What’s Abuzz in A Cappella?

While most undergrads can get an earful of a cappella at semester shows in Strong Auditorium and the May Room, news about the plans of each group outside of their seasonal concerts sometimes goes unnoticed. Even with the fall a cappella season coming to a close, all four campus ensembles are still hard at work on fine tuning their harmonies for albums, competitions, and beyond!


After Hours, the University’s co-ed a cappella group, is starting off next semester with some “pitch perfect” plans.  On January 31st, the group will compete in the International Championship for Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), a judged event that showcases talent from campuses across the nation.  This will be the group’s fourth appearance at the show in the last five years.

Still reeling from the release of their most recent album, Duality, last spring, musical director John Queenan ’17 is excited to see what the future has in store for the group.

Duality features tracks from their award winning 2013 ICCA set. The recording project, which totaled over $15,000, was the culmination of two years of recording, mixing, and audio mastering.  Featuring modern hits from artists such as Justin Timberlake, David Guetta, Kelly Clarkson, and Imagine Dragons, the album also features an original composition from group member Alex Murray ’13.


The Midnight Ramblers recently wrapped up their latest semester show in Strong Auditorium, “The Rambling Dead.” While the zombified Ramblers took the stage for a concert experience they deemed “ever deader,” musical director Tom Downey ’14 hopes to keep the group fully awake and alive for their next project—a professionally recorded album.

This upcoming album will be the 11th in the Ramblers’ discography, which spans back to 1999.  The Ramblers are currently in the process of recording on campus, using the facilities of the Computer Studies Building, and hope to release the album at their upcoming spring concert on April 11th.  The album will feature some of the Rambler’s greatest hits from the past few years, bringing back old favorites that you won’t want to miss out on!

The Ramblers are also gearing up for their annual spring break tour.  With past years taking them to NYC, Nashville, and beyond.  They are excited to find out where their next musical adventure will take them.


The lovely ladies of Vocal Point hope to close out the semester with some holiday cheer through their annual winter show. With cookies, cocoa, and carols, the all-female ensemble will highlight the joy of the holidays despite the stress of the reading period.

Last year, the group sponsored Project EMPOWER, collaborating with a local middle school to provide musical and esteem-building workshops for the Young Women’s College Prep.  Looking to the future, Vocal Point plans to begin work on their next studio album in the spring semester.  Their last album, Daylight Again, was released in 2012.


This semester, the YellowJackets launched Project Forte, a philanthropic initiative aimed at bringing music and medicine together.  As a recipient of the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year (KEY) Scholarship, Abhishek Sharma ’14 wanted to create opportunities for musicians on campus and in the local community to perform in hospitals and hospice facilities in the Greater Rochester area.

Sharma hopes to create a culture that promotes the use of music therapy in local health institutions. Music has been shown to increase quality of life for patients in medical settings by improving social and emotional well-being.  With Project Forte, the YellowJackets hope that the community is able to “note the difference” that music can make.

Last November, the YellowJackets released their 17th studio album, 50 Shades of Yellow.  Since then, they have also released a digital single, “Say Something,” a heartfelt rendition of A Great New World’s original.  Next year, the Jackets hope to release even more singles, leading up to their next album.

Laptop Orchestra brings creative fusion to the Fringe

If your body was an instrument, what would it sound like? This is one of the questions that David Heid ’13 attempts to answer with the Rochester Laptop Orchestra, an interactive exhibition that blends art and science.  The event, featuring two performances on Thursday, September 18th and Saturday, September 20th, is one of many showcases at this year’s Rochester Fringe Festival.

Inspired by performances at Princeton and Stanford, Heid’s computer-based compositions explore the ways that the digital and electronic sciences can intersect with music.  “This one’s different in the sense that it’s more interactive,” he said. Heid’s exhibition will allow the audience to be a part of the musical experience. The Laptop Orchestra promises to provide a multimodal, interactive experience that showcases the breadth of creativity and innovation that the University of Rochester has to offer.

