By Christina Deal
Many at the University of Dallas, when asked if they have attended a Brown Bag Recital, look bewildered and ask, “What is that?” During the semester, the music department hosts student performers at the Brown Bag Recitals about one Wednesday a month. Students, faculty and staff gather in upstairs Haggar for a lunchtime reprieve from the daily grind. These performances serve as a chance for music students to showcase their talent and for audience members to enjoy live music.
Kristin Van Cleve, music department director, advanced violin instructor and chamber ensemble coach, said she understands the Brown Bag Recitals to be an essential element of the music program.
“During the course of the semester [students] are working with their instructor on a variety of repertoire, and as musicians one of the things we do, in addition to spending a lot of time practicing, is that we perform, and so having an audience is really important if you’re a musician,” Van Cleve said.
Senior Mary Stone, who has a music concentration, studies piano under instructor Andrey Ponochevny.
“I think it’s really great the school does [recitals] and that students and faculty members are willing to come and watch us,” Stone said. “It’s also a really good opportunity for other students to hear their peers play music because not many of us know who else here is musically talented or musically inclined.”
Often students grow up playing an instrument, but then never use their talent in college. Stone says the Brown Bags are a way to prevent inactivity among the talented student body.
“You can always find opportunities to perform, even if it’s not on a professional level or competitive level,” Stone said. “That’s not really what music is about. Music is about playing for people who are going to sit there and listen to it and enjoy it.”
Members of the university community take advantage of the chance to hear live music on what would usually be a regular Wednesday.
“This is one time where people know you can come hear students,” Stone said. “[Provost Charles] Eaker comes, Dr. [John] Plotts, [vice president of enrollment] comes. They’re really supportive with those of us who are taking music here so you never know who’s going to be there.”
Van Cleve agreed that the Brown Bag Recitals provide an important role for maturing musicians.
“Brown Bag is an opportunity for students to have a venue to perform and to show their fellow students and the faculty and staff at the university what they’ve been doing,” Van Cleve said. “It’s an opportunity for the university to come together in a setting that is a little bit informal because people bring their lunches and can come and go as they need to for classes.”
All music students must perform at least once a semester in a Brown Bag Recital. In terms of preparation, diligent practice goes into performing at even the casual Brown Bags.
“I think it’s important for students to have a goal to work towards and you know musicians — what we do is perform,” Van Cleve said. “If you have a performance goal, that helps to kind of focus your energies and attentions on what you’re doing in terms of practicing and working with your private teacher or your ensemble instructor.”
A few hours of practice go into each week for students performing in the Brown Bags. Chamber ensemble students practice with their group, both with and without Van Cleve, and also on their own as needed.
“We practice about two hours a week so one hour with just our group and then one hour with Ms. Van Cleve,” said senior Yasmin Fatemi, who has a music concentration. “So it’s about two hours where we go and all practice together. Separately it kind of depends but everyone just works on their own parts until they get it.”
Fatemi is a clarinetist who joined chamber ensemble her freshman year and who has performed every semester with the exception of her Rome semester.
Fatemi believes that Brown Bags are a way for the small music department to show the talents of its students.
“I think the Brown Bags are really important because we don’t really have a big music department here so it’s hard to find opportunities to actually play,” Fatemi said.
The first Brown Bag recital of the semester will be Wednesday, March 4 at noon in upstairs Haggar. Students will perform selections of music for violin, voice, piano and chamber ensemble.