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One of the Most Interesting Courses at U-M

Students in Hill Auditorium

Eight live performances. Three humanities credits. Experience the performing arts up close and behind the scenes.

Engaging Performance (Winter 2020) connects undergraduate students directly to the touring, world-class artists who perform music, theater, and dance on the U-M campus. Students will attend live performances, talk with the artists and the arts administrators who help get them here, and explore how the performing arts are an integral part of our lives and the world at large.

Class will include lectures (including some by guests and visiting artists), required attendance at evening performances, interactive classroom activities, weekly readings, response papers about the performances, and presentations from students in class.

Students will attend live performances of:

These performances constitute the course’s primary “texts,” and the full package of tickets is available to students enrolled in the course for the dramatically reduced rate of $120. Engaging Performance is made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a partnership between the University of Michigan and the University Musical Society (UMS).

Course Information

MUSPERF 200.001, ALA 260.001, HISTORY 230.002
Instructors: Victoria Langland and Mark Clague

Meets Tuesdays & Thursdays
11:30 am – 1 pm
Angell Hall G127

Register Online

By the end of this class students will be able to:

  • Rigorously describe live performance
  • Imagine how performance asks questions about the world
  • Identify how structural choices vary across performances
  • Identify various elements of a performance and discuss how they impact one another
  • Have knowledge of tools necessary to research a performance’s historical and social context prior to attending a live performance
  • Consider how performance might be a mode of research—a way not just to ask a question, but to investigate that question in motion, through sound, etc.
  • Learn more about the UMS and what it offers to students

Is it for me?

No previous knowledge of the performing arts is required from students! It is open to undergraduates at all levels and across all departments at the University of Michigan; no previous experience or special training in arts is required.

Engaging Performance is made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a partnership between the University of Michigan and the University Musical Society (UMS).

Behind the Scenes: University of Michigan Students Perform with New York Philharmonic

As part of the UMS residency with New York Philharmonic, Jamie and Jessica, students from the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, performed on stage with the orchestra at Hill Auditorium.

Go behind-the-scenes from audition to performance in this video.

Learn more about the 2017-18 season concerts and residency experience.

Behind the Scenes: Off The Grid

UMS and the New York Philharmonic went Off The Grid for two pop-up concerts with New York Philharmonic musicians and University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance students at Avalon and Fred’s in Ann Arbor on November 16, 2017.

Full New York Philharmonic concerts and residency information.

November 28: Giving Blueday 2017

One celebration. 24 hours. One generous match.
Give to inspire students of all ages.

Today is Giving Blueday, and we’re seeking to raise $100,000 to support creative learning experiences at UMS that connect students of all ages with innovative performing artists from around the globe.

Make a Gift

For 24 hours, you can double the impact of your gift.

U-M alums, who support UMS, have made a generous commitment to match 1:1 all new gifts to support student experiences at UMS made online on Giving Blueday — not only new gifts from new donors, but also increased giving from those who already support UMS annually. And of course we welcome all gifts from loyal UMS supporters to help us reach our goal that day!

Join us and thousands across the University of Michigan community to support extraordinary student experiences at Michigan.

Your gift to UMS on Giving Blueday will support:

UMS 21st Century Artist Internships

Each summer, UMS offers paid summer internships that give undergraduate students real-world experience, working behind the scenes with professional artists and ensembles from around the world that UMS will present the following season. When students return to campus, they help welcome the visiting artists to Ann Arbor and host a variety of educational and community engagement activities for their peers on campus.

In this video, 21st Century Intern Johnny Mathews shares his experience with Urban Bush Women in New York City, which UMS presents in January, 2018.

Discounted Student Tickets

College students account for 20% of the UMS audience. To ensure they have access to the best and most innovative artists from around the globe, UMS provides $12, and $20 student tickets to our mainstage performances — reflecting a 67% effective discount and over $420,000 in generous ticket subsidies.

