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No strings attached

Martin Dale Fellowship allows senior to immerse herself in music for a year

By Steven Schultz

Princeton NJ -- When senior Kathleen Bader thought seriously about her most advantageous career move after graduation, she came up with a surprising answer: spending a year alone in a desert.


Kathleen Bader credits her professors and the music department's nurturing environment with affirming her commitment to composing.


As the winner of this year's Martin Dale Fellowship, she will have a chance to do just that. Bader, a music major, plans to rent an apartment in Tucson, Ariz., and work for a year composing music.

According to her teachers, it is likely to be time well spent. "She is a very, very talented composer," said professor of music Steven Mackey, who advised Bader on a junior paper as well as on her senior thesis, which involved a performance of her work on May 14. "She is unusual in my experience in that she has evolved a personal voice very early."

Bader, however, is not so confident of what Mackey sees. She has been accepted to her first-choice graduate program in music -- Duke University but has deferred for a year to work on a project she sums up as "me, finding myself." She said her time in Arizona will allow her to indulge "a desire to compose in isolation for a while."

"I am at a point where I have learned so much but I haven't internalized it yet, so having the time and the space to get everything worked out in the desert would be great," said Bader.

Why the desert? "I've just loved deserts ever since I was very young," said Bader, who grew up in Massachusetts and now is from Malvern, Pa. When she was in the sixth grade, Bader declined an offer from her parents to take a trip to the Grand Canyon -- she felt that merely visiting would not do justice to a place that needed to be experienced more fully.

The Sonoran Desert around Tucson "seems to be the ideal landscape I've had in my head for awhile," she said.

Bader's interest in music has been equally longstanding, if not quite so idealized. She began playing piano at age 9 when her mother, who had been playing only a couple of years, began studying for a master's degree in teaching piano. Kathleen was her mother's first student.

"I kept improvising when I was supposed to be practicing," Bader said. "I think maybe that's where the composition part came in." Her mother had "a broad sense of music education" that included composition and improvisation in addition to playing, but Bader pushed her mother's limits, rebelliously straying from lessons into her own musical world.


Students win summer fellowships

Princeton NJ -- Eight sophomores are winners of this year's Dale Summer Fellowships, which provide a $3,000 stipend to pursue a summer project not connected to their academic coursework. The recipients and the titles of their projects are:

• Nitya Deepa Das, "The Temples of Tamil Nadu";

• Natasha Degen, "Physicality of Loss: Documenting the Planning and Development of the WTC Memorial";

• Maggie Dillon, "Of Syntax and Sagas: Speaking, Reading, Writing and Trekking Iceland";

• Chris Huckfeldt, "Studies in Jazz Performance and Composition";

• Anh-Thu Ngo, "Weaving Áo Dái: Tales of Vietnamese Rituals";

• Sashank Rishyasringa, "On the Trail of the Tibetan Thangka";

• Kyle Rebecca Scott, "Essays on Time and Place: WWII and Travel in Modern Europe"; and

• Zachary Woolfe, "Architecture Into Style: Early Modern Theaters and the Modern Theatrical Tradition."


By the time she was in high school, Bader was working seriously on composing, but also developed a "love-hate relationship" with writing music. At Princeton, she often considered switching to a different major but always found that not writing music was worse than the frustration she felt in struggling with compositions. Bader credits her professors and the music department's "nurturing environment" with helping her commit to pursuing music. Along the way, she has composed several pieces, including her junior project, which was performed last year.

The push-pull that Bader felt is a common experience among composers, including many of history's greats, said Mackey. Most promising students, however, struggle much longer before finding the "intangible voice" that Bader has developed, he said.

Although he hesitates to make too much of the connection, Mackey finds that Bader's fascination with the desert seems related to her style of composition, which often evokes a flat, expansive landscape with subtle variations and colors. "It is very interesting, but there is not a lot of topography in her music, not a lot of fancy events," he said. "She is really into contrast on a granular level there are subtle little hues and tints that come through in her music." The work she composed for her junior project was titled "Mojave."

For her part, Bader simply hopes to recapture the sense of immersion in music that, given the demands of other school work at Princeton, she has not felt since high school. "The pressures of academics didn't allow me to indulge as much because composing would distract me from my work," she said.

That immersion is the goal of the Dale fellowships, which are awarded annually to a graduating senior. The fellowship, created by Martin Dale '53, provides a grant of $25,000 to allow students to "to devote the year following graduation to an independent project of extraordinary merit that will widen the recipient's experience of the world and significantly enhance his or her personal growth and intellectual development."

Bader said the grant will allow her to rent a piano and a place to live and pay for day-to-day expenses, including music CDs. "I am really just thrilled that I won this," she said. "It is beyond exciting."