2020: A Year in Review

As we reflect on 2020, we are filled with memories of challenges and triumphs. We have both pride in what we accomplished and sorrow for all that was lost. We acknowledge the impact that COVID-19 has had on the performing arts, in particular, our alumni and those in our community. And we are reminded that the performing arts provide a means for self-expression, comfort, and connection as we move forward toward brighter times.

In a year unlike any other, our students, faculty, staff, and alumni have been resilient and resourceful. We reimagined curriculum to enhance new learning environments, heightened our commitment to anti-racism, and created new ways to engage with the community. We have found much joy in our work, our performances, and our academic experiences. And we want to celebrate these moments with you.


SMTD began 2020 as we usually do, with our annual Collage concert in January, bringing together students from across the School for a rousing performance that showcased the very best of our School.

Photos from Collage


Before the pandemic, we presented several dynamic, in-person performances, including Faculty Showcase, Latin Xpressions (Department of Dance), Yerma (Department of Theatre & Drama), and Sonnets, Soliloquies & Soul (Department of Musical Theatre), conceived and directed by Tony Award nominee Michael McElroy.

Photo: A scene from Yerma (Department of Theatre & Drama), written by Federico García Lorca. Yerma tells the tragic story of a woman living in rural Spain who faces societal pressure to have children.

Latin Xpressions

The Department of Dance explored the diversity of the Latin experience through works from Profs. Ron De Jesús, Jillian Hopper, and Christian Matijas-Mecca, as well as choreography from an array of guest artists, including Carlos Pons Guerra from the UK-based DeNada Dance Theatre; Joel Valentin-Martínez, director of the dance program at Northwestern University; and Rosie Herrera, the artistic director of Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre in Miami.

Sonnets, Soliloquies & Soul

Sonnets, Soliloquies & Soul is a new musical revue featuring the works of William Shakespeare reimagined by contemporary Black composers through the lens of iconic Black musical forms. Students worked side-by-side with McElroy in the development of the premiere, helping him refine arrangements, choreograph each piece, and discover a through line for the eclectic mix of styles and poetry.

“Working on a new and experimental piece of theatre was incredibly valuable for me because I had the opportunity to create and collaborate in a way that one simply does not get while working on established staged works. I also learned how to handle multiple changes being made to the material during the rehearsal process. This is a good experience because changes are very common in the development of new works on their way to Broadway!"

Timothy Thompson, (BFA '23, musical theatre)

SMTD students had life-changing experiences at home and, prior to the pandemic, abroad.

London Immersion

Ten SMTD students traveled to the Trinity Laban Conservatory in London for a week-long immersion. Our students participated in a one-week intensive program where conservatory students execute innovative multi-disciplinary performance projects. The experience was made possible with generous support from the Office of the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, as part of the SMTD Global Engagement Initiative, and in partnership with the SMTD EXCEL Lab.

Master Classes

Master classes connected students and world-renowned performing artists, including Grammy Award-winning baritone Thomas Hampson, who visited in February.

Hampson's Hampsong Foundation and SMTD developed a new research partnership this year called the Classic Song Research Initiative, which aims to strengthen the work of both organizations in song research, vocal performance, and education.


In March 2020, SMTD pivoted to remote learning as the State of Michigan invoked a shelter-in-place order. Students, faculty, and alumni found creative ways to share their artistic talents and build community.

Alumni showed their Michigan pride by participating in our #SMTDPerforms Virtual Victors digital performance challenge.

Faculty and staff stayed connected by curating Spotify playlists, called SMTD Mixtapes, that showcased the eclectic musical interests of our community.

Listen to Prof. Danielle Belen's SMTD Mixtape

Students got creative while at home, using anything and everything they could to continue performing. Our percussion students, led by Clark Hubbard (MM '20, percussion performance & chamber music), created "SodaSong" with pop cans, cups, and more.

Class of 2020 Celebration

As the academic year drew to a close, we created a special digital celebration for the Class of 2020. The SMTD community answered our call to help create this tribute to the graduates. More than 70 faculty, alumni, and SMTD leadership shared videos, offering graduates well-wishes and advice for the future. Commencement Day, May 1, brought a commemorative digital program book, and virtual performances and speeches from student award winners. Our community cheered on the graduates with two special, socially distant renditions of The Victors from the MT Class of 2020 and the Michigan Marching Band, in collaboration with the Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs. And the faculty created a spoken-word version of The Yellow & Blue as a special sendoff.

