New College Students Explore Passions, Build Skills Through Performance

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- by Patricia Okker, Ph.D.

Whether our students are interning at local symphonies or performing compositions in our on-campus concert series, there are countless opportunities here for artistic growth.

And we just happen to be located in Sarasota-Manatee—one of the most culturally vibrant areas in Florida—where students can intern at arts-and-humanities-based organizations and build career skills while fostering creativity.

One of my favorite examples of this artistic engagement is New Music New College (NMNC)—a program, founded by Professor Emeritus of Music Stephen Miles, that has involved New College students since its very first performance in 1998. This program not only allows students to showcase their original work, but it also gives them the opportunity to help produce the concerts in which they perform.

Just next month, there will be two free performances of compositions by New College students as part of “NMNC NewFest”— a festival of five concerts, including three by cutting-edge visiting artists. These events are supported, in part, by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded “Connecting the Arts and Humanities on Florida’s Creative Coast” initiative.

On April 10, New College student chamber musicians will perform works composed by their fellow students in Sainer Auditorium. On April 24, the Sarasota Piano Quartet (a chamber group of the Sarasota Orchestra) will perform works by our students. Both concerts will be livestreamed, and I encourage the community to listen to the work of these ultra-talented young musicians and composers.

Truly, NMNC—which is now under the leadership of Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Music Mark Dancigers, Ph.D.—has given our students an incredible platform for the past 24 seasons. Since the program’s inception, more than 350 students have performed in, composed for and/or worked at NMNC events. There have been 100-plus performances that involved presenting 70 world premieres and bringing more than 200 visiting professionals to campus.

Students have had opportunities to devise experimental music, choreograph, dance, present digital animations, have their compositions played by professional musicians, and meet some of the most groundbreaking artists of the era (such as pianist Kathleen Supové, violinist Miranda Cuckson, and composers/performers Miya Masaoka and Jen Shyu).

Once, New College students even performed their own compositions on instruments they created and built themselves. A total of 27 students, faculty and staff members sang from the balconies of our ACE Academic Center as they turned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (for its 200th anniversary) into a multimedia performance, following a template from composer John Cage. Six percussionists stood in a circle, performing on amplified two-by-fours, with an audience all around them.

“NMNC has been so great for students because they can come to our concerts for free, right here on campus. And some of our concerts have student performers with all kinds of backgrounds and skills, including those whose areas of concentration lie outside of music,” says Ron Silver, the producer of NMNC. “Students in NMNC even staff our front-of-the-house and videocam operator teams, and they get experience in arts management.”

This is the beauty of New College, where creative expression is in full force and paired with applied learning. And, with every inspired academic experience comes another opportunity to build real-world skills that will serve our artistic students well into their future careers.

(Story from SRQ on 3-12-22). Patricia Okker, Ph.D., is the president of New College of Florida.