Heartfelt tribute paid to professor

Sonia Emmons

“She was determined to live undiminished.”Melanie Boyd, Lawrence Fellow in Gender Studies from 2005-2007, chose fitting words to describe her friend Jennifer Fitzgerald. A composer and teacher who was a dear friend to many students and teachers at Lawrence, Jennifer — or Jen, as friends, family, and students call her — was a Conservatory of Music instructor and former Lawrence Fellow in Music Composition. She died on Dec. 23, 2007 at the age of 32, and a memorial concert was held on March 2 to honor her.

Harper Hall was nearly full for “A Celebration of Life in Music and Words.” The crowd was a reminder of the many lives that Jen touched during her time at Lawrence. The program consisted of seven of Jen’s pieces, four of her students’ compositions (Joseph Pfender, ’08; Andrew Cardiasmenos, ’10; Wilmer Chan, ’10 and Adam Berey, ’07), and a string quartet by a composer Jen greatly admired, Ruth Crawford.

The program booklet contained musical notes written by Jen and her students, along with three pages of remembrances written by Lawrence faculty members. The program notes conveyed the thought and creativity that went into each composition, while the remembrances related eight of the countless personal connections Jen made at Lawrence.

After a brief welcome by University President Jill Beck, a recorded performance of Jen’s 2007 work “Incident,” heard at a University Convocation last year, was played through a speaker on an otherwise empty stage. The solo piano piece was Jen’s musical response to a 2006 incident of racial profiling at UCLA that became violent. The music conveyed chaos and anger through dissonance and percussive crashes.

Baritone Andrew Sparks, ’09 and senior pianist Brent Funderburk performed Andrew Cardiasmenos’s “Life from your Own” (2007). A reflection on “the presence of life surrounding or overcoming death,” the piece was a fitting selection for the concert.
Cardiasmenos only worked with Jen for four months. Of her pedagogical skills, he commented, “She struck a nice balance by letting the student’s own compositional ideas come through, while still offering good criticism.”

“I really grew a lot during that short time working with Jen,” he added.

The last piece of the first half of the concert was Jen’s “It must be in this garden.” (2006), performed by music professors Patrice Michaels, soprano, and Dmitri Novgorodsky on piano. Using a text from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden,” Michaels sang many high, piercing notes that were suggestive of the magic of a child’s imagination.

In another touching gesture, Professor Mark Urness proudly patted his student Wilmer Chan’s shoulder after their performance of Chan’s double bass trio “‘To Face” from “On Sins” (2007). The piece contained much low bass growling and ringing pizzicato, or plucked, notes.

To show the variety of Jen’s musical instruction, the Improvisation Group of Lawrence University (IGLU) performed her game piece “pulsopoly,” in which performers take turns leading the ensemble in different movements of improvisation. The group played three rounds, during which they frequently made eye contact and smiled at each other when they liked the collective sound they had produced.

The concert ended with another recorded performance, this one being Jen’s 2004 composition “Some Things.” The piece calls for an eclectic group of instruments: electric guitar, bassoon, marimba, vibraphone, classical guitar, electric bass, oboe, and spoken voice. Five voices spoke seemingly unrelated words over a soft blanket of sound. According to John Mayrose, one of the performers, the piece “displays the combination of no-frills pragmatism and deep-rooted creativity that was so evident in every aspect of Jen’s artistic and personal life.”

At the end of the piece, the only sound in the silent hall was a baby’s soft murmuring.
Jen was a teacher to students and teachers alike. As art professors John Shimon and Julie Lindemann wrote, “[We] send her our thanks across the cosmos.” While her spirit flourishes through her music and her students, Jen will be deeply missed.