Mezzo soprano Helena Brown graduated from Hollins in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music. Now, she’s returning to the area to perform in Opera Roanoke‘s production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific. The Roanoke Times’ Mike Allen talks with Brown about her musical career and how studying at Hollins “was one of the best decisions I made in the course of my life….”
Steinway & Sons, which crafts approximately 2,500 pianos a year in the United States and Germany and is the choice of 97% of piano soloists performing at major venues, shipped five grand pianos and two upright pianos by truck from Baltimore to Hollins’ Presser Hall, home of the university’s music department. The instruments were delivered on July 2.
Professor of Music and Department Chair Judith Cline said Hollins has joined George Mason University, James Madison University, Radford University, and Episcopal High School in Alexandria as Virginia’s only “All-Steinway Schools.” Worldwide, just over 150 conservatories, colleges and universities, and other schools of distinction have earned this designation.
“At least 90 percent of an institution’s instruments must be Steinway & Sons, Boston, or Essex pianos and must be in good condition to qualify for ‘All-Steinway School’ recognition,” Cline explained. “The use of a certified Steinway piano technician for tuning the instruments is also required.”
Recently renovated Presser Hall will provide the pianos with a climate-controlled environment. “These are brand-new pianos that need time to adjust to humidity and other factors,” Cline noted. “It’s similar to breaking in a new pair of shoes. Our technician, Andy Lyford, will be able to give attention to all our instruments in the coming months and have them ready for the start of the new academic year.”
Hollins will officially mark its “All-Steinway School” designation during the university’s annual Founder’s Day event on February 20, 2014. Highlighting the celebration will be a recital by Alexander Schimpf, who has performed at important music centers throughout the world and in 2011 became the first German pianist to win the Cleveland International Piano Competition.
Hollins University’s official recognition as an “All-Steinway School,” along with performances by Hollins students and faculty and a concert by an internationally acclaimed pianist, highlighted this year’s commemoration of Founder’s Day on February 20.
Founder’s Day celebrates the birth of Charles Lewis Cocke, who served as president of Hollins from 1846 until his death in 1901. Even though Cocke came to Hollins after its establishment in 1842, he is considered the school’s founder because the institution would not have survived without his leadership during financial crises, disease epidemics, the Civil War, and other challenges.
Each year, Founder’s Day begins with members of the senior class processing to the Cocke Family Cemetery, located on the southeast end of campus, and placing a wreath on Mr. Cocke’s grave. The senior class traditionally chooses a member of the campus community to accompany them to the cemetery, and the class of 2014 selected Associate Professor of English Julie Pfeiffer for the honor this year.
That afternoon, the annual Founder’s Day convocation in duPont Chapel showcased the musical talents of a number of Hollins students, including soloists Liz Valvano ’15 (bassoon), Birdie Trotter ’15 (flute), Jessica Newberne ’14 (piano), and Naomi Fukuda ’15 (piano), and the Hollins University Concert Choir.
Professor of Music Judith Cline delivered the Founder’s Day address and talked about Hollins’ ten-year initiative to meet the criteria of Steinway & Sons, the world’s foremost piano maker, to become an ”All-Steinway School.” The status reflects Hollins’ commitment to excellence by providing students, faculty, and guest artists with the best equipment possible for the study and performance of music. Worldwide, just over 160 conservatories, colleges and universities, and other schools of distinction have earned this designation. Cline, a soprano, paid tribute to the founder of Steinway & Sons, Henry Steinway, with a rendition of Richard Strauss’s “Morgen!”
Associate Professor of English T.J. Anderson III also recognized Hollins’ All-Steinway designation at the convocation, performing his jazz poem, ”Prelude to a Kiss,” in dedication.
During her remarks, Hollins President Nancy Gray announced more celebratory news. The university is launching a new honors program in Fall 2014 that is fully endowed thanks to a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor. She also congratulated the Hollins student team that this month won the 15th annual statewide collegiate Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl. Tom Barron, chair of the Hollins Board of Trustees, joined Gray in saluting the university’s physical plant staff with a citation recognizing their exceptional work to ensure the campus remained safe and accessible during the recent winter storm that brought 19 inches of snow to the Roanoke Valley.
Two individual members of the campus community were also honored at the convocation. Cline received the Herta Freitag Faculty Legacy Award, presented to a member of the faculty whose recent scholarly and creative accomplishments reflect the extraordinary academic standards set by Freitag, who served as professor of mathematics at Hollins from 1948 to 1971. The Roberta A. Stewart Service Award, granted each Founder’s Day to a Hollins employee who demonstrates long-term service, loyalty to the university, and deep caring for students and colleagues, was presented to Elise Roschen, assistant to the director at the Hollins Riding Center.
Founder’s Day activities concluded that evening with a special concert by pianist Alexander Schimpf, winner of the 2011 Cleveland International Piano Competition. Prior to his performance, Steinway & Sons representatives from New York City and Washington, D.C., officially presented the “All-Steinway School” plaque to Gray, Barron, and Cline (pictured above from left to right). Hollins joins George Mason University, James Madison University, Radford University, and Episcopal High School in Alexandria as Virginia’s only “All-Steinway Schools.”
