The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release

April 27, 2005

Musical Group Cerberus Presents 'Three In One' May 13

This Cerberus has three heads, but it's no dog.

A new musical ensemble named for the three-headed dog that guards Hades in Greek mythology -- made up of three brass players from the University of Iowa School of Music faculty -- will present "Three in One," its first public concert, at 8 p.m. Friday, May 13, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The three players are Jeffrey Agrell, horn; Brent Sandy, trumpet; and John Manning, tuba. They will be joined on May 13 by Soundpainting conductor Walter Thompson and poet David Hulm. The performance will be free and open to the public.

Cerberus will play the entire program, with their guests appearing in different combinations throughout. The complete program will be:

  • "Jericho" by Agrell, performed by Cerberus with Thompson as both percussion performer and Soundpainting conductor;
  • "Sideshow Tim" by Christopher Merz, performed by the trio with Thompson on percussion;
  • a Soundpainting performance by Cerberus with Thompson as conductor;
  • "Islands" for brass trio by Agrell;
  • "Song of Cerberus: Three in One" for Cerberus and Hulm with Thompson as Soundpainting conductor; and
  • "Dark" for brass trio by Manning

Agrell has been exploring the possibilities of improvised performance for many years, including a series of performances and classes in group improvisation that he has taught at the UI. He commented on the new group, "Cerberus is dedicated to the exploration of new types of musical expression for brass, with emphasis on spontaneous invention. This makes a virtue of necessity, since there is no written repertoire for this instrumentation."

"Soundpainting" has been one of Agrell's interests for several years. This is a system of conducting/composing developed by Thompson for musicians, dancers, poets, actors and visual artists working in the medium of structured improvisation. The system includes a vocabulary of more than 750 gestures made by the conductor/composer indicating the type of improvisation to be made by the performers.

The May 13 program combines written-out material with improvisation in various ways. For example, "Jericho" includes a written-out section based on a familiar spiritual, followed by improvised solos over an improvised background conducted in Soundpainting. "Islands" combines free and written out material of contrasting styles.

For "Cerberus: Three in One," Hulm will improvise a poem to a Soundpainted tonal background conducted by Thompson. Hulm commented, "Brent Sandy asked if I had any material regarding Cerberus. As it happened, I had just been to the Borghese (Gallery) in Rome and was captivated by Bernini's sculpture'"The Rape of Proserpine,' which includes a raging Cerberus near her feet.

"Much of my poetry involves taking old myths or mythological figures and trying to find their contemporary relevance. Having the opportunity to synthesize music and language and myth is thrilling."

"Dark" takes advantage of the belief that one hears better in the dark. It will feature improvised instrumental solos by the three brass players over a recorded audio background of sounds created by Manning. The first ensemble section, "Dusk" will take place in twilight, and the lights in the hall are dimmed. The middle section, "Night" will feature instrumental solos, played in the dark. "Dawn," with dim light beginning to return to the hall, will conclude an unusual piece at a very unusual concert.

Soundpainting has made several prior appearances at the UI. There have been earlier performances on campus by Agrell and others using Thompson's techniques, and Thompson was at the UI in October as an Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor, for the premiere of his "Columbus: A Soundpainting Opera." During that visit, he presented workshops and lectures on the Soundpainting techniques.

Developed by Thompson more than 20 years ago, Soundpainting is becoming known internationally. Thompson conducts the Walter Thompson Orchestra, a Soundpainting ensemble in New York City. He has conducted Soundpaintings in Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, Bergen (Norway) and Reykjavik, and has taught Soundpainting at the Paris Conservatory, Eastman School of Music, Iceland Academy of the Arts, the University of Michigan, the Oberlin College-Conservatory of Music and New York University, among others.

For more information on Thompson and Soundpainting, visit on the World Wide Web.

Agrell joined the UI School of Music faculty in 2000 after a 25-year career as symphony musician. At the UI he teaches horn, directs the Horn Choir, teaches introduction to improvisation and performs with the Iowa Brass Quintet. Before coming to Iowa, he was associate principal horn with the Lucerne (Switzerland) Symphony Orchestra 1975-2000, playing symphonic music, opera, operetta, ballet, musicals, choral music and chamber music.

Agrell began composing and arranging during his college years and played jazz guitar and electronic music in the 1980s. For the past decade he has had a steady stream of commissions from professional chamber music ensembles. His works have appeared on CD and have been broadcast on radio and television nationally and internationally. Several of his compositions have won awards.

Sandy, who joined the jazz faculty in 2000, is a jazz trumpet and flugelhorn performer, teacher and clinician. Sandy performs regularly with local and regional jazz groups including the OddBar Trio, the Grismore Scea Group and Equilateral. As a former member of the Orquesta Alto Maiz and Oddbar he has made seven CDs, toured Europe in 1998 and twice been featured on "Jazzset with Branford Marsalis" on National Public Radio. He is an educational specialist/clinician for Conn/Selmer and a Conn Vintage One trumpet and flugelhorn artist.

A founding member of the award-winning Atlantic Brass Quintet, Manning joined the UI faculty in 2004. He has toured across the United States and around the world with the Atlantic Brass Quintet, including performances in Korea, Japan, Costa Rica, France, Kuwait, India, Pakistan, England, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The quintet has won six international chamber music competitions and performed at the White House, Tanglewood, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and other festivals and concert series around the country.

An active freelance musician, Manning has performed with the Boston Symphony, the Empire Brass and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. He has also served as principal tubist with the Vermont Symphony and Albany (N.Y.) Symphony. Outside the realm of classical music, he has performed with the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, Naftule's Dream, Brass Planet, the Pee Wee Fist, the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra, Arlo Guthrie and John Lithgow.

Hulm has a master of fine arts degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a master's degree in African American World Studies from the UI. As a graduate student and visiting faculty member he taught at Iowa from 1986 until 2002. He currently teaches English full-time at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City. He is also an active freelance writer.

Thompson's return to the UI Campus for the May 13 concert is made possible by an Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor grant.

A native of Vinton, Beam willed her farm to the UI in 1977. Her only university connection was a relative who graduated from the College of Medicine. Proceeds from the sale of the farm were used to establish the visiting professorships program in her name. Since 1977, hundreds of eminent scholars and scientists have visited the UI campus to give public lectures and to meet with students and faculty.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For information on UI arts events, visit on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Peter Alexander, 319-384-0072,