April 12-18, 2002
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University sets stage for graduate student innovation
State cuts force hikes in tuition
Faculty Actions from the April BOV meeting
African-American women at increased risk for stroke
Commerce school cultivates innovation and creativity in wine industry

Reactions to Sept. 11 featured in annual ‘Muzzle’ Awards

Baseball field named in honor of the late Ted Davenport
Graduate students are lifeblood of research enterprise
Theater students ‘saw’ a solution for set construction
Lectures engage the mind
Design choices can affect the world environment
Students get one-stop financial services at new Cavalier Central
Feeding hungry ghosts
Whale of a sculpture on display at Fayerweather
After Hours -- Lori Derr
WFPA to honor Bunker, Toms and Black
After Hours
For Derr, jazz provides a challenge and a release
Lrr performs with band
Photo by Matt Kelly
Jazz singer Lori Derr performed recently at Keswick Hall.

By Matt Kelly

Lori Derr commands the stage at Keswick Hall. Her face reflects shifting emotions as she weaves through jazz standards and classics, a raven-tressed singer with talent, passion and a microphone.

Derr expresses and restores herself through music, drawing strength from it for a day job that requires a lot of energy. As a cognitive rehabilitation therapist at the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center, Derr works with children who have had devastating accidents, as well as their families. She said the job requires a lot of compassionate energy.

“You see and absorb a lot of difficult things here,” she says. “The music helps me process some of that, regenerate my own energy.”

Raised in Elkhart, Ind., Derr started out as a special education teacher but became more interested in diagnosing ailments as she worked with people who developed learning problems after suffering head injuries. She currently performs diagnostic testing and cognitive rehabilitation.

Educated in psychology at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Derr was finishing graduate school at the College of William & Mary 11 years ago when offered a job at the Kluge Center, where she has been ever since.

Derr has always had music around her. She sang in choruses, trained for the opera and played the violin for nearly 20 years. But she felt confined by classical music.
“I didn’t think I could sing off the page,” she said. “In classical music, you don’t make anything up.”

But after all of her classical training, she was lured and seduced by a looser and more creative art form.

“Mostly I was interested in jazz and the creative exchange. There is more creativity per performance.”

Still, the transition wasn’t as simple as loosening the reins. “I was so self-conscious,” Derr said of her singing in the beginning. “I was conflicted. It was more the classical world versus the creative jazz world.”

Derr took jazz vocal lessons from Dawn Thompson, a voice teacher at the McIntire Department of Music, who in turn introduced Derr to George Turner, a guitar player who teaches and performs locally. He has been mentoring her ever since.

Turner is the point man of the George Turner Trio and has incorporated Derr’s talent into some of his shows. The musician, who has released a compact disc, “SLIP DOn’t fall,” with his trio, said her background in classi

cal music gives her a good sense of timing and knowing where she is in a song.
Derr has also worked with Stephanie Nakasian, a jazz singer who teaches at U.Va., and learned to be looser with her timing and interpretation.

“I’m still struggling with being in front of people,” she said. “I’m focused on getting better.”

In the beginning, Derr sang eight to 10 songs per performance, but as she got better and more comfortable, she upped that to 30 tunes a night. She rests while the band performs instrumentals. Some nights just Derr and Turner perform together, producing a more intimate sound that Turner says makes her more comfortable.

“We don’t rehearse together,” Derr said of Turner’s loosely knit band. “Each one rehearses his or her own parts, so when we get together it’s like a musical conversation, with more opportunity for creativity.”

“She has a very beautiful, pure tone that is very expressive,” Turner said. “She sings ballads beautifully as well as Brazilian music, like bossa nova.”

Derr cited as influences Diana Reeves, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Krall, Nat King Cole, Anita O’Day, Chris Connor and Joni Mitchell, who, like Derr, also draws and paints. She also listens frequently to musicians like Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Tal Farlow and Miles Davis.

“I want my ears to get fine-tuned,” she said.

While her workdays can be long and arduous, Derr said music can bring out feelings of compassion, change the mood of the listener, calm, comfort and offer something positive.

But not without effort. “You have to take a risk,” Derr said. “If you don’t, then you don’t get the full experience of the jazz world. I’m always nervous, because singing is a very naked thing. The musicians can hide behind their instruments, but the singer is very revealed. It’s a dangerous spot.”

“George is a good band leader,” she said. “He has a way of managing all that goes on. He supported me and got me non-threatening gigs once he saw what I could do.”

Derr has performed at a variety of venues, including Miller’s, the Moondance Café, Keswick Hall and Boar’s Head. Out of town, she has worked in Blacksburg, Lynchburg, Harrisonburg, Staunton and Ocracoke, N.C.

While much of what Derr sings are standards, she and Turner have worked together at crafting their own songs. Derr is also picking up the violin again, after a roughly nine-year layoff, and trying jazz improvisations with it.

“It’s a big leap for me,” she said. “I’m trying to decrease the hold of structure on me and approach it in a different way.” Derr is also preparing for another big leap. She and Turner are engaged to be married.


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