Heid believes that the project well represents the focus of his studies of music education and electrical and computer engineering.  A former dual degree student at Eastman and the River campus, he is now a second year masters student pursuing a degree in musical acoustics and signal processing.  In many senses, the creation of the Laptop Orchestra is a fusion of Heid’s dual interests and various talents by showcasing the combination of music and engineering.  “Music has never felt academic enough for me,” he admitted. “This is a nice way to blend it in a way that it can be.”

Instead of conventional instruments, the “orchestra” makes use of computers and motion sensing controllers used by undergraduates to generate sound.  One piece involves a dancer from Ballet Performance Group creating sound through movement. Through a Wiimote and gesture recognition technology, dance moves are translated into music.  A similar piece allows a dancer to generate pre-recorded sound bites from the Yellowjackets according to specific steps on electronically wired tap shoes.  Another performance brings in the Plank Road North Elementary Drum Ensemble creating a composition of pre-recorded vocal percussion.

Heid’s event is just as interactive as it is collaborative, which differentiates it from the earlier digital orchestras.  One segment of the performance allows an audience member to control the rhythm of the piece through the use of a hacked Bop-It.  Another allows the audience to decide the progression of a musical landscape as produced by the campus Carillon Society.

One of the more personal pieces involves mapping viruses to music. Using data from translated genomes, Heid created compositions that function as musical representations of HIV and ebola, among other illnesses. Last spring, Heid was quarantined after the measles outbreak, which was an experience that put a strain on his academic momentum as a grad student.  Instead of viewing it as a setback, he used the experience as an opportunity, working with an epidemiologist to create the virus-themed pieces.

While the Laptop Orchestra is in many ways the apex of Heid’s academic career, the show is not entirely about him; the project actually brought in the knowledge and talent of over 40 different students. “I know I’m not an expert in everything, and that’s why I brought these people in,” Heid said. “At Rochester, we do great things in every discipline. With the Laptop Orchestra, we can do those things together.”

Proceeds from ticket sales will go to RocMusic collaborative, which offers classical and instrumental music lessons to children in the downtown Rochester area. Getting a musical start in Pennsylvania through a similar program, he hopes that this early opportunity program can provide children with the same access to the arts.

All in all, Heid hopes that the performances will bring attention to the many possibilities that music has to offer in the modern world. “There’s not a lot in the industry that tries to blend stuff like this; I want to get people thinking.” With the Rochester Laptop Orchestra, he’s sure to do just that.

The Rochester Laptop Orchestra will have two shows on Thursday, September 18th at 6:00PM and Saturday, September 20th at 2:30PM at the TheatreROCS Stage at Xerox Auditorium.

Ten Years of Pep Band: The Tradition Continues

By Joe Bailey
University Communications

Ten years ago, a bright-eyed young sophomore named Greg Savich and his roommate decided to revive the Pep Band at the University of Rochester. They had no idea their band would grow to more than 35 active members, and continue to play popular, peppy music a decade later.

From Adele to Lady Gaga, the pep band plays popular music of the day and prides itself of a level of musicianship uncommon in Division III athletic bands. Make no mistake, this attention to detail is not a result of talent imported from the nearby Eastman School of Music; in fact, only one band member is currently enrolled there. Indeed, this is the way it has been since the original band was formed under the tutelage of Frederick Fennell.

There have been at least three versions of the band before the current one was founded. Fennell’s band ended as the U.S. became involved in World War II and many band members enlisted, including Fennell himself. Following his return, the band was re-formed with a new director, Ward Woodbury. This second band lasted until the early 1980s, when its director retired. Attempts were made throughout the 1990s to get the band going again, but they lacked the strong leadership which past bands had relied on. Savich arrived on the scene to a University without a band, and sought to change that.

Munjanja 10th photoAnnabelle Taylor ’17, who was a member of her high school’s marching band, currently serves as equipment manager for the band. “I was drawn to the band when I heard ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ in Park Lot, and decided, yes, these guys are for me!”

Her favorite part of Pep Band is playing at basketball games, especially at the 10th anniversary weekend, where alumni were invited back to play with the band.