Pictured: students at a January dance performance with Igor & Moreno that surprised and delighted audiences.

UMS Engaging Performance Course

A unique undergraduate class where students from across campus attend UMS mainstage performances, connect directly with visiting artists in class, and get to explore a variety of art forms and themes, often around relevant social issues. Rave reviews highlight how the class has opened students to new ideas and given them the opportunity to connect and collaborate with peers from a wide range of academic disciplines.

UMS School Day Performances and In-School Workshops

students at school day performanceEach season, thousands of young students from across Southeast Michigan have access to extraordinary learning experiences that inspire and motivate. They bring a contagious and joyful enthusiasm to UMS School Day Performances and participate in free pre- and post-show workshops back at school, where they have the chance to explore an artist’s work in more depth and try similar creations — all connected to what they’re learning in class.

Be a Victor for the Arts at UMS.

And give the gift of uncommon and engaging learning experiences. Join us for Giving Blueday.

Make a Gift

K-12 Talk Out: Students on Ragamala Dance

Talk Out: Ragamala Dance Company – School Day Performance | UMS presents from UMS (University Musical Society) on Vimeo.

After each UMS K-12 School Day Performance, students get the chance to reflect on the stage. Hear what students had to say after seeing Ragamala Dance on October 20, 2017.

Student Spotlight: Alice Schmitz at The Knights

This post is part of a series of posts by students who are part of our 21st Century Student Internship program. As part of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s on the UMS season.

U-M student Alice Schmitz was paired with The Knights in Summer 2017. The Knights are in Ann Arbor on November 12, 2017.


Photos: On left, a view of the Hudson River from the park next to my apartment. On right, a shot of a double rainbow taken from a subway car in Brooklyn.

While it was inevitable that I would listen to The Knights, a chamber orchestra hailing from Brooklyn, New York, as a classical bass student in college, I first learned of The Knights because of my love of the banjo. As a middle-schooler, I fell in love with bluegrass and listened to Béla Fleck’s recordings religiously. So when Béla Fleck performed a concert an hour and a half outside of my home in Minneapolis, my mom and I, of course, drove out to see him perform. He collaborated with a string quartet founded by two brothers, Eric and Colin Jacobsen, who also, as chances would have it, had recently started an orchestra called The Knights. So when I learned this May that I would be interning with The Knights, with a start date just a week away, it felt like fate. To work with an ensemble that has collaborated with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, and the rock band Dr. Dog, was beyond any of my expectations for this experience.


Photos: On left, the orchestra rehearses at the Naumburg Bandshell for its performance that evening. On right, members of The Knights perform with Lisa Loeb for a family concert at the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.

I think the picture below almost captures the essence of The Knights’ spirit that made their vision so enticing and invigorating to me. I took it during my first evening as a Knights intern, during a celebration for BLUESHIFT, a group of donors the ensemble created to allow young donors the same access to the ensemble and its creative process as other supporters. In the photo, a baby doll lies next to the remains of a barbecue while the audience listens to a Colin Jacobsen’s performance of a Schubert Sonatina, which, Colin casually mentions, would also be performed at the Tanglewood Festival later that summer alongside the legendary Immanuel Ax.

The scene, like The Knights, was the perfect intersection of the exceptional and the everyday. The Knights’ model is revolutionary because they acknowledge and embrace the fact that classical music does not belong on a pedestal, separated from its audience, but rather classical music should be folded into the fabric and beauty of the life of every member of the ensemble’s vast community of listeners. Knights coexist in both the world of Tanglewood and the Elbphilharmonie and the world of Brooklyn parks and breweries. While some ensembles performing the classical repertoire have confined themselves to a rote form, canon, and setting, The Knights easily adjust themselves to any circumstance and eagerly seek a broad range of these circumstances.


Photos: On left, a baby doll lies next to the remains of a barbecue while the audience listens to a Colin Jacobsen’s performance of a Schubert Sonatina. On right, a rehearsal for the Tanglewood performance in the same space.

