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Professor Brooks Receives $2 Million U.S. DOE Grant

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 29 2016

Associate Professor of Education Katie Brooks has been awarded a $2 million U.S. Department of Education grant to train 80 current or potential teachers to become licensed to teach English Language Learning (ELL) students.

Katie BooksThe five-year grant is intended to help alleviate the chronic shortage of English as a New Language (ENL) teachers. The grant will pay for 20 college graduates who have a bachelor’s degree in a licensable area such as biology, math, social studies, world languages, or English to get both a teaching license and an ENL license.

An additional 60 teachers who are already licensed will add ENL certification to their license. Twenty teachers will be from the Indianapolis area and 40 will be from Kokomo and surrounding communities.

“The shortage of ENL teachers is so bad in Indiana that a lot of kids are not being served by licensed teachers; they’re being served by paraprofessionals who’ve had 2–3 days of training,” Brooks said. “This is deeply needed in our state.”

Also as part of the grant, Butler College of Education (COE) ENL, reading, special education, and early childhood faculty will collaborate with each other and with representatives of Indiana immigrant communities to integrate ENL theory, research, and practice throughout the curriculum used to train both content area and ENL teachers.

The first year of the grant will include curriculum development and recruiting participants. Brooks said the priority in recruiting will be to find bilingual paraprofessionals who have a bachelor’s degree and are already teaching. “We want to help those people get their teaching license and support them along the way.” Teacher training will be the focus after that.

“Everything we will be doing will be job-embedded coursework,” Brooks said. “We’re not having teachers do anything that doesn’t directly apply to their jobs. So instead of writing a paper for me, they’re going to create professional-development modules where they’re going to do teacher research and share what they’re learning. I want everything they do to make a difference in their schools and in the broader community.”

Brooks said the Butler Center for Citizenship and Community, the Indiana Department of Education State, and the Mayor’s Immigrant Task Force helped with planning the grant proposal. As part of the grant, Butler will work with Indianapolis’s Immigrant Welcome Center to promote family and community involvement. Donald Braid, Director of Butler’s Center for Citizenship and Community, said this partnership “demonstrates the University's commitment to immigrant and refugee issues through service.”

Under a five-year grant Brooks received in 2006, teachers went to the clubhouses in the apartment complexes where many immigrant students lived and led parent-involvement activities. In the process, teachers learned more about the families and families came to understand how the schools worked.

That kind of collaboration will continue under this grant.

Brooks said training teachers to work with students who are learning English also benefits native English speakers.

“ELLs are not the only ones who struggle with language and literacy development,” she said. “So when you help teachers think about how they can make this material more understandable for students, you’re not just doing that for ELL learners—you’re doing that for everybody.”

 

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

Professor Brooks Receives $2 Million U.S. DOE Grant

“The shortage of ENL teachers is so bad in Indiana that a lot of kids are not being served by licensed teachers. This is deeply needed in our state.”

Sep 29 2016 Read more
Campus

Butler's Student-Run Insurance Co. to Start Up Early

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 26 2016

Butler University’s Lacy School of Business, which planned to establish a student-run insurance company by the beginning of the 2019–2020 academic year, has moved up the start date to May 1, 2017, Clinical Professor & Director of the Davey Risk Management and Insurance Program Zach Finn announced on September 26.
Butler University Lacy School of Business June 15, 2016.

Finn said the opening of the “captive insurance company,” as the business is known, is more than two years ahead of schedule thanks to:

-Successful fundraising, including a $15,000 grant from the Westfield Insurance Co.’s foundation and a matching gift from MJ Insurance and Michael M. Bill. MJ Insurance had already given the program $250,000 to get started.

-The hiring of P. Kevin Thompson, “a heavyweight in the risk management and insurance community,” to teach in the program. Thompson previously served as counsel to Plews Shadley Racher & Braun (PSRB) LLP and President of Insurance and Risk Management Services LLC, an affiliate of the firm. Prior to joining PSRB, he served as Director of Corporate Risk Management for Eli Lilly & Company.