The anniversary weekend had many members thinking about where the band will be in 2024. Current student director Jon Strumpf ’15 found himself wondering who will prepare the band in future seasons, given this year’s challenge. The band must fundraise to hire a permanent director, repair instruments, and buy new sheet music. According to one freshman, “Jon has big shoes to fill, but he is capable and talented, and will take the band far.”

Woodbury pep bandPep band members, new and old, with guest conductor Greg Savich, can be found cheering on men’s and women’s basketball teams at all the remaining home games. The band’s current membership is: Clarinet: Kathryn Strelevitz ’16, Bobbi Spiegel ’17, Joseph Bailey ’15, Michelle Currenti ’17; Flute: Ryan Challener ’14, Aubrie Sauer ’16, Kiera Crist ’15, Catherine Kong ’17, Aiyana Smith ’17; Tuba: Dan Macguigan ’14, Julia Morris ’15; Saxophone: Annabelle Taylor ’17, Danika Teverovsky ’16, Amanda Baker ’14, Ethan Senator ’15, Ray Tengan ’17, Aurek Ransom ’17, Eric Holmgren ’17; Mellophone: Nicholas Van Swol ’15, Christopher Cook ’17; Trombone: Douglas Bowlby ’17, Alexander Venuti ’14, Bennett Nidenberg ’16; Trumpets: Jon Strumpf ’15, Michael Meyers ’16, Ezekiel Starling ’16, Crystal Hans ’15, Morena Heyden’17; Percussion: Chelsea Hans ’14, Marz Saffore ’15, Mike Tamburrino ’16, Abigail Eaves ’17, Tyler Vasquez-Dorn ’17.

Top Photo: The Pep Band, together for their 10th anniversary weekend.

Middle Photo: The band plays the national anthem at Friday’s women’s basketball game (Photo Credit: Lloyd Munjanja)

Bottom Photo: The band was first founded over 50 years ago, and here’s a picture of the 1962 band to prove it! (Photo Credit: Melissa Mead, Rare Books & Special Collections)

Spotlight on Humanities and Natural Sciences Alumni: Dan Richman

richmanName: Dan Richman ’08

Occupation: Graduate student (Johns Hopkins University)

Education (UR and additional): BS (Physics), BA (Music & Mathematics), University of Rochester, 2008

Current city/state of residence: Baltimore, Maryland

Family: Dad is UR 1970 (BS Chemistry), 1975 (PhD Chemistry)

Community activities: Outreach activities in physics and astrobiology


What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?  

Use the libraries! Browse the stacks, in all subject areas, and read a little from books that grab your attention. Move nimbly through this ocean. You can do this as small breaks from your work. And take advantage of the CDs in the Art and Music Library.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I went immediately to grad school. I knew before college that I wanted a physics PhD–I wanted that depth of engagement with the subject–but at the end of undergrad it wasn’t clear what specialization I’d pursue. I leaned toward astrophysics, but I knew I should keep options open, so I chose another joint physics-astronomy department like UR’s. Even before I started my first year at Hopkins I started to pursue options in biophysics.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I realized that “structure in the universe” applied to biology as much as it did to astrophysics, and I started to inquire around Hopkins for opportunities to combine physics and biology. Turns out it’s a big area, and I got involved in a multidisciplinary training program. My consistent interest in fundamental principles and intricate form and motion led me finally to the protein science lab I currently work in.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?  

In venturing outward from physics into realms of biology and chemistry, all of my basic physics training has been crucial to quickly learn new fields. Statistical mechanics is my bread-and-butter in the land of proteins, and familiarity with quantum mechanics and electromagnetism has let me get deeply into the NMR spectroscopy I use to study proteins.

How do you balance your work and your personal life?

Discipline and flexibility together. When I walk over to campus to spend the day I focus on the work of experiments, data analysis, studying literature, and having conversations about science, but I’m flexible about switching among these things on a whim, to follow my mood or curiosity. I try to protect my evenings so I can run, cook dinner with my girlfriend, and enjoy interests such as music. It’s not strict compartmentalization, just being focused, organized, and nimble.

