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:: Cellist Darrett Adkins: Practicing What He Preaches
:: From Studio to Stage and Back Again: Angela Cheng


Professor of Music Theory Brian Alegant published articles in the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy and Intégral, made presentations at international and national music theory conferences, and gave three lectures at Oberlin’s Piano Festival and a preconcert lecture for the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra concert at Severance Hall in spring 2005. Pedagogically, he introduced a modified contract grading scheme and integrated iPods into a variety of courses within the music theory curriculum. Last year Alegant completed his three-year stint as editor of Music Theory Spectrum.

In October 2005, during fall break, Stephen Aron, Teacher of Classical Guitar, served as host and artistic and managing director of the Guitar Foundation of America’s International Convention 2005, the largest annual guitar event in North America. The foundation’s conventions are hosted in different locations throughout the nation each year, and last year’s was held at the Conservatory. The 6-day extravaganza drew 450 registrants—a record—and featured 20 concerts, 2 international competitions, 5 master classes, 18 lectures, 4 after-hours events, and a large trade show. For Clear Note Publications in October, Aron released a new collection of aria arrangements from Handel’s Messiah. He also performed in New York City on the roster of the New York Guitar Festival and in several Ohio concert series during 2004-05.

Professor of Music Education Peggy Bennett delivered keynote addresses for a singing symposium in Newfoundland in July 2005 and for the Education Through Music organization in New York City last September. She also gave invited presentations at the Research in Music Education conference in Exeter, England, the Music EdVentures conference in Seattle, the Mountain Lake Colloquium in Virginia, and, with her Oberlin music-education colleagues Joanne Erwin, Jody Kerchner, and John Knight, at the Texas Music Education Association conference in San Antonio. She presented a training workshop, Music for Parents and Children, for staff at the Children First Center in northern Indiana. In October 2005, she was the featured guest on a two-hour live television program produced by SUNY-Albany that was viewed by 1,500 early-childhood care providers across New York state. The program received honors from two international competitions: the Communi-cator Awards, which honors excellence in communications, and the Aurora Awards, which focuses on the film and video industry. Her article “So, Why Sol-Mi?” was published in the January 2005 edition of Music Educators Journal. Bennett continues to offer the PlayParty Project for area families and MusicPlay, part of the Conservatory’s Community Music School, for young children and their parents.

Teacher of Tuba Ronald Bishop has retired as principal tuba of the Cleveland Orchestra, a seat he had occupied since 1967. To commemorate this milestone in his career, two area music critics profiled him in August 2005: Donald Rosenberg of the Plain Dealer, and Elaine Guregian of the Akron Beacon Journal. Bishop was also the subject of a profile in Tuba News; his former student Michael Roest ’05 wrote the article. Bishop, whose music career has spanned 50 years, served as soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra on numerous occasions. He was the last brass player still in the orchestra to have been hired by George Szell. He has performed with the American Wind Symphony, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, and the San Francisco Opera. He continues to perform with the Blossom Festival Band and the NEOTuba Quartet (J.C. Sherman ’94, also a quartet member, plays euphonium.) Bishop conducted a master class at the 2005 Bowling Green State University Tuba and Euphonium Festival.

In January 2005, Kathleen Chastain, Clinical Assistant Professor of Flute, lectured at the Officina De Musica Festival in Brazil with oboist and festival director Alex Klein ’87, AD ’89. With mezzo-soprano and Associate Professor of Singing Lorraine Manz, Professor of Flute Michel Debost, and pianist Laurent Boukobza, she performed a recital, Music of the Belle Epoque, at the Cleveland Museum of Art in May 2005. That summer she delivered a lecture, “The Business of Music,” at a Texas Woman’s University conference, conducted a master class for the Dallas Flute Club, participated in the Oberlin Flute Institute, conducted master classes in France with Korean students, and performed at a benefit concert for the church of Trouhaut in Burgundy, France, with flutists Michel Debost and Francois Roth, cellist Paul Boufil, and soprano Jeanne Roth. In October 2005 she presented a recital and master class at the College of Music at the University of North Texas, where she also gave a presentation, “Surviving in the Music Business,” for the school’s Career Night.

