Category Archives: Music

ECU pianist to perform at Smithsonian dedication

East Carolina University faculty pianist John O’Brien will be performing with University of North Carolina soprano Louise Toppin at President Obama’s Freedom Sounds dedication of the Smithsonian’s new African American History Museum on September 24 in Washington.



Conceived and presented in festival fashion, Freedom Sounds programming will include musical performances, spoken word, oral history activities and evening concerts. The three-day music festival presents artists who represent the numerous cultural threads encompassing African diasporic histories and traditions.

O’Brien and Toppin were invited to present a program entitled “Songs of protest: then and now” to celebrate the musical contributions of African American composers.

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–Harley Dartt

ECU School of Art and Design hosts NC National Art Honor Society high school students

East Carolina University’s School of Art and Design hosted the North Carolina chapter of the National Art Honor Society’s annual retreat on April 8.

ECU welcomed approximately 200 exceptional high school art students from 11 schools throughout the state to participate in art workshops conducted by ECU School of Art and Design faculty. Students chose to participate in two workshops, selecting from classroom as canvas, screenprinting, shoot a short, eye tracking, enameling, collage, book arts, make a TV show, non-traditional drawing and painting, and shooting a video interview.

Regional high schools with art students participating included South Central High SchoolJH Rose High School and Pasquotank County High School.

The retreat was coordinated by ECU alumnus Jody Stouffer, high school art teacher from Lee County High School and director of the North Carolina chapter of the National Art Honor Society.


“Our faculty were excited about the opportunity to showcase their concentrations,” said Robert Quinn, ECU professor of art education. “We developed some really engaging workshops that gave high school students a taste of what life is like as an art student at ECU.”

Participating ECU art faculty included Quinn, Scott Eagle, Ken Wyatt, Lisa Beth Robinson, Alice Arnold, Mi-Sook Hur, Cynthia Bickley-Green, Erick Green, Michael Dermody and Christine Zoller.

The NAHS traveling exhibition, featuring artwork submitted by National Art Honor Society high school chapters in North Carolina, was on exhibit in ECU’s Burroughs Welcome Gallery in Jenkins Fine Art Center during the workshop.

In addition to the workshops, students were introduced to ECU’s art facilities and toured the ECU campus.

ECU has the largest studio art program in North Carolina, which is fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Curriculum areas include animation, art foundations, ceramics, cinema, drawing, graphic design, illustration, interactive media, metals, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, textile design and video.

–Harley Dartt

ECU quartet to perform at national convention

The Stranded Silver Flute Quartet has been invited to perform at the 2016 National Flute Association Convention in San Diego, California, on August 13.

Founded in August 2013 as an East Carolina University student initiated ensemble, the Stranded Silver Flute Quartet is Mary Mary Gheen (MM, flute performance, ‘13), Willie Santiago (MM, flute performance, ‘14), Benjamin Sledge (BM, flute performance/theory-composition, ‘16) and Jackie Traish (BM, flute performance, ‘15).

Contributed photo.

Contributed photo.

Stranded Silver was chosen as a semi-finalist for the Savvy Musician in Action Chamber Music Competition, a competition dedicated to innovative and collaborative performances, and in January 2016, was invited to perform at the New Music Gathering conference at The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Stranded Silver has performed in numerous local schools and assisted living facilities as a part of their community outreach program.

The convention performance will include Robert Randazzo’s RadiatorSatoshi Yagisawa’s Capricious Winds and Tim Sutton’s Grace, Mov. V.

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ECU freshman wins best woman vocalist at NC NATS auditions

A first prize for best overall undergraduate woman performer highlighted a strong showing for East Carolina University vocalists at the 2016 North Carolina National Association of Teachers of Singing auditions. The auditions were held on Feb. 19-20 at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro School of Music.

Freshman vocal studies student Alexandra Fee earned the overall award following a first place finish in the category for freshmen women vocalists. A native of East Moriches, New York, she attended Westhampton Beach High School before coming to ECU to study with instructor Dr. Jami Rhodes. Fee performed three pieces from composers Giuseppe Verdi, Aaron Copland, and Clara Shumann.


Contributed photo by Alan Kaid Photography

“I went in knowing that I just wanted to give my best performance and I didn’t even think of the possible outcome,” Fee said. “I was listening to them announce the two awards and then they called out my name. I was so in shock that my jaw just dropped.”

“As a freshman singer, Alexandra was competing against upperclassmen winners of all of the other NATS divisions,” said John Kramar, chair of ECU’s Department of Vocal Studies. “The fact that she won the best overall female singer as a freshman is very impressive. She has a great voice, and she sings with much sophistication.”

ECU’s male vocalists also walked away with first place finishes in two categories. Timothy Messina won first place in the upper advanced college men category, and freshman William Edwards took first in the freshmen men category. Overall, East Carolina singers collected 13 awards at the auditions.

