04.16.05 Sting talks to music students in Madison & Columbia...

The Sting sting: Teacher-turned-rock plays professor

It's Friday morning and Sting is reportedly teaching a class on campus sometime before tonight's show at the Kohl Center. That's mildly interesting, even if his concert sold only 5,000 out of 7,000 seats.

We're told only campus media are allowed in the lecture - a reporter and photographer from each of the two student newspapers. Who gets to hand-pick that? "Usually the professors do have control over the classroom and who gets in," says University Communication's Liz Beyler. "I would have loved a pool arrangement, but (Sting's) folks were very insistent he didn't want it to be a media frenzy."

So when and where is the class? "I can't tell you that."

No, really, Liz.

"I'm sorry, I just can't. I haven't told anyone else who's asked." She agrees to talk to her boss and call back.

Meanwhile, the professor of this mystery class, Michael Bernard-Donals, chairman of the English department, doesn't answer the phone or e- mail. His assistant isn't around.

According to UW-Madison's online schedule and the "Ask Bucky" service, he only teaches a Monday class.

This is no longer just about finding Sting. Reporters become beastly people when told they are forbidden from getting information from a public entity. So we do what any rational person would do: phone campus papers, harass current and former student interns, visit Sting chat rooms, call music junkies. All that gleans is an article saying he'll allegedly perform "Don't Stand So Close to Me," a rather creepy choice for a classroom visit.

At 1 p.m., a secret student source calls with data from another student source, whose identities we vow to protect. He speaks in one hour in Helen C. White, Room 7191.

Upon exiting the elevator at Helen C., there are two campus police standing outside a door marked "Department of English Faculty Conference Room." Bernard-Donals shuts the door behind him, affording a brief glimpse of a room packed with about 30 students, and a bunch of people who look a bit older. Apparently media aren't the only ones after Sting. Even such UW- Madison writing prides as Lorrie Moore and Ron Wallace are present.

At least here he's performing to a packed house.

"He just wants to speak to the class, it's not a media thing" explains Bernard- Donals, before shutting the door.

Staring at an oak door for an hour is kinda dull. Time for conversation. Are the two cops Sting fans? "We like the name of his band." (Hey, a funny cop joke. Remember ... The Police?)

More entertaining are the faculty who walk by wondering why what looks to all the world to be a stakeout is going on in their hallway. "It's Sting," the officer explains. "The Sting?" Yup. "The musician?" Yup. "I used to worship him," says one TA, who is too embarrassed to give her name. (Although she does later try to get in. No dice.)

At 2:10 p.m., a student photographer emerges. He was given 10 minutes to take the shot, which by contract will have to be approved before publication, and the person introducing Sting spoke most of that time. He says Sting was just reading from his book, "Broken Music: A Memoir."

Ironically, given the blood oath of secrecy demanded by Sting's publicist, a paper sign on the wall outside the door reads: "Pleased be advised that you may be photographed and/or videotaped. . . . Your presence constitutes a voluntary agreement and release of your image, likeness and words to Sting.com and its licenses and assigns for any purpose whatsoever."

At 2:50 p.m. there's a burst of laughter. Some applause at 2:55. More at 2:59. Sting's dude emerges. It has to be his guy because he glares at this reporter notebook and he even looks a bit like Sting. Then out walks the Man of the Hour, in black pants and a light linen dress shirt, partially unbuttoned. He acts a little shy, but he takes a question or two while strolling down the hall.

"I think it went very well," Sting summarizes. "I do it because it's really different than what I normally do. You get to meet people and have eye-to- eye contact, not looking at bright lights. And it's a forum where you get feedback and interaction. I really enjoy it."

More to the point, the students and professors did, too. Turns out, on this tour Sting is alternating between singing to music theory classes and reading his book to English students. He even sent them all free copies so they could read it, and didn't ask for a speaking fee, says Jesse Lee Kercheval, co-director of the creative writing program.

Christopher Kang, an MFA student, opines that Sting, a former teacher, could pull off the professor role. "At one point he put on his glasses and read from his book, and then later he was talking about 'Moby-Dick' and at those points I could see him as a prof. He was very knowledgeable about the literary canon."

Even Bernard-Donals is impressed, and he says he isn't one to be star-struck. "It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be."

Easy for him to say, he doesn't have to go home tonight realizing, I just spent five hours stalking Sting.

© Wisconsin State Journal by Melanie Conklin

Students stand close to Sting - Musician gives lecture and performs for MU students and staff.

An MU athletics van waited on Hitt Street on Thursday to whisk away more than the usual players.

Sting, an international pop star, gave an exclusive performance to 30 hand-picked students, five faculty and several staff members from the MU School of Music before being quickly escorted to the waiting vehicle to prepare for his concert at Mizzou Arena on Thursday evening.

Tim Rogers, a junior majoring in music, said Sting performed a few songs and talked about his perspective on music, the inspiration for his songs and pushing the boundaries of popular music. Sting then answered questions from the audience, Rogers said.

The performance had been in the works since last fall, when Sting's representatives contacted Melvin Platt, director of the School of Music. Sting, formerly an English teacher named Gordon Sumner, wanted to perform for music composition and music theory students, Platt said.

Sting gave a similar performance at Boise State University on Saturday in the midst of his "Broken Music" tour. Students at both universities attended hour-long sessions with the performer.

Rebecca Talbert, a conducting student, said the event was inspirational. She said that she was thrilled to be chosen to attend, and that she learned from Sting's performance.

"It's amazing," she said. "He has a unique perspective and hasn't been tainted by it. He's not a prima donna at all."

She mentioned Sting's discussion of mixing fine art and popular music.

"There are two sort of cultures of music, and to combine them together in a meaningful way is very interesting," Talbert said. "Music is a philosophy and a life for him, and it is also that for me. That really connected for me."

Stefan Freund, a visiting assistant professor of music composition, said he was impressed with Sting's performance and lecture from a teaching standpoint. He said the performer felt at ease before the crowd.

"I've seen many art composers come and give lectures to classes," Freund said. "I haven't been impressed with how they communicate their music and ideas as well as Sting communicated."

Platt said he was delighted his students could hear a celebrity such as Sting perform. "Our purpose at the university is to expose students to as many opportunities, lecturers, performers and great thinkers as possible," he said. "That's part of the educational opportunities offered at a great university."

Rogers said the event would be memorable. "Hearing the perspective of someone who has been successful, and hearing what he's talking about, is nice for refocusing as a person."

© Columbia Missourian by Krysten Chambrot