During 2005, Associate Professor of Piano Alvin Chow performed frequently with his wife, Associate Professor of Piano Angela Cheng, at numerous venues, including concerts in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and Denver. They were also featured recitalists at the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy in Chicago and the Alberta Piano Teachers Conference. Chow was invited to give master classes at the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts, the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Indiana University, Seattle Young Artists Festival, Metropolitan State College in Denver, California State University at Fullerton, and at the Oberlin International Piano Festival; for the latter, he was also a faculty member and an adjudicator. Chow also judged the finals of the Music Teachers National Association Competition in Seattle and served on the summer faculty of the ARIA International Summer Academy in Indiana. In June he gave the keynote address at the Art of Teaching conference for the Community School of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

In May 2005, Professor of Flute Michel Debost participated in concerts and master classes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and performed a recital and taught a course in Portugal. He served a residency and performed a recital in Denton, Texas, and, last summer in France, he held recitals and concerts in Burgundy and a master class in Lorraine. In the fall he served as a judge for the Jean-Pierre Rampal International Competition in Paris, taught a class and performed in a concert in Switzerland, and served a residency and performed a recital at the Sibelius Akademie in Helsinki. In January 2006 he joined his wife, Clinical Assistant Professor of Flute Kathleen Chastain, in Brazil for the Officina De Musica Festival with Alex Klein ’87, AD ’89. His book The Simple Flute (Oxford 2002) is now in its second printing; it is also being published in Spanish and German after having been translated into French, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. He continues to write a monthly column for Flute Talk.

In April 2005, Professor of Jazz Studies and Double Bass Peter Dominguez played at the Cleveland Heights jazz spot Nighttown with Visiting Professor of Jazz Saxophone Gary Bartz, trumpeter Theo Croker ’07, pianist Sullivan Fortner ’08, and drummer Kassa Overall ’06. Wynton Marsalis, in town for Cleveland’s Tri-C Jazz Fest, sat in during their last set. Dominguez also performed in the Jazz Fest, joining Jamey Haddad and Visiting Teacher of Jazz Piano Dan Wall for performances on the Tri-C campus; the three also performed in March at the University of Toledo. Dominguez provided accompaniment for Broadway singing and dancing legend Chita Rivera when she appeared at the Cleveland Playhouse in May 2005. Other appearances include: Walsh College with jazz vocalist Ki Allen and guitarist Bob Fraser; the University of Wisconsin in Madison with bassists Richard Davis, Rufus Reid, and Diana Gannett, and saxophone great David Murray; and the Cleveland Museum of Art with saxophonist Ernie Krivda. With the Tim Zannes Quartet (Dominguez, Wall, Carmen Castaldi, and Zannes), he appears on the CD The Tunnel, released in 2004 on Big Moist Records. He coordinated 80 students and 17 clinicians at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, taught master classes, adjudicated recitals, coached ensembles, and performed with clinicians. For the International Society of Bassists Conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in June 2005, he served as a tone judge for the Luthiers’ Competition and adjudicated the 14-and-under division of the double bass competition. He also taught a master class.

In February 2005, Professor of Music Education Joanne Erwin presented two sessions on string pedagogy,“Heterogeneous vs. Homogeneous String Pedagogy” and “New Directions in String Teaching,” at the American String Teachers’ National Conference in Reno, Nevada. That spring she conducted the Capital University Suzuki Festival Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio. Last summer she directed the Chamber Music Camp for students in the Northern Ohio area, which included ensemble work, improvisation, composition, Dalcroze, and listening classes. In fall 2005, she conducted the Alaska All-State Orchestra in Anchorage.

Assistant Professor of Composition Ross Feller was a finalist in the Atlanta-based new music ensemble Bent Frequency’s 2005 Call for Scores. His compositions were performed in Oberlin by the Contemporary Music Ensemble, directed by Gardner Professor of Music Tim Weiss, and by Professor of Trombone James DeSano and cellist Emily DuFour ’05; at Kenyon College; at the EyeDrum in Atlanta by Atlanta Symphony cellist Brad Ritchie; at the Society of Composers’ annual conference, held at Butler University in Indianapolis; and at the American College Dance Festival Association conference at Bowling Green State Uni-versity. Feller wrote a book chapter,“E-sketches: Brian Ferneyhough’s Use of Computer-Assisted Compositional Tools,” for A Handbook to 20th-Century Musical Sketches, edited by Patricia Hall and Friedemann Sallis and published in 2004 by Cambridge University Press. He wrote two CD reviews for the Computer Music Journal (Vol. 29, nos. 2 and 4). In May 2005, he presented a paper at the 4th Annual EthNoise! Conference at the University of Chicago. In Baden-Baden, Germany, in August 2005, he presented a paper at the 7th International Symposium on Systems Research in the Arts: Music, Environmental Design, and the Choreography of Space.

