|Music at Coe (Fall '91)
|It was two summers ago when I was a dinner guest at a party
that included several Coe alumni. During the course of the evening
it was revealed that I taught at Coe and was currently chair
of the Music Department. We had a wonderful evening as they
recalled stories about attending daily chapel and singing for
Prof. Ray. There was no question but they had gained some beautiful
and rich experiences as Coe musicians, even if majoring in other
During the conversation, there were occasional comments to suggest
that, from the alums' perspective, not much was happening any
more in music at Coe. Things just weren't the same as they had
been in the good old days. That sense of loss is certainly understandable,
perhaps even inevitable. Coe was fortunate to have had a remarkable
music faculty through several golden decades, so beautifully
remembered by Alma Turechek elsewhere in this newsletter. And
like all times, those times have passed.
I must admit, however, that the pit bull side to my character
finds many reasons for defending the present. Despite changes
in personnel and programs, an undeviating commitment to the
finest in music education and performance is at the center of
our department's mission. Music at Coe is alive and thriving.
I want people to know that. Our faculty, facilities, and curriculum
make Coe one of the best colleges in the Midwest for exploring
music and the other liberal arts.
One step we have taken for reminding people of our existence
is the initiation of a Coe Recital and Concert Series, comprised
of 30 programs for the 1991-92 season. The Series encompasses
Faculty Recitals, an Ensemble Series, and a Special Guest Series,
including such groups as the Minnesota Opera, the U.S. Air Force
Band, and the Cedar Rapids Symphony Chamber Orchestra. We hope
the attendant advertising will remind people that music is deeply
embedded in the life of the college, providing an excellent
sampling of musical experiences for both our students and area
One further innovation is the substantial expansion of our scholarship
audition dates for prospective music students. Traditionally
the scholarship competition has been held in February. We have
discovered, however, that many colleges are offering scholarships
during the fall term, sometimes before students have even applied
to the college. The on-campus auditions in October and November,
plus the December instrumental auditions in Chicago, should
enable us to compete more effectively for the decreasing number
of students choosing music as their major field of study.
No single innovation or gimmick will ensure the further growth
of our department. But I can assure you that the current faculty
is determined to build on the traditions established by such
great teachers as Alma Turechek. When you come back to campus
for the Homecoming concerts (or for any other occasion), we
hope you will find a college that will make you proud--and a
Music Department where it's clear that things are really happening.
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It is always difficult to ascertain the appropriate criteria
for judging ourselves. How do we know when we are doing a good
job? What are the best standards for confirming our self-worth,
enabling us to comfortably assert, "that was a job well
done"? Despite the dis-ease that inevitably attends those
questions, improving an educational program usually involves
revisiting and assessing the past: to know where we are going,
we need to know where we have been.
One dangerous tendency is to begin thinking we can best understand
the history of an educational program, such as a liberal arts
music department, in terms of dollars and numbers. When the
budget is balanced, we are doing well; when it isn't balanced,
we are not. When student enrollments are high, we are a success;
when the numbers are low, we have failed.
Of course, if the numbers were the sine qua non for evaluation,
Coe should immediately throw in the towel and quit. The University
of Iowa has 30,000 students and Coe has 1,000 students; therefore,
the University of Iowa is thirty times better than Coe. Despite
the immediate fallacies of such thinking, the empirical attractiveness
of numbers is hard to resist.
And, of course, when it may be to our advantage I am tempted
to pull out the most appealing numbers: (1) the Music Department
is enjoying a fourth consecutive year of increased numbers of
students competing for music scholarships; (2) participation
in music ensembles is the highest in at least ten years; (3)
our freshman music theory class is the largest in recent memory;
and so forth.
While accumulating the right pile of numbers is an inevitable
administrator's strategy for defending our future existence
with budget committees, I would like to think that what really
counts is the department's ability to exert a significant and
positive influence on the lives of our students. Rather than
be judged by the number of graduates, let us be judged by our
commitment in providing each student the best educational experience
we are capable of providing.