“I was very proud of every ECU student who participated in this year’s NATS auditions,” said Kramar. “They all sang beautifully — regardless of whether or not they were given an award.”

The NC NATS auditions draw competition from universities and colleges throughout the state. ECU vocalists competed against students from the North Carolina School of the Arts, Campbell University, High Point University, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and other rivals. The auditions provide an opportunity for the colleges and universities to show off their programs, and for students to get feedback from voice teachers working at other institutions.

“Our students behaved like young, gracious professional artists in a competitive environment,” Kramar said. “They are friendly, kind people who are happy for the success of others and enthusiastic about supporting the art form and tradition of beautiful singing.”

“From this experience, I learned that success isn’t just about doing well for yourself; it’s really about giving a good performance for others,” Fee said. “Performing is my passion but my end goal with singing is to bring others joy.”

List of award winners

First Place, Overall Best Undergraduate Woman, 2016 NC NATS — Alexandra Fee
First Place — Freshmen Women — Alexandra Fee
First Place — Freshmen Men — William Edwards
Second Place — Freshmen Women — Chloe Agostino
Honorable Mention — Freshmen Men — Christopher Short
Honorable Mention — Freshmen Men — Cory Whaley
Third Place — Sophomore Men — Eli Cole
Second Place — Junior Women — Rebekah Shamberger
Honorable Mention — Junior Men — Nolawi Araya
Third Place — Senior Women — Elizabeth Stovall
Second Place — Lower Advanced College Men — James Taylor
First Place — Upper Advanced College Men — Timothy Messina
Second Place — Hal Johnson Spiritual Prize — Johnathon Spell

ECU cellist and pianist release CD

East Carolina University faculty members Emanuel Gruber, cello, and Keiko Sekino, piano, have released a CD of Robert Schumann’s music titled “Fantasy and Romance” on the Delos label.

DE3481Booklet copy_Page_01

Schumann wrote little original music for the cello–only his cello concerto and the Five Pieces in Folk-style, Op. 102, which is on this CD. Cellists, eager to play his chamber compositions originally written for other instruments, have made successful transcriptions of those compositions, and six of those are offered on this CD.

This is Gruber’s second CD on the Delos label, and his first recording collaboration with Sekino. His first CD with Delos, “Mendelssohn: Complete Music for Cello and Piano,” with pianist Arnon Erez, was called “…in a word, beautiful…” by Allmusic.

The new CD is available on

Alum wins 2015 American Prize in Composition

East Carolina University School of Music alum Travis Alford (BM, ’05) is the winner of The American Prize in Composition 2015, choral music professional division, for his composition O Fragile Human, Speak…

Travis Alford (BM, '05) is the winner of The American Prize in Composition 2015.

Travis Alford (BM, ’05) is the winner of The American Prize in Composition 2015.

The American Prize is a series of non-profit national competitions in the performing arts providing cash awards, professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best recorded performances by ensembles and individuals in the United States at the professional, college/university, church, community and secondary school levels. Administered by Hat City Music Theater, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Danbury, Connecticut, The American Prize was founded in 2009 and is awarded annually.

Alford teaches at Johnston Community College in Smithfield, NC, and has held positions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brandeis University and Gordon College. He holds degrees in theory and composition from Brandeis (PhD, ’14), the New England Conservatory (MM, ’08) and ECU. His primary teachers at ECU included Edward Jacobs, Mark Richardson and Britton Theurer.

Travis wrote Loose Strands on commission from ECU’s North Carolina NewMusic Initiative, a work premiered in 2013 by Scott Carter and members of the ECU Wind Ensemble; Carter and ECU students, alumni and faculty recorded Loose Strands in May, 2015.

— Harley Dartt

In Memoriam – Dr. Charles E. Stevens

Dr. Charles E. Stevens of Greenville, who taught piano at East Carolina University for 30 years before accepting emeritus status in 1990, died Sept. 4. He was 89. Stevens, who received his master’s degree in music at ECU in 1954 and his doctorate in music from UNC Chapel Hill in 1957, was dean of the School of Music for the last six years of his tenure.



He recently was honored for more than 50 years of service to the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia national music fraternity.

Survivors include daughters Margaret Mauney of Winston-Salem, a 1976 ECU graduate, and Mary Charles Jenkins, a 1979 graduate, and son-in-law Jack Jenkins, a 1978 graduate, both of Morehead City.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Charles E. and Margaret S. Stevens Endowment, ECU Foundation, 2200 S. Charles Blvd., Greenville, NC 27858.

— Steve Tuttle

ECU graduate stars in opera version of “Cold Mountain”

Deborah Nansteel as Lucinda and Nathan Gunn as Inman in the world premiere of Cold Mountain at the Santa Fe Opera.

