Category: News

Michigan Tech Concert Choir tours New Zealand

On May 1-15, 2024 the members of the Michigan Tech Concert Choir participated in a successful tour of New Zealand. They traveled through Auckland, Rotorua, Hamilton, Wellington, Hanmer Springs, Christchurch, Queenstown, and Dunedin; traveling from the far north to the far south of the country. They were fortunate to have beautiful weather for the trip, with a lot of sunshine and temperatures much like we experience now in the Keweenaw. 58 individuals traveled in the group: 47 performers (including the conductor and pianist) and 11 friends. The youngest choir member was 16 years old and the oldest was 82 years old. Travelers included 17 Michigan Tech students, 2 Houghton HS students (one will be a freshman at Tech in the fall), 6 faculty, 4 retired faculty/staff, 7 choir alumni, and 22 community members.

The choir performed in lovely venues in each of the major cities:

Auckland: St. Matthew-in-the-City Anglican Church
Hamilton: Exchange with the Hamilton Civic Choir (held on the campus of the University of Waikato)
Wellington: St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church
Christchurch: The Philip Carter Family Concert Hall at The Piano
Dunedin: St. Paul’s Cathedral (Anglican)

Highlights of the tour included visiting the extinct caldera of Mt. Eden (Maungawhau) in Auckland, Hobbiton (near Rotorua), seeing the Southern Lights in Christchurch, feeling the mountain air in Hanmer Springs and Queenstown. The choir experienced beautiful vistas, wonderful food, welcoming audiences, and warm sunshine.

Director, Jared Anderson, said, “I am so proud of how the choir performed in each concert on the tour. They sang with great heart and really represented the university well to each audience. I am also especially grateful for the ways that the members of the choir remained positive through long travel days and the usual obstacles experienced in a travel group of this size. It is a trip that will remain in our memory for a long time. I am also grateful for the support of the College of Sciences and Arts and the Department of Visual and Performing Arts along with many donors who helped to underwrite some the expenses of the trip for the students. Through donor generosity, each student received significant support that was applied to their travel fee. We look forward to traveling again in the future.”

Terri Frew Dean’s Teaching Showcase Selection Delivers Distinctive Display of Educational Excellence

Terry Frew Dean's Potrait
Terri Frew
Assistant Teaching Professor, Visual and Performing Arts

College of Sciences and Arts Dean, Ravindra Pandey, selected Terri Frew for this week’s Dean’s Teaching Showcase. Frew, an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Visual and Performing Arts department, will be recognized at an end-of-term event with other showcase members. Frew is a candidate for the CTL Instructional Award Series.

Course Creativity Includes Community and Collaboration

Professor Frew demonstrates excellent teaching in a wide range of visual arts classes, including large general education courses (Art Appreciation), small studio courses (Drawing, Art + Design Studio, Ceramics, Fiber Arts), and theory courses (Color). Frew commits to nurturing creative exploration, practical hands-on skills, and critical analysis. She experiments with using community engagement to enhance student learning. For example, Frew partnered with the Hancock Community Garden for her Art + Design course. She also enjoys offering students new ways to think about what they are learning.

This semester she is piloting a new course in Fiber Arts. The course pairs creative “making and doing” with critical conversations about the role of hand-made items and craftsmanship, both historically and in today’s society. Jared Anderson, chair of the Visual and Performing Arts department, described Frew’s teaching as “ambitious, inclusive, and collaborative. Within the framework of arts education, she creates opportunities for students to explore varied topics and gain new perspectives. Her commitment to her teaching practices, students, and the university community is to be commended.”

