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MU Music School gift to help Columbia become center for music composition

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 1:18 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Jeanne Sinquefield rehearses with the Columbia Civic Orchestra on Dec. 9 at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. Sinquefield and her husband recently donated $1 million to MU's School of Music.

COLUMBIA — Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield have donated $1 million to further Jeanne's mission of making Columbia a "music mecca" for composition.

The gift from the Westphalia couple will greatly expand the composition program at the MU School of Music.

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"This gift will allow us to attract some of the finest young composers to MU with an elite scholarship program," said Robert Shay, director of the School of Music. "It will create assistantships for a graduate-level new music ensemble, a group to serve as kind of a living laboratory for composition students."

Eight full-tuition scholarships for undergraduate composition students will be created as part of the gift. Currently, Shay said, there are about six undergraduate and two or three graduate students studying composition at MU.

Tom McKenney, a professor of music theory and composition, said the creation of a new ensemble dedicated to performing new work would allow professors in the school to focus more on teaching and less on the logistics of organizing recitals and performances.

Composition students will benefit greatly from this new ensemble, McKenney said. "We (composers) don't write things in isolation, we write a piece," he said, "and the real insight comes when that piece is performed. ... The public performance of the piece is the main goal of, I think, every composer."

The School of Music also plans to change how it reaches audiences. The new ensemble will begin performing in dormitories, student unions, the library and locations across the state, bringing new music to new listeners rather than the other way around.

One of the preconceptions Jeanne Sinquefield and the School of Music would like to fight is the idea that new music is dead and that fine art music is limited to only the greats — Bach, Mozart, Wagner and the like. Instead, Shay said, "All music was once new music."

"There is great new music coming out every day," said Jeanne Sinquefield, an arts supporter and bassist who plays regularly with Columbia ensembles.

The announcement Monday morning in Reynolds Alumni Center featured a premiere of its own. "Fanfare for Jeanne," written by Stefan Freund, an assistant professor of music theory and composition, was performed by the MU Faculty Brass Quintet. 

Freund said he hoped to capture the spirit of Sinquefield with the composition, calling it a "variation on the MU fight song with a lot of fun going on."

Freund said that every time he goes to a performance with Sinquefield, she leaves saying, "Now wasn't that fun."

Freund said he is most excited about the opportunities he sees in another implementation of the Sinquefield gift: a summer music festival scheduled to start in 2010. The festival will serve as a great recruiting tool, he said.

This summer, as a kind of run-through, the nationally known Alarm Will Sound, a 20-member ensemble that focuses on the composition and performance  of new music, will be at MU in mid-July. 

"There is not an undergraduate or graduate composer that is not going to want to work with Alarm Will Sound, and they are certainly going to want to study with the high level composers that come in," said Freund, a cellist in the group.

The Sinquefields are also behind the Creating Original Music Project, which includes a summer camp in music composition for high school students. The project also hosts a K-12 competition and the Sinquefield Composition Prize. The prize is awarded annually to an MU student. On Monday evening, a piece by this year's winner, Stephanie Berg, was performed at the Chancellor's Concert in Jesse Auditorium.


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