“He’s someone who adds a lot to our brand,” Finn said.

-The requisite courses—a first-in-the-nation class called Captive Feasibility and Business Plan Development, Captive Implementation, and Captive Operations—which either have started or are ready to be offered.

The Butler captive insurance company will insure certain programs at Butler, perhaps including the live mascot, Butler Blue III, or physical damage to University vehicles. The idea is to give students hands-on experience and prepare them for an industry that expects to need tens of thousands of new employees over the next seven years to replace workers who will be retiring.

Students will learn how to write the insurance policy, what the coverage terms will be, how to finance the company, and more. They will be able to apply their risk-management expertise in accounting, investments and numerous other areas.

Finn said there are 82 insurance risk management programs in North America that graduate 3,500 students a year—not nearly enough for the $5.7 trillion insurance industry.

To get Butler’s captive insurance company ready to roll, students in the Captive Feasibility and Business Plan Development course are now selecting jurisdictions to potentially locate the company. Teams of students are developing business plans and evaluating the pluses and minuses of potential locations.

The students also are working with the University to decide the kinds of coverage the company will provide and determine how the captive is adding value or lower the cost of risk to Butler.

They’ll present their findings in front of a panel of industry experts, then spend the spring semester starting the company.

 

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

Butler's Student-Run Insurance Co. to Start Up Early

The idea is to give students hands-on experience and prepare them for an industry that expects to need tens of thousands of new employees over the next seven years to replace workers who will be retiring.

Sep 26 2016 Read more
Campus

Butler Named One of the Country's Healthiest Colleges

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 20 2016

Butler University has been named one of the 26 healthiest colleges in the country by Greatist.com, a website devoted to healthy living.

Butler University HRC aquatics staff April 22, 2016.

“With a staff of 25 personal trainers at your fingertips, you’ll easily be able to avoid the freshman 15—or, alternatively, gain 15 pounds of muscle,” the website said. “Butler also hosts the Bulldog Jog, a philanthropic 5K that’s been running for 24 years straight. And the school takes a fun and down-to-earth approach to sexual health through Sex Signals, an improvisational, educational program about sex, and Get Yourself Tested (GYT) Tuesdays—you can probably guess what that entails.”

Greatest.com said it looked for schools “where students don’t have to resort to eating chicken fingers and ramen every night—schools that go the extra mile to create an environment where students have access to not only healthy food but also top-notch fitness facilities, and robust medical and mental health services. And these 26 schools passed with flying colors.”

 

 

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

Butler Named One of the Country's Healthiest Colleges

With a staff of 25 personal trainers at your fingertips, you’ll easily be able to avoid the freshman 15

Sep 20 2016 Read more
Campus

Butler Cuts the Ribbon to Officially Open Fairview House

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 13 2016

Butler University officially cut the ribbon on September 15 to open Fairview House, its new $43 million, 633-bed residence hall located along Sunset Avenue.

Fairview House Ribbon CuttingThe residence hall features three- and four-bedroom pods with two students to a room. Each pair of students shares a bathroom, and each has his or her own sink and large closet.

Fairview House is also equipped with the kinds of amenities that today’s students demand, including kitchenettes and living rooms in each pod, recreation and media lounges, soft spaces for study, and laundry facilities on each floor. The residence hall also has a large multipurpose room—“a living room for the campus”—that will be used for conferences, events, and other gatherings.

“It all adds up to living conditions that are on par with our classroom offerings, giving Butler students the best of both worlds,” Keith Burks, Chair of Butler’s Board of Trustees, told an audience of students, faculty, staff, trustees, and dignitaries.

Fairview House is the result of a partnership between Butler University and American Campus Communities. Under the agreement, American Campus built and will maintain the facility, while Butler will provide staff to manage the building.

Butler President James M. Danko said the partnership enabled Butler “to concentrate on our core mission: educating our students. ACC’s investment allows the University to focus and prioritize resources toward the development of new, state-of-the-art academic space to better serve students.