One message that I hope permeates this issue of "Music
at Coe" is that we are proud of the many music students
who are doing very well, both musically and academically. The
third page of the newsletter details some wonderful accomplishments
and honors earned by Coe students during the fall term. The
faculty has consciously taken a more assertive role in helping
our students become involved in off-campus activities and performance
groups; we think that the effort is beginning to have a substantial
impact on how those students feel about themselves.
I want to close by offering a special congratulations to those
music majors who made the academic Dean's List this past fall:
Laura Arbore (Sophomore from Cedar Rapids)
Jennifer Lillig (Freshman from Aurora, Colorado)
Ellen Smith (Senior Non-Traditional Student from Cedar Rapids)
Thomas Vana (Freshman from Des Plaines, Illinois)
Considering the burden often placed on music students because
of the many hours they must spend in ensemble rehearsal and
private instrument and voice studies, it is always gratifying
to see our students succeed in the classroom.
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|Visitor from China (Fall '92)
|While our February 1992 newsletter indicated that the month
of March would be filled with several special solo song activities,
we were surprised and honored in April to be host to an authority
on traditional Chinese folk music. Guiwen Ding, Dean and Professor
of the Vocal Department of Shenyang Conservatory of Music. Professor
Ding had lectured and sung at Harvard University before coming
to Cedar Rapids to visit his daughter and her husband, Zhe Jiang,
who teaches violin at Coe.
Professor Ding, who specializes in western opera, presented
an interesting lecture on Chinese opera and folk music. While
his spoken word was translated by Zhe Jiang, his expressive
face and gestures needed no translation as he demonstrated stock
characters and his ability to completely transform instantly
from one character to another. On May 4 Professor Ding gave
a recital in D-K Auditorium with Coe faculty members Zhe Jiang,
violin, and Kris Denton, piano. He performed several western
opera arias in addition to Chinese folk songs arranged for recital
In addition to sharing his musical expertise and native culture
with the Coe community, Professor Ding conferred with me for
an hour or so before he left Cedar Rapids on his return trip
to China. We compared teaching techniques as he expressed his
desire to learn more about western teaching techniques, his
desire to apply them to traditional Chinese singing, and to
invite qualified western visiting teachers to help.
While I am always striving to grow as a teacher and singer,
I am not sure that I would have the courage to continue as he
has. How would I react if Coe College had been completely closed
down for ten years during a Cultural Revolution, all of the
equipment, instruments, books etc. were removed, and I was sent
to work in the countryside and not allowed to sing or teach?
Could I successfully return after ten years and start over again,
rebuilding a music program with virtually no resources?
As we begin another school year, the memory of my conversations
with Professor Ding helps renew my faith in the sustaining powers
of music. I feel less burdened by our minor problems when I
recall his cheerful manner, his willingness to share with others,
and his tenacious desire to continue growing as an artist and
a teacher, even though he had seen all of his previous efforts
destroyed by Mao's Cultural Revolution. He came to Coe to talk
about music, but I suspect we all learned much more than he
ever intended to teach.
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|Six Months in London (Spring '93)
|In June my family and I returned from spending six months
in London where my husband and I had been co-directors of the
ACM London Program. While working with the students absorbed
substantial time and energy, we managed to enjoy many opportunities
only available in London.
During my first encounter with London as a student in 1966-67,
after having lived for 22 years in Kansas, I attended the theater
and concerts to the limit of my constrained budget. Now, over
25 years later, it was so exciting to return to this wonderful
city and again have that opportunity, night after night, to
see plays and hear great musicians: Rostropovich, Perlman, Battle,
Galway, Wild, Menuhin, Borge, and for me the most exciting discovery
of this trip, the soprano Sarah Walker.
London will always be my favorite city, though it has certainly
changed in many ways. In the '60s there were no fast food restaurants-in
fact we Rotary Scholarship students spent months futilely searching
for pizza. The vast range of eating establishments in contemporary
London suggests how the city has become more Americanized (Pizza
Hut and Big Macs throughout central London) and ironically more
culturally diverse. Signs are now in many languages other than
English. And, of course, there are the nervous eyes looking
for suspicious packages on the subways and the frequent security
searches, non-existent in the '60s.
