COLUMBIA — Two new faces at MU’s School of Music this year will fill critical roles in two long-standing faculty ensembles: the Faculty Brass Quintet and the Esterhazy Quartet. Trombone teacher Bill Mann succeeds Troy Marsh, who became a church music director, and violin teacher Susan Jensen succeeds John McLeod, who retired.
First, meet Bill Mann. Two diplomas hang above his desk in the Fine Arts Building on Lowry Mall. They’re off-center, with a conspicuous space between the second frame and the doorway.
“Two out of three up on the wall, with space for a third,” Mann explained.
A visiting assistant professor of trombone, Mann will teach private lessons and the trombone portion of the low brass techniques class, direct the MU Trombone Choir and perform with the Faculty Brass Quintet.
Iskander Akhmadullin, trumpet professor at MU and member of the quintet, said Mann will help in maintaining the high standards of the Faculty Brass Quintet. “He’s a strong addition. He’ll bring new perspectives,” Akhmadullin said. “It’s very hard nowadays to get this type of job. He’s very eager, very enthusiastic. I’m sure he’ll maintain that level of energy.”
Mann has brought in new repertory for the quintet, including a piece featuring a trombone solo written for him.
“It’s nice to have something new that we actually like,” said Marcia Spence, MU horn professor and member of the quintet. “It’s a rhythmically challenging and fun piece.”
Mann is working on a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin and just needs to complete his lecture recital and a related paper.
Mann grew up in what he describes as “Deep South Texas,” in McAllen at the Lone Star State’s southern tip. His father was a band director and trombonist, and his mother was an accountant who played organ, piano and flute. Mann has been playing the trombone since he was 11.
“I’ve always loved music,” Mann said. “It’s something in my blood. It’s hard to get rid of.”
Mann has taught privately for 14 years. He considers himself primarily a classical musician but calls jazz “the one love I would like to delve into more.”
His wife, Jenny, and their daughter, Katie, are living in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where Jenny teaches bassoon. They plan to “do the long-distance thing” for a while in hopes that something will open up for Jenny in the Columbia area. Works of art by Katie are tacked to a bulletin board next to his desk.
“We both want to have jobs in the fields we love, and we’re both going to do what it takes to make it work,” Mann said. “It’s tough. It gets a little lonely sometimes, but I talk to them on the phone three or four times a day.”
For his lecture recital, Mann wore a heart rate monitor as he played Richard Peaslee’s “Arrows of Time” to compare the correlation between the difficulty of the piece and increased heart rate associated with performance anxiety.
“I’ve kind of had to fight my own demons” about performance anxiety,” Mann said. “Knowledge of the problem is strength.”
For Mann’s doctoral paper, he is aggregating research about performance anxiety to create a comprehensive source for future reference.
“If we’re taught in a manner where we’re anxious, that’s how we play, that’s how we perform,” Mann said. “I believe if a performer can change their perception of a performance from a threatening situation to a non-threatening situation, the level of anxiety they suffer from should be less.”
Mann hopes to stay in Columbia.
“Columbia’s a great town, the school is really great,” Mann said. “It’s definitely a place I feel comfortable in.”
On the other side of the Fine Arts Building is Susan Jensen. For 13 years, she lived in Los Angeles, first as a master’s student at the University of Southern California and then as a member of a thriving arts community. She played in recording sessions for the television show “The West Wing,” and she has played with Beach Boy member Brian Wilson. She was a tenured member of the Los Angeles Opera and performed in a variety of chamber orchestra events. She also played in the historic Monday Evening Concert series, which has been a Los Angeles cultural staple since 1939.
But Jensen believed that getting any more ensconced would be “kind of like selling my soul.”
“I did chamber (music), but it wasn’t as fixed or rigid as I like it,” she said.
Jensen’s desire to travel, teach and perform in a string quartet led her to MU, where she is an assistant professor of violin. She works with graduate and undergraduate violin students and teaches a string techniques course.
She also has stepped into the second violin position of the Esterhazy Quartet, MU’s string ensemble in residence. The group, part of the School of Music since 1960, does a concert series at MU, and it travels once a year to the Berklee College of Music in Boston for a teaching residency.
“She comes with considerable experience in string quartet playing, particularly in the second violin position,” said Eva Szekely, who plays first violin in the quartet and teaches violin at MU. “She knows the repertoire. She knows exactly what goes into building a quartet.”
In 2003, Jensen took a position at the University of Denver as an instructor and performer with the Da Vinci Quartet. Jensen left for Boston in 2005 and performed there on a freelance basis with several ensembles.
“I love Boston, I miss Boston, but I’m really happy about this job,” Jensen said. “There aren’t many positions like this available that include a string quartet.”
Szekely said Jensen brings new insight — “a new point of view to the three of us” — as well as flexibility to the second violin part, which can be used to support either the inner or outer voices of the ensemble.
“From a sound standpoint, being able to find your way between the two roles makes the second position challenging,” Szekely said. “We are delighted that she has joined the quartet.”
Jensen is preparing for her Nov. 12 recital. She has chosen selections by Fritz Kreisler, Beethoven, Dvorak, Stravinsky and Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Pärt.
Jensen thinks it is important to play modern works in addition to traditional classically based repertory. As a member of Xtet in Los Angeles, Jensen premiered new works.
“I love the challenge of it being new, Jensen said. “It’s also important to keep the genre going.”
Jensen has commissioned Bill Kraft, a Los Angeles-based composer, to write a concerto for violin and percussion. Though it’s still in the “embryonic stages,” Jensen hopes to premiere the work in Los Angeles and record it.
Jensen will make her debut with the Esterhazy Quartet on Oct. 8 at Whitmore Recital Hall, with a program that includes music by Haydn, Schubert and James Willey. She performs on a 1697 G.B. Rogeri violin, which she purchased in 2003.
“It’s phenomenal to have an old instrument like that,” Jensen said. “Old Italian is the ideal. It’s every violinist’s dream ... There’s something you can’t duplicate without that long amount of time.”
Name: Bill Mann
Position: Visiting assistant professor of trombone, MU
Education: Bachelor’s in music education from Baylor University; master’s in trombone performance from the University of Texas at Austin
Resume: Prairie View A&M University; the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor; Austin Lyric Opera; Victoria (Texas) Symphony; Waco (Texas) Symphony; Victoria Bach Festival.
Family: Married to Jenny, a bassoon professor at the University of Alabama. They have a 4-year-old daughter, Katie.
Most memorable musical experience: A performance with the Baylor University Wind Ensemble under Michael Haithcock of Karel Husa’s “Music for Prague 1968” at the Texas Music Educators Convention. “It felt like the Battle of Prague was fought right there on the stage,” Mann said.
Name: Susan Jensen
Position: Assistant violin professor, MU
Education: Bachelor’s in music from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music; master’s in music from University of Southern California
Resume: Los Angeles Opera; member of the Recording Musicians Association of Los Angeles; Xtet; University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music: Boston Ballet.
Family: Married to David, a pharmacist.
Most memorable musical experiences: “Playing with the Los Angeles Opera the first time I heard Placido Domingo singing over my head,” Jensen said.