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Final Convocation Speech

May 20, 2016

It is my good fortune to have the honor to address you, for the fifth and sadly, final time as dean of this grand School of Music. Like these seniors, I am, in a way, graduating, and this is my opportunity to see these events through the eyes of a senior. There is some symmetry to the fact that it took 5 years for me to complete my own undergraduate degree, (more years, in fact, that it took for my masters and doctorate combined), and that I have once again spent 5 years in music school. These have been five good years, and like the other seniors are realizing, it seems like time to celebrate. Graduation, or another semester accomplished, could be a time to look back at all that you have accomplished. It could be time to give yourself a good pat on the back for all that you have done. Celebratory occasions are for that purpose—the celebration of accomplishment and in this case your accomplishment.

Yet in a larger way, this is also the opportunity to pause and realize, we didn’t do this alone. Times of celebration often disguise opportunities to give thanks. Did you accomplish this on your own? Of course not. No one does. But who to thank? What would happen if we all stopped for just a moment and thought, “Who do I thank?” Go Ahead. I’ll wait. I’m serious. Take a moment and think who to thank.

Now I would imagine Mom and Dad immediately pop to mind. Good. They should. Parental sacrifice for the good of their kids is legendary, and often thankless so it is good they come to mind. I remember giving my father a coffee cup that said, “The old man is usually right but by the time you figure that out, you have kids of your own who think you are usually wrong.” True, that.

I’ll bet next came your teachers. Good. You are right again. These are the people who have helped you most to grow into who you now are. They changed you—for better and for good and you will quickly realize that the professors you had here are the best out there. They have set a high standard for the future professors you will have and that will be no easy hurdle for those professors to clear. You’ve thought thanks, now lets show thanks. How about a round of applause for your teachers? And I hope you will find other ways to say thanks before your leave for the summer or the rest of your life. A round of applause is small recompense for all they have done.

Now who? How about the staff? The office staff managed your every need? You lived in a beautiful space all these years. Have you thanked Randy or the grounds crew or the facilities staff lately? How about the Ladies of Café Allegro? (You folks are gonna miss that coffee shop next year when move it into the president’s office;). You see, there are a lot of people to thank and you don’t have much time left here. Better get to it.

So there you have it- -the only graduation speech with a homework assignment. Give thanks. A lot. Before you go. Some of these folks you may never meet again in this lifetime.

I have been blessed to be your dean. I can look you in the eye and say that I did my best. Every action I took, without exception, were the actions I thought necessary to give you the most extraordinary education possible. I’ll ask forgiveness for the things you blame me for and I’ll ask you to pay forward the things you appreciated. And I will say thanks to all who made these things possible.

Throughout my time in this school, I have reminded you of your obligation to make the world a better place with your talent. Just one note changes the world. For better and for good.


For Good (from Wicked)

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend…
Like a ship blown from its mooring By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird In a distant wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

And just to clear the air I ask forgiveness
For the things I’ve done, you blame me for

But then, I guess we know There’s blame to share

And none of it seems to matter anymore

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes the sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a bird
In the wood

I do believe I have been
Changed for the better

And because I knew you
I have been changed for good


And off we go…

February 4, 2016

Yesterday was our first recital hour performance of the year and what a recital it was.  I was mesmerized by the quality and variety of these performances. First-years to seniors, singers to harpists, wistful to willful–this recital brought a diversity of performers and performances to our stage– all of them, stellar. And just in time, too.

DePauw has a winter term– a time for great exploration (our chamber singers toured France, some students followed the footsteps of Messiaen) — that takes our students away from campus and around the world. This is truly a good thing. But back home, it makes for a quiet music school–something that is very hard to like.

So yesterday, when the stage erupted in music, I knew we were back. And I was glad.  This beautiful building is only truly beautiful when it is filled with the sound of music– at all stages. To a musical school dean, the sound from the practice room is as wonderful as the sound from the stage. Welcome back students. We missed you.

What not to do

November 18, 2015

When I was younger, I was convinced that the smartest and most successful people in the world knew exactly what to do. Surely, they were successful because they understood what was most important and the right thing to do. As I have gotten older, I realize that the truly successful people of the world understand something far more important: they understand what not to do.

It seems incredible that the most, and least, successful people in the world are limited by the very same thing: time. Think of the most successful person you know. How many hours are in their day? Think of the least successful person you know. How many hours in theirs? Same 24-hour limit–vastly different results.

Time management is such a huge factor that a multi-million dollar industry has sprung up around it. One can spend vast amounts of money (and ironically, vast amounts of time) reading about how to manage time. The truth is, we cannot manage time. We can only manage ourselves within time.

The truth is, we cannot manage time.We can only manage ourselves within time.

How is this even possible? How do we manage ourselves within time? Answer: by choosing what not to do.

This has been an incredibly busy semester. So busy that I have not taken time to write about the great success of the opening of Music on the Square (but I did write about it here), the incredible visit of DeCoda (interview here), our time with A Far Cry (conversation hereor the great visit by Sweet Honey in the Rock (story here).