American Campus Communities is the nation’s largest developer, owner and manager of high-quality student housing communities. The company has projects on 96 campuses nationwide, including Princeton University, the University of Southern California, Texas A&M University, Arizona State University and more.

 

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

Butler Cuts the Ribbon to Officially Open Fairview House

Butler University officially cut the ribbon on September 15 to open Fairview House, its new $43 million, 633-bed residence hall located along Sunset Avenue.

Sep 13 2016 Read more
Campus

Butler Again Named Most Innovative School in the Midwest

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 13 2016

For the second consecutive year, Butler University has been ranked as the Most Innovative School among Midwestern Regional Universities, according to the 2017 edition of U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges, released today. This category focuses on innovation in curricula, campus life, technology, and facilities and among faculty and students. Butler was also recognized in the categories of Best Undergraduate Teaching and the Best Colleges for Veterans.

James DankoButler was ranked #2 among Midwest Regional Universities for the seventh consecutive year, but saw its overall score increase from 95 to 98 out of 100. The University also saw an improvement in its peer assessment score.

“This score is especially gratifying because it affirms that our fellow higher-education leaders know that faculty, staff, and students at Butler University are doing great things,” said President James M. Danko.

In other peer-determined “Programs to Look For” categories—First-Year Experience, Internships/Co-Ops, Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects, and Study Abroad—Butler was recognized on national shortlists for excellence. According to U.S. News, Butler and its fellow category honorees provide “outstanding examples of academic programs that are believed to lead to student success.”

“This year’s rankings affirm the outstanding work of Butler’s faculty and staff and their commitment to students,” added Danko. “Butler is providing educational quality and outcomes that empower students to thrive—during their time at Butler and throughout their lives.”

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

Butler Again Named Most Innovative School in the Midwest

Butler was ranked #2 among Midwest Regional Universities for the seventh consecutive year, but saw its overall score increase from 95 to 98 out of 100.

Sep 13 2016 Read more
Campus

Butler, CUE to Be Honored for Environmental Efforts

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 08 2016

Butler University and the Center for Urban Ecology (CUE) will both be inducted into the Green Lights Hall of Fame on September 15 at the Christian Theological Seminary.

Sustainable IndianaThe Green Light Awards­—a series of climate solutions compiled by Sustainable Indiana 2016 as part of the Bicentennial—are distributed to organizations and individuals who are at the forefront of promoting sustainability across the state of Indiana.

The CUE is being recognized for its efforts to study, practice, and educate sustainable solutions for urban environments such as the CUE Farm, research on urban wildlife, and the Make Change Indy program that rewarded 440 Indianapolis residents for engaging in a total of 950 hours of sustainable activities.

The second recognition of the evening will be presented to Butler President James M. Danko for signing the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2012 and taking subsequent steps to meet this commitment to achieve carbon neutrality on Butler University’s campus by 2050.

“The presentation of two Green Light Awards to Butler University is evidence of our leadership in pushing the boundaries of sustainability in Indianapolis,” CUE Director Julia Angstmann said. “The Center for Urban Ecology is proud to be part of a statewide effort to leave behind a positive environmental legacy for future generations.”

Sustainable initiatives on Butler’s campus to date have included two LEED Gold-certified buildings and one LEED Silver renovation, rain gardens and permeable bike lanes, motion sensor and LED lighting, the CUE Farm, and composting of food waste, among others. Each awardee was featured in a green Legacy story on the Sustainable Indiana 2016 website throughout the past year.

 

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

Butler, CUE to Be Honored for Environmental Efforts

Butler University and the Center for Urban Ecology (CUE) will both be inducted into the Green Lights Hall of Fame on September 15 at the Christian Theological Seminary.

