Note: The following is part of an occasional series highlighting projects supported by faculty development grants funded through the Office of the Provost.
Music professor Sarana Chou used a Samford University faculty development grant to creatively showcase two art forms in a way that she hopes will broaden the arts experience for students and audiences. The result is her composition, "A Little Dance Suite" for violin and dancers, and a praise-worthy premier performance of the work in Brock Recital Hall earlier this year.
Chou's project, "When New Music Meets Modern Dance," recognizes a current trend to enrich the arts experience by merging multiple disciplines. A short term goal is to introduce more audiences to an understanding of contemporary arts.
The long-term objective, Chou wrote in her grant proposal, is to bring new relevance and currency to the Samford arts curriculum. Director of graduate studies and coordinator of theory and musicology in the School of the Arts, Chou hopes her collaboration will serve as "seed work" for development of a new inter-art course.
"Students in the course could collaborate with other student artists to learn the basics of varied art forms," explains Chou, who believes such a course would prepare the students to better serve in the arts community.
The funding that supported Chou's creative process and staging of the work is among 43 faculty development grants that have been distributed since 2010 through the Samford provost's office. Most projects are in various stages of research and completion.
Since 2001, more than 160 faculty development grants totaling some $325,000 have been approved by the Faculty Senate Academic Affairs committee. The grants fund meritorious projects leading to professional growth in teaching, research, creative and scholarly activity, and service, says Samford assistant provost Dr. Nancy C. Biggio.
"These endowment-funded grants for faculty initiatives have spanned all schools at Samford, and in many cases, have provided the research and foundation for outside grants, performances and publications," said Biggio.
"A Little Dance Suite" was performed in February as part of a faculty recital that included several other works composed by Chou. The performance, which earned a positive nod from The Birmingham News reviewer Michael Huebner, culminated work that began 18 months ago when Chou submitted her proposal to the grant committee.
"I am very grateful that Samford took the 'risk' and believed in my proposal. This project could not have been completed without financial support from the grant," said Chou, noting that most faculty grants target research fields, unless tied to curriculum, as hers was.
Chou is not new to the collaborative process. During 2001-02, while a student at The Juilliard School, she composed a chamber ensemble piece and collaborated with a New York-based choreographer in a production that debuted in Lincoln Center.
Her collaborators for the Samford project included violinist Jeffery Flaniken of the Samford music faculty, choreographer Mike Fothergill of the Alabama Ballet, dancers Carleton Meadows and Stefanie Caputo of Arova Contemporary Ballet, and lighting designer David Glenn and coordinator Lisa Gibbs of the Samford theatre and dance faculties, respectively.
Bringing the project to fruition had its occasional challenges and game changes, beginning with composing the music.
"I proposed to write a 10-minute violin suite with three pieces, but I ended up composing a 16-minute suite with four pieces. However, the biggest challenge was coordinating rehearsal time and scheduling," said Chou, who quickly learned to juggle the needs of artists who may each work in a different "prime time."
While dancers might need a 7:30 a.m. rehearsal time at the downtown Alabama Ballet studio, she explained, violinist Flaniken might need to discuss a passage of music in the afternoon. And Glenn might prefer to try out coloring and shadowing after another event in the recital hall, while the equipment was available and on. "And that usually means 10 in the evening," said Chou, who spent many hours taping rehearsals and consulting with the other collaborators in order to smoothly mesh choreography with music. She was happy with the result.
"The most satisfying and rewarding part of any art work is being able to see it performed or staged," said Chou, who moved to the U.S. from her native Taiwan in 1998 to pursue composition studies.
A graduate of The Juilliard school, Chou holds a master's from the University of Chicago and a doctor of musical arts degree from Eastman School of Music. She joined the Samford faculty in 2008.