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Alumni reconnect with UIndy community at recital

Posted on 10.11.2017
A group of alumni of the Music Department perform a hand bell piece at the Alumni Recital on Sept. 30 in Ruth Lilly Performance Hall. This is the first year in the recital’s history  in which it aligned with UIndy’s Homecoming festivities. Photo contributed by Peter Nichols

A group of alumni of the Music Department perform a hand bell piece at the Alumni Recital on Sept. 30 in Ruth Lilly Performance Hall. This is the first year in the recital’s history in which it aligned with UIndy’s Homecoming festivities. Photo contributed by Peter Nichols

For the first time in its history, the Alumni Recital became a part of Homecoming festivities. The performance was held in the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall on Sept. 30, the same day as the annual football game. The recital is typically held in November, making this year an unusual occurrence. The Alumni Recital was organized by Assistant Professor of Music Mitzi Westra.

“Just this past year, [Associate Vice President for Alumni Engagement] Andy Kocher suggested to have the recital on Homecoming, and I thought that would be great,” Westra said. “They [Alumni Engagement Staff] can separate out music alumni specifically, so we ended up hitting a much bigger pool this time around and got people all the way back from the Class of 1950.”

The recital consisted of 10 different acts, including a group of hand bell ringers; flute pieces by Jenna Page (Class of 2011) with Allison Vickery (Class of 2018) on piano; Amber Beams (Class of 2014) and Cara Shackelford (Class of 2012); a soprano solo by Brooke Haggard (Class of 2001); a mezzo-soprano solo by Mary Williams Holmes (class of 1977); a trumpet piece by Larry Powell (class of 1993) and a piano piece by Mary Jordan Smith (class of 1950). Each of the individual performers brought in their own materials for the recital, while the hand bell group was orchestrated prior to the event.

Mary Jordan Smith still plays the piano at age 92, making her a highlight of the show. Smith graduated in 1950 with a degree in music from what was then Indiana Central College. She said she has observed many major changes to the campus since her time attending the university.

“We only had Good Hall, which we called the ‘AD Building’ as in ‘Administration Building,’” Smith said. “I spent most of my time on the top floor; third floor was music. That’s where we had classes, and that’s where we had practice rooms. I majored in piano and minored in voice. I remember my adviser insisting I had to take chemistry. I could not handle chemistry, and I lost my scholarship because of that and later found out there was something else I could have done to keep my scholarship.”

Smith has deep ties with music. She started taking piano lessons when she was six years old and began learning to play the violin in the fourth grade. She was also in the college orchestra, sang mezzo-soprano in the choir and played the clarinet.

“My mother had all three of the girls—there were six children—take piano, and we ended up singing together in church,” Smith said. “We were a trio of singers in the church. We would actually sing at Sunday night services. In high school, I had orchestra, and I was playing violin and taking piano lessons from Jordan Conservatory here in Indianapolis.  Jordan Conservatory became the Jordan College of Music at Butler University. My oldest sister graduated from Indiana Central, and the other from Butler.”

Smith’s strong connection to the university is not just through music. While at Indiana Central, she met a man named Wayne Smith, who later became her husband.

“I met him when he was a freshman and I was a sophomore,” Smith said. “We met in September of 1947 and would get married in July of 1951. I went to Dr. Esch and he actually married us.”

Many students on campus are familiar with Esch Hall but may not be as familiar with who he was. Dr. Lynd Esch was the president of Indiana Central from 1945-50. Smith remembers him as knowing and being known by everyone.

Esch would go on to help Smith gain a teaching position in Indianapolis.

After graduating with her degree in music, Smith taught at various schools before retiring after 33 years. She traveled with her husband after he retired and became an ordained minister, living in different places such as St. Claire Shores, Mich., Kansas City, Mo. and Greeley, Colo.

“I was the kind of wife that didn’t crab about what he wanted to do,” Smith said. “I was his music person [at the church where her husband preached] and his secretary. We raised two children who are so good to me.”

Another standout at the recital was the ukulele duet by Abby Means and Derek Gould, both of whom graduated from UIndy in 2013. This was the first time the Alumni Recital ever featured a ukulele duet. The two performed “Beach Medley” at the recital while incorporating a comedic skit into the performance.

Coming back to the university gives alumni a chance to see how the music program has changed since they were there while also allowing them to make connections with current music students, as well as alumni from different graduating classes.

“I get the sensation that the people who like to come back regularly, that have done it [the recital] the last several years, love it because their college years were a really special time in their life, and they get to remember that time,” Westra said. “Now that it’s associated with homecoming, it’s about celebrating a little bit deeper and celebrating more of the tradition that is UIndy, and I’m really happy to see that possibility start opening up.”

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