Musers

Musers & Performers

“Musings” is a time of thoughtful inspiration and introspection built into the heart of the busy Academy schedule each day. All participants assemble to think about the role of the arts in education and in life. 

At each Musings session, an individual who is significantly involved in the arts acts as a muse and leads the group in examining the richness and depth that the arts add to the lives of all people. Well-known Musers who have led these sessions include Broadway composers Charles Strouse (Annie), Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line), Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family) and Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls); concert pianist Lorin Hollander; lyricists Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof), Dean Pitchford (Fame), and Joe DiPietro (Memphis); costume designer Patricia Zipprodt (My Fair Lady); authors Wilma Dykeman and Will D. Campbell; theatre critic John Simon; conductors Michael Stern, Isaiah Jackson, Giancarlo Guerrero and Robert Bernhardt; educator Graham Down; Emmy and Tony award-winning actress Cherry Jones; Shakespearean directors Adrian Hall and Tina Packer; Hollywood composers Richard Sherman (Mary Poppins) and George S. Clinton (Austin Powers); visual artists Audrey Flack, Dorothy Gillespie, Jon Moody, Charles Brindley, Dolph Smith, Alan Lequire, Harold Gregor, and Sylvia Hyman; Broadway director Scott Ellis; (1776) and Richard Maltby, Jr. (Fosse); opera stars Mignon Dunn and Christine Brewer; New Yorker cartoonist Robert Mankoff; poet Nikki Giovanni; Tony award-winning playwright Christopher Durang (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike); bandleader and musician Doc Severinsen (The Tonight Show); classical composer Libby Larsen; scenic and costume designer Tony Walton; stage combat director David Leong (Carousel); filmmaker Jay Russell (My Dog Skip); Broadway musical theatre stars Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), Stephanie J. Block (Wicked) Marin Mazzie (Ragtime), Jason Danieley (The Full Monty), Rebecca Luker, (The Secret Garden), Laura Osnes (Cinderella), and Aaron Lazar (The Light in the Piazza); television writer and producer Marc Cherry (Golden GirlsDesperate Housewives); author, composer, and lyricist Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and many others.

Please check back regularly for updates and information about the 2019 Tennessee Arts Academy.


Anton Armstrong

Monday, July 15, 2019

1:20 PM

Anton Armstrong, Tosdal Professor of Music at St. Olaf College, is the fourth conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, a position he has held since 1990. Prior to this current appointment, Armstrong served on the faculty of Calvin College and led the Calvin College Alumni Choir, the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, and the St. Cecilia Youth Chorale. He is editor of a multicultural choral series for Earthsongs Publications and co-editor, with John Ferguson, of the revised St. Olaf Choral Series for Augsburg Fortress Publishers. In June 1998, he began his tenure as founding conductor of the Oregon Bach Festival Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy.

During the 2018–19 season Armstrong served as a member of the Choral Jury for the First Tokyo International Choir Competition in Japan and for the Busan International Choral Festival in Busan, the Republic of Korea. Armstrong has led choral festivals at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California; at Carnegie Hall in New York City; at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, California; and at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. During the spring of 2019, Armstrong led the St. Olaf Choir on a concert tour of Norway. Since 1990, Anton Armstrong has served as artistic director of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, which currently features nearly six hundred student musicians from five St. Olaf Choral ensembles and the St. Olaf Orchestra. The festival itself is one of the oldest musical celebrations of Christmas in the United States. During his career, Armstrong has been the recipient of numerous awards. In March 2007, Armstrong became the first recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from the American Boychoir School, and in October 2009, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Michigan State University. In June 2013, Armstrong received the Saltzman Award from the Oregon Bach Festival. In the fall of 2014, the St. Olaf Choir and Armstrong received a Regional Emmy for the Public Broadcasting Station’s television program Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir.


The appearance of Anton Armstrong is made possible by a generous gift from Country Music Association Foundation.





Peter H. Reynolds

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

1:20 PM

Creativity champion Peter H. Reynolds is a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator and founder of FableVision, an award-winning educational multi-media company co-located at the Boston Children’s Museum.

Published in more than twenty-five languages, Reynold’s books—The Dot, Ish, The Word Collector, Happy Dreamer, and Say Something, among many others—inspire children and “grown-up children” with his messages about authentic learning, creativity, bravery, empathy, and courageous self-expression.

Reynolds was born in 1961 in Canada. He graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art and Fitchburg State College where he received the Communications Student of the Year Award in 1983, the Alumni Recognition Award in 1999, and was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters in 2007 for his “substantial contributions to education and the arts.”

His book The Dot won a number of awards, including the Oppenheim Platinum Toy Award, Borders Books’ Original Voices 2003 Award, and the Christopher Medal, as well as the American Library Association’s 2005 Carnegie Medal of Excellence for the book’s animated adaptation. Reynolds also created the award-winning animated short films The Blue Shoe and Living Forever, as well as the film adaptations of his books The Dot and Ish, along with several others.