One of my most satisfying experiences was observing my son's
violin lessons with Kato Havas, one of the premiere violin teachers
in the world. Several years ago I read Tensions in the Performance
of Music-a symposium, edited by Carola Grindea, which collects
writings by musicians who shared Grindea's interest in coping
with tension. The first entry is "The Release from Tension
and Anxiety in String Playing" by Kato Havas of Oxford,
Ms. Havas is a lovely person who treats all levels of students
with gentleness and respect. After retiring as a professional
violinist at age 18, she has focused her teaching on understanding
why the Hungarian gypsy fiddlers that she heard in her youth
could play with such beauty and ease though they had never had
formal lessons or long hours of practice.
In her teaching, Ms. Havas communicates a strong love for the
violin, not as an inanimate object but as something alive and
beautiful. One of Aaron's practice assignments was simply to
hold his violin lovingly in his arms while reading, watching
TV, etc. The hard texture of the violin tends to create a static
response in a player's hands. She wanted Aaron to discover what
it is like not to be in a battle with one's instrument. In lessons
she would uncover the sources of problems which restrain the
player from communicating freely with the listener.
The inability to communicate is certainly not due to a lack
of desire to do so, or a lack of ability, or of talent (as has
so often been proved to me by violinists I have worked with),
but it is the result of physical tensions, faulty mental attitudes,
and social pressures. Whether it is the physical tensions which
create the faulty mental attitudes, or the faulty mental attitudes
that create the physical tensions is as difficult to answer
as the question as to which came first, the chicken or the egg.
One thing is certain, the physical and mental aspects of violin
playing are so interrelated that it is impossible to separate
Ms. Havas emphasized that if the mind and body are to work in
harmony, we must be extraordinarily careful in our word choice
for describing how we play. During one lesson, she commented
that the word "hold" has quite the opposite meaning
from the word "flow." Is it possible to "flow"
with the music while "holding" the violin?
As a parent often frustrated by my inability to communicate
with my own son, it was exciting to observe how powerfully Aaron's
playing was affected by introducing new ways of thinking about
playing-and about living. While I know in working with my own
singing and the voices of my students that changes never come
easily, I felt myself reinvigorated by this rare opportunity
to observe a master teacher work on the roots of a problem,
rather than to be content with glib solutions that will themselves
later become new problems.
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|Rehearsing in D-K (Spring '94)
|When I was hired by Coe in 1978 to teach voice, voice-related
subjects, and music theory, it never occurred to me how difficult
it would be to protect my commitment to singing a few hours
each week. Serving as Chair of Coe's Music Department since
1987 has broadened my self-education, but the demands of the
job are never ending: lobbying for departmental needs with appropriate
campus administrators; functioning as accountant, mediator,
and organizer of innumerable office tasks; writing recruiting
publications and pressuring Admissions to remember that Coe
does indeed offer a Bachelor of Music degree; filling out interminable
reports requested by the college and our accrediting body, the
National Association of Schools of Music; hiring new faculty
and determining teaching assignments; reading memos, writing
memos, dreaming of memos. It's easy to feel like I've been caught
in a Cathy cartoon. The temptation to scream becomes very strong.
Somehow, in the midst of this job, plus bussing children and
remodeling a kitchen and fighting cat fleas, I perform one or
two song recitals each year. This column will attempt to clarify
for myself the personal and professional reasons motivating
me to continue this annual ritual. What impels me to keep at
Part of the motivation derives from my situation as a teacher:
most students entering Coe have never heard a song recital.
While they may not develop a passion for the classical art song,
I still believe some familiarity with European and American
song literature should be a part of most students' musical education.
