Lied Center masterclasses offer students access to world-class performers

Members of Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater conducting a masterclass to students in the dance program of the Glenn Korff School of Music prior to their performance at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
Members of Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater conducting a masterclass to students in the dance program of the Glenn Korff School of Music prior to their performance at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

Lied Center masterclasses offer students access to world-class performers

calendar icon22 May 2019    

Students in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts enjoy world-class guest artist experiences each year thanks to a partnership with the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

“It’s a natural fit,” said Sasha Dobson, outreach coordinator for the Lied Center for Performing Arts. “We’re on campus, we’re affiliated with the University, and it’s the first words in our mission statement—to educate. We’re more than just a presenting organization. We are here to connect with students and to connect to the community to help others learn more about themselves and to learn more about the world through the power of the performing arts.”

Last year, nearly 4,200 university students participated in 80 outreach events at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. Dobson noted that the numbers are higher in years when the Lied Center hosts the ASCAP New Musical/Grow a Show event. A typical year has 40-60 events reaching 2,000 students. These outreach and student engagement events are supported with grants from the Hixson-Lied Endowment.

Dobson said these experiences simply wouldn’t happen without that partnership with the college.

“We’re only able to bring iconic artists to the Lied Center because of the support from the Hixson-Lied Endowment,” she said. “We simply would not be able to make that possible with the artist fees. We need that support to bring the artists, and then it also wouldn’t happen if the faculty were not so wonderful and generous with their students in advocating for these opportunities and really saying, ‘Hey, you need to go to this. You will learn something.’”

Some of the recent artists who have held masterclasses or a question and answer session include Yo-Yo Ma; Joshua Bell; Harry Connick, Jr.; Doc Severinsen; Paul Shaffer; dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Diavolo and Streb; and musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, among many others.

“These experiences are invaluable to our students,” said Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts Endowed Dean Chuck O’Connor. “This is an opportunity for them to see world-class artists and either perform for them and get feedback or ask questions about their preparation or practice regiment. These opportunities change the lives of these students as they prepare for their own artistic careers.”
The Lied Center has also connected with the Glenn Korff School of Music to partner their outreach activities with the Korff School’s convocation, which has helped the artists reach more students.

“Who wouldn’t enjoy talking about their life and career in front of 300 or so eager music students?” said Professor of Oboe William McMullen, who helps coordinate convocations for the Glenn Korff School of Music. “Obviously these visiting artists have made it to the top of their profession, which is why they have been booked for their events at the Lied Center. The students and faculty all agree that personally getting to know these artists and getting advice from them continues to be an incredible inspiration. They all have such amazing stories to tell.”

In January, Shaffer gave the students inside information about his career on The Late Show with David Letterman.

“He talked about how he was able to create a top-notch band for the show with musicians who had incredible ears and flexibility,” McMullen said.

Cooper Creal, a junior vocal performance major from Lincoln, said he enjoys hearing the stories of how artists got started.

“The only thing they all had in common was an unwavering, passionate love for what they do, whether that be performing professionally or being on the crew of a show, the joy that it brings is what got them to where they are,” Creal said. “They didn’t have to attend Julliard to make it on a national tour of a Broadway show. In fact, Laura Osnes mentioned to us that she didn’t even finish college. Interacting with visiting artists is exactly the spark that a lot of UNL students need, in order to visualize a successful future in their respective fields.”

Other artists who participated this semester include jazz trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and members of the San Francisco Symphony.

And it’s not just theatre, dance and music students in the Hixson-Lied College who benefit from Lied Center masterclasses.

“We connect to everyone from all different majors,” Dobson said. “For example, I teach an Intro to Theatre class, and I’ll invite some of my students. They’re not majors, but are from all different colleges, so they get the opportunity to have these enhancement education opportunities as well.”
Dobson hopes students learn a lot about themselves through these outreach opportunities.

“The arts are really something that holds up a mirror to society and shows us who we really are," she said. "I hope that through any of these events that we have at the Lied Center that students really can honestly and refreshingly take a look at that and learn how to grow from that as human beings that are all connected."
The outreach events that have stood out the most for Dobson was last year’s events surrounding the American Ballet Theatre and St. Louis Symphony performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird, which featured principal dancer Misty Copeland in the iconic Firebird role. Dancers from the American Ballet Theatre and musicians from the St. Louis Symphony gave masterclasses, and Copeland answered questions during the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues.
“That was groundbreaking and hugely impactful for everybody that attended,” Dobson said. “Anything surrounding that event, even if it was watching a dress rehearsal, just to be in the presence of these iconic and very elite, top-notch, world-class artists was pretty amazing.”

McMullen stressed the importance of students attending these masterclasses and outreach events.

“Hearing comments about the real world of a musical career is so important to all the students—even if they don’t play the specific instrument of the guest artist,” he said. “They all talk about how much hard work it is and how devoted the students need to be to make it their profession. I know hearing these stories are really inspiring to students at Nebraska—they are inspiring to me, too.”

Dobson has been coordinating these outreach events for seven years and has seen the results of these experiences.

“I’m so proud of some of the students that I’ve seen graduate from these programs, and I know they have participated in these amazing events that we have at the Lied and are now having very successful careers in their field of study,” she said. “How many students can say, ‘I got to sing for Stephen Bray [who won the 2017 Grammy Award for the Best Musical Theater Album of the Tony Award-winning revival of The Color Purple] one of his songs, and he gave me compliments.’ And we’ve had quite a few students who have had that experience. It’s awesome.”