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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.

What I Learned

November 4, 2014


It is common knowledge that deans are great at expounding upon what they did or what they taught. After our two-week Dvořák  Festival, I am overwhelmed at what I learned. It was the opportunity to return to the role of learner that I relished the most about our most recent effort in the School of Music here at DePauw.

This is the welcome I wrote for the program book. It explains why we took this on. Here is the program book itself. It outlines exactly what we took on. (It was a massive undertaking so the how we took this on would take too many words to explain.)

So here, in no particular order, are a few of my epiphanies—the things I learned, reinforced, remembered or discovered during our “Dvořák and America” Festival. As expected, many of them are about Dvořák  and Classical music in America. But my learning was not limited to the past.

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Kevin Deas’ is the voice you hear when you die and go to heaven. Every now and then I come across a performer that uniquely captivates me. Such was the case with Kevin. His gracious demeanor on stage led to a strong bond with our students. He was incredibly honest—talking about hauling furniture after graduating from Julliard, about paying his own airfare to called auditions, about wondering if he could make it in this field. “You have to love this—it must be your passion,” he told us and he demonstrated that passion in every note. When he sang “Goin’ Home,” I was hoping I got to go with him.

Roundtable Discussion with Dvorak Faculty

Joe Horowitz’s curmudgeon persona hides a sensitive and caring man. Oh, he earns it with his “standard rants” but underneath is a brilliant man still eager to learn and engage and excite. At our first forum in our ethics center, as cultural appropriation was introduced, Joe seemed bothered. As students related their present day challenges in small-town America, Joe became engaged and the students at my table taught as much as they learned going toe-to-toe in discussions with one of the great cultural historians of our day. Joe’s passion for and belief in what he espouses makes a believer out of nearly everyone he contacts.

Joe’s deep and illuminating work on this subject is so powerful that I learned new ways to hear the music of Dvořák and perhaps more important and tellingly, I came to lament his loss. What if he had stayed? I love Copland but through this I found him a less than authentic substitute for what Dvořák might have been. I mourned the reality that American classical music is different than it could have been had Dvořák’s mantle been successfully picked up or—even better— he had stayed and finished the work himself.

Students’ ability to rise to the occasion never ceases to amaze me. We are used to seeing and hearing students as performers. Here they were that but producers and presenters as well. They dove into this topic and presented ideas and hypotheses and commentary that was provocative and enlightening. For students used to hiding behind an instrument or music score when on stage, having to stand out front and present your thoughts on the works presented is a different challenge altogether (especially in an undergraduate institution.)

Audiences love the deep dive. In a world where much of what we as musicians do is shorten, lighten and otherwise present our music to try to find a way to keep folks engaged in an art form when they are used to three-minute songs, 144-character messages and ten-second commercials, one would think a deep dive into one composer is too much for our severely limited attention spans. Not so. Throughout our time I had community members, students and even faculty say how much they learned and appreciated and even how they had become believers in this way of presenting concerts and festivals.

Music schools are better when they focus on supply and demand. This festival was a reach across the lawn to our colleagues in the liberal arts school and the entire university. Our ethics center was quick to collaborate and our English department chair took an active role—even something seemingly distant from music—athletics— joined in. Our Athletic Director and Head Football Coach moved schedules to join our friends in multi-cultural student services to create a fascinating roundtable entitled Dvořák and the NFL that brought Jon Stewart, Daniel Snyder and American sports together with our 19th-Century musical hero. All of this drove demand for our concerts and recitals. Some people found themselves surprised that these issues were relevant to our lives today. And this music will never lose its relevance.

Doing this is hard. And that, I believe, sadly, is the reason we continue to do the same things year after year hoping things in classical music in America will get better. But they won’t. Not if we don’t change. And change, as we all know, is hard. Music schools are no different from any other classical music producer in our country—we have schedules to fill and audiences to attract and tickets to sell. And we have been doing it for a long time (in DePauw’s case, for 130 years). It is easy to do it “the way it has always been done.” But as we see more and more, though easy, this method is no longer successful.

This festival brought together so many disparate elements of our campus and wider community. It took months (and in Joe’s case, years) of planning and hard work. It was complicated and messy and beautiful and fascinating and worth every moment of every effort.

I learned a lot in the past few weeks thanks to Joe and Kevin and our staff and our faculty and our students. I learned a lot about our past but perhaps more importantly, about our future. And a hopeful one, at that.



(A video summary can be found here)

21CM is changing Us

October 5, 2014


With the formal launch of 21CM (the 21st Century Musician Initiative) behind us, I have been amazed to see all the ways it has already changed us and our community. An incredible performance by ETHEL and Robert Mirabal is only the latest in a long line of stellar 21st Century Musicians to visit our campus since we announced.  The residency of 5HE continues to rock our world in so many positive ways. New courses, including “State of the Art” and Entrepreneurship are opening eyes and ears each week and our outreach into the community continues to bear fruit. Joe Horowitz joins the many that have referred to these efforts in blog posts, social media and other press. Yet perhaps most rewarding is how it is changing us, individually and collectively.  Students have formed their own ensembles including the Bootleg String Ensemble and the “DePops” Orchestra; they have started their own concert series at Mama Nunz restaurant and the Asbury Towers Senior Center; they have performed the music of Pink Floyd and Imagine Dragons at the Indianapolis Prize and they curate our Dvorak Festival.

Recently, the band performed a wonderful concert of great music. To provide variety they had the chamber winds perform Gounod in front of the curtain while a set change took place. Then, a dance company took center stage to dance the music of Eric Whitacre before ending with the seminal La Fiesta Mexicana.

Things are changing here. I can’t wait to see what these young musicians will think of next.

The Joy of Barbara Nissman

September 26, 2014

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.


21CM comes to life

September 3, 2014

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, you will see great 21st-century musicians such as Roomful of TeethMaya 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. 


May 16, 2014

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


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