In 1969, Case Western Reserve formed a lasting partnership with its newest neighbor in University Circle.
Eight years before, the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) had moved into a custom-built facility at the corner of East Boulevard and Hazel Drive, a short walk from the Mather Quad. Its reputation had preceded it; founded in 1920, it counted many distinguished concert artists among its alumni. But as one of the nation’s few independent conservatories, CIM was competing with a growing number of music programs housed in colleges and universities. Gradually, its leaders concluded that through an alliance with Case Western Reserve, the school could expand academic options for its students while preserving its distinctive identity. The university, meanwhile, was eager to enhance its offerings in the fine and performing arts by affiliating with the renowned cultural institutions on its doorstep.
CWRU and CIM began cooperating in a piecemeal fashion—blending their choral ensembles, for instance—and devoted two years to intensive planning before they launched the Joint Music Program (JMP). Their stated goal was “to strengthen and improve musical training, musical education and music-making in Cleveland and to establish here a center for these activities unmatched in quality by any in the United States.”
Today, JMP remains something rare: a lively collaboration between a top-ranked research university and a leading conservatory. It has influenced the evolution of both schools over the past half-century, enabling them to develop complementary programs of the highest caliber instead of duplicating each other’s efforts. As a result, it has increased their ability to attract outstanding students and faculty members.
“The logic then was the same as the logic now,” says David Rothenberg, associate professor and chair of CWRU’s Department of Music. “The two institutions have a lot to offer each other. Both of us recognize that the Joint Music Program gives us major strengths that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Proof of JMP’s ongoing vitality comes from students and alumni who speak of its contributions to their academic and artistic development. Consider Caleb Middlebrook (CWR ’19), who graduated this May with a bachelor of arts in music and minors in biology and chemistry. Middlebrook is planning on a medical career, but he is also a serious cellist.
“When I was a junior in high school, I thought I was only going to do music, and I auditioned for conservatories,” Middlebrook says. “But I had also always liked medicine. When I learned about Case Western Reserve and its joint program with CIM, I thought I’d be able to play cello while also being pre-med and do both things pretty seamlessly.”
For the past four years, Middlebrook has taken weekly lessons at CIM with Bryan Dumm, who holds the Muriel and Noah Butkin Endowed Chair in the cello section of the Cleveland Orchestra. Dumm is one of two orchestra members who teach Case Western Reserve students through JMP; the other, violist Lisa Boyko, holds the Richard and Nancy Sneed Endowed Chair. When Boyko led a chamber music program at the conservatory last fall, Middlebrook was among the players.
Along with his lessons, Middlebrook took courses at CIM in music theory and eurhythmics (the study of rhythm through movement). As a result, he became friends with some of the conservatory students. Being in class together, he says, “helped us get to know one another and learn from each other.”
These experiences are provided not only to every music major at CWRU, but also to every music education major—students planning to become K-12 teachers and ensemble directors.
For soprano Madeline Yankell (CWR ’19), who graduated this May with a major in music education and a minor in French and Francophone studies, the instruction available through JMP led to further opportunities. For three years, Yankell studied with CIM faculty member Dean Southern, who was recently named director of the conservatory’s Opera Theater Program. In Fall 2017, she won a performance prize from CWRU’s music department and performed in the Leonard and Joan Terr Ronis Annual Memorial Recital. The following summer, at Southern’s prompting, she traveled to Italy to take part in La Musica Lirica, an intensive opera training program.
“We were situated in a lovely small town called Novafeltria,” Yankell recalls. “A typical day consisted of Italian language class in the morning, Italian diction coaching and voice lessons in the afternoon and opera rehearsals in the evening.” Yankell performed in one of three fully staged operas, and in smaller-scale presentations of scenes from other works, produced over the course of just five weeks.
This spring, Yankell did her student teaching at Rocky River High School, where she prepared a choir for its end-of-year pops concert. “I definitely bring knowledge that I acquired in voice lessons to my own students in the classroom,” she says. “We talk about breath management and tone placement just about every day.”