Frew Dean’s Teaching Showcase Winner Displays Creativity and Expression

Professor Frew also serves as the Director of the Rozsa Galleries. She builds partnerships with other departments on campus related to the gallery’s exhibits. Frew fosters a gallery experience that highlights diverse perspectives and appeals to a wide audience. In 2022, she curated Arabesque, an exhibit that partnered international artist Clement Yeh with local artist Tomas Co. Created in close collaboration with the Rozsa Center’s programming, complementing the Rozsa’s fall ballet concert, Arabesque included drawings, sculptures, and video. Her recent curatorial project, Simple Machines, paired the work of Ukrainian Artist Yuliya Musakova and Michigan Tech Humanities professor M. Bartley Seigel. The multimedia exhibit included audio clips of the poets reading their work, a live printing demonstration, and a live performance from the visiting poet Musakova.

“Offering a vibrant arts curriculum that is available to all students is an important way that Michigan Tech sets itself apart as a STEM-focused institution”

“When we give students opportunities to explore creative and expressive practices, we enhance their ability to be truly innovative within their majors and in their future careers. We are fortunate to have outstanding faculty like Professor Frew encouraging Michigan Tech students to engage with the arts both now and throughout the rest of their lives.”

Jeff Sherwood’s Professional Theatrical Sound Design of Million Dollar Quartet

Congratulations to Jeff Sherwood, Assistant Professor of Sound, on his professional theatrical sound design for the ACT of Connecticut production of Million Dollar Quartet in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The musical was directed by Broadway actor and director Hunter Foster, who was an original cast member of the Broadway production.

The production opened on Saturday, February 24, 2024 and from the overwhelming response of the preview audiences, the show run was extended an extra week, now through March 23. The musical revolves around the historical twist of fate on December 4, 1956 that brought together Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley.

This creative activity and research in theatrical sound design continues to elevate the reputation of Michigan Tech to audiences around the country as well as potential future employers of Michigan Tech students and alumni.

VPA Students and Faculty attend Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

By Visiting Assistant Professor Terry Dana Jachimiak

From January 9 to 13, several faculty and students from the Department of Visual and Performing Arts embarked on an exciting journey to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for Region III. This festival, widely known as KCACTF, stands as a beacon for emerging talent in the realm of theater arts. It’s a vibrant stage where students get to shine, compete, and nurture their artistic skills on a regional platform.

Behind the scenes, two VPA faculty members, Associate Professor Kent Cyr and Assistant Professor Jeff Sherwood, played integral roles in the festival’s planning and execution. Cyr, with a remarkable six-year stint as the Festival Technical Director, provided invaluable support to numerous college theater productions within the region. His expertise ensured the seamless execution of performances on the festival stages. Sherwood, in his capacity as Co-Vice Chair of Design, Technology, and Management, contributed to the festival’s success by overseeing various technical theater aspects, including the National and Regional Design competitions, Design Storm, and Stage Management Fellowship and Initiative. To add to their contributions, Sherwood, Cyr, Distinguished Professor Christopher Plummer, and Visiting Assistant Professor Terry Dana Jachimiak II led workshops for eager students hailing from Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and parts of Ohio.

For the attending students, this festival was a treasure trove of experiences. They had the opportunity to participate in professional workshops, attend juried shows, network with professionals from all corners of the country, and showcase their own work in various competitions. It was a whirlwind of creativity and camaraderie.

The accolades poured in for our Michigan Tech University students, validating their exceptional talents. Evelina Cremeens earned the Regional Sound Design award for her outstanding work on *Hamlet*. Conner Pierson, collaborating with a talented team from different colleges and universities, clinched an Honorable Mention in the Design Storm category. Sommerdai Kier and Riy Dalman dazzled everyone by winning multiple awards, including the Fastest Sound setup and the coveted Gold Award in Tech Olympics. Tara Estrada’s swift knot-tying skills also earned her a first-place finish in the Fastest Knots section of Tech Olympics.

Christopher Plummer was also recognized at the festival and received the 2024 KCACTF Region III Michigan Faculty Service Award.

The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival showcased the incredible talents of our students and highlighted the dedication and expertise of our faculty members. It was a celebration of creativity, innovation, and the thriving theater community at Michigan Tech.

