Tom Strini

Six musical things I’ve been meaning to tell you

Catching up with Karen Deschere, Frank Almond, Present Music, Elizabeth Johnson, PianoArts, Rae Cassidy, the Chris Hanson Band.

By - Jul 5th, 2012 06:12 pm
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1. The endlessly charming and cheerful Karen Deschere has left the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, where she was president and CEO for eight


Karen Deschere. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Conservatory’s website.

years. She is the new director of the Performing Arts Conservatory at the Boys & Girls Harbor in New York City.

The Wisonsin Conservatory has become increasingly important as traditional school music programs have shrunk with budget cuts. Deschere responded with the Conservatory Connections program, which now serves over 9,000 students in 49 public, private and charter schools.

Deschere opened a branch at the Audubon Court shopping center and oversaw operations at the school’s Prospect Avenue headquarters and outpost at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. Enrollment in the conservatory’s own classes climbed 30% during her tenure

John Turner will serve as interim director while the conservatory conducts a national search for a new executive.

2. The National Geographic Channel will broadcast a Milwaukee episode of its America’s Lost Treasures series on Wednesday, July 11. We care because one of those treasures is the “Lipinski” Stradivarius Violin, on indefinite loan to Frank Almond, concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Almond and the MSO will be featured in one of the segments.

Almond, by the way, is in Baltimore just now. He is one of 10 musicians chosen to participate in the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra Summer Conducting Program, July 3-11. We’ll have to call him “The Maestro” now?

Elizabeth Johnson. Minnesota Fringe Festival photo.

3. Elizabeth Johnson, a daring dancer and choreographer and artistic director of Your Mother Dances, has


Tom Strini, hard at work at TCD headquarters.

accepted a one-year position teaching at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Johnson, who has taught many classes as an adjunct and academic staff at UWM, will be re-united with Janet Lilly at UNCG. Lilly heads the dance department there; she formerly chaired UWM’s dance department. Johnson’s husband, dancer-choreographer Luc Vanier, is on the UWM dance faculty and will remain here.

4. Two nice spring wins for arts fund-raising in Milwaukee: UPAF brought in $10,129,411, to beat its $10 million goal, and Present Music music fans contributed $15,060 between April 1 and June 30, to match a challenge grant from the Laskin Foundation. More Present Music news: Laura Russart, the very capable marketing director for PM, has moved on to the Harley-Davidson Museum.

5. “Better never than late” is an old saying in the news business, but oh well. To wit: The results of the biennial PianoArts Competition. The finals were held June 13 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center.

Sahun Hong, 17, of Fort Worth, was the big winner: First Place Prize $10,000; Audience Communication Award $500 (contributed by Marilyn McGriff); Best Performance of a Piano and Violin or Piano and Cello Duo $500 (contributed by Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity, Milwaukee Alumnae Chapter); Junior Jury Prize $300 (contributed by Barbara Bunge); Winner’s Choice of Music Published or Distributed by Hal Leonard, Value of $1,000, contributed by Hal Leonard Corporation.

Emma Pin Hsui Liu, 20, from Taiwan via the New England Conservatory, and Xiaohui Yang, age 20, from China via the Curtis Institute of Music, took second ($6,000 contributed by the PianoArts Governing Board) and  third ($4,000, contributed by Clair and Mary Baum). Ariela Bohrod, 16, of Madison, won the  Wisconsin Contestant Award, $750, and a scholarship to the International Keyboard Institute & Festival at the Mannes College,The New School For Music, New York; value of over $1,500, supported with funds from the Edmund Assaly Memorial Fund of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Garrick Olsen, 16, of Madison, won Best Performance of a North American Work Composed after 1940, $500 (contributed by the PianoArts Governing Board).


Rae Cassidy, with Glenn Asch (violin), Mike Britz (bass), Chris Hanson (guitar, right) at Via on Downer Monday. TCD photo.

6. I regret that I didn’t run into the big, beautiful talent of Rae Cassidy sooner. I heard her sing for the first time Monday night at Via on Downer, with Chris Hanson’s superb band. They did songs from the 20s through the 50s, jazz standards and country swing, mostly. Cassidy is just 21 and writes her own songs, but brother, she was born to sing the vintage stuff. Her subtle way of bending pitches one into the other gives her singing a sly, coquettish cast. She has great range in both pitch and color, and she can swing. Rae and the band’s dreamy, trippy take on Amapola knocked me out the most. That old song is usually peppy and up-tempo; what a brilliant leap of imagination to make it languorous and opiated.

Chris Hanson’s band (Chris plays lead guitar, with Mike Britz on bass, John Parrott on rhythm guitar and Glenn Asch on violin) plays at Via the first Monday of every month; I plan to be there again on Aug. 6.

Do go; this might be the last chance to hear Cassidy sing around here for a while. She’s off to New York to find her fortune. In addition to her lovely voice and smart singing style, Cassidy is adorable and has great stage presence and poise. I can see her holding court in the lounge of some nice hotel, as New York’s next great chanteuse.


0 thoughts on “Six musical things I’ve been meaning to tell you”

  1. Anonymous says:

    er, one small correction, Tom: Xiaohui took 2nd, and Emma took 3rd at PianoArts. Thanks for mentioning us!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Tom! I’m not sure I’ve ever been described as endlessly charming and cheerful before! I”m ensconced in boxes in my NYC apt and looking forward to starting my new job on Monday. Thanks for all you do for the arts and for letting folks know about the great things happening at the Conservatory!

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