Director of Choral Ensembles and Associate Professor of Choral Conducting Hugh Floyd presented a preconcert lecture, “Beethoven’s Missa: Creator Confronts Creator,” at the May 2005 performances of the work by the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. Floyd was chorus master for Cleveland Opera’s December 2005 production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore.

In a profile of Assistant Professor of Jazz Percussion Billy Hart for the July 2005 issue of Modern Drummer magazine, Ken Micallef called him “one of the unsung giants of jazz,” noting his more than 600 recordings and watershed performances with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, and, more recently, Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, and others. “Obviously, Hart is doing something that jazz musicians across wide stylistic divides find irresistible … approaching every gig with acute musicality, interpretive intelligence, and the kind of split-second decision-making skills that mark only the best studio musicians.” Hart was also featured on the October 2005 cover of the French magazine Jazz Hot. The corresponding article called him “an energetic and subtle drummer … with an astonishing drive.”

In January 2005, Associate Professor and Director of Music Education Jody Kerchner and Associate Professor of Music Education Joanne Erwin sponsored a winter-term project in Quito, Ecuador. There they accompanied six Conservatory students who worked with music students at the Franz Liszt Conservatory, founded by Sophia Izurieta de Ferro ’94, who is also the school’s president. Kerchner presented a research paper on the psychosocial development of female music-education students at a conference at the University of Exeter (U.K.) in April 2005. In July she served as a visiting lecturer at the University of Connecticut, teaching a graduate choral methods course. She presented a research paper on the music-listening processes of children at the Conference on Applied Research and Music Education at Oakland University in Michigan in November. She also served as guest conductor for the Pennsylvania State Region V High School Honors Festival in March 2005 and, in May, at the Akron (Ohio) City Schools’ May Fest. Last year she founded the Oberlin College Women’s Chorale, comprising some 20 student singers from the Conservatory and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Assistant Professor of Harp Yolanda Kondonassis’ recent engagements include performances with the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Phoenix Symphony, as well as appearances at Spivey Hall in Atlanta and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. In a review of her performance with the Phoenix Symphony, the Arizona Republic wrote, “Kondonassis is as close to a superstar as harp virtuosity will allow. It was a bit like going to the bullpen and getting Randy Johnson.” Of her recital in the International Recital Series at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the Deseret Morning News wrote, “Kondonassis put her inspired artistry on display time and time again, mesmerizing her listeners and dispelling any doubt that she is today’s leading harpist.” She presented master classes at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Curtis Institute, and the Interlochen Arts Academy. Her latest book, The Yolanda Kondonassis Collection, was recently published by Carl Fischer and contains more than 30 harp solos, including her most popular transcriptions and compositions. She was a featured artist at the most recent American Harp Society National Conference in a performance of Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto with the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra. Of Debussy’s Harp, her 10th and latest Telarc CD, Gramophone Magazine wrote “the clarity, color, and rhythmic vitality of Kondonassis’s playing is anything but superficial... [her] supple and shapely playing is a delight.” Her albums have sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide.

A review in the Baltimore Sun praised Assistant Professor of Violin Kyung Sun Lee for bringing “a refined technique and strongly animated phrasing” to a concerto by French baroque composer Jean-Marie Leclair during her March 2005 performance with the Orchestre Chambre de Francais and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society at Goucher College in Baltimore. A Washington Post reviewer wrote of her performance with the same orchestra at the National Gallery of Art that month: “[she] pulled off [the] virtuoso high jinks” in two showy works by Camille Saint-Saens “with aplomb, but her warm tone and supple, natural phrasing were what made [them] memorable.”

Professor of Singing Daune Mahy led 95 students, 12 faculty members, and 5 staff members on the 2005 Oberlin-in-Italy Program, which she directs each summer. Concerts included two performances—in San Lorenzo in Campo and in Pesaro—of Rossini’s Messa di Gloria with soloists and orchestra from the program joined by singers and musicians from the Coro San Carlo di Pesaro; four performances of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore in regional theaters in Urbania, Riccione, Montefiore di Campo, and Monte Urano; a performance of Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz, Rossini’s La Cambiale, and opera scenes; two Serate Musicali (musical evenings); four chamber music concerts; an evening of new compositions presented by the students and faculty in the composition group; and master classes with Mirella Freni, Enza Ferrari, and Paola Molinari. Oberlin faculty members joining Mahy on the program were Professors of Singing Gerald Crawford and Marlene Rosen, Professor of Violin Marilyn McDonald, Gardner Professor of Music and Associate Professor of Conducting Timothy Weiss, and Professor of Composition and Music Theory Randolph Coleman.

