On the day before classes, the incoming College of Performing Arts students gathered in the Wilson Courtyard for a picnic. The event was well attended, as the College is welcoming its largest incoming class to date. This was simultaneously normal and quite different. Our new students had the same first-day energy and optimism that mark these events every fall. It was different though, in that I had to look more at the students’ eyes to see their energy, since their smiles were covered by masks, as we chatted under the tent that we are now using for safe instruction outdoors.
The fall semester has this same mix of normalcy and uniqueness as our students and faculty move forward in a flexible mix of online and remote instruction, looking forward to the day when we can return to our classrooms and stages unmasked to welcome audiences back to our halls and campus. I invite you to take a moment to explore the stories of our incoming students and to learn about how our faculty, staff, students, and alumni have continued their creative work during the pandemic.
We are also marking a change for the Community Music School. We welcome Beth Guerriero as the new Director, as we congratulate Bob Frampton on his retirement. I know the students, faculty, and families of the Community Music School have benefitted from Bob’s excellent leadership, and we are also celebrating his decades of excellent service to the local, regional, and national music education communities. We wish Bob all the best in his retirement.
A new group of student artists begins the next chapter in their lives as they start their freshman year at Rowan University. The experience comes with adjustments and hurdles and excitement. It is no secret that the 2020-2021 academic year adds a new layer of challenge.
We invited members of the Class of ’24 to reflect on their first couple of weeks, which revealed their enthusiasm as well as their understanding of the current realities.
Sean Baker is a Piano Performance major from Mount Laurel. While he admits to feeling “a mix of emotions due to these unique circumstances,” he is encouraged by the sense of community, which was one of the reasons he chose Rowan’s College of Performing Arts.
“Having music as a common bond between us allows everyone to share those passions with like-minded people. That gives me a sense of home and a sense of belonging I can’t wait to enjoy,” Baker said. “Even though I’m commuting and can’t enjoy the on-campus experience, I’d say that the future is looking bright even if things still look dark right now.”
“My first week at Rowan has honestly been a dream” says Theatre major Emma Cusmano of Piscataway, noting that after moving in, she was concerned about the impact of COVID-19 and how she would find friends. “Within my first two days, I felt safe and comfortable seeing everyone wear their masks and I felt like I already had a family within the Theatre & Dance Department,” she recalled.
Cusmano also wondered what the university would do for her as a person. She praised her professors as well as upperclassmen and her classmates for already making her feel at home, to the point that she “cannot wait to spend the next four years with them.”
Coming to Rowan from Wylie, Texas, Theatre major Maria Dixon noted that her first week “felt crazy with being so far from home and trying to settle in.” She’s been learning her way around campus slowly, recognizing that it is a little harder to go out and meet people while also making sure to remain safe in the current environment. For Dixon, the added challenge has been coming from so far away and leaving friendships that she’s had for 15 years.
“I am excited, however, to begin in-person classes as my professors have been very communicative about the measures taken to ensure everyone’s safety,” she added.
Dance major Gabi Langevine, from Piscataway, had a “perfect” first week. She’s very aware that college is going to be a different environment from high school, but also embraces the idea that “the newness of college will be eye opening.”
“Dance classes this semester are going to be a challenge because I am completely remote. But I am more than ready to get started,” she said. “Having ballet class in my basement was not my ideal semester but I am making the best out of doing school from home.”
Maia Morales from Millville is impressed so far. “With the majority of my classes being remote, I have to say Rowan has been handling it very well and I find myself being able to pace myself with all of my schoolwork and any other activities I’m partaking in.” Which is a little different from the Music Therapy major’s initial expectations.
“I thought college was going to be scary and that I wasn’t going to make any friends, but that is not the case at Rowan,” Morales said. “I didn’t think I would have learned so many new things so quickly.”
According to Music Industry major Samuel Poku from Old Bridge, his first week has been phenomenal. He’s gotten to know the campus, make friends, and “brainstorm at my highest creative ability.” He’s realizing that choosing Rowan was the best decision for him, particularly because of the overall environment.