Sep 08 2016 Read more
Campus

Theatre Professor, Alum Receive Indianapolis Foundation Awards

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 06 2016

Associate Professor of Theatre Rob Koharchik and Butler Theatre alumnus Jeffery Martin ’93 each received one of the "surprise" $10,000 awards given by The Indianapolis Foundation to Indianapolis-based organizations and individuals on August 27.
Rob Koharchik

Koharchik and Martin were recognized under the category “Indy Professional Theatre MVPs,” creative professionals whose work in theater contributes to the vibrancy of the cultural community and the strength of our city.

More information about the awards is here.

Koharchik is the set designer for Butler Theatre, which means he’s in charge of everything from the look of the “room” that’s depicted onstage to what items sit on the coffee table. If you’ve seen a Butler Theatre show over the past nine years, or perhaps a production of Shakespeare by the Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre, or something at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, then you’ve probably seen a set Koharchik designed. His credits also include work at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre and the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York.
Jeff Martin

Martin serves as the full-time Technical Director for the Phoenix Theatre. He has designed set and lights with The Phoenix Theatre, NoExit Performance, Know No Stranger, and Theatre on the Square, and he directs and designs with Young Actors Theatre. Most recently, he produced and directed one of the top-selling shows for the Indianapolis Fringe, Kurt Vonnegut's: God Bless You Dr. Kevorkian.

 

 

 

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

Theatre Professor, Alum Receive Indianapolis Foundation Awards

Associate Professor of Theatre Rob Koharchik and Butler Theatre alumnus Jeffery Martin ’93 each received one of the "surprise" $10,000 awards given by The Indianapolis Foundation to Indianapolis-based organizations and individuals on August 27.​

Sep 06 2016 Read more
Campus

A New Director of Admission for Butler? Great Scott!

BY

PUBLISHED ON Sep 06 2016

The first notable thing about Butler’s new Director of Admission is his name—Delorean J. Menifee. Which, you’d think, would result in any number of “Great Scott!”/“1.21 gigawatts”/”Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads” jokes.

But no.

Delorean Menifee“I’m normally the one who mentions it first to give people a frame of reference for where the name might have come from,” the Anderson, Indiana, native said. “They won’t know how to pronounce it, so I’ll say, ‘Have you ever seen the movie Back to the Future?’ My father to this day still believes that he came up with the name, even though the car was already manufactured before I was born.”

Beyond his unusual name, Menifee brings a lot to Butler, Vice President of Enrollment Management Lori Greene said.

“He brings a background that includes working for many different types of institutions, and professionally he is recognized for his contributions at both the state and national level,” she said. “We are fortunate to have DJ joining us.”

Menifee, who goes by DJ, comes to Butler from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he was Associate Director of Admission for the past three years. He also has worked as a Regional Admissions Counselor at Western Illinois University, Assistant Director of Admissions at Ball State University, and Assistant Director of Admissions at Lees-McRae College, his alma mater.

At Lees-McRae, Menifee studied business. In his senior year, he was helping the Chair of the business school make a pitch to the Board of Visitors about how its members could help grow the business program. Menifee didn’t know it, but Lees-McRae’s Vice President of Enrollment Management was in the room.

“Afterwards, I was walking back to my residence hall,” Menifee remembered. “He stopped me and said, ‘Would you like to have an internship in my office?’”

Menifee took the offer. He thought admissions was an interesting field, but he had no intention of pursuing it. But two weeks before graduation, the Vice President of Enrollment Management invited him to take a walk. The walk led to the President’s Office, where they made him a job offer.

Coming to Butler, Menifee said he feels ready to be a Director of Admission. He said over his career, he has learned the team building, strategy, and execution needed to meet enrollment goals. He also wanted to work at a university that valued liberal arts and experiential education.

Menifee described himself as “family-oriented”—he and his wife, Anabel, have an 8-year old daughter, Kaydence, a 3-year-old son, Kyrie, and a new addition to the family to come in the coming weeks. He said the idea of family extends to the team he works with.

“I want to do more than to reach the University’s enrollment goals,” he said. “I want to enrich the team professionally and personally. There may be some learning curves, but I’ll definitely put in the work and do my best to prepare to put Butler and the team I’m working with in the best position to be successful.”