Much of my time seems to be spent doing rather than telling about the doing (example here) and maybe that is okay. I am trying to learn to manage myself within time and sometimes that means choosing what not to do.

I catch up on this blog during a lull in the action of the National Association of Schools of Music Commission on Accreditation. This is my last service on this commission because I had to decide not to do this any longer so that I had time to do other pressing and important things. It was hard to give up. I enjoy my time with the other commissioners and believe in the work we are doing. I have dedicated three years to this effort. Fortunately, there are many talented people to take my place here. And I will move to the next thing.

Like doing a better job of keeping up on this blog.

Successful students know this all too well. It is choosing not to do this so you have time to do that. There are an infinite number of choices to fill the severely finite limit of time.

I have been involved in higher education across four decades and am still trying to get this right.

We never stop learning.

What a Summer!

August 18, 2015
     We have had a remarkable summer here in the DePauw School of Music. We hosted the first ever Global Musician Workshop with the Silk Road Ensemble and Yo-Yo in the first week of June. It was remarkable. You can read about it herehere and here. Yo-Yo not only cut the ribbon for the grand opening of Music on the Square, but also graciously offered to perform. You can see it here and here.  This new downtown space, Music on the Square, opens for business with a host of amazing performers and we just announce a grand season of Green Guest Artists. Our new website at continues to develop and improve, sharing much with the world of, about and for 21st-century musicans. 
     We hosted our first 21CM Advisory Board meeting which Yo-Yo chaired.  Members included Zach De Pue, formerly of Time for Three, Peter Seymour of Project Trio, Paul Smith of Voces 8, Judd Greenstein of New Amsterdam, Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw of Roomful of Teeth, Joe Horowitz, Greg Sandow, Dileep Gangoli, Orcenith Smith, Eric Edberg, Scott Spiegelberg, Steven Linville, Brooke Addison, Elleka Okerstrom, Mark Rabideau and Judson and Joyce Green.  (Ayden Adler of New World Symphony, composer Libby Larsen and Melissa Snoza of Fifth House are also on the board but could not make it). Greg Sandow’s comments about it are here
     Speaking of Peter Seymour… Peter is now the Bass professor here at DePauw and will travel from NYC each week. With degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Shepherd School of Music and performance experience as a regular member of the Cleveland Orchestra and Project Trio, Peter brings a wealth of experience to 21CM and our bass studio.
     We also welcome Terry Langdon as a one-year sabbatical replacement; Steve Prescott and Pat Wiehe join our music ed faculty as part-time faculty members, as will Ed Staubach in the Spring; we welcome Laura Brumbaugh as vocal coach and accompanist; Allen Otte will join our faculty for a bit this semester; Thomas King will be teaching vocal lit and diction courses for us this year; Kristina Boerger returns as director of choirs; Jennie Smith joins us in Music Theory; and we welcome tenure Elissa Harbert in Music History and Tarn Travers on Violin. We also welcome staff members Mark Rabideau as Director of the 21st Century Musician Initiative, Brooke Addison as the 21CM Graduate Intern, and Toni Robinson as the Associate Director for Music Admission.
     We received an NEA grant to help sponsor our Artists-in-Residence, Decoda; we found sponsors for the String Program for Putnam County that provides a free violin and 10 days of in-class instruction plus after school opportunities for all Tzouanakis 4th Graders; we received a $1M endowment bequest for our opera program and sponsors for our first pillar ensemble — the Asbury String Quartet. We have now achieved the $22M dollar mark in our $25M campaign for the School of Music. In all, a very busy and very successful summer.
     We now await the arrival of a new class of students and another amazing year. So much to look forward to.

Music Convocation Address

May 6, 2015

Each year at this event I give a short speech. This year, it’s a little different, in that I, too, am a senior this year. Now before the juniors, sophomores and first years get their hopes up, I will not be graduating. I guess I’ll technically be starting over as a freshman next year. In my last job, I was a senior by that math, four times. Four times around the wheel—16 years. Using this math—that every four years you become a senior again—Dr. Balensuela would have been a senior at DePauw at least 5 times. Caroline Smith, at least 6; Dr. Edberg and Dr. Edwards, almost 7. And Orcenith Smith… well, I put that number in my calculator and it began to smoke. You’ll have to do that math yourself.

Two years ago on this occasion I encouraged you to follow Rumi’s advice and “let the beauty you love be what you do.” Last year I talked about how precious every moment of time is. After hearing our performance of the monumental ninth symphony of Beethoven this week and reflecting upon his life, I decided that this year, I’d like to take my few minutes to talk to you about…failure.

Now if you are thinking that failure seems to be the most unlikely topic for a graduation speech in the history of graduation speeches, I would agree. And that is sad. In my career, I have sat through dozens –if not hundreds—of graduation speeches that talk about success: how the world is waiting for you, how this is your time, how many fantastic ways you will succeed. (Truth be told, I have given several of these speeches.) The thing is, we are all pretty good at handling success—it’s not that difficult. What we need to think about, and think about carefully, is how we handle failure.