The Knights’ administrative office, where I spent the majority of my internship, is located in a Brooklyn townhouse, tucked on the floor between the apartments of the two artistic directors of the orchestra, Colin and Eric Jacobsen. As an intern in a small and dynamic team of administrators, I was able to participate in virtually all facets of the work which make The Knights’ success possible.

I researched opportunities for funding, assisted at rehearsals, drafted grant proposals, and learned about the National Endowment for the Arts guidelines, all the while chatting about punk operas and jazz masses with my coworkers. I was also generously included in community engagement meetings, a post-concert celebration in Central Park, and a board meeting. The Kinghts board includes both leaders of brand-name companies and record labels and members of the orchestra. The whiteboard I sat next to at the office was a daily reminder of the ensemble’s commitment to honoring their members’ needs in this way, covered with notes on how to improve the rehearsal process and support the lives and of the musicians.


Photos: On left, lunch with The Knights office staff on the last day of my internship. On right, fellow intern Patricia and I staff the merchandise table during a performance at the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.

It is, of course, impossible to write about spending the summer as an arts intern in New York City without mentioning the city itself. In the six weeks I spent living in New York, I was able to attend more performances, exhibitions, and cultural events than I had attended in the past year. During my very first two days in the city, I watched the New York Philharmonic from the VIP section of their concert in Central Park, stumbled upon a musical in a subway station, and scored free tickets to a performance by one of my childhood idols in a tiny eyewear shop. Living in an apartment in the heart of Washington Heights, I would fall asleep to Despacito outside and wake to my apartment-mate working on material for his noise album.


Photos: On left, a musical performance at the Fulton Street Station I discovered after getting lost on the subway. On right, meeting a childhood hero, vocalist José James, after his performance at an eyewear store.

Working with The Knights in one of the most dynamic cities in the world was the most empowering and enriching experience I have ever had.  I am extremely indebted for the warmth and support I experienced as an intern in the ensemble’s office, and for this internship opportunity, without which none of this would have been possible. I cannot wait to enjoy a performance by The Knights on November 12 in Ann Arbor, this time with Avi Avital and Kinan Azmeh. Having spent hours researching and writing about this program for a grant supplement, I can promise that this concert is not one to be missed!

See The Knights on November 12, 2017.

K-12 Students, Teachers, Artists Come Together for Special Residency

Last year, we worked with 400+ students and teachers during a residency with Ping Chong + Company. What happened may brighten your day.

UMS hosted Ping Chong + Company for an extended artistic residency during the 2017-18 performance season. This residency involved a diverse population ranging from public events, University groups, and seven high schools from throughout southeast Michigan.

Student Spotlight: Teagan Faran at Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

This post is part of a series of posts by students who are part of our 21st Century Student Internship program. As part of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s on the UMS season.

U-M student Tegan Faran was paired with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Summer 2016. The group returns to Ann Arbor with pianist Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.

A sunny day in NYC is well spent exploring Central Park! This was a favorite spot especially thanks to the nearby Dominican ice cream vendorsSerenaded by 2 students of JALC's WeBop Class learning about the instruments of a jazz band
Left: A sunny day in NYC is well spent exploring Central Park. This was a favorite spot especially thanks to the nearby Dominican ice cream vendors. Right: Serenaded by 2 students of JALC’s WeBop Class learning about the instruments of a jazz band. All photos by Teagan Faran.

New York City is beyond famous. A museum on every corner, neighborhoods full of culture from every corner of the world, everywhere you look the Big Apple is the supreme destination for any tourist. Anyone staying in the city any longer may notice other (un)endearing traits: over-friendly rodents, the same faces camping out on the same subway stairs night after night, that very distinct aroma of over 8 million people sharing the same space. Amidst this wild jungle of life, though, an organization stands as the obvious crown jewel of NYC: Jazz at Lincoln Center. Overlooking the Central Park entrance at Columbus Circle, J@LC works to enliven an American art form, unite the people of NYC, and simply bring joy to as many as possible.

fellow intern Kristina and I demonstrate the props for Essentially Ellington Festival's social media booth Watching overhead as Wynton Marsalis directs a JLCO rehearsal
Left: fellow intern Kristina and I demonstrate the props for Essentially Ellington Festival’s social media booth. Right: Watching overhead as Wynton Marsalis directs a JLCO rehearsal.

