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Expressing Individuality in Faculty Recitals

Penny Kruse

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Published: July 28, 2014 at 6:06 PM [UTC]

One of the things I have enjoyed most about teaching at Bowling Green State University College of Musical Arts is planning and performing my annual faculty recital. I feel fortunate to have outstanding faculty members who are eager to collaborate. As a violinist, I always have a running “bucket list” of pieces that I have never played and want to learn. In addition to performing with members of our piano faculty and my other string colleagues, I have programmed works on my faculty recitals that include clarinet, trumpet, harp, and narrator. Some of the pieces on my “bucket list” are war horses that I want to add to my repertoire. Others may be something that I stumbled onto on the internet or browsing in a music store in Australia!

Last year when a doctoral pianist told me how much she enjoyed my faculty recital, she said, “It was so YOU!” I knew exactly what it meant, because my repertoire choices reflected much of my personality. I included a beautiful work by Rebecca Clarke, Three Pieces for two violins and piano. Having grown up with my older sister also playing the violin, I always think I know the entire repertoire for two violins or two violins and piano. However, musicologists continue to discover works that have not been published. These beautiful pieces by Rebecca Clarke fall into that category. Having heard them on a recording, I knew I had to play them. I had a new violin colleague last fall and so it was a wonderful way to include him in my recital program.

Another piece on my recital, Ferdinand for Violin and Narrator by Alan Ridout and text by Munroe Leaf, was something I stumbled onto surfing the web, curious if there was anything written for violin and narrator. This humorous piece is based on the children’s story of Ferdinand the Bull. Geoff Stephenson who teaches voice and musical theater at BGSU was more than a willing and enthusiastic conspirator. Such fun to interact with Geoff and hear the audience laughing at a violin recital! If interested, you can watch our performance on YouTube.

My repertoire selections also reflect my current interests. One year I performed works by all women composers. Having attended a performance of Blue Man Group, I wanted to find a way to break down the division between the audience and the performers. I wrote first person narratives on each of the composers. I had female members of my studio stand up with only a flashlight and speak the narrative before performing each selection.

So what will I play this year? This program may be the most atypical to date. Of course there is a piece from my “bucket list.” I will play Jennifer Higdon’s String Poetic. Higdon is a BGSU alumna. I will also play a piece that I have performed many times throughout my life and one of my dear friends played it at my wedding, The Lark Ascending by Vaughan-Williams. The second half of the program is when I will step outside my comfort zone. First, I will play A Night in Jakarta by New York composer David Snow for 5ing electric violin and recorded sound. I first performed this piece at BGSU on a Halloween concert, the fall after I had convinced my department chair to purchase an electric instrument. A large number of my violin students coming to BGSU already owned an electric violin.

For the first performance of David Snow’s piece, in keeping with the Halloween theme, I dressed up like Mark Wood! I do not know what I will be wearing in September, but I will not be hiding my identity this time. The violin I will be playing is a Mark Wood Stingray that he has autographed. The next piece will be Improvisation on a Bach Prelude for Solo Violin and Loop Pedal by Christian Howes. In July 2013, I attended Chris’ Creative Strings Workshop. I am taking baby steps in learning to improvise. Once again, I convinced my department chair to purchase more equipment, including the looper. At string conferences, I attend any sessions that deal with looping. Playing this piece in public involves a large leap of faith in electronics that I do not understand, as well as freeing myself from playing what is written on the page. Keep in mind, I have spent many years practicing to perfect the art of playing what is on the page. The final piece on my recital will be Adam DeGraff’s arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. When I was in the Kansas City Symphony, I was hired to play concertmaster for the re-emergence tour of Plant and Page. We rehearsed without the band to a CD, playing what we call footballs, whole notes that sounded quite beautiful. Our naiveté was revealed when we approached the deafening sounds of the arena. We did not play in every song. There was no conductor and I was a fearful leader. The presence of sound shields was comical. One piece seemed to run right into the next one. We could not even tell if we were supposed to be playing. Though this felt and still seems horrifyingly embarrassing, I do not think the audience noticed or cared. If you had told me then that I would one day play Led Zeppelin on a Faculty Recital, I would have declared you insane!

Yes, I will be stepping out of the comfort zone, but I will also be having fun. I hope the audience will as well! Wednesday, September 3, 8 p.m., Bryan Recital Hall, Moore Musical Arts Center, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH. Also streamed live on the web at

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