The Michigan Marching Band and the Men's and Women's Glee Clubs celebrate the Class of 2020.

The faculty's special tribute to the Class of 2020.

Earl V. Moore Award Recipient Sean Grier's (MM '20, Ph.D. '25, music education) Commencement Presentation. Watch all of the award recipients presentations.

The MT Class of 2020 performs The Victors.


The spring issue of Muse magazine celebrated the Class of 2020 with a compilation of photos and memories submitted by the graduates; special letters from 2020 Commencement Speaker Laura Karpman (BM '80, composition) and Alumni Board of Governors Chairperson Ann Marie Stanley (Ph.D. '09, music education); and faculty well-wishes.

During the summer months, SMTD planned for a public health-informed, in-person fall semester.


Faculty reimagined course syllabi and constructed lessons for remote instruction. For example, Prof. Christianne Myers developed 45 tutorial videos for THTRE 263 Design Rendering, a first-year foundation course for design and production students.

We welcomed eleven new faculty members including Fabiola Kim, Sarah M. Oliver, Doug Perkins, Ian Antonio, David Zerkel, Charles Lwanga, Mackenzie Pierce, Marc Hannaford, Shannon Gillen, Fangfei Miao, and Jillian Hopper. The new faculty introduced themselves to the SMTD community in creative, and socially distant ways, such as hosting Instagram takeovers and creating music playlists.

Photo from "Distant Sea"

Summer Performances

Students and faculty stayed connected throughout the summer as well, trying out split-screen performances, including “Distant Sea,” composed by Michael Kropf (DMA '22, composition), and “She-e-e-e-e,” composed by Meghan Rohrer (MM '21, violin performance).

Building Community

Students used SMTD’s Instagram to share the experiences of going to school and performing during the pandemic with classmates and prospective students.

Summer Programs

MPulse Performing Arts Institutes moved online for the first time this summer. Students took part in nine of the twelve MPulse Institutes, engaging in live Zoom lessons, master classes, performances, and virtual camp activities. Over 140 students participated across our programs, including Center Stage Strings, Musical Theatre Workshop, Girls in Music & Technology, and the Clarinet, Flute, Harp, Jazz, Saxophone, and Vocal Arts Institutes.

EXCEL hosted the new program Virtual Visionaries from May to August. The 10-week series brought together professionals across the performing arts—many of them alumni—for weekly discussions with students on Zoom. EXCEL selected a diverse group of leaders at various stages of their careers to engage in open conversations about a range of topics including personal finance, developing identity-driven work, and entrepreneurial approaches relevant to young arts professionals.

Students, faculty, and staff also came together this summer to speak out against racism, and SMTD outlined its commitment to act against racial injustice.

We celebrated the artistry of our BIPOC students, faculty, and alumni through a compilation of performances called #BlackJoy.

Watch the performances on YouTube.

Prof. Krisilyn Tony Frazier created “Justice in Motion,” a visual arts film focused on the Black Lives Matter movement. The film featured students Eli Rosario (MFA ’21, dance), Imani Taylor (MFA ’21, dance), and Abby Niemi (BFA ’23, dance).

Fall 2020

As we began a new school year in August, it was sure to be like no other in SMTD’s history. Most academic courses were offered online, and performance courses were offered in hybrid and in-person formats, within carefully designed health and safety protocols. SMTD came together to create innovative solutions to help students succeed in such an unusual environment and to keep our community connected throughout the fall semester.

Photo (courtesy of Prof. Patrick Drone): Mirit Skeen (BFA '24, directing) works on the base of a sculpting project in the Properties Shop.

Staying Connected

We welcomed students and built community through storytelling. Throughout the semester students sent in photos and quotes about why they chose Michigan, what projects they developed during the year, and more. These stories were shared on SMTD’s Instagram and website, helping students get to know one another virtually.