Such is definitely the case for any student intending to graduate
For students pursuing the Bachelor of Music in vocal performance,
giving their own solo recitals is a degree requirement. These
students need to hear live examples of what they will soon be
doing themselves. Despite temptations to experiment with my
programs, I usually follow a traditional format, performing
songs in three or four languages. During classes and lessons,
I share with students what is involved in preparing a recital,
emphasizing the necessary attention to detail.
Beginning music students are seldom aware how secure a performer
must be, vocally and musically, before the performer knows the
music, before imagination can really begin to flourish. Voice
students need practice and performance models. Singers are accustomed
to performing in an ensemble (an important and invaluable experience
for them) but are often unaware of the personal discipline needed,
and the rewards earned, by working carefully and intensively
on their own.
As a musician and teacher, I have also discovered the necessity
of continuing to stretch the boundaries of my musical world,
exploring music difficult to understand or appreciate on the
first reading, or even the tenth time through. I remain attracted
to the joys derived from working with a difficult angular melody
line by a contemporary composer, learning to hear and sing it
as easily as a Mozart or Brahms melody. I still savor the challenge
of trying to give listeners insights into song lyrics which
often use poetry not always obvious in its meanings. I would
like for my students to know that some programs expect the audience
to think as well as be entertained.
But maybe what is best about a recital are the rehearsals. Closing
the departmental office and escaping into D-K auditorium. It's
there my colleagues and I discuss, prepare, perform great music
for ourselves. Dean Karns at the harpsichord or Anita Bullard
playing the cello or Sharon Kay Stang at the piano. No one need
listen. Just us and Monteverdi or Schubert or Rorem. This was
one reason why I came to Coe sixteen years ago. I'm not ready
to give it up yet.
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|Out of America (Fall '94)
|Early this summer Georgia Marlow, a long-time friend and supporter
of Coe's music program, brought a fascinating item into my office.
It was a copy of a program for a recital given by Eleanor Steber,
soprano with the Metropolitan Opera Company, at the Ministry
of Culture Auditorium in Bangkok, Thailand on February 22, 1957.
While reading the program, I was particularly attracted to a
group of songs by five American composers: Gian-Carlo Menotti,
Aaron Copland, K. K. Davis, Edwin Biltcliffe and Celius Dougherty.
These are composers whom I myself frequently sing or teach--except
for Biltcliffe, who was Steber's accompanist for the recital.
The most intriguing feature of this printed program was a copy
of a poem entitled "Out of America" and written especially
for Eleanor Steber. The poet was Paul Engle ('31). So far I
have been unable to discover the history of the poem and how
Engle may have known Steber. With the gracious assistance of
Hualing, Paul Engle's widow, I have ascertained that the poem
was never included in any of Engle's books. If any readers have
knowledge about the history of this poem, I would appreciate
your sharing it with me.
Printed below is a copy of the poem as it appears in the printed
program for the Bangkok concert:
OUT OF AMERICA
Now in a world where dark and light
Quarrel in the heart like day and night,
Where all men hunger for something more
Than fear of fear and fear of war,
I bring you a better thing than wheat
For hand to bake and mouth to eat:
To all the world where all belong
Out of my mouth I bring you song.
Out of the long American land
I bring you song like a loving hand,
Nothing but hope and trust I bring,
A singing mouth for all who sing.
I give you now for heart and head
Music, music, I give you music.
The discovery of this poem has come at an especially appropriate
time for me (and Sharon Kay Stang, my accompanist) as my schedule
for this October includes performing and teaching in China,
Hong Kong, and Japan. Our resident composer Jerry Owen has agreed
to compose a song setting of Engle's "Out of America,"
a piece we hope to be premiering at the China Conservatory in
While in no way trying to compare my vocal performances with
Eleanor Steber's, I hope that like her, I could "give music"
to those whom I meet, people with cultures and traditions far
different from my own. Is there any resource more vigorous and
resilient than music for transcending cultural barriers and
sharing our dreams for harmony, for beauty?
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|Teaching in China (Spring '95)
|The Asian trip foretold in my last column has come and gone.
After weeks of daily phone calls and faxes to Chicago, