Much of our conversation in the School of Music these days has to do with music and musicians of the future. Almost every conversation begins with a tip of the hat to our glorious past, the recognition that “without chops, nothing else matters,” and then we proceed to talk about the future. We talk about how to develop and to engage an audience and what the audience of today has come to expect.
On Wednesday evening, Barbara Nissman gave one of the most captivating and joyful recitals that I have ever witnessed. As I watched and listened in rapt joy and amazement, I came to realize that this is what the audience of to today should expect: music, engagingly introduced and masterfully performed– performed with a conviction and passion reserved for only the very highest expressions of mankind.
It was an amazingly challenging program– Bartók, Liszt, Prokofiev and of course, Ginastera– all performed with a level of mastery that seemed to imply that these works were no more difficult than the John Thompson’s First Grade Piano Book. I watched the first half of the recital from house left so I could see her hands but was far more taken by my seat during the second half, from house right, where I could watch her joyful expressions as she brought this music that she so obviously adored to loving life. At one point, I watch a look and of anticipation on her face as she was about to introduce a second theme. She ushered it in, smiled at its character and then seemed to laugh as that theme was engaged by all the life around it. At another, I watched her pained expression as she prepared a moment of tension in the line and then the joyful release of that tension as the line found its resolution. Hearing Barbara Nissman is a great treat; watching Barbara Nissman while hearing is a rare moment of musical bliss.
This is what audiences should expect, and if we can give it to them consistently, classical music in America will be just fine.
DePauw University School of Music is embarking on a brave new initiative called “21CM.” This 21st-century musician initiative is an effort by the School of Music to completely redefine itself in order to create musicians of the future instead of musicians of the past. In the following months you will see the launch of our new website 21CM.org, you will see great 21st-century musicians such as Roomful of Teeth, Maya Beiser, the Ethel String Quartet and many others in action, we will launch a new curriculum, you can witness many 21CM efforts including performances throughout the area in unusual and atypical spaces, and watch as we try to have a powerful and profound impact upon our community while we create musicians that will carry this charge forward to wherever they ultimately go.
The challenges facing classical music are not new. Charles Rosen once quipped that the death of classical music is its oldest enduring tradition. Acknowledging that this challenge has been around for a while in no way mitigates the challenge. Books such as The Crisis of Classical Music in America: Lessons from a Life in the Education of Musicians by Robert Freeman, discussions on Diane Rehm, the excellent blog of Greg Sandow, (all of which mention our efforts) as well as posts and stories from around the globe point to the many challenges. We, in our own humble way, are trying to help find some solutions.
We hope you will stay in touch throughout the year by reading this blog, following us on Twitter and Facebook, listening to our weekly radio show “Music for Life,” coming to any of our guest artist or School of music performances (here, around the country and around world) and even visiting us on campus when you can.
Its a brave new world for classical music and classical musicians and we are thrilled you are along for the ride.
Sunday, May 11 was a great day for DePauw and for Putnam County. The Fifth House Ensemble joined the School of Music and local musicians to tell a story. And what a story they told. “Harvest,” was an effort to reach out to our society and pay homage to one particular segment of that population—the agricultural community— while celebrating every person within it. It was an amazing success. From the first notes of Joseph Curiale’s Prairie Hymn as performed by the DePauw University Orchestra until the very last words of Joe Heithaus’ powerful poem “What Grows Here,” I and many members of the community were mesmerized. The video snippets showing teachers and students and farmers and merchants all talking about the history and heritage of our beautiful county complimented the great folk, country and classical music and it was a joy to behold.
As I watched both the performers and the audience, I realized that I was witnessing once again the magic of music pulling people together. It was a great day.