Founder’s Day has been commemorated at Hollins since 1898.
A concert featuring German pianist Alexander Schimpf will highlight Hollins University’s official recognition of its “All-Steinway School” designation during Hollins’ annual Founder’s Day celebration on Thursday, February 20.
Schimpf, whom the German daily newspaper Westfälische Nachrichten described as “a charismatic musical artist…a sensitive interpreter with great artistic maturity,” will perform that evening at 7:30 p.m. in duPont Chapel.
With the delivery last summer of seven instruments designed by Steinway & Sons, the company regarded as the world’s finest piano maker, Hollins joined George Mason University, James Madison University, Radford University, and Episcopal High School in Alexandria as Virginia’s only “All-Steinway Schools.” Worldwide, just over 150 conservatories, colleges and universities, and other schools of distinction have earned this designation. At least 95 percent of an institution’s instruments must carry the Steinway brand and must be in good condition to qualify for the recognition.
Schimpf rose to prominence by winning a series of impressive competitions, including the 2008 German Music Competition (an achievement no pianist had earned for 14 years), the 2009 International Beethoven Competition in Vienna, and the 2011 Cleveland International Piano Competition, where his final round performance with the renowned Cleveland Orchestra was given a standing ovation and received the Audience Favorite Prize. He has appeared in recital in France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, England, and South America, and made his debut performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall in December 2011. His engagements through 2013 featured appearances as a soloist with the St. Petersburg Marinsky Theatre Orchestra, the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie in Frankfurt, and the Dresden Philharmonic. He gave recital performances at the International Keyboard Festival in New York and the International Chopin Festival in Poland.
Each year, Hollins’ Founder’s Day event celebrates the birth of Charles Lewis Cocke, who served as president of Hollins from 1846 until his death in 1901. Even though Cocke came to Hollins after its establishment in 1842, he is considered the school’s founder because the institution would not have survived without his leadership during financial crises, disease epidemics, the Civil War, and other challenges.
This year’s program on February 20 begins with the Founder’s Day convocation at 4:30 p.m. in duPont Chapel. It will feature performances by the Hollins University Concert Choir, Chamber Singers, music faculty, and students with Steinway pianos. Associate Professor of English T. J. Anderson will present an original jazz poem written for the occasion and Professor of Music Judith Cline will deliver a brief address.
On Saturday, April 12, Andolyn Medina ’17 will get the opportunity to add her own unique chapter to this American tradition when she sings the National Anthem before the game between the NBA’s Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks in Washington, D.C.
“A friend of my mom’s suggested sending videos to some NBA teams of me singing the anthem,” explains Medina, an opera singer who hails from Chesapeake, Virginia. She says the Wizards expressed interest in scheduling her to perform before a game last month, “but I couldn’t because it was a school day.” The team subsequently booked her for a weekend contest that would not interfere with her studies.
Medina is a seasoned veteran of performing the National Anthem before live audiences. She first sang it publicly when she was eight years old at the ceremony commemorating her father’s retirement from the Navy. Since then, she estimates she’s performed the song as many as 50 times for various official events in Chesapeake and for Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, who represents Virginia’s Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But, what prompted the friend of Medina’s mother to urge her to approach the Wizards and other NBA teams was one particularly special anthem performance.
“Based on Congressman Scott’s recommendation, I was asked to sing before an appearance by President Obama at Phoebus High School in Hampton in July 2012,” she recalls. Afterward, “he shook my hand, asked me how I was doing in school and where I wanted to go to college. He was down-to-earth. My mom asked me, ‘Did it hit you that you were talking to the President of the United States?’ I think we related well because he has two daughters of his own.”
Medina says she’s never sung in front of an audience as large as what she will encounter at the Wizards-Bucks game: Verizon Center, the Wizards’ home arena, seats more than 20,200 spectators for basketball. Yet, with the help of her father, she’s discovered a way to keep any nervousness in check, whether she’s performing before the President or thousands of sports fans.
“When I was younger, I messed up the National Anthem once and my dad encouraged me to visualize the importance of the song and the symbolism of what it means to sing it for the country. Since then, whenever I have performed the anthem, I have thought about all the soldiers who have defended our rights and our freedoms. I really try to put myself in the moment so people can feel the passion of the song.” On April 12, she’ll also have her very own cheering section: more than 20 family members and friends are planning to attend the game.
Medina is a psychology major at Hollins and wants to become a pediatrician. She is enrolled in a three-year accelerated program that includes pre-med prerequisites. But, she says she is “intent on having music remain a part of my life, so I am really interested in music therapy. I want to be able to help others through music.”
And, don’t be surprised to see Medina singing the National Anthem at more big-time pro games in the future. She says her mom is going to send a video of her performance at the Wizards-Bucks contest to the Washington Redskins “because I’m a really big Redskins fan!”