Jason Robert Brown teaches, plays for DePauw community

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Jason Roberts Brown speaks to a group of students, faculty and
community members in Thompson Recital Hall. Brown's visit was
part of the Living Composer Festival hosted
by DePauw's School of Music on March 7-8.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SUZANNE HASSLER

Master classes, concerts and question and answer sessions. These were just a few of the activities Jason Robert Brown participated in during his visit to DePauw University this past weekend.

Jason Robert Brown is a three-time Tony award-winning composer who came to DePauw as part of the annual Living Composers Festival, co-sponsored by the School of Music, the Prindle Institute for Ethics and the Department of Communication and Theatre.

“Jason shared his story of how he got to work in New York and become successful on Broadway,” said Steven Linville, Music Operations Manager and Assistant Professor of Music. “He allowed students to ask questions for advice and guidance. The strategies he provided in the master class for connecting music to acting is something that the students will be able to use from this point forward.”

Brown interacted with dozens of music students and alumni during his visit, giving them insight and advice into Broadway, music and acting.

Many students thought his visit proved helpful and inspiring.

“We learned a lot of things from him, mostly about picking appropriate repertoire and how to survive in the business,” said sophomore soprano music student Hannah Gauthier. “He said this really cool thing about an audition being a job interview, and whatever song you choose is like the answer to the questions posed at that job interview. I had never thought about it that way.”

Linville was responsible for setting up Brown’s visit, and he was pleased with the advice Brown gave students.

“One of the points he made that I thought was most important is to remember was that each teacher you work with, including him, is a stepping stone toward the final goal—and you have to choose what applies to you and what doesn't,” Linville explained in an email on Monday.

Brown worked with students individually to give them specific guidance on their area of specialty.

“I did perform for him and it was a frightening and incredible experience,” Gauthier said in an email on Monday. “Singing for someone that famous was nerve-wracking, but the advice he gave and the critiques he made really made me rethink who I am and what I do as a performer and actor.”

Although students were nervous about performing for Brown, Linville said, “Jason seemed to be impressed by the vocal abilities of our students and the enthusiasm of our audiences.”

Sophomore Sarah Pistorious said that during his masterclass Brown provided his advice about acting.

“He really wanted all of us to break down our ideas of being perfect and poised on stage, take risks and build a real, believable character,” said Pistorious.

On Saturday, the Prindle Institute hosted an Ethics Luncheon titled “Ethics and the Stage,” in which Brown and other DePauw professors discussed the ethics involved in composing. Many of Brown’s works, such as the musical Parade, tackle ethical issues in our society.

Brown also participated in an alumni discussion panel titled “Getting into the Business,” featuring music and theater alums.

Since Brown is a living and working composer, it was remarkable that DePauw students, faculty and alumni had the chance to work with him for a full weekend.
“He's constantly writing and producing, so he doesn't stay in one place long,” Linville said. “He is working on another show, as well as the touring production of his musical The Bridges of Madison County.”

Music students realize that this type of visit from a widely known living composer does not happen every day.

“I love that these are things that DePauw can bring us,” Gauthier said. “I can't imagine doing this at any other school.”