Jennifer Higdon receives honorary doctorate, gives commencement address
By Jennifer Sobolewski
Jennifer Higdon’s life has been full of surprises. The BGSU alumna and composer admitted during her commencement address on Dec. 19 that much of her success, both personally and professionally, would likely have never happened had she stuck with her original plan at the University to become a professional flutist.
Instead of playing in an orchestra, Higdon ‘86 is one of America’s most acclaimed and most frequently performed living composers. She has become a major figure in contemporary classical music, with commissions in the orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and wind ensemble genres. An opera, written by Higdon and based on the book “Cold Mountain,” will premier next year in Santa Fe.
In addition to giving the commencement address, Higdon was also awarded an honorary doctorate from BGSU during the ceremony.
She holds doctoral and master’s degrees in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania, a bachelor’s degree in flute performance from BGSU, and an Artist Diploma in music composition from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she now holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition Studies.
Her Percussion Concerto won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in January 2010. Higdon also received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto.
In her address, Higdon challenged students to be open to the unexpected possibilities that could come their way and to strive to make new rules for living their life.
“The reality is we are not always able to imagine how events will unfold,” Higdon said. “The ability to think beyond the norm, and beyond expectations, can make a lifetime of the ‘amazing.’”
“Thinking outside the box has brought us the light bulb, personal computers, iPhones, the cure for diseases, Post-it notes, and the Internet. Many of the things we enjoy casually in our lives occurred because someone accidentally stumbled down a different path than what they had originally intended.”
Higdon also encouraged the new graduates to not be afraid to fail. “Failure only occurs when you don’t try. Success comes when you move past an event, and gain the most that you can from it.”
She also encouraged the new alumni to push themselves, to make every day unique, and to try to not get bogged down in daily routines.
“Can you imagine if you got to the end of your life and you could look back and say ‘Everyday, I made someone’s day a little better’? Small gestures—big results. Life is not a predetermined route. It’s never what you expect, but that’s what makes it possible for you to scale mountains of experience.”
Pulitzer Prizer/Grammy award winner and BGSU alumna Jennifer Higdon’s latest CD has been issued on the Naxos American Classics Series. It contains her Sky Quartet (string quartet), Amazing Grace” (arr. for string quartet), Dark Wood (bassoon, violin, cello, piano), Viola Sonata, and String Trio (violin, viola, cello), performed by the Serafin String Quartet with Charles Abramovic (piano) and Eric Stomberg (bassoon).
Composition master’s graduate Joseph Lyszczarz (MM 2012) has won the 2012 Bowling Green State University Distinguished Studio Arts Award. His composition “Tracing Shadows” for chamber orchestra, was selected from among other university-wide applicants for this accolade, which recognizes and promotes excellence in studio-oriented creative projects and project advising. The award’s selection criteria includes creative, informed, and/or inventive use of the medium; innovative style and/or concept; and superior technical proficiency. Mr. Lyszczarz received an honorarium and certificate of citation. His thesis advisor, Dr. Elainie Lillios, also received recognition.
BGSU alumna and Pulitzer Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon was recently featured on NPR’s Composer’s Datebook
For many, the opportunity to live their life’s dream takes a backseat to life’s realities, but not so for Ryan Nowlin, BGSU alumnus and staff arranger for the“President’s Own” United States Marine Band. However, daring to believe he could live his dream propelled Nowlin last month into a spotlight he could never have predicted, when he had the“amazing and humbling” opportunity to participate in the Inauguration of President Obama, including arranging pieces for Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé.
Inspired by his pride and love of country, Nowlin sought to create a“lush, orchestral sort of sound’ as he arranged the pieces for the pop stars. According to Nowlin, both Clarkson and Beyoncé wanted to perform with the Marine Band, and each had a vision of her arrangement. Nowlin had just two weeks to arrange the pieces and send the demos on to their music directors. In his first experience with major celebrities, he says, “Everyone was fantastic. Both Ms. Clarkson and Beyonce’asked for a copy of the vocal sheet music to frame for their studios. I was particularly touched by that.”
“Ms. Clarkson had a very evocative take on ‘Tis of Thee’ and how she wanted it to go,”said Nowlin. “We were able to capture her smokey-bluesy quality but still stay true to the song. Beyoncé wanted a presidential and reverential arrangement—one that would have strong emotional pull. It was a true collaboration between us all, and I was given the freedom to make both pieces original and fit the occasion.”
Beginning his musical instruction at age 5 on the piano, moving on to trumpet by age 10 and French horn by 17, Nowlin always knew his future would revolve around music, but not necessarily to the heights he has achieved with the Marine Band.
“I’ve always looked up to, listened to, and was constantly inspired by the Marine Band. I can’t say that I ever imagined being a part of it—seemed out of my reach—and my sights and dreams were always on being a music teacher and running a band program … or being John Williams!”
Reflecting on the opportunity to participate in the Inauguration, Nowlin said,“I found the experience deeply, deeply moving and surreal. To be a part of such an historic event, and to be a part of music that communicates my very personal emotions about our country was simply an experience I will never forget. I was very moved by the way the artists treated the music, and incredibly humbled by the response of the hundreds of thousands of Americans on the National Mall.”
Nowlin earned both a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree in music education from BGSU, studying with Herbert Spencer and Bruce Moss. Over the years he has worked as staff arranger for the Bowling Green State University Marching Band, band director at Jackson City Schools, and director of bands for the Brecksville-Broadway Heights School District before joining The Marine Band in 2010.
“It’s true that I am living my dream, but my dream, like many’s, is finding a place where any gifts I have been given can do the most good for the most people. Could I have predicted where I would be today? No—and that’s the beauty of it. I had this dream and through grace, it has led me to where I am today.”