During the summer of 2005, Associate Professor of Singing Lorraine Manz taught voice in brief residencies for opera apprentices at Lyric Opera Cleveland and at the Interlochen Arts Camp Advanced Choral Program. In October she served as an adjudicator for the Harold Haugh Light Opera Competition, sponsored by the Comic Opera Guild in Ann Arbor and held in Howell, Michigan.

In 2005, Professor of Violin Marilyn McDonald again sponsored the student string quartet winter-term project at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where students perform on Vuillaume instruments in a concert hosted by Oberlin alumni and take their music to area schools for three days of outreach. McDonald continued her regular series with the Castle Trio and the Axelrod Quartet, touring with the latter to Central America and to Edmonton and Vancouver, and with the former to Charlottesville, Va. In March 2005, she played in the Grace Church concert series in New York City and served as concertmaster of Boston Baroque, performing in its series at Jordan Hall; a month earlier she appeared with Andrew Manze in the Pro Musica Series in Santa Fe. Summer activities included participating in the Oberlin-in-Italy program and the Apple Hill Summer Festival in New Hampshire, where a reunion of Obies played the Mendelssohn Octet. During her sabbatical, she worked with young students in conducting workshops in Wisconsin and Minnesota. She also collaborated with composer Enid Sutherland on a commission of an unaccompanied piece for baroque and modern violin.

Associate Professor of Musicology Charles Edward McGuire continues his work on aspects of British music and culture. In January 2005, his essay “Elgar’s Image: Music for the Empire” was published in The Cambridge Companion to Elgar, edited by Julian Rushton and Daniel Grimley (Cambridge University Press). Last summer, he delivered two papers at conferences in the United Kingdom: “The Long Decline: Elgar, the Musical Herald, and Modernism” at the University of Birmingham’s International Elgar Conference at Stratford-upon-Avon and “The Awakening: Teresa del Riego and the Music of British Women’s Suffrage” at the Fifth Biennial Conference of Music in 19th-Century England. In November, with Deborah Heckert of the University of Virginia, he organized and co-moderated a panel of eight experts on the historiography of British music at the American Musicological Society’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. McGuire continues to serve as vice president of the North American British Music Studies Association and worked on the group’s 2006 summer conference, held at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.

Associate Professor of Viola da Gamba and Cello Catharina Meints performed with the Oberlin Baroque Ensemble during a concert in January 2005 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as did the Jasper Quartet, which was serving its winter-term residency at the Smithsonian. The event honored Lisa Goode Crawford’s retirement from the faculty. Meints taught master classes, coached chamber music, and performed in three faculty concerts for the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute, which had a record number of students. She presented her solo viola da gamba program, “The Amber Viol,” at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and at St. Columba’s Church in Washington, D.C., in November. Meints wrote program notes for the March 2006 release of Boston Records’ Building Castles in the Sky, a retrospective of the career of her husband, the late Professor of Oboe James Caldwell. She also performed on several of the pieces on the CD. During her last season as cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra, prior to her retirement in June 2006, she toured with them to the West Coast and twice to Europe.

Assistant Professor of Recorder Alison Melville’s solo CD, She’s Sweetest When She’s Naked, was released in 2005 on early-music.com. It features 18th-century Scottish music for baroque flute and recorder, and the reviews have been glowing, such as this one from the Whole Note: “As always, Alison Melville’s playing is exquisitely executed with warmth, wit, and tenderness.” Her Nordic-music group Ensemble Polaris performed for Radio-Canada in Montréal in January 2005, and the following March she was the soloist in Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos nos. 2 and 4 with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in Toronto. Later in the year she repeated those pieces with Canada’s Orchestra London in London, Ontario. In May 2005, Melville appeared with the Oberlin Baroque Ensemble at the Allen Memorial Art Museum and, as a member of the Toronto Consort, helped to premiere David Falliss’ Euridice Variations at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio. Melville also taught and performed at Amherst Early Music for two weeks in July 2005 at Bennington College in Vermont, gave master classes at the University of Western Ontario and Queen’s University, and participated in two productions with Opera Atelier/ Tafelmusik and numerous programs with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Toronto Consort, Baroque Music Beside the Grange, and Scaramella, among others.

