The Oregonian: Portland State University music program grows, flourishes as big concert nears
Author: Jillian Daley, Special to The Oregonian
Posted: November 21, 2012

Read the original story in The Oregonian here. 


Music Forward!
What: Among the largest, most diverse concerts ever in Lincoln Hall at Portland State University.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30.
Where: Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave., Portland State University.
Cost: $25 per ticket.
For more information: Visit
For advance tickets: Visit or call 503-725-3307. The choir album is available on Amazon and iTunes.


Portland State University's Music Department is fairly flowering with more professors and students, more ensembles and one of the biggest events to date at the school's recently overhauled music hall. 

The school's Music Forward! concert Friday will be among the largest and most diverse ever performed in Lincoln Hall. The 1911-era building got a $31 million makeover and reopened in fall 2010 with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification for its energy-saving environmental qualities. 

Music Forward! features about 25 professors, the most an event has spotlighted, says Darrell Grant, School of Fine and Performing Arts associate dean. Performers include the Oregon Guitar Quartet, led by music department Chairman Bryan Johanson. 

In addition, at least 175 students, most from ensembles such as the orchestra and wind symphony, will perform along with a super choir composed of all school choirs. 

"This is the first time that we've all come together to do something of this magnitude that features every aspect of the (music) program," says Grant, a jazz studies professor and pianist who will accompany the choir. 

Mix of music 

Classical pieces from Massenet and Tchaikovsky will mingle with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Latin choral works, Japanese drumming, jazz standards and other musical flavors at the event, a scholarship fundraiser. 

"Scholarships are the number one need in our department," Johanson says. "They can mean the difference between a student continuing in the program and dropping out." 

About 10 percent of PSU music students are on scholarships. Students at PSU, like most nationwide, face rising tuition and decreasing financial aid. 

Over the decade ending in 2010-11, public four-year colleges' average tuition and fees rose 72 percent, adjusting for inflation, according to the Oregon Student Access Commission, an agency helping students fund their education. 

Tuition, not counting fees, for one credit at PSU is $142 for residents this year, up from $137 last year. 

Despite rising costs, the number of students steadily grows at PSU and its music program. Undergraduate enrollment increased 29 percent since 2006 to 23,170 this fall. During the same period, the number of music majors climbed from 382 to 460, a 20 percent rise. 

Some say the music program's enthusiastic new leaders helped spur change. 

The university added a few new music groups recently, including the Taiko Ensemble, a Japanese drumming group that professor Wynn Kiyama formed last year, a few months after arriving at PSU. Students of all disciplines flock to the group. 

"The practice of taiko is a full-bodied activity and, for that reason, it often attracts athletes and dancers, as well as musicians," Kiyama said. 

More choirs 

Ethan Sperry, director of choral activities, wanted more opportunities for advanced singers, so he founded Man Choir and Vox Femina in fall 2011. 

When Sperry arrived about two years ago, PSU enlisted fewer than 100 choir students. Now, there are more than 250 choir members in the school's five choirs. 

The chamber choir has released its first album in at least a decade, "A Drop in the Ocean," full of classical, pop and world music. 

PSU senior and chamber choir tenor Evan Miles says Sperry clicks with young people, and word of his energy and enthusiasm "spread like wildfire." 

"Ethan came here and was a whirlwind of excitement," says PSU senior Yode Walker, a Man Choir bass II. 

Baritone John Dabritz says he enrolled at PSU just to join Man Choir, which Sperry and Erick Lichte conduct. 

"They're both at a national or international level," Dabritz says. 

Sperry says he appreciates the praise. 

"The feeling is mutual," he says. "I've got to say the students at Portland State are very special, and they're worth every bit of effort I can bring." 

PSU offers students standard classes such as music theory, but also a variety of special classes, including one about teaching music in elementary schools and another that performs in nursing homes and hospitals. 

Grant says PSU's focus on community-based learning helps distinguish it from its peers. 

"What attracted me to teach here," he says, "is it actually seemed they really live the motto: 'Let knowledge serve the city.'"