“Growing up in Michigan, I have been a U-M fan my whole life! SMTD is one of the most prestigious music schools in the world—the faculty, staff, and students, are all elite, accomplished, and are there to push everyone to be better. Once I realized that I knew it was the place that was right for me. I am looking forward to collaborating with the talented musicians at SMTD in chamber and large ensemble settings, with composers, as well as studying with Dr. Timothy McAllister.”

Andrew Hosler, (MM '23, saxophone performance)

“I am interested in the phenomenology of musical forms, specifically, Schubert's late sonata forms and post-millennial rock music. I want to research musical forms as a process of the human listening experience. I am looking forward to seminars on popular/rock music as well as musical analysis of political films.”

Yiqing Mitty Ma, (Ph.D. '26, music theory)

“I’m currently working on an EP, and have released music on Spotify and other major platforms. I also had the chance to mix for other local and non-local artists. SMTD provided me with great faculty to reach out to for advice, also connections and networking with others in my field.”

Christian Charley, (BFA '22, performing arts technology)


The Admissions Office held SMTD's first-ever virtual orientation for incoming students including Zoom sessions, welcome videos, and more.

Applications went live at the start of the school year, and the Admissions Office found innovative ways to connect with prospective students. Virtual Information Sessions are now standard, and the annual viewbook was created with embedded performance and testimonial videos from students, alumni, and faculty to help those considering SMTD gain a richer understanding of the School in place of in-person campus visits.

Alumna Meghann Powell (BFA '01, design & production) created the cover art for the viewbook and shared a video about the process which is embedded in the piece.

Virtual Conferences

In the fall, SMTD moved two major conferences online. The African American Music Conference celebrated the 90th birthday of Professor Emeritus Willis Patterson (MM ’59, BM ’58 voice) with archival recordings and performance videos. The Organ Conference celebrated its 60th anniversary—an impressive milestone—with Zoom presentations and performances.

Virtual Performances

The challenges of social distancing and remote learning did not stop our students and faculty from performing throughout the fall semester. While audiences were not permitted on campus, SMTD presented many live stream concerts and pre-recorded performances for virtual audiences on our website and social media channels, allowing students to continue developing their talents as performing artists in new and innovative ways.

SMTD held its largest A Grand Night for Singing in the concert’s history with digital performances by U-M Virtual Choirs, Chamber Choir, University Choir, Orpheus Singers, University of Michigan Men's Glee Club, University of Michigan Women's Glee Club, UMS Choral Union, SMTD Musical Theatre and Voice Departments, and special guests Alysia Lee and Melanie DeMore.

Members of the University Symphony Orchestra held their traditional Halloween concert via live stream and created several pre-recorded concerts including a performance of a new edition of Aaron Copland’s original ballet score of “Appalachian Spring,” edited by Jennifer DeLapp-Birkett (PhD ’97, musicology).

Prof. Stephen Lusmann, the winner of the 2020 Harold Haugh Award for Excellence in Studio Teaching, worked with current and former students to create a socially distant performance of The Bohemians, his newly-created, abbreviated version of Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohéme.

The U-M Percussion Ensemble created several digital performances including “Mbira Book One.”

The Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation presented live stream and pre-recorded concerts featuring original student works such as “Anyways” by Joshua Catania (BFA ‘23, jazz and contemplative studies).

The Department of Composition created a new digital series called the Imprint Series. The first concert, called “Let the Record Show,” featured four student compositions.

The Michigan Marching Band created two digital performances including, "Hail to the Frontline Heroes."

SMTD’s University Productions produced a three-week digital season that featured student-driven performances and traditional works, presented by the Departments of Theatre & Drama and Musical Theatre, as well as the University Opera Theatre. Students, faculty, and staff recorded the performances, with health protocols in place, and edited them with the help of SMTD alumni at Sly Pup Productions.

Select performances are still available to enjoy on YouTube.

Photo (left): A scene from A Beautiful Country, written by Chay Yew. Using dance, drag, drama, and documentary elements, the play chronicles 150 years of Asian-American immigration history.

Thank you for looking back at this year with us, and for all you have done to help our School continue to be a vibrant and creative community.

We wish you a Happy New Year.