Having only been in Manhattan for a single weekend before this summer, I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I stepped off the plane at LaGuardia. All I can say is that Manhattan truly lived up to its reputation of being a wild place to live!

I began my internship with the Education Department right as the fantastic whirlwind that is their Essentially Ellington Festival started up. The festival is the finale of the year-long program that Jazz at Lincoln Center has put together. Inspired by the idea that jazz should belong to everyone, J@LC has made numerous amateur-level jazz band scores available to schools all over the world. Schools that wish to compete in the Festival can send in a recording of their band playing some of these charts. From all these applicants, fifteen get to travel to New York to compete. The weekend is so much more than a competition, though; each day the students and teachers were immersed in the culture of jazz. Late night jam sessions, workshops with JLCO members, and a chance to perform in Frederick P. Rose Hall – these students truly got the treatment for this weekend!

A majority of a successful show takes place backstage! Monitors in the back hallway track the artists on the Appel Room stage A performance in the Appel Room gives the audience two shows: musicians on stage and the city that never sleeps through the window
Left: The majority of a successful show takes place backstage. Monitors in the back hallway track the artists on the Appel Room stage. Right: A performance in the Appel Room gives the audience two shows: musicians on stage and the city that never sleeps through the window.

It was my job to make sure that all of this happened smoothly. I was given a walkie-talkie and a brief tour of back stage before being set off into the crowd of excited students. I began by ushering a band from Utah over to their classroom for their first coaching with a JLCO member. I sat in the back of Dizzy’s watching the band rehearse and listening to Sherman Irby’s carefully thought-out critiques and encouragements. All the while, happy and nervous parents paced the back of the hall, telling me all about how hard the band had worked to prepare for the festival. The bands were also encouraged to get to know each other better throughout the weekend, and by the time the final ceremony ended, Rose Hall was filled with an obvious air of camaraderie and love.

Speaking with the effervescently kind VP of Concerts and Touring, Cat Henry about a career in arts administration I was lucky to meet Erika Floreska, former UMS employee, who now runs a community music school in Manhattan!
Left: Speaking with the effervescently kind Cat Henry, VP of Concerts and Touring, about a career in arts administration. Right: I was lucky to meet Erika Floreska, former UMS employee, who now runs a community music school in Manhattan.

While all of this was happening, I was simultaneously discovering just what it took to live in Manhattan. Troubles with my housing situation led me to staying in about eight or nine different places in my seven and a half weeks in New York (forgive me, if I’ve lost track of the exact number!). I began to figure out which streets to avoid after sunset and learned how to avoid persistent cat-callers. Ever caring, however, my supervisors in the Education Department took me under their wing and helped to lessen the learning curve of Manhattan life. And this is what made my internship and this organization so incredibly noteworthy: the people behind the idea.

Wherever you turn in NYC, there is an ample opportunity to be a tourist. Looking back on Manhattan, the sun breaks past the World One Observatory My home for two months at Columbus Circle!
Left: Wherever you turn in NYC, there is ample opportunity to be a tourist. Looking back on Manhattan, the sun breaks past the World One Observatory. Right: My home for two months at Columbus Circle.

Rewind for a second, back to my very first day with J@LC. I was sat down in a conference room and given a large stack of papers – some to sign, but mostly to read. In these packets were the words written by Wynton Marsalis about this very organization. “The mission of Jazz at Lincoln Center is to entertain, enrich, and expand a global community for Jazz…we believe Jazz is a metaphor for Democracy…it inspires us to face adversity with persistent optimism,” reads the organization’s mission statement online. The packet I was given included Mr. Marsalis’s expanded ideas on this topic and his guidelines for how J@LC is to be run. I heard it said at some point that he runs the office in the same way he runs a rehearsal: everyone is responsible for their own ideas and strategies, but all are working towards the common goal.

