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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

Music convocation address

May 16, 2014

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.”
“We’ll fall.”

“Come to the edge,” he said.
And they did.


And he pushed them.
And they flew.


Still celebrating the visit of John Corigliano

February 17, 2014


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.

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