Works by Jeffrey Mumford, Composer-in-Residence from 2004 to 2006, were performed at numerous venues throughout North America. Highlights include tango-variations performed by pianist Amy Dissanayake at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago and at the University of California, Davis; barbaglio dal manca performed by pianist Shannon Wettstein as part of a five-state tour; eight musings . . . revisiting memories performed by violinist Ole Bohn at the Monadnock Music Festival in New Hampshire; a focused expanse of evolving experience performed by the Cleveland Chamber Collective at the Cleveland Museum of Art as part of the museum’s NEO Show; an expanding distance of multiple voices premiered by violinist Lina Bahn at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; and an evolving romance for flute and piano premiered by flutist Christina Jennings and pianist Lura Johnson in Utica, N.Y. Recent commissions include in the company of encompassing hours (piano trio) for the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt (Vienna) and two haiku settings: of place and love for soprano, cello, and percussion with texts by poet Sonia Sanchez for the Network for New Music (Philadelphia). The Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra awarded Mumford a residency as part of the ASOL/Meet the Composer’s Music Alive program.

The work that has preoccupied Professor of Electronic and Computer Music Gary Lee Nelson for more than a decade caught the attention of the Boston Museum of Science (BMS). Nelson has been investigating sonomorphs, his term for musical elements derived by “genetic” coding and the natural selection of computer-generated sound. Nelson applied the research of Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins, who journeyed through a genetic cyberspace to model the evolution of organisms he called “biomorphs,” to his own research in the domain of sound—hence, sonomorphs. Nelson’s sonomorphs comprise a body of pieces in which musical phenotypes (a group having one or more characteristics in common) evolve through a combination of reproduction and genetic mutation. His sonomorph installation is part of a permanent exhibit at the BMS called Fish, Fads, and Fireflies: Playing by the Rules. Nelson linked a custom keyboard and monitor with a program that allows visitors to the museum to become composers by mutating the sonomorphs into sequences of sound and image. “Gary’s cutting-edge work in sound,” says the museum’s exhibit developer Susan Timberlake, “enables us to … expand the parameters of this fascinating field into a wholly different realm.”

Under the direction of Professor of Musicology Steven Plank, the Collegium Musicum performed a program in spring 2005 of liturgical polyphony by Lassus and Josquin at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky, and at Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh; the latter concert was at the invitation of Calvary’s Director of Music Alan Lewis ’84. In December the Collegium sang a concert of music by Gombert at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to these out-of-town performances, the Collegium Musicum held their regular Oberlin concerts. Plank serves as director of the group and director of Oberlin’s Division of Musicology. His 2004 book Choral Performance: A Guide to Historical Practice (Scarecrow Press) was reviewed in the July 2005 issue of Choir and Organ magazine. Rebecca Tavener called it “a firm first stepping-stone across the troubled waters of historically informed performance practice,” with “prose that is highly accessible and well seasoned with wit and common sense.”

In 2005, Director of the String Division and Professor of Viola Peter Slowik served as a judge for the Chicago Symphony Young Artists auditions, conducted master classes at the Beijing Central and Chengdu Conservatories in China, and performed Bach’s complete Viola da Gamba Sonatas at the Festival of Baroque Music in Saratoga, N.Y. Several of his precollege students won awards in various competitions, including a first place in the Chicago Viola Society competition (junior division), and, in the Ohio Viola Society competition, the Bach Interpretation Prize and a second prize in the pre-college division.

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Cellist Darrett Adkins: Practicing What He Preaches

(photo by Wendy Stulberg ’90)

Assistant Professor of Cello Darrett Adkins ’91 has been on the Conservatory faculty for three years. But it wasn’t that long ago that he was an Oberlin student himself.

Adkins may be the new kid on the block among professors, but he suspects his relatively close proximity in age to students and his familiarity with the current Oberlin experience contribute greatly to his effectiveness as a teacher.

“The Conservatory hasn’t changed all that dramatically since I was a student,” says Adkins, who studied at Oberlin with Norman Fischer ’71. “To have studied in the same place with many of the same characters makes me better able to understand the students and advise them in ways that are unique to Oberlin.”