Vienna-Prague-Dresden | Led by Lisa Gordillo, Mary Cyr, and Kent Cyr

Temple of Tyn Prague
Temple of Tyn at Old Town Square in Prague (Courtesy of: Denis Poltoradnev-Unsplash)


Imagination. Creativity. Local and world histories. Art. Theatre. Music. Design. Michigan Tech’s first arts-focused study abroad is an immersive experience. Students from many campus majors are taking part: from Theatre and Sound Design, Humanities, and Chemistry, to Biomedical and Environmental Engineering. The trip focuses on art, theatre, architecture, and culture, with a special emphasis on the Prague Quadrennial, one of the largest theatre design events in the world. Students explore world heritage sites, study works of art in museums and galleries, attend performances, and reflect on local/global history, culture, and connection. The trip is open to all majors and is designed for students whose interests benefit from creativity and new perspectives – in other words, everyone. Follow us on the trip blog and on Instagram.

St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral rises above the Vitava River in Prague (Courtesy of: William Zhang-Unsplash)
Prague Astronomical Clock
Prague Astronomical Clock (Courtesy of: Jack Hunter-Unsplash)

Libby Meyer’s CD To What Listens Gives Voice to the Landscape and Its Inhabitants

The latest album from Libby Meyers To What Listens

The Keweenaw is awash in the sounds of nature. The cold north wind whistling through the birch trees at Fort Wilkins. The waves of Lake Superior slapping the agates along Bete Gris. The water whooshing through the rocks at Hungarian Falls. The loons conversing at dusk against the red and orange brilliance of the sky. It is the place for Libby Meyer, a teaching professor in Michigan Technological University’s visual and performing arts department and director of the music composition program, to create her art. To draw inspiration from her surroundings. “By giving a voice to the landscape and its inhabitants, my hope is to express this fragile relationship that we all share and need to sustain.”

You can hear that voice clearly in her latest CD release To What Listens. The CD project was funded by a grant from the University’s Research Excellence Fund Scholarship and Creativity Grants program. The recordings of choral and chamber works on Albany Records feature performances from the Capella Clausura conducted by Amelia LeClair and the Juventas New Music Ensemble.

Libby Meyer
Libby Meyer

The CD opens with “For Johnny B,” an arrangement of a movement from Lakescape, an orchestral work commissioned by the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra and funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. “For Johnny B” celebrates the Keweenaw National Historical Park. The lyrics were crafted from an oral history of Giovanni “Johnny” Battista Perona, a farmer, laborer, custodian, master musician on spoons, bones, and concertina as well as a butterfly enthusiast from Calumet. 

In “Melusina Calls to the Loon,” Libby captures the sounds of life on Isle Royale National Park, where she was an artist in residence in 1999. On walks, Libby would make up stories to fit the sounds surrounding her. On one particular walk, she imagined a melancholy conversation between a mermaid and a loon, each enchanted by the music of the other. 

The title track “To What Listens” is a set of five poems by Wendell Berry, poet, farmer, and environmental activist. These brief poems give birds a voice and use music inspired by bird songs, reminding us only by being fully present can we appreciate the beauty that is right now. The liner notes encourage, “Habitat loss is causing the woods to become quieter, so it is more important than ever that we listen to ‘the hidden singers.”

From Violin Lessons to Performances to Composition

Her music career started early with violin lessons from her musician father. Passion for music burned. She pursued a degree in music performance at Michigan State, but a broken arm made playing the violin painful. Instead, she started to compose and switched her major to theory and composition.

Composing was never presented to me as an option. It was something other people did and not a lot of other people did it. However, I realized that a bachelor’s in composition was less than worthless, so I decided to apply to grad school and I got in.

Libby Meyer

Northwestern offered Libby a full ride. “Chicago had great opportunities with lots of music, so it seemed like a great choice,” she says. Libby loved the energy of living in Chicago and the activity the city offered. “There is a lot of concrete in Chicago.”