 

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu317-940-9822

Campus

A New Director of Admission for Butler? Great Scott!

"My father to this day still believes that he came up with the name, even though the car was already manufactured before I was born.”

Sep 06 2016 Read more
Campus

Kaveh Akbar MFA '15 Awarded Prestigious Poetry Fellowship

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 01 2016

Kaveh Akbar MFA ’15 is one of five recipients of the 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships, a $25,800 prize intended to encourage the further study and writing of poetry. The fellowships are available to all U.S. poets 21 to 31 years old.

Kaveh Akbar“Poets aren’t just makers, they are doers,” said Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine. “Each one of the 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellows excels at both of these things. They have all already had a salutary influence on American poetry, and it’s an honor for us to support their distinctive and essential efforts in an art form that is reaching more people than ever before."

Akbar is the founder and editor of Divedapper, a home for interviews with the most vital voices in contemporary poetry. His poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Guernica, PBS NewsHour, Boston Review, and elsewhere. Alice James Books will publish Akbar’s debut full-length collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, in November 2017 and Sibling Rivalry Press will publish his chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, in January 2017.

Akbar founded and cohosts the monthly poetry podcast All Up in Your Ears with Gabrielle Calvocoressi, francine j. harris, and Jonathan Farmer. He was born in Tehran, Iran, and currently lives and teaches in Florida.

The other fellows are Jos Charles, Angel Nafis, Alison C. Rollins, and Javier Zamora.

Read more about Akbar at kavehakbar.com.

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

Kaveh Akbar MFA '15 Awarded Prestigious Poetry Fellowship

“Poets aren’t just makers, they are doers.”

Sep 01 2016 Read more
Campus

From Fruit Flies to Human Infertility

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 01 2016

Assistant Professor of Biology Lindsay Lewellyn has been awarded a $410,656 National Institutes of Health grant to study egg development in fruit flies, which ultimately could lead to breakthroughs in the area of human infertility.
Butler Biology Professor Lindsay Lewellen

The money for the project, which is officially called “The growth of the germline ring canals during Drosophila melanogaster oogenesis,” will be used to pay for students to work in the lab over the summer, presenting findings at research conferences, hiring a full-time research technician during the academic year, and supplies.

Lewellyn began studying fruit flies in 2010 while doing her post-doctoral research at the University of Chicago. She joined the Butler faculty in fall 2013.

“The big question we’re interested in answering is how does the fruit fly egg develop?” Lewellyn said. “We work on structures called intercellular bridges, which connect the developing oocyte to supporting cells. If the intercellular bridges do not form properly, do not expand, or if they break down, then the flies will be sterile.”

Intercellular bridges are found in organisms from fruit flies to mammals, so “by understanding more about how these structures are formed and how they develop, it could give us insight into potential causes for infertility in humans,” she said.

“Infertility affects millions of Americans each year, and many of the causes are not known. Defects in the formation of sperm and eggs could lead to infertility, so if we can learn more about how sperm and eggs form normally and how intercellular bridges contribute to normal sperm and egg formation, then we could potentially impact the field of infertility.”

 

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

From Fruit Flies to Human Infertility

Infertility affects millions of Americans each year, and many of the causes are not known.

Sep 01 2016 Read more
Campus

Grant Will Help CUE Farm Become a Hub for Education and Research

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PUBLISHED ON Sep 01 2016

Butler’s Center for Urban Ecology (CUE) has been awarded a three-year, nearly $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the CUE Farm on campus as a hub for undergraduate education and research.

Butler FarmThe money will support Butler faculty in the development and implementation of four urban agriculture research modules in biology, chemistry, ecology, and environmental science courses and to study the impact of those modules on student learning.

Faculty participants are Travis Ryan, Sean Berthrong, Elizabeth Davis, Jesse van Gerven, and Rasitha Jayasekare. Brandon Sorge and Grant Fore from the STEM Education and Innovation Research Institute at IUPUI will be leading the education research.