“There was just a unique ‘feeling’ deep down that sat with me; that it was the right place to go,” he said, recalling what motivated his decision, even with the circumstances created by the pandemic.
“I believe that I personally have been trying my best to beat the limitations of COVID,” Poku said. “It’s truly been hard to do everything I’ve had in mind and had planned, but I believe at the end of the day if I put my mind to it, I could reach those goals.”
Each new season brings change, and the Rowan Community Music School welcomes new leadership this month, with the retirement of Robert Frampton.
Dr. Elizabeth Guerriero has been appointed to the newly-titled position: Director of Rowan Community Music School & Educational Partnerships.
“I’m excited to move into this new role at Rowan University,” she said, adding that she looks forward to working with “the fantastic faculty to build community partnerships and engage with students and performing ensembles.”
Rowan Community Music School offers private lessons, ensembles, and workshops for musicians of all ages, while focusing on providing high quality music instruction and performance opportunities that promote continuing artistic growth and a lifelong appreciation of music for a diverse community of students in the region.
“This is an exciting and challenging world for growth and we have a lot to offer,” Guerriero added. “Look for our expanded offerings for teachers, students, adult learners, and more over the coming months.”
Guerriero steps into this new position after serving as interim Assistant Professor of Music Education at Rowan during the 2019-2020 academic year. Alongside her new role, she will remain a faculty member within the Music Department.
Prior to her time at Rowan, she served as Director of Education for the Harmony Program at City University of New York, including overseeing partnerships with the Juilliard School, New York Philharmonic, West Point Band, and New York Youth Symphony. She was a finalist for the 2019 Ovation Award for Inspiration and Outstanding Leadership in Music Education from the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.
Guerriero holds a B.M. from the Hartt School, M.M. from the University of Denver, and Ph.D. in music education from Penn State University, as well as a certificate in non-profit fundraising & development from Villanova University.
College of Performing Arts faculty, staff, and students spent their summer channeling their creativity, as they strove to continue working while responding to our new pandemic environment with actions of art, education, outreach, performance, and expressions of gratitude and solidarity.
Jamie Grace-Duff, Lecturer and Costume Shop Supervisor in the Department of Theatre & Dance, usually spends her summers teaching sewing and costuming at in-person summer camps up and down the East Coast run by the Pennsylvania-based Handwork Studio. When it became obvious that these camps would not be safe to run as usual, she joined a team to re-write and build curriculum for more than 12 programs in less than three weeks.
“It was super great to see so many young people build props, fashion accessories, quilts as well as robotics and architecture skills,” Grace-Duff said. The team also tackled the task of providing additional training for counselors in advance of starting the virtual camps, offered via Zoom. “They were incredibly successful and the Handwork Studio plans to incorporate more online classes into their traditional programming,” she added.
With the Atlantic Pops Community Band, faculty members and conductors Mark Kadetsky and Joe Higgins brought a series of in-person, distanced outdoor concerts to Egg Harbor Township during July and August.
“To the best of our extensive knowledge, this was the first public band concert held in the entire tri-state area since March,” said Kadetsky of the opening concert in the series. Kadetsky serves as the band’s music director (and also leads Rowan’s Concert Band).
The eclectic season included works by John Williams, John Phillip Sousa, music from the James Bond movies and Led Zeppelin, a piece inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and more. The 60-member group – which has included a number of Rowan alumni & undergraduates – wore masks (unless they were playing) and were positioned at six-foot intervals, as was the audience.
“As it had been nearly five months since my last performance, I was immensely grateful to be a part of the Atlantic Pops Summer Concert this past July,” added Higgins, Director of Bands at Rowan and Permanent Summer Guest Conductor for the Pops since 2017. “Judging by the smiles and enthusiasm of our audience, I was not the only one who had been craving the magic of live music.”
Projections for Hope 2020 was born in April when Robert Thorpe, Lighting Designer for the Department of Theatre & Dance, decided to do something to support and say “Thank You” to the heroes who were and are working day and night to get us through the pandemic. He decided to use his design expertise to accomplish this goal. Using glass patterns from theatrical supplier Rosco Laboratories called “Gobos For Hope,” he was able to project different positive messages each night onto his home in Rancocas Village using theatrical lighting instruments.
