Musica Nova to Celebrate 40 Years with Concert

Musica Nova

Musica Nova, a group of student musicians directed by Dr. Robert Xavier Rodríguez, will perform at 8 p.m. Friday in the Jonsson Performance Hall as part of this year's Fall Student Art Festival. 

In the fall of 1975, a small ensemble of student musicians playing in the Founders North Auditorium managed to fill every seat with the staff, faculty and students of the nascent community at UT Dallas. All were eager to see the first glimpses of music on campus.

Dr. Robert X. Rodríguez, professor of music and Chair in Art and Aesthetic Studies, was 29 at the time, but his work already had been performed by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He said the most important part of his musical career was still yet to come. 

“Our first concert was exciting because the entire university community came — buzzing to show us that they were glad to have music on campus for the first time,” Rodríguez said. “We had very few ensembles, so each group did one or two pieces, plus a few faculty solos.” 

At 8 p.m. Friday, UT Dallas’ performance ensemble, Musica Nova, will devote its fall concert to celebrating four decades of performances at the University. 

The special anniversary program, titled The Ox on the Roof, will feature three pairs of pieces spanning three centuries with compositions from Tomaso Albinoni, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Kurt Weill and Darius Milhaud’s surrealist ballet, Le boeuf sur le toit.

Biology sophomore Michael Trinh, who has been playing the violin for nine years, has been a part of Musica Nova since day one of his freshman year.

Trinh is in the UT-PACT program, a collaborative effort that pairs UT Dallas with UT Southwestern Medical School to provide an enhanced curriculum so that students complete their bachelor’s degrees in biology in just three years before starting medical school. He said part of the reason he came to UTD was the chance to balance his pre-med coursework while pursuing his other passion — music. 

“There’s so much flexibility and since I also think there’s a strong synergy between playing music and science, playing music can only help me,” Trinh said. “Dr. Rodríguez always says ‘musicians make the best scientists,’ and I think that the skills I learn in the laboratory and in my coursework definitely allow me to notice things about music that others usually glance over.”

Trinh said Rodríguez and his one-on-one approach to music education is a key component in making the experience worthwhile. As a bonus, Rodríguez also invites guest artists to play with students periodically.

In addition to student performers, the players will include faculty members Michael McVay and Mary Medrick, three members of the Dallas Symphony, and alumni of the ensemble.

Shannon Layman MA’09, PhD’12, who has played the violin since she was 3 and the viola since age 11, was a part of Musica Nova as a student, but she continues to play as a guest artist.

Layman said one of her fondest memories of Musica Nova is playing Brahm’s Piano Quartet in G Minor — a fast-paced and intense composition.

“The whole quartet is a beast,” she said. “In all our nerves and excitement, we took the last movement faster than we ever had, and the group just synched and owned it. It was so much fun, and the audience really connected with that piece.”

Rodríguez said almost all of the students in the ensemble major in STEM or business disciplines in part because UT Dallas does not offer a major in music.

Despite there being no academic requirements prompting the players, Rodríguez said they regularly double their scheduled rehearsal time and set up extra sessions during holiday breaks and over the summer. 

“The wonderful thing about all of our music classes is that the students are there because they love music and they just want to be there,” Rodríguez said. “The students are brilliant and extremely talented, but the most important reason for their success is that they are willing to devote their energy and time.”

Both old and new students agree that the benefits of music performance transcend simply enjoyment. For Trinh, it’s a new form of communication.

“To be able to communicate nonverbally with someone is an exciting experience,” he said. “All week long, I have work, lectures and meetings and on Tuesday afternoons, it is nice to just kick back, relax and make wonderful music with interesting individuals.”

For Layman, it has helped her understanding of her studies and research. 

She’s a lecturer in psychology at UT Arlington, but during her undergraduate years, she double-majored in psychology and music performance. In graduate school, her field of research within neuroscience was music cognition.

“There has never been a point where music was not a part of my life,” she said. “I was just able to broaden my focus beyond the enjoyment of playing music to studying how music affects the brain.”

Rodríguez said it’s that expansive appreciation for the music that keeps the ensemble alive.

“My favorite part of the process is helping the students realize that to produce great music, we must nurture a love of music that will inspire us to give all we have,” he said. “As long as there are young people who love music and who continue to yearn for greater and greater musical horizons, then there’s hope for more great music for the next 40 years and beyond.”

Student Artists to Showcase Their Skills in Fall Festival

The Musica Nova concert is part of the Fall Student Art Festival. The fest showcases the works of more than 600 students from more than 40 courses featuring classical, jazz, theater, dance, guitar, piano and vocal performances, as well as art exhibitions and receptions.


6:30 p.m. Jazz Band, Jonsson Performance Hall8 p.m. Vocal Instruction I Class, Jonsson Performance Hall


6 p.m. Guitar Ensembles, Jonsson Performance Hall7 p.m. Readers Theater & Improvisation, University Theatre8 p.m. Excerpts from "Best of Broadway" Class, Jonsson Performance Hall9 p.m. Carolyn Baker, senior recital, Jonsson Performance Hall


6:30 p.m. Art Exhibition & Reception, Visual Art Studio7 p.m. Vocal Instruction II, Jonsson Performance Hall8 p.m. Musica Nova Ensemble, Jonsson Performance Hall


2 p.m. Student Piano recital, Jonsson Performance Hall


2 p.m. Wind Ensemble, String Orchestra & UT Dallas Orchestra, University Theatre

Friday, Dec. 11  

7 p.m. Advanced Voice recital, Jonsson Performance Hall

Friday, Dec. 18

7 p.m. Rachael Bernstein, senior recital, Jonsson Performance Hall

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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