Where would you like to be in five years?

Doing fundamental research in protein design as a post-doc and starting or joining a company based on designing proteins for pharmaceutical or industrial use, and possibly pursuing this in parallel with or instead of an academic career.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Daniel Goldstein

goldsteinName:  Daniel J. Goldstein, M.D.

UR Major:  Biology

Other UR Majors/Minors: Music

Additional Education: M.D. from SUNY Upstate Medical University

Current City, State of Residence: Cleveland, OH

Job Title: Anesthesiology Resident

Employer: University Hospitals Case Medical Center

Family: Wife: Amanda (Perlman) Goldstein, B.A., B.S.N from the University of Rochester


The U of R biology department laid the foundation for my current career in anesthesiology. Starting day one, the individual attention that the professors provided allowed me to explore all reaches of biology. From participating in research, to becoming the head-teaching assistant for the introductory biology course, I was able to confirm and develop my passion for medicine. More interestingly, the biology department allowed me to investigate my passion for classical piano at the Eastman School of Music.  Piece of advice – explore your passions outside your major. There is nothing that graduate schools or the job world love more than a well-rounded applicant.

Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Todd Florin

florinName: Todd Florin ’00

Education (UR and additional): BA (Music), University of Rochester, 2000; MD, University of Rochester, 2005; MSCE, University of Pennsylvania, 2012

Current city/state of residence: Cincinnati, OH

Job Title:  Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

Employer:  Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Family: Kemper LeCroy Florin (wife, MM Eastman School, 2005), Nathaniel Wills Florin (son, 9 months old)

Community activities: Music Director – Savoy Company


When and how did you choose your major? 

I came to Rochester as part of the Rochester Early Medical Scholars (REMS) program.  I thought I was going to be a microbiology major and a music minor.  About one semester into my freshman year, I realized that I was going to be involved in science for the rest of my life as a physician, and wanted to immerse myself in something else that I loved and was passionate about, which was music.  I had the option to go over to the Eastman School of Music as a vocal performance major or stay at the College of Arts and Sciences in the Music program – I opted for the latter, as I thought that being part of a vibrant liberal arts music program associated with a major conservatory was the best way for me to obtain a well-rounded musical education in theory, history and performance.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am a pediatric emergency medicine physician-epidemiologist and will become Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in July 2012.  I love the intellectual challenge and variety offered by practicing medicine, and find it incredibly rewarding to care for children of all ages in their times of greatest need.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation? 

I have remained incredibly active in music at a high level, which I could not have done without the foundations that the music major gave me.  I am currently the music director of The Savoy Company in Philadelphia, the world’s oldest company devoted to the works of Gilbert & Sullivan, and a principal conductor of the College Light Opera Company in Falmouth, MA. I continue to freelance as a singer of opera, oratorio and concert works.

Where would you like to be in five years?   

As happy as I am now with my family and my profession!

What advice do you have for current students? 

Choose your major based on what you love to do in life, which may not necessarily be what you do as a profession (although you should consider that, as well, of course).  You only get to go to college once and there will be few other times in your life when you can immerse yourself in so many different disciplines – take advantage of this time to learn a lot about the things you love to do and worry less about “getting to the next step.”

 

 

 

 

Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Daniel Israel

DanIsraelName: Daniel Israel ’05

Education (UR and additional): B.A. (Music), University of Rochester, 2005; KEY Program, 2006

Current city/state of residence:  New York, NY

Job Title: Agent / Artist Representative

Employer: AMI

Community activities: New York Yankees


When and how did you choose your major?