Once she has taught for a few years, Yankell may go on for a master’s degree in conducting, vocal pedagogy or performance. Whatever she chooses, she believes that the background she acquired as an undergraduate will serve her well.
“The Joint Music Program allowed me to study with masters in their fields, from world-class musicologists and music educators to spectacular vocal teachers,” Yankell says. “It is really the best education I could have asked for.”
To CIM students, the Joint Music Program brings a different set of advantages. Whether they are pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees, they all come to Case Western Reserve for their music history courses. Judy Bundra, chief academic officer and dean of the conservatory, says that this feature of JMP is especially significant, given the eminence of CWRU’s musicology faculty. For their part, members of the faculty say that the CIM students make a valuable contribution to their courses. “it’s very satisfying to teach top-notch musicians,” Rothenberg explains. “They often find music history transformative in their playing, and the class runs at a higher musical level.”
In addition, CIM undergraduates take a variety of non-music electives to meet the general education requirements for their bachelor’s degrees in performance. They can pursue any minor that the university offers; and if they stay on for an additional year, they can complete a major and graduate with degrees from both CIM and CWRU. Along the way, they have access to academic support programs, health and counseling services, and other campus resources and facilities.
Bundra says that these offerings make JMP a powerful recruiting tool. Other conservatories cannot promise their students the chance to attend a major research university. This prospect often appeals not only to young musicians considering CIM, but also to their parents, who see a CWRU education as a way to expand their children’s career options.
Perhaps surprisingly, Case Western Reserve also offers CIM students expanded performance opportunities. They can supplement their conservatory training by joining one of the music department’s jazz ensembles, directed by senior instructor Paul Ferguson, or its Klezmer Music Ensemble, directed by part-time lecturer Steven Greenman. Those at the graduate level can also take part in CWRU’s Historical Performance Practice (HPP) program, where they become familiar with the repertoire, instruments and performance styles of early periods in Western music—usually the 18th century, but sometimes extending as far back as the Middle Ages.
This year, for example, CIM graduate students made up three quarters of the CWRU Baroque Orchestra, directed by violinist Julie Andrijeski (GRS ’06), senior instructor and artistic coordinator of historical performance ensembles. Andrijeski points out that modern orchestras are increasingly drawn to Baroque music, often inviting early-music conductors to lead performances. As a result, players who gain experience in this area have a competitive edge in job interviews and auditions. Some of the CIM students took private lessons with Andrijeski, but they also learned about period style as they rehearsed alongside HPP graduate students from Case Western Reserve, including concertmaster Alan Choo, principal second violinist Guillermo Salas-Suárez and principal cellist Eva Lymenstull. Without members from both institutions, the Baroque orchestra would be too small to perform much of the repertoire originally written for such ensembles.
Daniel Fridley was earning a master of music degree in vocal performance at CIM when he first got involved in the HPP program. He came to the conservatory to prepare for a career singing bass roles in what he calls “traditional operas—the works that are put on regularly in major houses in this country and all over the world.” He became one of Southern’s students and appeared in CIM productions of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Hector Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict.
But Fridley was also interested in early music, and he had chosen CIM with the intention of exploring historical performance at Case Western Reserve. Dividing his time between the two schools, he took HPP courses, played the recorder and sang in Baroque ensembles, and scheduled voice lessons twice each term with CWRU’s Kulas Visiting Artists, soprano Ellen Hargis and tenor Aaron Sheehan.
“They encouraged me to pursue singing early music as well as traditional opera,” Fridley recalls. “They said that my vocal training was very well suited to what I wanted to do, which was to pursue both.”
By the time he completed his CIM degree in 2017, Fridley had also earned a certificate in historical performance practice, and he decided to continue in the HPP program by seeking a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at CWRU. Students who choose this path acquire expertise as both scholars and performers—and these two identities, Fridley says, reinforce each other.