Reynolds illustrated the best sellers I am Yoga, I am Peace, I am Human (a New York Times number one best-selling picture book), the soon to be released I Am Love (release date September 28, 2019) by Susan Verde, and Someday by Alison McGhee. His illustrations can also be seen in The Water Princess with Susan Verde and the Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald. He collaborated with his twin brother Paul on the books Going Places and Full STEAM Ahead, a three-book chapter series for young readers.

Reynolds lives in Dedham, Massachusetts, where he founded The Blue Bunny, a family-owned and operated children’s book, toy, creativity store and coffee shop. Much of his spare time is spent giving back to the community—revitalizing the businesses and landscape in his beloved Dedham Square, supporting schools, caring for homeless children, promoting literacy and learning, and inspiring all of us to use our gifts to make the journey a meaningful one.

To that end, Reynolds and his brother Paul launched the Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning, and Creativity (also known as the Reynolds Center for TLC). The center is a not-for-profit organization that encourages creativity and innovation in teaching and learning.


The appearance of Peter H. Reynolds is made possible by a generous gift from Pinnacle Financial Partners.





Jeff Calhoun

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

1:20 PM

Jeff Calhoun is an award-winning choreographer, dancer, director, and producer. His work has been seen in countless venues from Broadway to London and in theatres across America.

Calhoun began his career as one of the seven brothers in the Broadway production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He then went on to replace Tommy Tune in the Broadway production of My One and Only starring Twiggy and the legendary Charles “Honi” Coles. His Broadway directing debut was Tommy Tune Tonite! at the Gershwin Theater. Calhoun’s collaboration with Tune led to the 1991 Tony Award for Best Choreography for the Will Rogers Follies. As a dancer in the film version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Calhoun met Dolly Parton. Just this year, he worked with her again when he directed her show 9 to 5: The Musical on London’s West End as well as on its U.S. and U.K. tours.

Calhoun’s Broadway experience is extensive. He directed the hit Disney musical, Newsies, which was nominated for eight Tony Awards, including for best musical and best director. His revival of Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s Jekyll and Hyde played the Marriott Marquis Theatre following its U.S. National Tour. Also in collaboration with Wildhorn, Calhoun directed and choreographed the Broadway production of Bonnie and Clyde. Calhoun’s numerous other Broadway credits include his roles as producer, director, and choreographer of Brooklyn: The Musical; director and choreographer of the 1994 Broadway Grease revival; co-choreographer with Graciela Daniele of the Broadway Tony Award winning revival of Annie Get Your Gun; and the musical staging for the Tony Award winning Broadway musical Grey Gardens.

His additional projects across the United States include work at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, where he directed the critically acclaimed production of Emma: A Musical Romantic Comedy, based on the Jane Austen novel, and co-directed Himself and Nora with Joe Hardy. Calhoun also directed the world premiere production and tours of Disney’s High School Musical: On Stage! and Disney’s High School Musical 2: On Stage! For the North Hollywood, California-based Deaf West Theatre, he directed and choreographed Pippin at the Mark Taper Forum and the company’s Tony Award winning production of Big River.

Calhoun is currently an associate artist at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. He also serves on the board of directors for Covenant House International, a nonprofit organization helping homeless youth in thirty-one cities across six countries.


The appearance of Jeff Calhoun is made possible by a generous gift from Tennessee Book Company.

Newsies Tony Award Presentation



Interview with Violet Director Jeff Calhoun





Alton Fitzgerald White

Thursday, July 18, 2019

1:50 PM

Alton Fitzgerald White captivates audiences whenever he performs. The triple talented singer, actor, and dancer has starred in six Broadway shows. He made his Broadway debut as John in Miss Saigon, where his performance of the anthem “Bui Doi” brought nightly ovations. White then moved on to major roles in both the hit rock-opera The Who’s Tommy and the Leiber and Stoller musical revue, Smokey Joe’s Café. His starring portrayal of Coalhouse Walker Jr. in Ragtime: The Musical was a milestone in White’s career. His time in the role, which began with the pre-Broadway original company in Toronto opposite six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, continued during the critically acclaimed North American tour, and ultimately led him to Broadway, opposite Tony award winner LaChanze. White’s next major move took him on the road to originate the role of Mufasa in the first national tour of Disney’s The Lion King. After just over a year of touring, he joined the Broadway company, where he played the role of Mufasa for a record breaking five and a half years. In 2007, White performed the role of Mister in Oprah Winfrey’s production of Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple opposite American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino.

White’s many television appearances include episodes of Law and OrderMadam SecretaryBulland the recently released Fox network television special, Rent Live. He has featured roles in four upcoming films including The Goldfinch, in which he plays opposite actress Nicole Kidman. White has performed in concerts around the world and has become an in-demand motivational and keynote speaker. His CD, Disney My Way!, is filled with wonderfully reimagined Disney classics. In his recently released inspirational biography, My Pride: Mastering Life’s Daily Performance, White shares his secrets to fulfillment and joy in work and life.


The appearance of Alton Fitzgerald White throughout the Academy week is made possible by a generous gift from Pat and Thane Smith.