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Chancellor’s Music Series Opens: Faculty Stars

“Sounding Out” Kicks Off Four Parts

Alan Williams brings Birdsong At Morning to the Sounding Out! music series. Photo by Jennifer Myers
Alan Williams, center, will perform with his folk-pop band, Birdsong At Morning.

By David Perry

When the university organized a series of shows as the Chancellor’s Celebration of Music, it quickly became apparent to Music Department Chair Alan Williams that this was a chance to showcase the breadth of UMass Lowell’s skills.

And it’s all to raise money for scholarships for music students.

Beginning Friday, Sept. 23, during “Sounding Out,” Williams and his associates will pull back the curtain at Durgin Hall on the variety of music at the university.

“It’s a chance for us to inform even ourselves who we are as musicians,” said Williams, sitting on the stage at Durgin Hall between classes. Long a nimble performer, Williams brings his folk-pop band Birdsong At Morning to “Sounding Out” as well. “People tend to think of faculty as academics alone, not as professionals in their discipline. They’re so busy, a lot of our faculty members don’t have the chance to play out professionally.”

The second show -- at UTEC in downtown Lowell on Nov. 19 -- showcases community engagement and connections. On Feb. 25 at the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, the production and engineering departments get the stage, and the finale on March 31 returns to Durgin Hall for “Showing Off,” a student showcase.

“So much of what we do in the music department is not out there and visible to the public at large,” said Williams. “The most visible is the pep band; people see them at hockey games. They’re great at what they do. But there is a lot people don’t see. So we’re going to show them.”

“It’s a wonderful time to put our diverse and deeply talented faculty at center stage,” says Chancellor Jacquie Moloney of the series. “They’re fluent in just about every style of music, and ‘Sounding Off’ gives them a chance to shine. And from there, the series delves deeply into the university’s treasure chest of connection -- to the city, to the students, to the precision and fine-tuning of good production.”

“There is an element of risk here,” said Williams. “I’ve performed for students before. But I was warned, 'If you don’t carry it off it can be disastrous.' In this case, though, no one musician is carrying all the weight of the entire evening.”

Williams said in planning a performance so early in the semester, there wouldn’t have been time for students to prepare. “So I put the call out among faculty asking if anyone wanted to play, and what has been happening is this amazing collaboration between artists. John Shirley and Ricky Berger are a great example.”

Professor of Music Shirley is a respected performer, engineer and producer, but he only recently began to study harmonica, issuing a five-song recording, “Not So Blue,” in 2015. 

Berger teaches music entrepreneurship, but, wonders Williams, “Who knew he was also this hot-shot guitarist?”


Says Williams, “It turns out John and Ricky had never met, but a week later, they’re jamming. This whole thing is creating new connections among faculty, and it’s great to see happen.”

Friday’s show also features Sovann Khon, master musician, adjunct professor, master Cambodian musician and survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. He is a virtuoso at the two-stringed tro sou, which he learned in refugee camps on the Thai border. Khon is a frequent collaborator of Lowell’s acclaimed Angkor Dance Troupe.

In addition to his work as a lecturer, John-Morgan Bush directs the Lowell String Project and is an award-winning French horn player. He will perform with faculty and staff, including Amy Dinsmore (oboe), Rebecca Leonard (clarinet), Stephanie Busby (bassoon) and Susan Jackson (flute).

Lecturer Ramon Castillo has worked with robots and turntables, as well as some very talented humans, including Kronos Quartet and Terry Riley. Working with recent alumnus Kevin Dacey, he will perform “Pink Bats,” composed for miniature percussion and laptop.

The evening is open for free to UMass Lowell students.

Tickets for a 6:30 p.m. reception at Allen House (including a ticket for the performance) are $40, and performance-only tickets are $15.

Tickets are still available online.