“This project is focused on making the CUE Farm even more of an asset to campus by tying it to the curriculum,” said Julia Angstmann, Director of the Center for Urban Ecology. “We believe that to accomplish this, there needs to be a cohesive program developed that provides a framework and incentives that help faculty develop portions of their course curriculum around urban agriculture.”

Angstmann said that after three years, Butler will have:

-Four courses that teach core disciplinary concepts through place-based experiential learning in the context of urban agriculture. Students will first learn about a core disciplinary topic (e.g, soil respiration and arthropod diversity in the BI230 Ecology & Evolutionary Biology ­­– Fundamentals course) and will then be introduced to the social and ecological impacts of urban agriculture and how the class topic impacts food production. Students will then conduct real research in the topic area by developing research questions and collecting, analyzing, and presenting data that will be used by faculty for scientific publications. By tying course concepts to their impact on the urban food system, students may be better informed and inspired to make more sustainable food choices.

-Published research on whether these modules were effective in increasing student scientific literacy and civic mindedness.

-A themed teaching community for Butler faculty. “By centering teaching efforts around a central theme, faculty participants will have a support network of other faculty and education experts to provide knowledge, advice, and resources to support the development of these research modules,” Angstmann said. “We hope to grow this network in the future to every College on campus.”

By integrating the CUE Farm into the curriculum, the University will be eligible for up to $3.6 million in funding in future years. That money would go toward developing modules in courses spanning every college on campus and then bringing this approach to other universities.

Opportunities to partner with Butler University in support of the Center for Urban Ecology, the Farm, and its community programs are available. To learn more, please contact the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations at cfr@butler.edu.

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

Grant Will Help CUE Farm Become a Hub for Education and Research

This project is focused on making the CUE Farm even more of an asset to campus by tying it to the curriculum.

Sep 01 2016 Read more
Campus

How Professor Clark Made Kurt Vonnegut's Play Sing

BY

PUBLISHED ON Aug 30 2016

When Indianapolis Opera presents the world premiere of Happy Birthday, Wanda June—libretto by Kurt Vonnegut, music by Butler Professor of Music Richard Auldon Clark—it will be the culmination of a project that began in the early 1990s, came to an abrupt halt with Vonnegut’s death in 2007, and concluded on Valentine’s Day this year.

What happened in between was a collaboration that Clark said he will cherish forever.
Kurt Vonnegut with Richard Auldon Clark

“Kurt,” he said, “would leave me a message on my answering machine: ‘I think Col. Looseleaf Harper needs to be a bass. I think Harold Ryan should be a baritone. All the decent characters need to be in the high range, so Dr. Woodley must be a tenor.’ It was always on his mind. But he was always so casual about it, and I never thought we would lose him so early, in such a stupid, horrible manner.”

The end result of Clark’s work with Vonnegut can be seen September 16-18 at Butler’s Schrott Center for the Arts. (Tickets at www.indyopera.org.)

Clark said the production runs a little more than two hours. He’s especially proud that the music he wrote expresses exactly what’s being said and where the characters are.

“You just hear a couple of themes and you’ll understand Penelope,” he said. “You just need to hear that opening line Harold Ryan has and get it right away. You know: This guy is a narcissist, he’s a sexist and a racist and an egomaniac. The music conveys the characters so they don’t have to overact or be cartoonish. The music carries them.”

Here’s more of what he said.

Q: How did you know Kurt Vonnegut?

A: I knew him for about the last 15 years of his life. He met a composer on jury duty, and he asked that composer to write the music for the Requiem Mass, which Kurt rewrote. He didn’t like the text. As a humanist, he found it very offensive. This composer set it, but no groups were interested. A friend of mine was working for RCA/BMG, and the score came across her desk, and she knew what a Vonnegut fanatic I was. She called me and said, “Would you consider doing it with your group?” I jumped on it. She said, “Just so you know, every group has turned it down.” I said, “If I get to meet Vonnegut, I’m doing it.”

