Visitors to Jensen-Noble Recital Hall this past week got a crash-course on the hits of yesteryear. On Thursday, September 23, Adjunct Faculty in Music Lynne Rothrock (‘86) and Assistant Professor in Music Nicholas Shaneyfelt joined forces to bring “The Great American Songbook” to life. Rothrock and Shaneyfelt led the audience through a diverse musical landscape ranging from Carole King to Irving Berlin, creating a uniquely intimate experience.
Selections for the performance mostly came from “The Great American Songbook,” which is composed of popular songs and jazz standards dating from the early 20th century. The few exceptions were more contemporary selections from artists such as Carole King. Whether part of “The Songbook” or not, each selection holds an enduring legacy vital to the fabric of American music.
“The plan for this concert was a chance to work with [Shaneyfelt,] we wanted to do something together,” Rothrock said. “He loves ‘The Great American Songbook,’ which is music from 1920-1960 that was known well enough that it became part of the culture.”
When explaining why each song was chosen for the program, Rothrock pointed to the connection each song creates between performer and audience. In some way, each selection uncovers what it means to be human.
“I think the hallmark of a great song is that it touches on some aspect of the human experience that people can relate to and connect with,” Rothrock said. “Those are the songs that will stand the test of time.”
Rothrock is a veteran of the cabaret style. After graduating from Luther College and earning a Master of Music degree from Western Michigan, Rothrock went on to establish herself on the national stage. She performed in notable clubs across the country, from Birdland in New York City to Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe. Her late husband, Ron DeWitte, was a well-established guitarist, and the musical duo traveled internationally as headline entertainers on cruise ships. After amassing an impressive array of national and international performances, Rothrock settled down in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she serves on the faculty of both Luther and Coe College.
Rothrock joined forces with Nicholas Shaneyfelt, a prolific collaborative pianist but a relative newcomer to the art of cabaret performance. Growing up, he gained exposure to “The Great American Songbook” by listening to American standards from famous composers, like George Gershwin. As a pianist, Shaneyfelt has accumulated a number of awards and toured across the world, showcasing his ability to collaborate across many genres. After earning his doctorate from the University of Michigan, Shaneyfelt joined the Luther faculty, where he specializes in collaborative piano and vocal coaching.
Comparing his work with Lynne to his classical training, Shaneyfelt described the common effort to inject each piece with something unique. While classical songs might require more subtle interpretive decisions, cabaret allows for more creative control. With every song, Rothrock and Shaneyfelt were able to experiment with different styles, and while this new dimension of the collaboration process challenged Shaneyfelt, he appreciated the opportunity to add to his musical vocabulary.
“It’s a slightly different process, but it’s the same kind of outcome with putting your personal stamp on each song,” Shaneyfelt said. “Jazz theory definitely put me out of my comfort zone, but it was really fun to explore that and learn a lot more about it.”
Despite their different musical backgrounds, the duo came together to craft an hour-and-a-half cabaret show that covered a wide range of emotion. The audience became part of the experience, with laughter ringing out during Cole Porter’s “Give Him the Ooh-Lah-Lah,” and a contemplative silence falling over the space during Jimmy Webb’s “If These Walls Could Speak.” Shaneyfelt’s mastery of the piano paired with Rothrock’s charismatic presence to create a one-of-a-kind performance.
Patrick Carew (‘24) is one of Rothrock’s voice students and attended the recital. For him, the experience was electric.
“From the moment Lynne stepped on stage, I knew we were in for a wild ride,” Carew said. “Just knowing [her], how funny she is, her charisma and energy, it’s so much fun to watch on stage. Her and Shaneyfelt’s dynamic was so fun to watch.”