Band members and parents file past for the 2016 Essentially Ellington Competitio A city saturated in culture, I enjoyed walking from Columbus Circle to see shows by the American Ballet Theatre and the NYPHil at Lincoln Center
Left: Band members and parents file past for the 2016 Essentially Ellington Competition. Right: A city saturated in culture! I enjoyed walking from Columbus Circle to see shows by the American Ballet Theatre and the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.

Manhattan is loud in a busy, noisy, smelly way, and a person begins to look for quiet wherever she can find it. Identifying your favorite patch of grass in Central Park, ducking into that French bookstore to admire the constellations on the ceiling, or grabbing a dollar ice cream scoop from the Dominican shop on the corner, these all make for great meditation. My absolute favorite place in Manhattan, however, has to be the backstage hallway leading to the Appel Room. One of J@LC’s main stages, the Appel Room sets the band up with a glass backdrop that opens to a view to Columbus Circle in all its mayhem. As the band swings, taxis stream by and tiny people scurry across the crosswalk beneath. It was here that I spent my first weekend in the Concerts and Touring department.

Acting as a musician’s assistant, I got exposed to the behind-the-scenes world of making sure all the artists had water and towels and any other necessary commodity in order to ensure their best performance. The most important part of my time with Concerts and Touring was not the quick trips to Whole Foods to buy backstage snacks or the in-office historical work, but rather the opportunity to join in this “jazz family.” Every single person I met was so immediately ready to be a close friend and an ally. Even after the show ended, I would run into musicians on the subway and be greeted by a warm hug and a smile. A few of us even ended up at one of the free Concerts in the Parks programs, determined to hear greats such as McCoy Tyner in person. As we walked to the park, we saw the clouds getting darker but pushed onward anyhow. Even as the rain began to pour down, we laughed and grooved along to the musicians on stage. Afterwards, we wrung out our jackets on the subway and laughed together about the concert.

A life changing show by Christian McBride at the famous Blue Note jazz club
Photo: A life changing show by Christian McBride at the famous Blue Note jazz club.

The idea of the Jazz Family came out in full form one bright, Sunday afternoon as the JLCO gathered a crowd to remember the Great Joe Temperly. A stoically happy occasion, the JLCO and students of Mr. Temperly came together to share stories and treat everyone to a New Orleans-esque jam in honor of the late tenor saxophonist. Though the room was full of strangers, this music truly united everyone present. This is what J@LC exemplifies in their work every single day.

I am beyond grateful to the UMS and to Jazz at Lincoln Center for this internship opportunity. There are so many more stories that I would love to share about my time in New York City, but I can say one thing for sure: the level of inspiration and brotherhood that I experienced this summer can be experienced every time the JLCO hits the stage. They are a truly magical ensemble and organization.

This Spring, welcome back to Ann Arbor, JLCO, we are so excited to have you here.

See the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.

Updated 6/2/2017

A Taste of Czech with The Prague Philharmonia

Photo: Prague Philharmonia. The orchestra performs at Hill Auditorium on Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 7:30pm. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In January 2017, UMS brings an international musical talent—and newfound legacy— the PKF, or Prague Philharmonia. The group was founded in 1994 to revive the Czech and global music scene through top-class nuanced performances. The musicians pride themselves in their comfort with the genre of Viennese Classicism.

The orchestra describes their sound as follows: “The spirit of the art from this historical period is perfectly reflected in the PKF – Prague Philharmonia credo: to play with crystal-clear purity and a straightforward, sparkling passion that will ensure that every listener, regardless of age or profession, may understand every detail of the music performed and return home from its concerts full of joie de vivre.”

