May 25, 2017
By Joy Tipping
DALLAS (SMU) – Lawson Malnory’s fascination with music began not with a musical instrument but with a cowboy hat. The 22-year-old senior, who graduated May 20 from the Meadows School of the Arts, tagged along as a child with his McKinney family to SMU’s football and basketball games — both parents and a brother are SMU grads.
Those games set the course for Malnory’s future. “There was this one guy in the Mustang Band who always wore a cowboy hat on the field,” says the Meadows Scholar. “I thought he was the just coolest guy ever, and I decided I wanted to be like him. … I was going into sixth grade, so I tried out for band and got in, and I stuck with it. This year, the band director (at SMU) started letting me wear a cowboy hat, so it’s come full circle.”
Clearly Malnory likes doing things a little bit differently. Take, for example, his work with the Bridge the Gap Chamber Players: His positive experiences with music and the joy that it brings him led him to join the nonprofit student group whose mission is to bring music to those who might not get regular exposure
As its name suggests, Bridge the Gap Chamber Players first focused on classical music, but under Malnory’s leadership expanded to include “a little of everything — punk rock, world music, classical, a lot of jazz.”
The group has performed at places such as Mockingbird Station, The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center and Klyde Warren Park. Music keeps him going on a personal level, and Malnory says that the way people react to their performances provides another boost. “At Mockingbird Station, people stop on their way to work sometimes, and it’s always great to brighten someone’s day.”
Sometimes the interactions are kind of magical: Once Malnory took a break from performing to get some coffee, and came back to find a stranger playing his gyil (pronounced JEE-lee) – an instrument in the mallet keyboard family that is used in Ghana, Burkina Faso and other West African countries.
“Turns out he was from Ghana and learned to play there. It was crazy. He played some songs and I videoed them,” Malnory recalls.
“Another guy, who just kind of appeared and then disappeared, came by once and asked if he could play. He started jamming out and singing, and then afterward he said this deep, philosophical thing, about how he thinks music is God on earth. I like that.”
Once you’ve played music with people, Malnory says, you’re bonded.
In addition to Bridge the Gap, Malnory has been active with another altruistic student musical group called Helping Hands Drums, which raised money during several holiday seasons for The Samaritan Inn shelter in McKinney, and in the symphony at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco. He played cajón (a box-shaped Peruvian percussion instrument) as part of the worship band for The Well services through SMU Wesley Foundation.
He was drum captain of the Mustang Band this year and was voted Most Spirited and Loyal by his peers. Malnory performed with the Meadows Symphony, Wind Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble, World Music Ensemble, Point Ensemble and several Szygy shows.
He used his Meadows Scholars grant last year to buy exotic intstruments – two gyil, as well as a Chinese erhu (a type of violin) – and software for music production. Meadows, he says, has been especially beneficial to him because of its distinctive student body and cross-collaboration among the arts disciplines.
“The Meadows School has a really diverse group of people, not just race- and ethnicity-wise but also in their backgrounds and how they think about music. You’ve got your performance majors and your education majors, and because Meadows is so small we’re all in the same place and get to know each other. I was even in a dance show during my sophomore year, in a piece that someone had choreographed to use a conductor and a snare drummer.”
As a percussion-performance major, Malnory says he plays all the percussion parts, along with guitar, “a little bit of piano and a little bit of singing.” He’s getting a minor in arts administration. He’s planning to continue with both performance and arts administration, but hopes to focus most on music, Malnory says. He’s looking into CalArts’ graduate percussion-performance program as a possible next step.
Along with his musical passions, Malnory laughingly says, he’s working on becoming “the world’s most rounded person — I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.”
Sample Performances by Lawson Malnory
Log Cabin Blues
Cello Suite No. 3 in C major
Sing Sing Sing