A native of Tacoma, Washington, Adkins shares another important experience with his students: he regularly performs for live audiences. Besides maintaining his full-time teaching studio, Adkins performs with orchestras around the world, such as the Tokyo Philharmonic and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. He frequently performs chamber music concerts and recitals as a member of the Zephyr and the Oberlin trios and with his colleagues at the Juilliard School, where he attended graduate school (studying with Joel Krosnick) and where he still serves on the graduate faculty. (In an extraordinary case of pedagogical symmetry, Krosnick’s daughter Gwendolyn is studying cello with Adkins at Oberlin.) Adkins also spends a fair amount of time in the recording studio. He recently completed a solo recording that combines a Bach cello suite with works by a group of contemporary masters, and he has recorded a new cello quintet with the Juilliard String Quartet.

Such a hectic schedule allows him to sympathize with his students, who are juggling solo, chamber, and ensemble rehearsal time and performances in addition to studio time with Adkins. Sometimes, a lesson gets lost in the shuffle, although Adkins says he isn’t even sure that a strict weekly lesson is necessary. “Growth at the cello happens in spurts, and you can’t time those,” he says.

In fact, remaining active as a performer has positive repercussions for Adkins’ teaching. “There’s no question the two feed each other. If I haven’t tried something myself, I’m not sure that I can trust my memory to describe what a student ought to be doing. If I’m not performing, there’s a danger I’ll tell my students something that’s not true.”

Adkins’ interest in keeping current is apparent in his embrace of new music. A former member of the contemporary-music quartet Flux, his record of premieres is impeccable. He was the first in New York to perform Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XIV, and he has given U.S. and world premieres of cello concertos by Franco Donatoni and Andrew Mead, the latter with the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble. Adkins steadfastly encourages his students to play new music because, he says, it’s just one more thing that helps keep him, his students, and the musical world in general up to date.

“I was involved with new music as a student and new music is still a big part of my diet. I love to be involved in the music of our time. I’d hate for music history to stop at our generation."

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From Studio to Stage and Back Again: Angela Cheng

(Photo by Lisa Kohler)

Associate Professor of Piano Angela Cheng is more than a teacher and mentor; she’s also an active concert artist with a busy performance schedule.

She performs regularly with orchestras throughout her native Canada and gives solo recitals and takes part in chamber music all over the world. All told, she performs an average of 40 concerts per year.

Cheng has been in demand since she took the Gold Medal at the 1986 Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition and first prizes at the William Kapell and the Montreal International piano competitions. Her résumé also includes awards from the Canada Council and the Mozarteum in Austria.

Maintaining a dual career involves extra work and sacrifice. But Cheng says it’s worth it, especially since the two aspects of her life actually fit together quite well, the one benefiting the other.

“I believe that my playing helps my students,” she says. “I’m out there struggling with nerves just like they are, so I can identify with their emotions. I can help them with their performance preparation. Having performed many of the same pieces my students play, I can share with them the fruits of my own labor. On the other hand, my teaching helps my playing. Having to explain in words what I do only makes my own practicing clearer. It’s a wonderful thing!”

Not every professor could pull off Cheng’s schedule. Cheng says she herself might not be able to handle it were it not for her husband, Alvin Chow—a piano laureate in his own right—who is also on the Oberlin piano faculty.

Chow is there to help her whenever necessary, says Cheng. “We’ve always had a great working relationship. That’s basically been our pattern for the last 16 years. We help each other out in every way, at school and at home. He’s my prince.”

Cheng was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Edmonton, Canada. From there, she went on to study at the Juilliard School and Indiana University. Through her studies with her mentor, pianist Menahem Pressler, Cheng has found her own musical voice. It’s an ability she tries to pass on to her own students.

“I hope that during the time they’re with me, my students learn to make decisions on their own, based on what the music tells them. I don’t just say, ‘Do this.’ I always try to give them reasons. That way, hopefully, they learn to become more independent. They might not always make the choices I would, but it’s fine as long as their reasons
are valid.”

Prior to joining the Oberlin faculty in 1999, Cheng and her husband both taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Cheng says she had to adjust her teaching style when she made the move.

“The level is so much higher here. But they’re also younger, and so learning how to nurture them and help them improve has been a real challenge for me. However, the most important thing to me still is to tailor musical solutions to the individual student. Seeing their development and progress is one of the most satisfying and rewarding aspects of my life.”

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