NACOGDOCHES - The exchange program between Stephen F. Austin State University School of Music and the University of Tasmania Conservatorium of Music is proving to be a win-win collaboration for everyone lucky enough to find themselves involved.
Although separated by continents and oceans, both universities share a common vision of supporting the benefits of international study as a transformational experience for their students and faculty.
Since the spring of 2011, music composition students at Stephen F. Austin State University have been traveling to the University of Tasmania to study for one or two semesters. Last fall, the exchange was expanded, with a UTAS piano student studying at SFA for a semester, and another UTAS student will study at SFA during the coming fall semester.
This semester, Dr. Maria Grenfell, coordinator and senior lecturer in composition at UTAS, is on the receiving end of the exchange. Grenfell, who is living in Nacogdoches this semester, is a visiting professor at SFA teaching composition students and a music analysis class. She arrived in Nacogdoches with her family in January and will return home to Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, at the conclusion of the spring semester. She is filling in for Dr. Stephen Lias, professor of composition at SFA who initiated the exchange with UTAS in 2010, while Lias is on sabbatical this semester pursuing other projects. While there have been other visiting professors at SFA, this is the first faculty exchange of this nature.
Lias was in Australia attending the 2010 World New Music Days Festival when he took some personal time to explore Tasmania, Lias explained in an email interview. He met the head of the UTAS Conservatorium of Music, and the initial idea of the exchange was formed. Since then, three SFA students have studied at UTAS, and Lias and Dr. Fred J. Allen, director of bands at SFA, have traveled there to promote the exchange.
"UTAS makes an exceptionally good partner for SFA," Lias said. "Students can travel either way without a language barrier, both universities have fine programs in music that serve a regional and sometimes sheltered clientele, and both schools firmly support the benefits of international study as a transformational experience.
"Our students have come home from Hobart with glowing comments about the experience," he said, "and have gained profound insight into their own place in the world. We are immensely grateful for the support we have received from Dean Himes (Dr. A.C. "Buddy" Himes, dean of the College of Fine Arts at SFA) and the administrations on both sides."
By coming to SFA to teach, Grenfell is getting reacquainted with the SFA students she taught while they were at UTAS as participants in the exchange.
Lias described Grenfell as a "fantastic teacher," and he expressed his appreciation for her willingness to "participate in this collaboration both by teaching our students and coming all the way to SFA."
"The entire exchange program would certainly never have gotten off the ground without her strong support," he said.
Living in Nacogdoches
Grenfell's family is enjoying their time in Texas, she said. Her husband, David Malone, who is a classically trained guitarist, is enjoying the "jam sessions" at the Old Time String Shop downtown, while her children, Alexander, 9 and Lillian, 5, are students at Raguet Elementary, where Alexander is learning to eat all kinds of new and "interesting" foods, like Frito Pie.
"He's trying to eat as much of the local food as possible," she said with a laugh, "whether or not it is good for him."
Grenfell, who teaches part-time at UTAS, is looking forward to being "fully immersed" in her job at SFA, "and having that support from my husband is really fantastic in enabling me to do that." In Hobart, Malone works full-time, but while in Nacogdoches, he's focused on managing the household and caring for the family.
"That has changed the way the family routine works, and that's a nice change for me," she said.
She and Lias have been corresponding for the past two years, but she is looking forward to meeting and getting to know new colleagues at SFA. She described the campus as "spacious with beautiful trees - a quiet oasis in the middle of a busy town."
"The School of Music here is very active," she said. "There is a lot of performing, a lot of touring. The students are incredibly busy and totally involved in what they are doing.
"The faculty is extremely talented and highly qualified," she said. "It seems to be a very well-rounded school, so I'm very impressed."
Here is a closer look at Dr. Maria Grenfell:
What is your favorite book, TV show, movie and song?
Book: "Pride and Prejudice,' and "Persuasion," by Jane Austen.
TV show: "Sex and the City," a British quiz show called "Q.I." hosted by Stephen Fry, and, for some inexplicable reason, we also enjoy "Big Bang Theory."
Movie: "A Room With A View," from my teenage years.
Song: I can't think of any one song, but many by the Beatles, James Taylor, Bill Withers.
What magazines do you read? Not many. I like In Style magazine for a bit of escapism sometimes. I also like food magazines.
What book are you reading now? "The Secret Keeper' by Kate Morton, and "The Rest is Noise" by Alex Ross. I should have read it years ago, but it's hard to find time to read except on vacation. I'm currently reading the wonderful "Little House on the Prairie" books to my daughter.
Hobbies? Cooking, exercising, camping and hiking. I also love to sew but haven't done any in a while.
What are your pet peeves? When people don't think considerately of others; not getting enough sleep; poor quality food; shoes that feel good when you buy them, but then hurt when you wear them.
Family background: I have been married for 12 years to my husband, David Malone, and we have two children, Alexander, 9, and Lillian, 5. I met David when I moved to Hobart, as he was also working at the Conservatorium - he is a fantastic musician and taught guitar and music business studies. Our kids are amazing and we love them dearly. They are very bright and sparkly, and love being on our adventure in Texas. I am very fortunate to have a wonderful family even though we don't all live in the same place. My sister is in Adelaide, Australia, with her family, and I have two brothers-in-law, one in Sydney and another in Zurich, Switzerland.
Most influential person(s): My parents, my husband David, and my wonderful mother-in-law. I could not have asked for better parents. They have always encouraged and supported me, and their achievements are awe-inspiring. I'm lucky to be very close to my mother-in-law, and I couldn't do what I do without her. She lives in Hobart whereas my parents live in New Zealand, and she is one of the most inspirational, generous and motivated people I've ever met.
Personal goals? To achieve greater recognition as a composer, and to have more balance in my life.
Second choice for a career? I think I was always going to go into music. I really wanted to play professionally in an orchestra (violin), but I continued to play as much as possible until I didn't have time any more. In high school, I was interested in teaching, psychology or market research.
If you could sit down to dinner with the four people you admire most, who would they be and what would you eat? David, my husband; my parents; Stephen Hartke, my composition mentor and close friend; and Jamie Oliver, chef. We would eat authentic Malaysian food, but if Jamie Oliver were coming, I would ask him to cook, so it wouldn't matter what we ate!
The most common thing people say about me is: That I'm "lovely," "approachable," or that I'm "super-woman" because I try and do it all! (See 'Personal goals' on achieving more balance in my life!)