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Week of January 30, 2012

Faculty Spotlight

Music lecturer inspires creativity in his students

Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services.

As a young boy, Mark Kirschenmann was fascinated by the music he heard near his home in Valparaiso, Ind.

“I would beg my mother to take me to watch the high school marching band practice because I was struck by the sound and movement,” says Kirschenmann, lecturer III in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the Residential College (RC).

This curiosity about music guided his career path. As a young high school student he was introduced to trumpeter Miles Davis, who was known for altering the sound of his instrument. “I took Davis’ album ‘On the Corner’ home, and I listened to it over and over again but I couldn’t find the trumpet. When I realized I was listening to a trumpet through a wah-wah pedal, it was an epiphany for me,” he says.

The experience later inspired Kirschenmann to pursue studies of how sound can develop, and the creative process. He tries to pass on what he’s learned in a range of settings. “I taught a one-day seminar on North Campus for the living arts community, where we made flutes out of paper, trumpets by attaching garden hose onto plastic bottles with the ends cut off, and string instruments by stretching rubber bands over various surfaces,” Kirschenmann says.

“Music flows from people in the way we move and speak. Even the sounds of nature and machines co-mingle to create rhythms, melodies and harmonies,” he says.

He’s also been fascinated by the subject of what sparks creativity, and for a time joined other faculty to teach a class that explores the process. “We showed the students how we go about our creative process, and we conveyed the message that creativity isn’t exclusive to the arts or music. For instance, we had them observe the musical attributes of a vending machine, and we devised graphic musical scores using hand drawn symbols,” he says.

Kirschenmann still passes on to students key lessons from the creative process course — among them, the notion that creativity is fundamental, not just for music and the arts, but in any discipline. “I really believe that the creative spark lives inside of everyone. To our dismay we sometimes observe creativity taking a backseat in school curriculums,” he says.

Besides sharing his love of music with students and other artists, Kirschenmann recently has completed work on four CD projects including “This Bionic Trumpet” on Block M Records. “I composed, performed, engineered everything and every sound comes a trumpet, although it seldom sounds like one,” he says.

“I look forward to continuing my journey into music and creativity, which will undoubtedly be full of countless surprises,” Kirschenmann says.

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Mark Kirschenmann, lecturer III in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, on what made him interested in the creative process.