Deborah Nansteel as Lucinda and Nathan Gunn as Inman in the world premiere of ‘Cold Mountain ‘ at the Santa Fe Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel, who earned a degree in music from East Carolina University in 2007, premiered the role of Lucinda in the Santa Fe Opera Festival’s world premiere production of “Cold Mountain” on Aug. 1.

Born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Havelock, North Carolina, Nansteel has performed as part of the American Opera Initiative; with the Seattle, Dayton and Merola opera companies; and with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in Milan and the Seattle Symphony. She completed her second season at Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program in May.

In its review of the premiere, “Opera Today” wrote that Nansteel “sang with formidable vocal power while expressing the desperation of a runaway slave.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon based the opera on Charles Frazier’s 1997 novel. Like the book, the opera tells the story of Confederate soldier W.P. Inman and his struggle to return to his North Carolina home and his wife during the Civil War. Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn sing the starring roles.

Additional performances of the opera are scheduled on Aug. 14, 17, 22 and 24. The Dutch recording label PentaTone will release a recording of the premiere.

The opera will be reprised at Opera Philadelphia in February 2016. The North Carolina Opera, a co-commissioner of the opera along with Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and Minnesota Opera, plans to present “Cold Mountain” as part of its 2017-2018 season.

“This piece has deeply ingrained historical and cultural connections to North Carolina that will invigorate our core audience, while inspiring our state-wide community,” said Timothy Myers, artistic director and principal conductor at North Carolina Opera.

– Steve Tuttle

ECU Guitar Festival celebrates 20th year with SoloDuo, Rene Izquierdo

SoloDuo—Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli – will perform at ECU this summer as part of the ECU Guitar Festival.

SoloDuo—Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli – will perform at ECU this summer as part of the ECU Guitar Festival.


The 2015 East Carolina University Summer Guitar Festival and Workshop celebrates 20 years of world-class classical guitar with SoloDuo, Rene Izquierdo and others in Greenville on July 11-14 in the A. J. Fletcher Music Building on the ECU campus. Directed by ECU guitar professor Elliot Frank, the festival includes the International Concert Series, which features elite performers from the United States and abroad.

Hailing from Switzerland and Italy, SoloDuo—Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli—have performed throughout Europe, Asia, the US, Canada and Latin America, and have been acclaimed as one of the finest guitar ensembles in the world. About one of their performances, the Washington Post wrote “…the duo’s playing was nothing less than rapturous—profound and unforgettable musicianship of the highest order.”

Of international award winner and Cuba native Rene Izquierdo, Classical Guitar Magazine wrote “His natural and instinctive interpretations are second to none: his virtuoso technique allows him absolute command of the instrument giving him the independence of subtle phrasing, dazzling speed, beautiful tonal control… everything.”

Cuba native Rene Izquierdo will perform during the ECU Guitar Festival.

Cuba native Rene Izquierdo will perform during the ECU Guitar Festival.

“Now in our twentieth year, this is perhaps the finest lineup I have ever had for this event,” Frank said. “Matteo Mela, Lorenzo Micheli and Rene Izquierdo are three of the very best guitarists, technically and musically, on earth, and together Matteo and Lorenzo are simply the finest duo alive. Not only are they artists of the highest caliber, they are master teachers as well.”

Other featured concert artists this year include The Sharpe/Zohn Duo, the Kithara Duo, 2014 festival competition winner Alec Holcomb, Elina Chekan, Zachary Johnson, William Kossler, Frank and others.

In additional to the International Concert Series, the finals of this year’s solo competition are open to the public and feature some of the finest young talent in the world of the guitar. Students compete for cash awards and a performance at next year’s festival.

The festival’s workshop and camp are open to students ages 10-and-up who wish to acquire or improve skills on the classical guitar. Students under the age of 10 may participate with parental supervision. For the first time, instruction in the Suzuki guitar method is available to students with William Kossler, the originator of Suzuki guitar in the US, serving as lead instructor.

For more information regarding the workshop or concert series, contact Dr. Elliot Frank at 252-328-6245, or by email at, or visit

2015 Summer Guitar Festival Concerts

Saturday July 11


ECU Alumni 4 p.m.


Elliot Frank/Rene Izquierdo 7:30 p.m.


Sunday July 12


Zachary Johnson 4 p.m.


Kithara Duo/Soloduo 7:30 p.m.


Monday July 13


Solo Competition Semifinals 4 p.m.


Alec Holcomb/Sharpe Zohn Duo 7:30 p.m.


Tuesday July 14

Afternoon 4 p.m.

Youth competition finals


College competition finals 7:30 p.m.


Individual event ticket prices

Afternoon concerts $10 adults, $5 students; Evening concerts $20 adults, $15 students

Pass for all eight concerts: $50.00, adults, $30.00 students

All concerts are in the Recital Hall, Fletcher Music Center, ECU, Greenville, NC.

Tickets: 1-800-ECU-ARTS; 252-328-4788, 252-328-4736 V/TTY;, or at the door.

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