Libby Meyer Finds Her Home in the Upper Peninsula

It wasn’t long before she decided to trade the concrete of Chicago for the timbers of the Upper Peninsula. “I had the great fortune to be selected as an artist in residence at Isle Royale National Park. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would become a life-altering experience. One that inspired me to leave Chicago without any real plan and move to the U.P. where I now make my home these many years later. Upon arrival at the park, I was immediately fascinated by the novel sights and sounds all around me; so different from the soundscapes of Chicago. It was here that I heard a white-throated sparrow for the first time and was so transfixed that I spent the following weeks trying to identify all the sounds that I was hearing. Each night walking from my cabin I would hear the calls of the loons, the chattering of squirrels, the chirping of frogs, bird songs, and the motion of Lake Superior.”

That the great outdoors has become her muse is no surprise given her introduction to it on Isle Royale. She admits it is hard to separate her work from the Keweenaw, whether it’s bugs in the summer or snow the other nine months of the year. Or the lake. “The lake is my little nirvana,” she says. It inspires her to create new sounds.

New sounds are a welcome addition to the local community of talented musicians. They are always willing to play something new and different. “If I write something I can get it played. The best thing about being a composer is writing something and having someone play it,” she says. It is just one of the joys of being a musician in this place.

The Joys Music Brings to Libby

In talking to her, it is clear music is front and center. She loves to see what she can do with music. Libby creates her own music and sounds, using what she hears in nature for inspiration. Here in Houghton, the inspiration is unencumbered by the white noise of the big city. Plus, Michigan Tech offers other advantages to being a composer. If she writes something she is confident it can be played. And writing something and hearing it played brings her the most joy.

Another joy for Libby is nurturing music in her students; seeing the excitement they get by writing music. She loves how curious and creative the students are; especially since most downplay their creativity. For Libby “Art is less a creation and more an allowing.” Students need that space where they are allowed to create. And particularly here at Michigan Tech where most pursue studies outside of music. “Students here get opportunities to play they would never get anywhere else.” It makes her feel like an ambassador.

Libby loves finishing a piece. When she starts a piece, she never really knows how it is going to go. Seeing it come together is really satisfying. For example, Libby was asked to write a piece to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Frederick Law Olmsted’s (social reformer and founder of American landscape architecture) birth. Given her love of Michigan, she chose to compose a piece about Belle Isle, a park in Detroit designed by Olmsted. While doing the research, she learned Olmsted quit the project. Instead, she decided to focus on the native wildflowers Olmsted incorporated into his landscape designs. It became “Beauty of the Fields.” Listen to Libby talk about Belle Isle and “Beauty of the Fields.”

Finishing To What Listens was a bit of a challenge for Libby. Getting musicians together to rehearse and record in a studio during a pandemic was never going to be easy. However, Libby was patient and determined. And now she can add finishing To What Listens to the list. We cannot wait to hear what new sounds Libby creates and adds to her list of created works.

Career Week for Michigan Tech’s Visual and Performing Arts Students

For most students at Tech, Career Week means ”Lights! Camera! Action!” To prepare, students need to research the roles they are interviewing for and the companies they will be interviewing with. They rehearse responses to typical interview questions and dress appropriately for the interview. The typical Career Fair experience for Visual Performing Arts (VPA) department students is no different.

Just as the giants of the automotive, chemical, consumer products, and other industries converge on Houghton to hire outstanding engineers, so do the major players in arts and entertainment.  They are looking to hire full-time employees and this summer’s interns. It all kicks off this week with virtual presentations from half-a-dozen companies. Each will present what makes them unique, why students should work for them, and which jobs they are hiring for. Most presentations are led by Tech alums, which gives students a unique insight into how to be more successful when competing for jobs at their company. 

VPA Students Have Skills and Potential

“Students from Michigan Tech not only engage in areas of study that are applicable to our industry, but more importantly they have the potential and capacity to expand their knowledge and learn what is required to contribute to the services we offer based on that core education. We are a niche company providing a unique set of services, and it is more important to have the ability to learn new skills quickly and easily than to already know a particular skill,” said Jason Pontius of Smart Monkeys. Smart Monkeys build some of the most technologically advanced entertainment systems in the world for clients including Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Gardens, and Universal Studios Orlando.

