Oct. 15, 2004
A $50,000 grant to Catholic University will help kick off CUA’s Excellence in Music Theatre initiative, enabling students at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music to study with some of the most renowned composers, directors and musicians working on Broadway today.
Businessman David Savage has given $10,000 to the music school and pledged the remainder over the next five years as a challenge grant to encourage others to contribute to the initiative. The music school will launch its initiative with a special preview of “The Land Where All the Good Songs Go,” a new revue of songs by famed Broadway and film composer Jerome Kern Thursday, Oct. 21, at 6:30 p.m. in the upper lobby of CUA’s Hartke Theatre.
At the preview, a CUA cast will sing the show’s title song accompanied on the piano by Broadway musical director David Loud, who helped to create the revue. The Kern show will premier with a full staging at CUA Nov. 19 through 21.
Six CUA music school students have been cast in the revue, whose creators are Loud, musical director of numerous Broadway shows that include “Ragtime and “The World Goes ‘Round;” Stafford Arima, director and Olivier Award nominee; Christopher Gattelli, choreographer; and Ed Wilson, music theater historian. The show, which takes a chronological look at the composer’s career, features songs that previously were lost or unrecognized as compositions by Kern.
“This exciting initiative offers our students links to the ever-evolving professional world of performance on the American stage,” says Murry Sidlin, music school dean. “We connect them with the most imaginative practitioners — directors, composers and great performers — and get them started on their careers by thinking outside the box.”
Savage is executive vice president of a direct marketing company in West Chester, Pa. A baritone and occasional performer, Savage shared the stage at a couple of Washington area theaters in the mid 1990s with Jane Pesci-Townsend, chair of CUA’s Department of Music Theatre.
Pesci-Townsend is a four-time nominee for the Washington area’s biggest acting honor — the Helen Hayes Award. She has appeared in productions at Arena Stage and the Folger Shakespeare Library in the District and at Signature Theater in Shirlington, Va.
The donor says he decided to back the music school financially after hearing one of Pesci-Townsend’s students sing at a 2003 charity fund-raiser that Savage chaired in Philadelphia.
The student, Mark Bush, who earned his CUA bachelor’s degree in music last May, is currently on tour with a production of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“I was so impressed with Mark’s performance and with the rapport between him and Jane,” says Savage. “I think CUA’s music school is one of the best in the country. I’d like to help it become the very best.”
The relationships that music school students develop with faculty like Pesci-Townsend give the school “a vibrancy that’s unique in music education today,” Sidlin says. The school’s requirement that music theater majors land roles and act in two professional theater productions during their time at CUA provides a critical learning experience and an invaluable way to make contacts in the field, he adds.
CUA music school students enrolled in a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate programs study with professors who are also working singers, musicians, and conductors. Fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music, the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music is Washington, D.C.'s only university school of music. Graduates perform with the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna Opera, New York City Opera and every major symphony orchestra in the United States.
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