The next phase involved working with his Entertainment Technology team colleagues at Rowan, Tom Fusco (Technical Director) and David Cimetta (Supervisor of Sound and Music), on a photo essay project, featuring illuminated buildings throughout Rowan University’s Glassboro campus. Utilizing their own equipment and resources, they embarked on seven night shoots over a three-week period in May and June. The resulting images are intended to provide an uplifting message to the Rowan community and to thank First Responders, Healthcare Workers, and Essential Workers.
Thorpe emphasized that “this was a true labor of love,” and the final images have been made available to the University community, intended to be used in any positive way.
Anyone who would like access to the images can contact Thorpe at email@example.com. The only request is that anywhere the photos are used, they are credited to the team of Cimetta, Fusco, and Thorpe.
Department of Theatre & Dance professor Lane Savadove offered free virtual programming through his Philadelphia-based EgoPo Classic Theater’s Facebook page.
“COVID hit theaters very suddenly. Within 3 days of hearing it might be an issue, we had shut down our spring show,” Savadove recalled, remembering that EgoPo’s team began to think about what audiences might want or need. “I was most interested in both connecting deeply with audiences in the truest way possible and also going on deep dives into theatre.”
Starting in May, he hosted the series “Cocktails & Classics: Lectures on the Art of Directing,” with each session featuring Savadove sharing his expertise on a very specific topic as well as a drink recipe (a Saturday morning “Coffee & Classics” session focused on staging the works of playwright Sam Shepard). In July and August, he led “Masterclass Plus: A Virtual Acting Class.” This project allowed for more intense exploration of classic theatre literature as well as an actor’s vocal and physical expression through a psychological approach to texts.
“I’m really proud of the virtual masterclass,” he said, noting that such a project has been a long-time dream made possible now because of a lockdown. “We never would have done it without stay-at-home orders. It allowed professional actors and audiences with an interest in the craft to really dive deeply into acting technique.”
Junior Music Industry major Phinesse Scott found a summer internship at the last minute. As a follower of social media brands related to women in the recording industry, she discovered She is the Music, a non-profit focused on increasing the number of women working in the music business, on the day the application for a mentored internship was due.
Working with a senior vice president at Atlantic Records, Scott developed an original compilation album in an eight-week period…virtually. From mid-June to the first week in August, she came up with the concept; sought out artists; mixed, mastered, and edited recordings; strategized marketing and distribution; even created the cover art. The result is the R&B collection For You, featuring tracks on romance and relationships from seven New Jersey-based artists that Scott calls “a gift to women.”
“There were long days and a lot of road blocks but it was what I needed,” she noted. “I was doing what I intend to do in my future.”
Scott’s goal is to be in A&R, the artist and repertoire division at a record label, and the internship gave her concentrated, hands-on experience. It could have been a mock project, but Scott went all out and produced a record that’s now available on SoundCloud.
“I’m so motivated now,” said Scott. “It made me want to be a music executive even more.”
Professor of Piano Veda Zuponcic, in her role as Artistic Director of the Northern Lights Music Festival in Minnesota, forged ahead with the program’s 17th season in July. She believes it was the first and perhaps only live festival of its kind to have run this summer.
The feat was accomplished by adhering to guidelines laid down by Minnesota’s governor, having multiple performance spaces, including outdoor venues, and including small chamber music concerts with limited audiences. The headline events included productions of Puccini’s Tosca and Menotti’s The Medium (featuring Rowan’s own Barbara Dever), presented with limited physical contact. Rowan was represented as well with scenic design work by retired faculty members Bart Healy and Philip Graneto.
“I was strongly in favor of finding a way to present the festival this year because we are a once-a-year activity, and I didn’t want to be out of the public’s consciousness for two years,” Zuponcic said, adding that “it just happened that we had very good governmental funding this year.” She also was concerned for the artists and free-lance orchestral and choral musicians who were without paychecks for months.
“So, we had resources, funding, healthy venues, and artists who wanted to work,” Zuponcic said, recalling her thought that “if we follow the rules, we can make this happen.”