We owe special thanks to:
Fifth House Ensemble
Melissa Snoza, flute
Merideth Hite, oboe
Jennifer Woodrum, clarinet
Eric Heidbreder, bassoon
Valerie Whitney, horn
Andrew Williams, violin
Clark Carruth, viola
Jean Hatmaker, cello
Eric Snoza, bass
Jani Parsons, piano
Putnam County Musicians
John Bean (song writer and performer)
Bobbie Lancaster (song writer and performer)
Tad Robinson and Annelise Delcambre (vocals)
Michael Van Rensselaer (song writer and performer)
Christopher Wurster (song writer and performer)
The Fret Set (song creators and performers)
Members who are performing:
Rick Smock, guitar
Don Bowlby, mandolin
Lenora Bowlby, dulcimer
Bill Lorton, fiddle
Jill Dombrowski, hammered dulcimer
Cliff Gammon, dobro
John Kellam, mandolin
Michael Van Rensselaer, banjo
Gobin United Methodist Church Choir – Emily Barnash, director
Greencastle Presbyterian Church Choir – Anna Gatdula, director
North Putnam County Middle School Chorus – Kelly Thomas, director
DePauw University School of Music
DePauw University Orchestra – Orcenith Smith, director
DePauw University Chorus – Gregory Ristow, director
DePauw Chamber Singers – Gregory Ristow, director
Dean’s Awards Convocation Address, 2014
I want you to know that I consider it an honor to get to address you each year and I promise to keep this brief. But I warn you that despite the fact that I am usually a very private individual I am going to “go personal.” You see, I turned 50 this year. I’ve taken to referring to this as my first 50 years and that’s fun because I really hope—and doubt I’ll get another 50. Some people your age are going through a quarter-life crisis—that never happened to me. But at 50, you stop and think.
Since turning 50, I have gotten really good at math. Well, actually only subtraction. As dean of the Music School I go to a lot of concerts and read a lot of programs. It used to be that my first glance entailed looking at the programming to see how the works would fit together—or maybe reliving fond memories of the last time I heard a particular work. Now my eye immediately goes to the composer dates followed by a little subtraction: Prokofiev, died in1953 born in 1891. 1953-1891 is 62. He made it to almost 62. Copland is easy, 1990 minus 1900 equals 90 (well-done, Aaron), Mahler 1911 minus 1860 that’s 51 …ouch that’s getting close…. Anyway, you get the idea.
And, from there I move to other equally distressing thoughts such as the fact that by the time Sondheim was my age, he had 26 major theater efforts to his name. Bach, by my age had written over 200 works. And Mozart… By the time he was my age Mozart had written over 600 pieces! Not to mention that he had been dead for 15 years. You get the point. Life is short and there’s a lot to do. And while we are obsessing over time I will go ahead and tell you there are only 5 minutes left in this speech. You are almost there. What I lack in wisdom I make up for in brevity.
We only get four or five years with you—your college life is so short— and I am not certain we are ready to let you go. But we will have to eventually so I’d like to offer a few insights. I don’t claim to have any real wisdom at 50, I just want to get in a few parting shots before your folks come and you pack up the minivan. You likely have a 40-year career ahead of you and more importantly decades of life to live. How can we be sure we’ve prepared you?
How did composers like Mahler and Stravinsky seem so well prepared and have such certitude? When asked about the chilly reception to his music, Mahler was unfazed and said simply, “My time will come.” In my favorite Stravinsky story, he had just written a ballet that called upon a larger orchestra than the impresario wanted to pay. Poor William Schumann was tasked with the delicate effort to get Stravinsky to rewrite a piece that Stravinsky already believed to be perfect. Schumann sent a telegram that said “Your ballet a colossal success. Would be even greater success if you agree to certain modifications in instrumentation.” Stravinsky wired back, “Quite content with colossal success.”
How can we gain assurance like that? In the musical world we know that in order to be successful, you have to be just a little better than the competition. But is that enough? I have spent many years talking to professors and alumni and musicians about how we do just that. How are we just a little better than our competition? You might be surprised by the answers. Graduation speeches are often filled with platitudes. This one will be too—just not the ones you might imagine.
“Polish your shoes,” one of our alums told us a few weeks ago. More wisdom there than we may realize. One of my mentors once told me, “Be your own worst critic. You may or may not accomplish anything but at least you will keep someone else out of that position.” I overheard one faculty member say recently, “Show up early”—great advice for anyone, doing anything. And a person clearly wiser than I am said, “Like who you see in the mirror and change something if you don’t.”
In a nod to our liberal arts college I am going to give my platitude award to none other than Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters when compared to what lies within us.” What lies within you? That is the ultimate anti-Google question. Really—you can use Google for just about everything—except that. You can Google what is in chocolate chip cookies or a 5-hour energy drink or even Spam but Google cannot tell you what lies within you. And maybe you can’t even do that. Yet. But you will, eventually, and the sooner you find that out, the better. Because knowing yourself and what you are truly capable of is the most important thing you can do.