“Tech students are grounded in physical sciences and math, and those are quite important for the work that we do (design consulting for performing arts facilities). We need young candidates who have exposure to a wide variety of entertainment practices, and one of the strengths of Tech’s VPA programs is that it doesn’t pigeonhole students in the way that a lot of programs do. As a result, they are ready to consider things outside of one track of experience, and that’s a valuable skill for design consultants in my world to have,” Josh Loar, Senior Consultant (AV) of Charcoalblue LLC., a consulting firm working on everything from concert halls to theme parks. 

Recruiting Companies at Michigan Tech During Career Week

This week’s visitors and their presentations include:

Lighthouse Productions, located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is a full-service production company offering sound, lighting, roof systems, staging, and related services to clients across the Midwest. They are hiring for their 2023 Production Training Internship Program which runs from Late May through August.

Feb. 14, 12:15 pm Walker 210 and Google Meet 

Sante Fe Opera, located in New Mexico, offers a top-notch production environment with artisans of all stripes.

Feb. 14 @ 2:25 pm Walker 210 and Zoom

McKay Conant Hover is an acoustical and AV consulting firm designing concert halls, educational facilities, theatres, and more. Join their live session to learn more about consulting as a career.

Feb. 15 @ 2 pm Walker 212 and Zoom

Charcoalblue is a consulting firm working on everything from concert halls to theme parks for clients across the globe. Theatre, acoustic, project management, and digital design runs in their blood.

Feb. 17 @ 4 pm Walker 210 and Microsoft Teams

8th Day Sound, located in Cleveland, OH, is one of the largest live concert tour companies in the world. They are looking for team-oriented professionals who are passionate about sound and seeking to begin their careers in touring audio. They offer a 12-week paid internship and hires have worked on tours for Kendrick Lamar, MonstaX, and Stray Kidz to name a few.

Feb. 20 @ 1 pm, Walker 210 and Zoom

Smart Monkeys build some of the most technologically advanced entertainment systems in the world for clients including Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Gardens, Universal Studios Orlando, the Smithsonian, and the Big-O experience in South Korea. 

Feb. 20 @ 5 pm Walker 210 & Zoom

Contact Christopher Plummer For More information

Need more information, please contact Christopher Plummer, Distinguished Professor, Visual and Performing Arts at cplummer@mtu.edu or 906-487-3282

Joel Neves Nominated for Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award

Professor Joel Neves

We are so pleased to announce Joel Neves, Professor, Visual and Performing Arts is among the Associate Professor/Professor finalists for the 2023 Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award. The Distinguished Teaching Award recognizes outstanding contributions to Michigan Tech’s instructional mission.

To whittle the finalists to a single winner, The William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is seeking input on the finalists for its annual Distinguished Teaching Awards. Based on more than 40,000 student ratings of instruction responses, 10 finalists have been identified for the 2023 awards. The selection committee is soliciting comments from students, staff, faculty and alumni to be referenced during their deliberations.

Comments for the finalists are due by March 31 and can be submitted online.

The process for determining the Distinguished Teaching Award recipients from this list of finalists also involves the additional surveying of their spring 2023 classes. The selection committee makes the final determination of the award recipients. The 2023 Distinguished Teaching Awards will be formally announced in May.

For more information, contact the CTL at ctl@mtu.edu or 906-487-3000.

Don Keranen Jazz Awards

Director of Jazz Studies, Adam Meckler, has announced this year’s student recipients for the Don Keranen Endowed Scholarship Awards.

Each year, excellence in Jazz is recognized by way of the Don Keranen Memorial Jazz Scholarship. Three students are chosen by their peers in recognition of improvement, excellence, and leadership. Our award winners this year include R&D drummer Zane Smalley, Workshop Brass Band trombonist Matthew Plansinis, and Lab Band Lead Tenor player Grayson Dunham. These students all showed leadership, dedication, excellence, and improvement this year. I am grateful for them, and wish them continued success in the coming years. – Director of Jazz Studies, Adam Meckler.