I chose my major freshman year (music major).  I almost transferred to Eastman for classical saxophone and was “searching” for another major at the River Campus, but nothing excited me as much as music.  But I had no interest in being a full-time Eastman student and didn’t want to limit myself to the world of saxophone and only saxophone.  So I stayed at the Music Department and was so happy I did.  Looking back on it, I feel like I had much more meaningful and well-rounded experience than I would have had at Eastman exclusively.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

During the my time at U of R, I was a member of the Midnight Ramblers (a cappella group), Delta Upsilon Fraternity, Meridian Society, Undergraduate Musicians’ Council and was a saxophonist in the Eastman Wind Ensemble.  Without a doubt (and no offense to the other “activities”), my time in the Ramblers was the most valuable.  As Music Director, I learned not only how to manage the group musically, but also how to manage everyone as people.  As a result of the years leading the Ramblers, I feel confident leading any group, musical or not.  I was largely responsible for planning and booking our annual Spring Tours and became comfortable picking up the phone (a borrowed cell phone from the Music Department) and trying to sell our group to schools, baseball teams, churches, restaurants, etc.  Now, as a full-time agent representing jazz musicians, I can say with confidence that my days booking gigs for the Ramblers played a major roll in developing and refining those skills.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am an Artist Representative at AMI, an agency that represents about 20 jazz artists.  In other words, I’m an agent and I’m responsible for getting my artists work performing at festivals, performing arts centers, colleges and universities, clubs, concert halls, etc, around the US and world.  Three of us started the company over 5 years ago (along with fellow UR Grad David Soson ’07) after leaving our old company.  After booking many gigs for the Ramblers during my time in the group, I realized that I could actually make money booking the performance, not just performing.  It was something I felt comfortable doing.  This job also gives me great flexibility, which is important for my other career as a musical theater composer.  I’ve been an active member in the BMI Musical Theater workshop for 6 years (it’s a laboratory for musical theater).  BMI is a place where my songs can be tested and evaluated by my peers and other musical theater professionals.  Avenue Q and Next to Normal are two of the recent popular Broadway shows to have been developed in the workshop.  Since graduation, I’ve written close to 100 songs while working on 4 different musicals, the latest of which was commissioned by the George Street Playhouse: Austin the Unstoppable.  I’ve been fortunate to balance both of these careers, although during rehearsal periods or intense writing weeks, it is difficult to manage.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Without a doubt, my Music Theory courses helped shape the way I write vocal arrangements (ie I try to avoid parallel fifths and look for opportunities for voice exchanges).  Four semesters of Music History gave me a fairly rigorous background of the seminal works and composers.  Spending hours and hours listening to recordings in the Art Music Library in preparation for horrifying listening exams planted seeds in my head and feel have influenced me as a composer.  For my Senior Honors Project, I wrote and produced an original musical.  This undoubtedly prepared me to better enter the world of musical theater.  But probably the most important skill I learned in the Department was how to think – and how to do so critically.  Dr. Kowalke, especially, forced me to be a better writer and organize my thoughts in a more clear and coherent way.  That has nothing to do with music, but everything to do with everything.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

For me, having a balance is very important.  And it also helps if your work life is something you really enjoy.  Sometimes I try to have these worlds intersect.  For example, if I’m going to see one of my artists at a jazz club in NYC, then I’ll invite a friend.  Easy!  I get to see jazz and my friend.  But I do think it’s important to separate work and personal life too because it keeps you sane and fresh, and also in touch with your friends.  I go to a bunch of Yankees games — always a nice escape.  I try, whenever possible to never let too much time go by without seeing each of my friends, or at least speaking with them on the phone.  One last thing: certain careers make harder to have a rich and rewarding personal life.  So far, I’m able to do it fairly well.  If that’s an important factor, I would suggest that you consider that when choosing a field.

What advice do you have for current students?

There’s no rush.  Try to figure out what makes you happy because I promise if you go to work actually wanting to go to work every day, you’ll be in good shape.  I don’t think there’s any right or wrong career path.  Obviously if you have a long-term goal or a five-year plan, that’s great.  Go for it.  But don’t feel that you’re stuck to that plan.  Do what you think is best and make career decisions that you want to make, not what other people think you should make.  Make sense?  Lastly, remember that you’re smart.  Don’t sell yourself short.


Pep Band: On the Road Again?

