “Life Long Learning Through the Musical Arts,” performances by the U. of I. Concert Bands IIA and IIB, which comprise non-music majors, both undergraduates and graduate students, and are directed by graduate students, 7:30 p.m., Krannert Center for the Performing Arts; tickets, $6.

“With these performances we want to emphasize that you don’t have to be a School of Music major to play in a band.”

The following exhibitions are free and open to the public:

• “Tales of a Traveler: Life on the Road With John Philip Sousa,” running through Jan. 20, 2006, in the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, 236 Harding Band Building, 1103 S. Sixth St., Champaign.

The diary of tenor saxophonist Alfred A. Knecht sheds light on the reality of life on the road with Sousa and his band during its 352-day world tour of 1910 and 1911.

• “Gabriel Come Blow Your Horn: Inventing the Modern Trumpet Valve,” through Feb. 10 in the Sousa Archives.

The story of the evolution of the modern trumpet, from a brass instrument played with keys, to one that uses valves.

• “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man: Paul Martin Zonn,” running through April 14 in the Sousa Archives.

Clarinetist Zonn (1938-2000) was an internationally known innovator in composition and performance and the head of music composition at Illinois during the 1960s and ’70s. His clarinet compositions drew on the work of Arnold Schoenberg and Milton Babbitt, as well as Mozart and Brahms, and he was inspired by folk music.

• “Would the Real Chief Illiniwek Please Stand Up?” Nov. 1 to May 19, 2006, Sousa Archives.

A look back to the creators of the Chief’s first costume and the students, including one woman, who took on the Chief role for audiences between the 1920s and the 1970s.

• “Dueling Transistors: Beginnings of Electronic Music at the University of Illinois,” Nov. 1 to Dec. 1, Marshall Gallery, University Library, 1408 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, showcases the pioneering experiments in computer-generated composition that began at Illinois in the mid-1950s. Two U. of I. chemists, Lejaren Hiller and Leonard M. Isaacson, created the “ILLIAC Suite for String Quartet,” the first piece of music created with a computer, which premiered on campus in 1957.

More information about the “Lifescapes” celebration can be found online. Last year, the celebration focused on John Philip Sousa and the 150th anniversary of his birth.

The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music holds the world’s single-largest archive of original compositions and arrangements by Sousa, as well as many Sousa artifacts. The center has strong collections of 20th century electronic and avant-garde music and select ethno-musicological research papers from the faculty and staff at the U. of I.

The live oak patchwork quilt was created by Carol Varian and used with her permission.

Sponsors of the event include the campus Alumni Association, the Center for Advanced Study, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, School of Music, the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, the University Library and several local businesses and organizations.