By Emma Arnesen
This past July, Lawrence University received a $16,700 Arts and Culture grant from the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. With this money, Lawrence has been able to collaborate with Decoda, a New York chamber ensemble, to engage students, faculty and the Appleton community in music.
Two Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty members, Assistant Professor of Piano Michael Mizrahi, and Assistant Professor of Flute Erin Lesser, are part of the thirty-member Decoda chamber group. They have helped pilot a program this past spring to bring faculty and students of Lawrence together to promote the idea that music is applicable in everyday life. Working together, Lawrence University and Decoda have already reached out to parts of the Appleton community—Riverview Gardens, Jefferson Elementary School, the Appleton warming shelter, and the food pantry.
Mizrahi is a strong promoter of music education and has been playing piano since the age of four. With a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia and a master’s and doctoral degree from the Yale School of Music, Mizrahi’s love for music is seen in his classroom and studio, as well as his help in developing the Decoda program.
“I’ve always loved the piano, and I’ve also loved the way the piano interfaces with other subjects that I’ve learned,” Mizrahi stated. His interest in other subjects—physics, religion, and history—taught him that music is not just about the instrument or the notes, but rather, connecting music to all different disciplines and aspects of life.
Mizrahi went on to discuss how the Decoda program has been a huge success so far, especially by bringing music to “non-traditional” audiences. For example, Decoda visited the Fox Valley Warming Shelter. He explained that it has been exciting, being able to visit venues that have never had live music. Mizrahi says he hopes the Decoda program will “blast through the stereotype” that only music-oriented people can go to concerts.
Lawrence students have also had the chance to observe the Decoda program. A couple weeks ago, the chamber group visited Riverview Gardens and Jefferson Elementary School, students were able to experience how music can be for everyone and everywhere, not just for music students in a studio or at a concert hall.
Mizrahi says that “students can prepare to do some of [these] themselves”, referring to the skills of public speaking, critical thinking, and musical performance. Music, he believes, is much more than the composition on the music stand. Valuable skills such as abstract thinking are learned from watching and listening to musicians perform. In his own studio, Professor Mizrahi employs these skills by telling his students to forget about the notes on the page and focus on the imagery and emotions the piece creates.
The Decoda program, though only a couple years old, has already impacted many different places in the Appleton area by engaging non-traditional audiences in the importance of music in everyday life. In the spring, Decoda will be even more involved with the university and the surrounding neighborhood in creating more musical experiences and giving back to the Appleton community.