By Joseph Bailey ’15
Intern, Univ. Communications

After three years cheering and encouraging the men’s and women’s basketball teams on to victory at home, the UR Pep Band may find itself going on the road once again. This particular group of peppy individuals, under the capable direction of Greg Savich, is made up of freshman through seniors, flute players down to tuba players, and everyone in between. The band can normally be seen rocking the crowds during home basketball games in the Palestra and during home football games in Fauver Stadium. However, once in a while, the Pep Band has the unique privilege of playing for the ‘Jackets at a Division III final four game. And, with the top ranked Yellowjackets dominating their opponents this season, they have high hopes of joining in on the fun of March Madness.

The band has been founded three times in its history. The present director, Greg Savich, founded the current band when he was a sophomore, in the fall 2003. The late, great Frederick Fennell directed the original band, founded in the 1930s. Eastman students will be familiar with Fennell because of his instrumental role in founding the Eastman Wind Ensemble. There was also another, second band, which lasted into the mid-nineties. Today, the Yellowjacket Pep Band wears their distinctive blue and yellow striped Rugby shirts, and favors upbeat music and outlandish antics at games to pep up the fans and team alike.

When the team is winning, and spirits are running high in the Palestra, director Savich tends to go with Pep Band standards, including “The Impression That I Get,” and “Take on Me.” Towards the end of such games, when the team is beginning to settle into its groove, the director often opts for the old favorite “Let’s Groove.” When the team seems to be getting off track, a simple “Let’s Go Band” or even “Long Train Runnin’” can help them to refocus their energies. Finally, whenever John DiBartolomeo scores, and there is a timeout shortly after, the band makes every effort to play “Johnny B. Goode.”

According Hilary Dietz ’13, past pep band co-president, the last time the band traveled for basketball was the spring of her freshman year, in March 2010. That year, the band had the honor of going—all-expenses-paid—to Illinois-Weslyan University in Bloomington, Ill. Dietz says that whenever the band is away for the final four, “Everyone gives 200 percent.” The last trip to Illinois was particularly special for Dietz, because as a native of the state, her parents were able to attend the game. This year, she has high hopes that the men and women’s teams can advance far enough through March Madness to secure a road trip for the band.

Pep BandWhen asked how the band and games are different at the final four when compared to the Palestra, Savich replied, “The band plays very loudly, is very energetic and focused, and cheers a lot.” With regards to the fans, he described it as a weird experience, because the school who is located closest to the tournament play can easily bring the most fans to cheer.

Savich said that he tends to choose pieces that compliment the feel of the game. For example, if the game is close and nearing the end, he will choose music that is fast-paced, or a piece like “Final Countdown.” To motivate band members, Savich looks to the words of Duke Ellington: “You play with the intent to commit something.” Hopefully, that something will lead the men and women to victory as the regular season draws to a close, and the teams head for the playoffs.

Catch the Pep Band in action for the last regular season home basketball games on Sunday, Feb. 17 at noon (men) and 2 p.m. (women).

Pep band members for 2012-2013 include: Clarinets: Christine Ziegler ’16, Kathryn Strelevitz ’16, Joe Bailey ’15, Flutes: Hilary Dietz ’13, Keira Crist ’15, Ryan Challener ’14, Aurora Dopp’13, Aubrie Sauer’16, Saxophones: Taryn Mockus ’13, Ethan Senator ’15, Patrick Callanan ’14, Danika Teverovsky16, Kelsey Tuttle ’16, Amanda Baker ’13, Shyah Miller’16, Kaitlin Pellicano ’13, Trombones: Bennet Niedenburg ’16, Alexander Venuti ’14, Mellophones: Emily Danchik ’13, Nicholas Van Swol ’15, Trumpets: JamesWojakowski’15, Jonathan Strumpf ’15, Brandon Daehn ’13, Jeff Vankerhove ’13, Michael Myers ’16, Crystal Hans ’15, NathanBook’14, Zeke Starling ’16, Tubas: Daniel Macguigan ’14, JuliaMorris’15, Percussion: Marz Saffore ’15, Chelsea Hans ’14, Mike Tamburrino ’16, Director: Gregory Savich ’06.

