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Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 12:01 am

Music matters at Lincoln Land

Established and successful, music education is ready to grow



On Wednesday, Dec. 4, outside Room 2250 in Menard Hall on the campus of Lincoln Land Community College, well-dressed young adults pace nervously, awaiting the moment they enter to participate in the LLCC 2013 Honors Recital in progress. Inside the room a black Steinway grand piano dominates the center of the performance space with LLCC music professor Jane Hartman Irwin seated on the bench. Up walks a young woman who flips back her hair, places her music on the stand and begins tuning her flute. With a nod to each other, the two begin performing Mozart’s Concerto in G.

Upon completion of the work, resounding applause from the audience of about 50 family members, friends, students and faculty fills the room. Then up comes the next student to perform. The process continues for several more performances, as guitarists, pianists, vocalists and percussionists demonstrate the musical prowess achieved during time spent in the Lincoln Land music department. Hartman introduces the four adjunct professors present and herself, along with LLCC assistant music professor Jason Waddell as the faculty responsible for the students performing that evening. Now it’s time for cookies and congratulations as the recital comes to a close.

A recital is like the pretty bloom of a flower everyone notices after a long and intense season of growth. Behind that few minutes of performance stands years of dedication, practice and determination to play music from each student. And behind that are many instructors and teachers encouraging and educating these young people toward excellence in music.

At Lincoln Land Community College, Springfield’s undergraduate two-year institution on Shepherd Road south of Springfield, the music department has long been an integral part of the school’s curriculum. The college included a music program under the fine arts and humanities umbrella upon opening in 1968, gradually increasing the department with faculty and space. From department founders, the late Howard Wooters and Robert Vandall (now a successful music composer), to later professors Eugene Haas, Denise Edwards and Barbara Lanham, LLCC built a strong and influential program with the productive work of many dedicated instructors over the ensuing years. The program currently teaches 22 music majors and reaches another nearly 360 individuals with music lessons, courses and performances.

LLCC music educators gathered ’round the timpani include adjunct professors Theresa O’Hare, Melinda Pitt Kaye, Barbara Lanham, Denise Edwards and Sue Hamilton, professor Jane Hartman Irwin and assistant professor Jason Waddell.

Professor Jane Hartman Irwin and Assistant Professor Jason Waddell – with the full support of David Laubersheimer, dean of Fine Arts and Humanities, and a talented group of adjunct faculty – are set on expanding many areas of the department. These include student and faculty group and individual performances, music technology advances and experiences, increasing music appreciation to both music majors and all students, setting up summer camps for area high school students and tailoring the coursework of music majors to meet exacting requirements of area universities.

“The bottom line is we are looking to grow the music program,” said Dean Laubersheimer, “and we are expanding in multiple directions.”

Every learning center, from early preschool to post-graduate, depends on teachers to convey the basic work of educating. The quality of the faculty makes the Lincoln Land Community College music department shine.    

“Along with Jane, and now Jason, as full-time professors, we have a cadre of excellent adjunct faculty working with us to help build the program,” Laubersheimer said. “I’m really happy about the wonderful group we have here.” 

Mary Grace Staggenborg, LLCC music major on the flute, performs a Mozart concerto during the Honors Recital.

Though she goes by Professor Irwin at school, Jane Hartman is the name familiar to any follower of local music, specifically of vocal and classic piano jazz. She began her popular Jane Hartman Trio with LLCC members and won the Best Musician category in our Best of Springfield contest several times. At one time she was selling more CDs in the Midwest than any other Springfield performer, especially doing well in the St. Louis area. She still plays out occasionally and also performs as the “+1” in the local Dixieland band, Riverboat 5 + 1, but these days her attention is mostly focused on her growing work at LLCC and time spent with the Grateful Bread Band at Springfield’s First Christian Church, where her husband, Rick Kent Irwin, is senior pastor.

An instructor at Lincoln Land since 1984, she went full time in 2001 when Gene Haas retired. Her many awards and accomplishments include LLCC Faculty Woman of the Year for 2005, composer of the Lincoln Land alma mater “Lincoln Land,” international performances in France, Venice, Florence, Rome and Ashikaga City, Japan, as well as shows at many venues closer to home. Her background in classical music, combined with standard and improvisational jazz, gives her a grounded and classic approach to the art, steeped in music theory and trained in the time-honored practice of practice, practice, practice. With real experience in working performance to back her teaching philosophy, she not only plays the tune, but knows what it takes to get it done and done right.     

Joining the faculty in fall of 2012 after the retirement of Barbara Lanham, Jason Waddell quickly adapted into the other professor position. According to Dean Laubersheimer, of the many applicants for the job, Waddell was the ideal fit for the program, but he nearly didn’t apply for the position. Happily ensconced in a high school band director position with plenty of satisfying adjunct work at Richland Community College near Decatur, he wasn’t aware of the opening until he performed at LLCC’s Trutter Center with one of his band groups and was encouraged to apply by his Lincoln Land hosts.