We’ve tried to help you discover that here—we gave you papers and tests and quizzes and juries and recital hearings; we gave you 5-performance weeks and sleepless nights and break-free days. And why? To help you find yourself and what you were capable of doing. We challenged your thinking and your faith and your ability— all to find out what was in you. And you know what? It wasn’t enough because the world you walk into after college will do more than that. But that’s okay because what lies before you doesn’t matter. What you discovered here is that you can. And that’s why what lies behind you doesn’t matter. All that matters is what lies within you and you have only scratched the surface of that. And since Google can’t tell you, you’ll have to find out on your own. And since this is my speech I get to throw in my opinion: what lies within you is the capability to do and be that which you love. And I hope you discover that before you hit the half-century mark.
Mahler and Stravinsky knew what was within them. It gave them the confidence and the strength to succeed. You will know what is within you, too. And I guarantee you this—it is more than you think. You can do anything. The world will tell you that things have to be seen to be believed. I tell you things have to be believed to be seen.
I ‘ll leave you with the words of Christopher Logue:
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“It’s too high,” they said.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We’re afraid,” they said.
“Come to the edge.”
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And they did.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.
Last week was a stellar week by any standard. John Corigliano came to campus as the featured composer for our “Music of the 21st Century” festival. We knew his music to be beautiful, awe–inspiring and profound; we did not yet know that he was a man of great warmth and humor with a great love of teaching. The students blossomed through his coachings and their performances were memorable. Our composers were inspired and our students were energized by his classes and his hallway conversations. He was very giving of both his time and his talent and we are all the richer for it. There are so many people to thank: Bob and Meg Schmidt for underwriting our festival, Amy Barber for starting this festival many years ago, and Carla Edwards for putting it all together flawlessly. The faculty and students performed admirably and our audiences were mesmerized by both the music and its delivery. I cannot imagine how I could have been prouder or happier with a week such as this.
If you do not yet know the range of the music of John Corigliano, jump in now. Its breadth and its depth are both inspiring. That we were able to spend a week with him and learning from him is an honor that we will never forget.
This weekend saw huge crowds for the Third Annual DePauw University School of Music Holiday Gala. Nearly every member of the School of Music was on stage and it seemed as if every member of the community was in the house– a great weekend indeed. As I listened to the poignant and joyous and sometimes humorous performances, I looked around at the hundreds of rapt faces around me. This community loves to gather in this grand space to be edified, entertained, enraptured by what this School of Music can do. Whether it is an opera or musical, a symphony or band concert, the a capella voices of our choirs, the swing of our jazz groups or any number of brilliant solo or guest performers, we have become a place. A place to be, a place to come full of expectations– expectations that will be fulfilled in marvelous ways.
On the heels of this great weekend, we welcome our next set of auditionees, high school students ready to take that next step, ready to train to find their place in the world. I think they have come to a good place. A place that knows the value of the arts in the life well-lived and knows the incredible power of music to inform and even transform a community.
The holidays are a time for giving thanks. In Greencastle, Indiana and in the DePauw School of Music, we have much to be thankful for.
This week is the 8th week of practice for the Greencastle Middle School jazz ensemble. A collection of dedicated DePauw University jazz ensemble members and I have been meeting every week at 7 AM to head over to the middle school. I have said many times throughout this process that most jazz musicians do not know there are 2 sevens on a clock. This is early! And quite frankly, eight weeks into an incredibly hectic semester, I am tired. So tired in fact, that I began to question my sanity about taking on a middle school jazz ensemble–not to mention one that rehearses at 7 AM.
And then, two things that make it all okay.
Rose, a middle school trombone player, comes up to me after the Tuesday morning rehearsal and says “Thank you so much for doing this. I really love this.” Okay. Sign me up for another rehearsal.
Then, in the next rehearsal, I watch three university jazz musicians run really brilliant rehearsals. We’ve added a university bass player and suddenly everything is different. The middle school kids are really playing well and are genuinely excited about this opportunity to play this style of music in a middle school. The college folks are also obviously enjoying the high level of playing and the success of their efforts. Something is coming together. And we all feel it.
We come to the school in the morning before the sun is even up. We walk into the building in the dark. Lately we’ve even come out of the building in the dark, but today, somehow, it is all worthwhile. A single comment and a good rehearsal can put it all in perspective.
This is all a part of 21CM. The new 21st-century Musician initiative and mission of the DePauw University School of Music. Is it typical? No. Is it easy? No. Is it great? Yes.
Middle school students and university students, you are truly a class act. Thanks for brightening my day.