New Class Explores Religion & Hip Hop

By Caitlin Mack
Univ. Communications

With the addition of the new class “Religion and Hip Hop Culture” this fall semester, the University of Rochester has begun to put academic investment into an important piece of Americana – hip hop – a phenomenon that is slowly but surely catching on at institutions of higher learning across the country.  However, the pairing of these two cultural topics, religion and hip hop, is an unconventional one.  Students posed an important question on the first day of class: how can a whole semester be spent studying the relationship between the two?

“It is the intersection of religion and hip hop that drew many of the students,” explains Associate Professor of Religion, Margarita Guillory, who instructs the class and is a recent addition to the Department of Religion and Classics at the University. “My hope with the class is to show that hip hop culture can serve as an interpretive framework to illustrate the religious views of the artist, including the different ways in which they view religion.”

Guillory’s active teaching style permits open and honest discussion and what she calls “reciprocity between the student and the professor.”  She wants the class to be a “safe space” for people to express their thoughts about religion.

“There is such a broad approach to religion in this course that all types of students can see how religion is illustrated. When you listen to the students, you can actually hear the personal connection with different functions of religion,” Guillory explains.

Students need not be religious or fluent in hip hop culture to take the class, which is designed for students of different backgrounds. Those who grew up without exposure to the music are “blank slates with no preconceived notions” who will “be a bit more open than the student with prior knowledge,” explains Guillory.

Guillory recently completed a doctoral degree in religious studies at Rice University in spring 2011.  Her specialties include American religious history, African American religion, and the intersection of African American religion and American culture, the latter of which is the foundation for “Religion and Hip Hop.”

Notably, there has been a recent increase in the study of hip hop culture in higher education, and Guillory hopes that the University of Rochester will follow suit.  Hip Hop archives were established at Harvard and Cornell universities in 2002 and 2007 respectively, and Cornell has amassed the largest hip hop archive pertaining to the early years of hip hop, called “Born in the Bronx,” in addition to enlisting “grandfather of hip hop” Afrika Bambaataa as a visiting professor for three years.

While completing her degree, Guillory helped teach a class at Rice called “Religion and Hip Hop Culture in America.”  The course, co-taught by visiting professor and rapper Bun B, grew from a roster of about 50 students in 2004 to over 200 students in 2011, becoming the largest humanities class offered at Rice.  This immense popularity is likely attributed to a roster of famed guest speakers, including Mike Epps and Russell Simmons, and a celebrity panel that included artists like Talib Kweli and Lupe Fiasco.

Guillory knew that the “context was right” in her decision to create a similar class at Rochester after her arrival last year.  The religion department was very supportive of her pursuit and aware that she had taught a similar class at Rice.  Furthermore, given the strong music education opportunities associated with the Eastman School of Music and the College’s strong music department, she knew there was a sizeable student population that would be interested in the topic.

Rochester’s academic environment, specifically the open curriculum and the students’ ability to create their own major, also inspired Guillory.  She explains that the academic freedom and the interdisciplinary nature associated with student-crafted majors “creates a space for a class like ‘Religion and Hip Hop Culture’ to exist on this campus.”

Guillory is focused on making the class at Rochester “more robust” by broadening the conception of what religion really is in the context of the “diverse terrain of hip hop culture.”  She hopes the class will show how hip-hop culture can offer an “interpretive lens” for students to analyze artists interpretations of religion and their own environment, including the “humanistically-centered ways” in which people view religion.

Guillory emphasizes that she would like the class to impact the Rochester community, and intends to “bridge the community and the U of R campus” by bringing in a local artist.

According to Guillory, “the class will not analyze ‘every dimension’ of hip hop because there are some parts of the culture that lack religious sensibility.” She acknowledges that there is “definitely a hierarchy of what is publicly displayed” in hip hop; often, popular songs capitalize on the commercialization of “braggadocious” (those who brag about the fame and wealth) artists like Jay-Z or Rick Ross.  Guillory explains, “I’m not arguing that hip hop is religious, but rather that there are certain dimensions of hip hop culture that we can tap into in a very broad way,” such as existential or socially-conscious hip hop.

