Thursday, January 22, 2009

UIS hosts Carol Moseley Braun for HistoryMakers series

The University of Illinois at Springfield will host United States Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun for The HistoryMakers’ Dr. Frances G. Carroll 2008-2009 Speaker Series on Wednesday, February 4. A reception will be held at 5:30 p.m. before the program begins at 6:30 p.m. in Brookens Auditorium, located in Brookens Library on the UIS campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The event is part of a series titled Agents of Change, and the speaker series is named in honor of University of Illinois Trustee Dr. Frances G. Carroll, who will be present at the program.

The HistoryMakers, a Chicago-based, independent nonprofit, is the nation’s largest African-American video oral history archive. It uses state-of-the-art technology to chronicle the lives of well-known and unsung African-Americans.

The HistoryMakers has partnered with the University of Illinois to offer the Agents of Change series, interactive exhibits on all three campuses and a summer fellowship for University of Illinois students. Through collaborative efforts, the U of I and The HistoryMakers are heightening awareness of African-American achievements. Earlier on Feb. 4, there will be an interactive exhibit featuring material from The HistoryMakers archives from 11:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. in conference rooms C/D, located on the lower level of the Public Affairs Center.

The Agents of Change speaker series highlights and honors individuals who have affected great change in society. Carol Moseley Braun, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, will be participating in the UIS Agents of Change event.

In 1978, Moseley Braun was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives where she was an advocate for education. After only two terms in the House, she was selected to become the first African-American woman in Illinois history to serve as Assistant Majority Leader.

In 1992, she became the first African-American woman ever to be elected to the United States Senate. In 1999, President Bill Clinton appointed her Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, a role she served in until 2001. She is now the founder and president of Good Food Organics, parent company of Ambassador Brand Organic Products.

Moseley Braun will be talking with students and visiting classes in the morning before the evening program. The event is co-sponsored by the Engaged Citizenship Common Experience (ECCE) Speaker Series at UIS.

Overflow seating for the program will be available in conference rooms C/D with a televised viewing of the program, and the program can also be viewed through a live webcast at To attend the program, call 217/206-8497 or email by January 28 to make a reservation. For more information about The HistoryMakers, go online to

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Early birthday party to be held for Lincoln

By Nick Rogers, for the University of Illinois at Springfield

Fire stoked in a belly or fear struck in a heart isn’t a traditional measure of success for a piece of music. For Jay Ungar, that essence is inherent to the hits of the ‘60s.

The 1860s, that is.

“Without recordings and radio and all that, many more people played an instrument, and everybody sang,” says Ungar, a fiddler and mandolin player. “It was part of the fabric of the culture. Music also had an effect during the war, when a powerful song like ‘Battle Cry of Freedom’ was said to actually affect the outcome of battle.”

The Civil War, and its preceding tensions, dictated the emotions behind much of America’s popular music from the 1840s to 1860s. However, those tunes echoed not just a tumultuously changing society or combat’s chaos, but also a trans-generational importance of home comforts, family milestones and community togetherness.

In that more joyous spirit, the University of Illinois at Springfield will host “An Early Birthday Party for A. Lincoln” at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31 in Sangamon Auditorium.

Headlining this musical bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth will be Ungar and his wife, Molly Mason, who plays mandolin, guitar and piano. The duo is best known for “Ashokan Farewell,” a haunting instrumental immortalized in popular culture by its memorable use in “The Civil War,” Ken Burns’ 1990 PBS documentary. Ungar and Mason will perform that, along with many 19th-century tunes.

Accompanying them will be two Springfield arts groups with UIS connections – the 10th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry Band and the Springfield International Folk Dancers. Including those groups, says Sangamon Auditorium director Robert A. Vaughn, continues the auditorium’s ongoing mission to foster local collaboration and expand outreach.

“We’ve made great strides to improve that sense of university ownership while further strengthening collaborative ties with civic arts organizations,” Vaughn says. “It provides the opportunity to see the auditorium as more than just a place that people can go and see performances, but as a tool to enrich curriculum.”

For this artistic complement to Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday on Feb. 12, Vaughn purposely avoided scheduling it at the same time as other planned celebrations.

“I thought it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to try to crowd the calendar at that time, but to have a more modest celebration out on campus,” Vaughn says.

Modest, perhaps, but its deep fidelity to the time period is, in one instance, literal icing on the cake. Shortly after its mustering in 1861, the 10th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry became one of few such regiments to have its own 12-member band. Today, the band is a 25-member group of central Illinois musicians who wear Civil War-style cavalry uniforms and play antique brass instruments and re-produced drums.

Conducting the cavalry band is Todd Cranson, assistant director of co-curricular music at UIS and director of the UIS band and chamber orchestra. Cranson’s polished-ebony baton, inlaid with silver, once belonged to the leader of the 2nd Iowa Cavalry Band, which frequently performed for Abraham Lincoln.

Cranson also has collaborated with Ungar and Mason on adapting their existing arrangements to include the cavalry band’s instrumentation. Although string groups and brass bands of the day often played the same songs, they rarely played together. Modern amplification has simplified blending the instruments, Cranson says.

Among the folk dancers joining the cavalry band onstage during “The Mary Lincoln Polka” will be Amy Zepp – a UIS graduate student in public administration and a graduate assistant at Sangamon Auditorium.