Loaded with high academic credentials and degrees from Millikin University and Illinois State University, his work history involved writing jingles with his musician/composer wife, publishing music educational books, working directly with music software companies developing programs, school band directing, teaching a variety of music-related and humanities college courses and other jobs. His background seemed to seamlessly fit into the growth concept in place at LLCC.

Gene Haas, LLCC instructor from 1972 to 2001, longtime Jane Hartman Trio bassist and retired Springfield Municipal Band director, playing his bass.

“When we first looked at his resume and saw he was a euphonium player, my husband, who also comes from a low brass background, said ‘that’s the one!’,” laughed Irwin. “But then, when we discovered he also composed, knew music technology, played guitar, piano, percussion and other instruments, we felt he would fit in perfectly here.”

The one-two combination of “the J team” – as Waddell laughingly refers to Jane and Jason – seems to be working well. As Irwin concentrates on the organizational side, music theory and classical performances, Waddell works to develop his new Music Tech course, teaches various instruments and encourages the students oriented to popular music. The energy created through the collaboration of two individuals dedicated to music education is obvious and effective.

With a new piano lab featuring a couple dozen electronic pianos connected to a large, collective screen that allows for intricate teaching methods, Hartman happily works in her up-to-date environment, teaching theory and keyboards. In the same room, Waddell has space reserved for several computer work stations where students will soon be applying the latest methods of recording music and sound processing to self-composed works. They work toward understanding the concepts behind the technique so they can do it for a living.

In a recent example of applying the newly acquired skills with inter-departmental cooperation, members of the music department recorded, mastered and produced a soundtrack for the LLCC theater department’s, now playing production of The Importance of Being Earnest.

“We not only did the recording and composing, but we set the whole project up just like the theater group was a client,” explained Waddell. “That way students got a working idea of how a business scenario could happen while doing the actual music work.”

Evan Richards picks on his guitar during the Honors Recital, accompanied by Jason Waddell on piano.

According to Waddell, it worked. The producers of the play turned down the original offering and the music group had to redo the project to meet the “client’s” demands, just like a working composer dealing with a real-world situation would need to do. The retooled music was acceptable and everyone got what they wanted, plus it was all done “in house.”

Along with Irwin and Waddell as full-time faculty, Lincoln Land has an array of gifted and devoted adjuncts who work per course and per lesson, many native to the Springfield area. The part-time faculty includes the trio of Sue Hamilton, Melinda Pitt Kaye and Alice Edwards, along with several others, including Greg Cohill, Russel Brazzel, Denise Edwards, Barbara Lanham, Pe-i Wang, Joe Kohlrus and Theresa O’Hare. Several of these well-educated private instructors have been with the program for years, a good indicator of how well the department functions.

Lessons are offered through these private faculty to all members of the community, not just Lincoln Land students. This idea of including the community in the community college ensures anyone interested in continuing to work on music with qualified faculty instructors can do so, with affordable lessons. These “hobby students” perform at their own recital and also can join in some of the music group options offered to students, especially in the LLCC Big Band. Placing adult players in the same band next to student musicians fresh out of high school allows experience to meet enthusiasm, with positive results.

“When you have the older students passing it along, sitting next to younger students, showing them how to do things differently... to me that’s community college at its best,” Hartman said. “This community band and our quality adjuncts are some of our best strengths.”

Jason Waddell and Jane Hartman Irwin ensconced in their shared “chaos office” on the LLCC campus.

According to the Illinois Community College Board, more than 60 percent of students enrolled in higher public education in Illinois attend a community college. As these community colleges more and more become “feeder” schools for economic and scholastic reasons, programs called “two-plus-two agreements” are popular between two-year institutions and four-year universities. Students sometimes discover when transferring that certain classes from one school don’t meet qualifications at the new college. The two-plus-two concept allows students to avoid that issue by directly working with the institution they intend to attend, in order to clarify transfer issues beforehand. In some cases they can even commit to the school upon entering LLCC and lock in tuition rates as if they were actually attending the other college. The program, well established in other departments, is now becoming a reality within the music department. Agreements are being pursued with Western Illinois University in Macomb, Millikin University in Decatur, Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and with other compatible schools.

As the established programs of longstanding music traditions and styles meet the newer concepts of digital technology and popular music, the Lincoln Land music department is poised to make Springfield a better place to learn music business and performance. Students seem more willing than ever to consider and accept what community colleges can offer, before taking the big step to complete a degree at another institution. And LLCC is ready and able to fill the bill.

“Lincoln Land is in essence a transfer institution. Our reputation depends on the quality of our students,” Dean Laubersheimer stated. “I’m happy to report we have schools actively pursuing our graduates.”

The continued growth, along with a dedication to well-rounded education and thoughtful attention to the needs of students while benefiting the community as a whole, makes the college a valuable resource to central Illinois residents. While some students choose to stay and enhance our local scene, others decide to move on to other adventures. But all take the quality education offered and delivered by LLCC wherever they use their talent, given and honed.

When talking about a certain student in her theory class who “got it,” Irwin spoke of the musician “just beaming” while working. As Waddell continued the story, “He came up to me and said, ‘I found my niche, now I’m hungry for it.’ Wow, now that’s what we like to hear!”

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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