Carthage College Says Farewell to Professor Lorian Schwaber “Mama Lorian”
Carthage College says a tearful farewell to our Broadway veteran and musical teacher of sixteen years, Professor Lorian Schwaber. Otherwise known on campus as “Mama Lorian”, Professor Schwaber has helped countless students as a mentor, coach, and a confidant. Due to her support, many Carthage students and alumni are currently working to become the performers they have dreamed to be. Mama Lorian plans on spending her retirement teaching master classes and workshops and traveling with her husband. I spoke with Professor Schwaber about her future plans, most memorable moments as a professor, and her time as a performer.
You are a Broadway veteran of over 25 years, performing in a multitude of operas, including West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, and Sweeney Todd. How did your experience with these tours influence your teaching at Carthage?
One of the things I learned while working with these larger scale productions is you are tracted! In most of these performances, I was seen as nothing more than the “third girl on the left”. Occasionally, I would star as the female lead, but this was not always the case. These experiences taught me the joy of being a part of something greater. Many students may not understand that you don’t have to be in the main spotlight to be an important part of the performance. The joy of creating art is the joy of ensemble, every part of the event is important! You can’t have the show if not for everyone. You can’t measure your success based on money and on how many people saw your performance. These experiences have allowed me to teach my students that every single performance experience is what makes you an artist!
Before teaching applied voice and Music Theater at Carthage, you taught at North Park University and Roosevelt University. What sets Carthage College apart from these schools?
Each of these schools are extremely different. Roosevelt University was based in an urban environment, which is a bit dissimilar to Carthage College. While I taught there, I was the co-director of the Opera program as they did not have a musical theater department at the time. Currently, their music theater program is run by two of my former grad students! At North Park University, I was a Contemporary Voice teacher. This was a great deal of fun as I had the opportunity to work with many interesting constituencies, including Christ Universal Church. I’ve worked at Carthage College for over fifteen years! What I love about this college is the idea that there is more to life than one narrow focus. The small class sizes gave me the opportunity to work one-on-one with each student if necessary. While at Carthage, I saw an opportunity to build something that didn’t exist before. I was able to observe the growth of our musical program, helping out in any way I could.
What is your most memorable moment while teaching at Carthage?
We used to perform a J-Term musical called Seussical. This event took place in the library for our February Dr. Seuss program. We would rehearse for thirty hours to prepare our freshman and sophomore students for the most difficult audience they would ever have: children. This was always a tremendous experience for the actors and me. Later in the year, we took this musical on tour with us to China! We would go on tour to perform both adult musicals and Seussical, only rehearsing this event for fifteen hours. Traveling and performing Seussical to an audience that didn’t speak English was an experience that truly made me feel like a teacher.
Whether it be performing or teaching, what inspires you to move forward?
I love teaching because I get to work with students that aren’t me. I have the opportunity to listen to multiple perspectives from different walks of life and experiences as I help these students become the artist that they want to be. I had a student at Roosevelt that was going to be a dramatic soprano, something that I could never be. Despite being a different soprano, I was still able to assist her and observe her growth. Back in my college days, I had a professor that gave me advice that stays with me to this day: “I can’t teach you how to dance. I can only help you discover what it feels like to dance and when you’re dancing, you will know”. I took this advice and helped students recognize what they were working towards and how to achieve it.
As you begin the next chapter of your life, what is your plan for the future?
Going forward, I want to teach others that classical theater and contemporary music are not mutually exclusive. I am currently doing workshops and master classes in how to make these collections integrate. I’ll also be traveling often! My husband loves traveling and now that I am retired, we will be able to plan many vacations together. Teaching workshop courses will also give me another reason to travel, as I have been asked by friends across the country to teach others in these master classes. Whether I am working or on vacation, my husband and I plan to go to many places and meet many people.
How are you feeling regarding your retirement after being a part of the Carthage faculty since 2004?
I’m glad to be retiring due to being able to experience the things that I have mentioned above, but the act of retiring is difficult. I’m someone who has plenty of energy and am used to doing multiple things at once. The idea that I won’t be juggling multiple assignments at once is daunting. Our plans to travel are helping me with this as it helps me stay busy! The world truly runs on an academic schedule. Now that I’m retired, I can take vacations in the fall as many places won’t be crowded! I’m sad that I won’t be able to help students find themselves and grow into the performers that they would like to be. However, I am glad that I have been able to work alongside my students and coworkers for as long as I did!
What is your biggest accomplishment or achievement while teaching at Carthage?
I have several students that are out in the world being successful and doing the things that they love. I have students on Broadway, on television, performing operas, and more! Another accomplishment that I have is that many of my students call me “Mama Lorian”. People felt free to knock on my door (whether they were my students or not) when they were frightened and in distress. I had students of the LGBTQ community come into my office and talk to me about transitioning and being afraid to come out to their parents. The fact that students knew that they could talk with me about anything in a safe environment is my biggest accomplishment.
Last, but not least, what advice would you give to current and future fine arts students?
Figure out a way to be a whole person! As an artist, we want a reflection of your point of view. In order to do that, you must know more about the world, not just the career that you are working toward. Take advantage of Carthage’s many opportunities to explore other things! Spread out and pay attention to literature, history, and your other classes as it will only make you a better artist! Refusing to focus on these studies narrows your focus and lessens your creativity. This makes it difficult to connect with each of your audience members. Paying attention to your gen ed classes will only assist with your growth.
One of the things that makes Carthage great is that it has a thriving Fine Arts department that welcomes people outside of the department itself. We have a well-known choir that wins competitions and travels the world on tour and you don’t have to be a fine arts student to be a part of! Come and participate in the arts! Just as we want our fine arts students to focus on other courses, learning about the fine arts as a whole can only help you become a better person.