Zane Smalley is a 3rd Year Software Engineering Major with a minor in Mathematical Science. He is a founding member of the Video Game Music Ensemble, and a member of the R&D Big Band, a Jazz Combo, and the Huskies Pep Band at Michigan Tech. Zane has been consistently involved with various bands and choirs since the age of 10 and started playing drums when he was about 13. When he isn’t in rehearsals, Zane enjoys spending his free time playing Super Smash Bros and Risk of Rain 2 with friends or playing and watching disc golf. 

Matthew Plansinis has had many aspirations in his life, but by far mathematics and music held most of his interest. From a young age, he liked to build stuff and was just curious how objects worked, so pursuing a career in engineering was an obvious choice. He only decided to major in biomedical engineering due to his youngest of two brothers, who was born with type 1 diabetes.

A majority of my life I’ve worked with and used equipment designed by biomedical engineers, so in hopes of improving my brother’s physical health, I chose to follow their path.”

 As for his interest in music, it started in 2011, when he started learning trombone for the first time in his middle school’s concert band. For the nine years following then, he would learn much, play in a variety of bands, and grow his appreciation for many genres of music. At this moment in his life, Matthew desires to gain a better knowledge of the history and theory of jazz, and to continue playing music in the future.

Grayson Dunham is a 4th year Audio Production and Technology student here at Michigan Tech. He has played in the Jazz Lab Band, as well as the Jaztec combo, for his entire collegiate career – as well as pursuing a minor in Jazz Studies. Some of his hobbies include backcountry skiing, mountain biking, music production and performance, and cooking. 

Don Keranen Jazz Awards

Director of Jazz Studies, Adam Meckler, has announced this year’s student recipients for the Don Keranen Endowed Scholarship Awards.

Each year, excellence in Jazz is recognized by way of the Don Keranen Memorial Jazz Scholarship. Three students are chosen by their peers in recognition of improvement, excellence, and leadership. Our award winners this year include Jazz Lab Band drummer Izzy Waldie, Jazz Lab Band trombonist Nicholas Bussey, and R&D Big Band lead trumpeter Matthew Fisher. These students all showed leadership, dedication, excellence, and improvement this year. Given the limitations of rehearsals, concerts, and recording sessions due to the pandemic, the work these students put in this year is especially impressive. I am grateful for them, and wish them continued success in the coming years. – Director of Jazz Studies, Adam Meckler.

Most Improved Player 
Izzy Waldie, Percussion
Jazz Lab Band

Izzy is a 19 year old Audio Production and Technology Major with a Computer Science Minor here at Tech, and the drummer for the Jazz Lab Band and top combo.  One day she hopes to work as a recording/mixing engineer or high fidelity loudspeaker designer.  She has been drumming since the second grade, and started playing jazz music in High School.  When not behind the kit or doing homework she is most likely making music, spending time with friends, or camping somewhere in the Keweenaw, or all three.

Most Valuable Player 
Matthew Fisher, Trumpet
R&D Big Band

Matt just finished his first year here at Michigan Tech as a Sound Design major. Music has always been a passion of his, and was excited to be a part of Tech’s Jazz Program.

“I’ve never had an opportunity to be a part of a legit jazz band, so I had a blast this year being a part of two bands and a combo. I’m looking forward to the next three years here at Tech and excited to continue performing in the jazz program!”

Most Valuable Player
Nicholas Bussey, Trombone Jazz Lab Band

Nicholas is a Second-Year Chemical Engineering student and trombonist in MTU’s Jazz Lab Band and top jazz combo. Also a composer, arranger and former Ravinia Jazz Scholar, he is constantly growing as a musician, and uses his skills to create multitrack music videos on top of his contributions in the Lab Band and combo. In his free time, he enjoys cycling long distances and playing niche board games. After graduating, he hopes to work to improve sustainability in the specialty coatings, food or plastics industries.