“In early music, your success as a performer is largely determined by your ability to access information about historical practices, and about the repertoire itself,” he explains. At the same time, training in performance enables scholars to share their knowledge not only with readers of academic journals, but also with audiences.
Fridley has become a frequent performer with early-music ensembles beyond the university, often appearing with HPP faculty members and fellow graduate students. Yet he hasn’t lost his connection to CIM. He still visits Southern for weekly lessons while continuing his studies with Hargis and Sheehan. (Some of his fellow voice students work with conservatory and JMP faculty member Dina Kuznetsova.) Last fall, Fridley participated in CIM productions of 20th-century operas by Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel. And early this spring, when the conservatory’s Opera Theater Program and Case Western Reserve’s HPP program staged an opera together to mark the 50th anniversary of the Joint Music Program, he assumed one of the principal roles.
“It was a tremendous project,” Fridley says, “and I’m so happy to have been able to take part in it.”
The piece chosen for the occasion, Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie (1733), was groundbreaking in its time, and the JMP production emulated its spirit. CIM had never presented an 18th-century opera in an historically informed style. But now, the CWRU Baroque Orchestra made its first appearance in the conservatory’s Kulas Hall; Hargis served as stage director; and Andrijeski, a specialist in Baroque dance as well as Baroque violin, was the choreographer. Before each of the four performances, CWRU Professor Georgia Cowart gave a lecture preparing audiences for the opera’s musical, visual and dramatic extravagance.
The singers—in sufficient numbers to make up a chorus and two alternating casts of soloists—came from both institutions. So did the dancers, who variously appeared as furies in the underworld, drunken sailors, forest creatures, shepherds and shepherdesses, and conveyors of winds sent by the gods. (The troupe included Southern, who had come up with the idea for the production and didn’t want to be on the sidelines.) CIM provided the costume designer, Inda Blatch-Geib; the set and lighting designer, Dave Brooks; the chorus master, John Simmons; and the conductor, Harry Davidson (CWR ’78), a music professor at Duke University who also belongs to CIM’s opera faculty.
It was especially fitting for Davidson to be involved in the project. As a music major at Case Western Reserve, he had participated in JMP during its first decade. All these years later, he still remembers taking the stairs to the second floor of the conservatory for Music Theory 101, his introduction to the CIM curriculum.
“The CIM theory department has always been very rigorous,” he says. “And I’m very appreciative of that, because it forced me to learn so well music theory and harmony and sight singing and ear training—all the things that I would make so much use of in my career.” The course marked the beginning of Davidson’s long association with CIM, which hired him after he graduated to conduct its youth orchestra.
The Rameau production was as much a departure for Davidson as it was for the conservatory generally. He wasn’t accustomed to leading an orchestra of period instruments, or adjusting his tempos to meet the requirements of a dance interlude. Yet he says that the experience reminded him of things he had done at CWRU in the distant past. “Even when I was a student, Baroque music interested me quite a bit,” he explains. “I remember that I was the cellist in a Bach cantata group that played in Harkness Chapel.”
As an undergraduate, Davidson also conducted the music department’s reading orchestra, which met regularly to sight-read scores but never gave public performances. And he gratefully recalls how much he learned from members of CWRU’s music faculty, especially Associate Professor Emeritus Quentin Quereau, who still lives in Cleveland and attends every CIM opera Davidson conducts.
“CWRU and CIM have always been in my life in one way or another,” Davidson says, “and they collectively provided the opportunity for me to do that which I seemed almost destined to do: teaching and conducting—both these things—and sharing music with young people.”
For him, Davidson adds, the production celebrating JMP’s milestone anniversary was the fulfillment of a long-standing wish. “We all know about the students taking classes and lessons—the really important things about the Joint Music Program that nobody ever really sees,” he explains. “Yet I have often wanted there to be some more visible collaboration between the two schools. And here it is.”