Guillory was interested in religion at a young age and says she is a “product of the hip hop movement.”  In addition to teaching, she is part a collaborative writing group, “CERCL,” that is currently writing a book called “Breaking Bread, Breaking Beats,” which combines conversation with hip hop artists and the Church about common topics like sexuality and globalization.  She currently serves as co-editor of the Religious Studies Review, and has published several articles and book chapters on various aspects of religion, women studies, and hip-hop. Before pursuing her doctoral degree in 2011 and a master’s degree in theological studies in 2005, Guillory was a high school science teacher for 10 years.

Article and photo provided by Caitlin Mack, an intern in University Communications.

Anonymous Willpower: Eastman Doctoral Student Takes on Rochester’s First Fringe Festival

Univ. Communications – Erin Futterer, ’14E (DMA), a doctoral candidate studying horn performance at the Eastman School of Music, has lent her strong musical background and passion for “cross-media” into helping plan Rochester’s first Fringe Festival, which will take place from September 19-23.

A native of Arkansas, Futterer graduated from Northwestern University in 2007, majoring in horn performance, and went abroad for her masters, studying at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, Norway. While there, she impressively combined her master’s studies with a Fulbright fellowship studying under world-renowned horn musician and teacher Frøydis Ree Wekre.

In addition to earning her degree at Eastman, Futterer works as a teaching assistant at the River Campus and stays involved in multiple arts and musical associations, including the Arts Leadership Program, Pegasus Early Music, and the Sound Exchange Group of Musicians. This summer, she embarked on her latest endeavor, helping to plan the Fringe Festival through an internship with the Catherine Filene Shouse Arts Leadership Program.

According to Futterer, the festival is an avenue for “promoting artistic culture” and helps to “connect different artistic mediums.” The event will feature local Rochester musicians, artists, dancers, and performers, complemented by headliners Patton Oswald, the Harlem Gospel Choir, and aerial dance group Project Bandaloop.

The concept of the “fringe” tradition started in Edinburgh in 1947 when eight theater groups turned up at the Edinburgh International Festival uninvited and decided to perform at venues they organized themselves.  Today, Fringe Festivals are held in nearly 200 cities around the world, including 20 cities in the U.S.

Fringe Festival Director Erica Fee ’99, whom Futterer describes as an “incredible mentor,” gave her the chance to contribute to the festival in any way that she wanted. Futterer says she picked the “fun job” of party planner, helping to organize a launch party aimed at getting the performers to know and support each other.

Futterer explains that a major aim of the festival is to “bring people of different specialties together” so artists of different mediums can get to know each other as “comrades rather than competitors.” She notes that one of the best things about the festival is that it is “100% nonprofit” and provides little-known artists and performers with greater recognition and support.

More than 20 venues have lent their support for the effort, with shows at Geva Theater, Eastman Theater, Millennium Park, and Little Theater, among others. Gibbs St. in downtown Rochester will shutdown to host the weekend-long festival. The effort has the support of many local businesses in the Rochester community, including the Boylan Code Law Firm in the Culver Road Armory, in which festival board meetings are held, several Rochester schools, including the University of Rochester and Eastman, as well as its biggest sponsor, First Niagara Bank.

Futterer has been thrilled about the process of organizing the Fringe, getting to know some amazing people in Rochester, and being a part of the effort to bring the city’s “hidden arts culture” and “little gems” up to the surface for more people to experience. She also appreciates that the festival “doesn’t speak to a certain age level or a certain genre … it is something for everybody.” The Fringe features 120 different shows, and covers a wide range of art forms:  theatre, dance, comedy, music, film, visual arts, multidisciplinary, children’s, and variety.

Tickets for the Fringe Festival are available at the Eastman Theatre Box Office on 433 East Main Street, Wegmans “That’s the Ticket!” locations, at the door of all venue locations, and on the festival’s website, http://rochesterfringe.com. A festival guide, which is featured on the website, provides listings of all shows and venues.

Article written by Caitlin Mack, an intern in University Communications.