“People were just starting to learn the traditional polka that we think of today,” Zepp says of that selection’s period-specific choreography. “It will be similar to what people are familiar with now, but somewhat more traditional. The positioning of the couple will be farther apart, as such close dancing was considered inappropriate.”

Lastly, in the auditorium lobby after the performance, complimentary birthday cake – from a Mary Todd Lincoln recipe – will be served, along with punch and coffee.

When selecting Ungar and Mason to perform, Vaughn was particularly stricken by the suitability of “Ashokan Farewell.” Ungar composed the piece in 1982 as an elegy for the end of a musically memorable summer. Eight years later, Burns used it numerous times during “The Civil War,” and the tune propelled the soundtrack to a 1991 Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album.

Ungar says he may have “unintentionally Americanized” the Scottish lament style with “Ashokan Farewell.” But it since has become synonymous with both the era’s musical style and a general sense of human sadness or longing.

“We hear from a lot of people who’ve not ever seen the ‘Civil War’ series who write me almost in shock, asking, ‘Why am I crying when I hear this tune?’ It’s gratifying to know it touches many people in that way,” Mason says.

“I thought it was embarrassing to play that tune with tears coming out of the corner of my eye,” Ungar says. “But when I saw it did the same for others, it was magical.”

Prior to the concert, Ungar will present a fiddling workshop discussing his music at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29 in the Visual and Performing Arts Building. Those interested in participating may call (217) 206-8405.

Alongside “Ashokan Farewell” on the Jan. 31 program will be selections tied to the country’s mid-19th-century mood, Lincoln’s musical preferences and his political legacy.

“The Vacant Chair” sadly chronicles a family gathering with a seat left open in memory of a fallen soldier. A sing-along medley that Ungar and Mason dub “Hits of the ’60s” will touch on popular Union and Confederate melodies.

“We came to understand that the songs of the north were sung in the south and vice versa,” Ungar says. “We were still one cultural unit in some ways. Everyone knew all the songs, and the most powerful ones, the other side would have their own lyrics for them.”

Mason hopes to perform “Listen to the Mockingbird,” an 1855 song reported to be Lincoln’s favorite and one that has lived on as a fiddle-contest favorite.

“The identity in the music we’re looking at here has a very strong emotional content,” Ungar says. “It is very playable and danceable, and has lyrics that speak very directly of people’s feelings, inner life and higher goals to aspire to.”

“It’s one part educational and one part historical to a modern audience, but the major portion is for entertainment,” Cranson says. “The kind of thing it seems Abe liked the most is fun.”

Tickets for “An Early Birthday Party for A. Lincoln” are $37 and are available: online at; by calling (217) 206-6160 or toll free at (800) 207-6960; or from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Sangamon Auditorium Ticket Office.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Employee of the Year Reception will be January 27

The Employee of the Year Recognition and Reception Ceremony will be held Tuesday, January 27, 2009 from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. in the Auditorium Lobby. Staff and faculty who wish to attend the reception need to register by Friday, January 16th.

To register to attend, click here.

At the annual Employee of the Year reception, one employee is chosen from the previous year's 11 Employees of the Month to receive the Employee of the Year honor.

The purpose of the Employee of the Month/Employee of the Year Program is to recognize those employees who have served UIS in an exceptional manner. The nominee must be a permanent employee who has and continues to show outstanding merit, performs outstanding service through his or her work and exhibits a positive and supportive attitude. Nominations may be made by faculty, administrators, staff or students.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Spring auditions to be held for As You Like It

The Theatre Program at the University of Illinois at Springfield will hold open auditions for the 2009 spring production – As You Like It by William Shakespeare – on Sunday, January 25, and Monday, January 26, beginning at 7 p.m. both nights, in the Studio Theatre, located on level one of the Public Affairs Center on the UIS campus. Call-backs will be at the same time and place on Tuesday, January 27.

Auditions are open to anyone, with or without experience. UIS Director of Theatre Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson, who will direct, noted that everyone auditioning is strongly encouraged to read the play in advance. He added that headshots and resumes, as well as brief prepared monologues, are appreciated but not mandatory. Anyone interested in working backstage on the production should also plan to attend one night of auditions.

As You Like It is generally regarded as one of Shakespeare’s finest comedies. The setting is France, where Duke Senior -- usurped and exiled by his brother, Duke Frederick – has gone into hiding in the Forest of Arden with his followers. Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, is permitted to stay at court because she and Frederick’s daughter Celia are close. However, Rosalind soon falls in love with Orlando, and when the young man is forced to leave court to escape persecution by his older brother, Rosalind (disguised as a boy) and Celia (disguised as "his" sister) also flee to the Forest. After much confusion, mistaken identity, and love-struck pining, Duke Frederick repents, Duke Senior is restored to his rightful position, and everybody lives happily ever after. (Plot synopsis from The Shakespeare Resource Center at

Thibodeaux-Thompson also noted that this production of As You Like It will be translated into a modern-day setting, while remaining faithful to Shakespeare’s original play.

A limited number of scripts are available for 24-hour checkout from UIS’ Brookens Library. In addition, some copies are available for 24-hour check-out, with a refundable $10 cash deposit, from the Communication/Theatre program office in UIS’ University Hall, room 3010, phone 206-6790, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

Rehearsals will begin Sunday, February 1, and are generally scheduled for Sunday through Thursday nights from 7 to 10 p.m. Production dates are April 17, 18, 19 and 23, 24, 25.

More information about auditions is available at or contact Thibodeaux-Thompson by phone at 206-6613 or by e-mail at