Jamestown resident to graduate as top music student
On a summer outing when she was three years old, Jamestown resident Lydia Lis saw a group of students playing violins and immediately decided that she wanted to play violin, too. Nineteen years later she is set to graduate from the University of Rhode Island as the top music student on campus.
"I started taking lessons with Jamestown violin teacher Emily Anthony when I was six, and I've been keeping up with it ever since," said Lis, who will be presented with the URI President's Award for Academic Excellence at a special ceremony the day before graduation on May 18. "When I was 12, Emily suggested I take lessons from John Dempsey in North Kingstown, who teaches at URI, and he's a big reason why I came to URI."
Lis has filled her four years at URI with a multitude of performance opportunities. She has been a first violinist for the URI Orchestra, performed in small chamber ensembles, and she even was one of the back-up musicians when Grammy-winning recording artist Kanye West performed at URI in 2005.
In addition, Lis played a supporting role at numerous recitals highlighting her fellow students.
"The students in the music department are pretty tight," she said. "We all know each other and like each other and help each other. We're always in the Fine Arts Center building practicing and taking classes, so it's like we're one big family."
The URI student's favorite experiences have come as a member of the URI Undergraduate Honors String Quartet, a group she auditioned for while still in high school and has played with ever since.
"That has been a wonderful experience because you get to work closely with the other three members and get to know them really well," said Lis, who will graduate with a minor in German. "We've developed some really good friendships and learned to play more advanced literature. It has definitely helped me grow musically. Whenever string quartets come through the area to perform, they give us master classes and bring fresh ideas to the group."
In addition to performing locally, Lis and the Honors String Quartet traveled to France to perform at a summer music festival in Provence in 2005, and they performed at many community events in Rhode Island, including at a higher education event at Fidelity Investments and at Blithewold Mansion's Christmas celebration.
Perhaps her most important performance to date was her senior recital, held in April, during which she performed pieces by Bach, Mozart, Lalo, Dvorak and Debussy, all accompanied on piano by her boyfriend, Scott Cressi, who graduated from URI in 2006.
"My recital went very, very well," Lis said. "I had unbelievable support from my friends and family. About 200 people were in the audience, some even coming from Maine, New Hampshire and Virginia, so it was really fun and very special. On one hand you might think it would be scary, but we had a blast and I loved it."
Surprisingly, Lis doesn't expect to pursue a career in music after graduation. She is toying instead with the idea of going to culinary school, or even to law school, business school or medical school.
"There are so many things that I'm interested in, there's so much I want to know, and I know that if I put my mind to any of them I can make it work."
"Music will always be a part of who I am," Lis said. "I came here and majored in violin performance, not because I expected to be a famous soloist, but because I just know that I love it and it's been a huge part of my life. But it's not what I want my life to revolve around. I'm going to keep playing some gigs, and for the next year I think I'll take some classes to help me figure out my next step."