Baker music, theater merge; change builds 'alliance'

Baker's performing arts departments are joining forces this year to become one department.

Discussion for the merger began in the spring, and the change became official July 1.

Professor of Music Trilla Lyerla said the departmental change was brought on in part by other reduction and reallocation changes on campus. Lyerla now serves as chair of the music and theater department with Tom Heiman, associate professor of theater, as associate chair.

"It seemed to be a natural alliance," Lyerla said.

A big reason for the music and theater collaboration was to emphasize the opportunity for students to have an interdisciplinary major within the department itself.

"I want [the change] to be about Baker students and their education," Lyerla said.  "We want to design something that pertains more to the 21st century Baker graduate."

Lyerla said the change might even allow the department to offer a musical theater minor or major to students, but the discussion for that will be further down the road.

One change that can already be seen is how musical productions will operate. In the past, musicals were performed during interterm. But this year, the department will perform one in the spring. Lyerla said the plan is to start having musicals every other year.

Senior Kari Hilmes, who is the only theater major who is an upperclassmen, has been involved with both plays and musicals while at Baker. So, she can see the change benefitting not only music students, but theater students as well.

"I think it was a good move," Hilmes said. "It'll be good for both departments."

Hilmes also said this will benefit both current and prospective students, in that it may attract more musical theater students to Baker.

Sophomore Rachel Van Winkle transferred to Baker this year from Wichita State University.  Van Winkle said Wichita State had separate departments for music and theater, but still collaborated by producing operas in the fall and spring. Van Winkle, a music education major, participated in the productions and enjoyed getting to work with the theater students.

"It was cool to see their side of how they prepare for things," Van Winkle said.

Even though she's new to Baker this year, Van Winkle said it's nice the two departments are combining.

"I think it's a good move, since we are one in the same," she said.

As chair, Lyerla's ultimate goal for the new department is to create a more truly collaborative performing arts environment.

"We don't want the arts just to survive," Lyerla said. "We want them to thrive."

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