Thomas Edison famously said he had not failed but had instead come up with 1,000 ways NOT to invent a light bulb. Apparently idea 1001 worked. What if he quit at 999? (I don’t know about you but I am glad we don’t have to light the candelabra chandelier every time we have a concert in Kresge.) That ability to fail and not be destroyed is an important skill—maybe the important skill. The major league baseball batter who held the record for striking out—a record that lasted nearly 30 years? Babe Ruth. An NBA player that missed 26 game-winning shots and lost nearly 300 games in his career is in the Hall of Fame. His name is Michael Jordan. Author Geoff Colvin estimated that figure skater Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, fell more than twenty thousand times on her way to becoming an Olympic champion. “Arakawa’s story is invaluable as a metaphor,” Colvin wrote. “Landing on your butt twenty thousand times is where great performance comes from.” A lawyer from Illinois failed in 2 businesses, then ran for the legislature…and lost. He ran for congress and lost—twice. So he ran for Senate and lost there, too. Twice. Yet Abraham Lincoln is not only one of the most loved presidents in history, he is so because of his response to failure. And repeated failure. And repeated, repeated failure.

The concert we heard Sunday, the immortal Beethoven 9, was written by a composer that lost his ability to hear. Taking away the ears of a composer is akin to taking away the eyes of a painter yet Beethoven persevered. Of course he waivered, of course he despaired, of course he questioned. But then he wrote. Usually writing a new symphony every two years or so, it was 12 years after the 8th before he came back with his greatest symphony—some say the greatest symphony—ever. The final, beloved theme is an ode to: joy! Get that: after lamenting the loss of the one sense that he said “should have been more perfect in me,” and citing his “state of endless suffering,” he perseveres to write an Ode to Joy.

Carol Dweck, in a brilliant book called “Mindset” explains this phenomenon. She says we all have one of two mindsets: The “fixed” mindset or the “growth” mindset. She states:

“The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. 

It seems that those of us with the fixed mindset are convinced that we are what we are, our talents and abilities are fixed and that we must hide our deficiencies. Failure is to be avoided at all cost.

She goes on to tell us that the growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. She asks,

Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

Sounds like Beethoven, doesn’t it? Think back to the opening of that final movement. A frightening fanfare sounds like the opening of the curtain, and the cellos and basses seem to ask, “Okay Beethoven, you’ve written nine of these things now, what have you got?” He offers a theme from an earlier movement—“No!” the cellos interrupt. He offers another—not good enough! “Not these tones, but ones more joyful.” And the soloists and the chorus and the orchestra erupt with an ode to joy that has captivated the entire world ever since. Where would he be had he quit? Where would we be?

Ken Rea, in a great book called “The Outstanding Actor” says, “The fixed mindset makes you concerned with how you will be judged, the growth mindset makes you focus on improving.” In his aptly entitled book, “Bounce,” Matthew Syed says,

“It is about stepping outside the comfort zone, training with a spirit of endeavor, and accepting the inevitability of trials and tribulations. Progress is built, in effect, upon the foundations of necessary failure.”

And that is the thought I want to leave you with. Necessary failure. The question is not will you fail? Of course you will. The question is what will you do with it? Will you hide it, shun it, rationalize it, deny it? Or will you embrace it for what it is—inevitable and necessary. We don’t expect you to invent the light bulb or win a gold medal or be in the hall of fame. We expect something far more important. We expect you to become the best “you” you can possibly be—that person who lives a life of meaning and purpose, and beauty, and who realizes that inevitable, necessary failures are what made you that person.

I wish you every success.

And the success of every failure.

Around the World in 45 Minutes….

April 15, 2015

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy…

William Shakespeare

Today the music school was transported around the world in 45 minutes in a student designed, led and performed recital. I was mesmerized by the presentation and the performances as students, many representing their home countries or cultures, took us from Indiana to Japan, China, Australia, Bulgaria, Romania, Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil (all without airport delays, bad food or jet lag). The performers and the performances were simply stellar. I was amazed at how much could be felt about these cultures with a few pictures, a movie clip or two and some fascinating music, well-played. Music’s ability to transcend space and time still astounds. Shakespeare understood. There are things in heaven and earth not dreamt of in our philosophies…

Thanks to all involved. It was a great trip.

What Students Can Do

April 11, 2015

Concerto Winners 2015

I am just home from a delightful evening of great music with the DePauw Symphony Orchestra and their concerto winners– a concert featuring nine stellar students taking the soloist role before a full orchestra. Playing in a full orchestra can be intimidating–soloing in front of one can be terrifying–yet these students performed with grace and aplomb beyond their years. Opera arias, romantic concerti–even American standards were on display in an incredibly high-caliber performance by orchestra and soloist alike. The audience clearly loved every moment and was moved to clap and cheer and finally stand in homage to these incredible performers and incredible performances. It was a great night.

I am always amazed at what students can do. They are always more capable than we can even imagine and never cease to amaze with performances that enthrall.

What students can do this?

DePauw students can.

And they do.

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