I got to meet Vonnegut. We had dinner, and he came to the performance—and, indeed, it was a bad performance—but the first half of the concert I did all American music by David Amram. Vonnegut had a previous association with Amram and was quite a fan of his. A few days after the concert, Kurt talked to me and said, “If I’d only heard the Requiem, I would have thought that you weren’t up to the task or your group was bad. But I heard how great the first half of the concert was, so I know something else is going on. Tell me.” I said, “I’m going to give it to you straight: I think it’s a terrible piece.”

He invited me to meet him at his brownstone—he lived a few blocks from the United Nations—and I became a frequent visitor there. We just hit it off. I brought composers to him to create projects. We did Breakfast of Champions, Mother Night, Ice-9 Ballads” from Cat’s Cradle. I brought him a composer (Seymour Barab) to redo the Requiem—it’s called the “Cosmos Cantata,” and we’ll be performing that September 10 (5:30 PM in the Basile Opera Center, 4011 North Pennsylvania Street) with Butler University students—and then he gave me his opera.

Q: Did he decide that Happy Birthday, Wanda June should be an opera?

A: It was his idea. I had never even thought about it. I reread the play, and I thought he would want one of the other composers I brought to him. I never pushed myself as a composer with him. But he said, “I think you should turn this into an opera.” I’d never written anything that big. I write chamber music. I said, “Would you help me adapt the play for an opera?” He said, “Absolutely.” He wasn’t going to write a brand new libretto, but he was in the driver’s seat for it and wound up writing a brand new ending. Otherwise, not a word of the play was changed. All we did was cut dialogue so a singer could have an aria.

Q: You knew him before you came to Butler. What did he say when you got the position here?

A: He was very fond of Butler, and he loved Indianapolis. He was thrilled that I was taking it. That’s when he said, “That’s where the opera should have its world premiere in Indianapolis, not in New York. And that blew me away. I never tried to pursue it in Indianapolis. I just always assumed I would do it with my New York group (the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra) and try to get singers and a director. But because of a series of wonderful connections, the stars aligned and it’s happening in Indianapolis—as it should be.

Q: He died in 2007. What happened after that?

A: I felt lost with the project when he died. I didn’t touch it again until 2014. The libretto was done, but not a note of music had been written. Every once in a while I would sing one or two lines of dialogue to him and he’d wheeze and say, “You’re no singer, Bub.” The only thing he really knew of the music was that the opening prologue was going to have a kind of late 1960s/early 1970s popish, light comedy theme like The Odd Couple or The Brady Bunch because I wanted to lure the audience in with the expectation that this is just a funny little story. She sings, “This is a simple-minded story about men who enjoy killing and those who don’t.” I wanted people to feel that this is accessible, familiar music. You’re going to have a nice time. Then musically, I can twist your guts like he does with the story.

I had the opening theme in my head for probably 10 years before I wrote a note of it. I wrote that first note—that G-sharp—January 1, 2014, when I began my sabbatical from Butler. But it had been percolating a long time. I finished it February 14, 2016.

Q: It has to be amazing for you to have something you’ve worked on for so long finally finished and ready to premiere.

A: It’s funny—I wondered how I’d feel when I finally finished the work, and it was such an emotional breakdown. When I wrote the last orchestrated note, I just lost it completely. It was unreal. I had such a connection with this man. He was my idol. I never thought I’d meet him, and then when I met him, we had this collegial relationship. Then it got friendly. And then it was like family. He was a mentor.

What I respected about him the most was here was one of the most famous authors in 20th century American literature talking to some kid. I guess I was 28 at the time. And he accepted me. He really didn’t like to be around people very much—he liked to be solitary—but he let me in because he loved music, and he loved talking about music with me, and he could tell that I loved books, and he loved talking about books.

Media contact:
Marc Allan
mallan@butler.edu
317-940-9822

Campus

How Professor Clark Made Kurt Vonnegut's Play Sing

"It was always on his mind. But he was always so casual about it, and I never thought we would lose him so early, in such a stupid, horrible manner.”

Aug 30 2016 Read more

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