In a sit-down interview, University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and, Dance and Center for Russian and East European Studies Professor Tim Cheek, shares his thoughts on the country, the culture, and the upcoming program. Professor Cheek teaches Czech vocal literature classes at SMTD as well as serving on the faculty for the CREES.

Daniel Anthony Iammatteo: What is a unique thing about Chechia?

Karlštejn Castle. Photo by Ввласенко.

Tim Cheek: The castles are amazing. And they are actually in great condition. The Karlštejn castle outside of Prague is like one from a Disney movie. Well, with a dungeon.

DI: What is something that Czech people love?

TC: Beer! The Czech love their beer. Chechia actually has the largest consumption of beer in the world (per capita). Especially if you eat some greasy cuisine, such as duck, the beer aids your digestion.

DI: What is your favorite Czech beer?

TC: Their Pilsner is number one. It comes from the city of Pilsen. You can find this in America in a bottle, but in Czech you can get this on tap. You can’t beat it on tap and if you ask them, they can mix light and dark beer which is really good.

DI: What are some interesting Czech words audience members might be interested in knowing?

TC: Well, “Vltava” is named after the river that runs through Prague. Another one is Smetana. The name actually means “cream.” So, you can ask someone if they want Smetana in their coffee. In Czech that is actually really common. People’s last names are often ordinary words like Mr. Happy—“Vesely”—even Mr. Sad—“Smutny.” So you can say, Mr. Sad is feeling happy today, and that can be rather funny.

DI: What is popular in Czech pop culture?

TC: Well, Karel Gott can be regarded as the Frank Sinatra of Czech. He was very popular. Of rock, I know that The Plastic People of the Universe was big in the avant-garde scene of the seventies. The biggest musician I know of is definitely Emil Vikilicky, though. He was famous for taking Czech folk music and putting a modern Jazz twist on it. He was widely played on the radio.

DI: What values are important to the Czech?

TC: They love nature. They frequently go mushroom picking and blueberry picking in the forest. They prefer to get outside of the city because it taps into their ethics. The Czech are generally an extremely resourceful people. They learned from their past to be flexible and deal with any kind of shortcoming. In fact, of communist countries of the previous centuries, it was considered the most developed and richest. It was Bismarck who said, “Whoever control Bohemia controls Europe.” This was because at that time the Czech had the best army and the world’s fifth largest economy.

DI: What makes this Czech-heavy program special?

TC: Czechs are known as exporters of great hockey and Bohemian Crystal, but the main export is actually music. [The Czech have] a rich tradition of folk music, and those traditions, with some support by government, are maintained. Czech composers tapped into this wealth of folk roots, and it is these roots which put composers such as Dvořák on the map. In fact, when Dvořák came over to the U.S., he wrote home that he was shocked by how American symphonies have to rely so much on private donations and sponsors. It meant that the people had to come to concerts rather than rely on the government for support, and this meant making conservative programs, so as not to scare audiences away.

DI: Do you think the program that the PFK- Prague Philharmonia has chosen is a conservative program?

TC: Yes, it is a pretty conservative program, but great! Well, the Dvořák Violin Concerto is actually a very impressive piece. In fact, Stephen Shipps, a professor on the Violin faculty here, told me once that he thinks it’s probably the hardest violin concerto there is. But, regardless, their program will showcase soloists, orchestra, and Czech music.

Come join UMS for the performance of the Prague Philharmonia and sample a piece of the Czech music scene. It’s sure to be a night that you will Praguably enjoy! The Prague Philharmonia is performs at Hill Auditorium on Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 7:30 pm.

Field Trip to Jake Shimabukuro, ukule

Did you know that UMS offers a series of school day performances throughout the season? Performances serve kindergarten through high school students, and teachers receive UMS learning guides to facilitate meaningful connections between the performance and classroom curriculum.

Here’s what two students had to say about ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro:

Find out more about attending UMS School Day Performances.

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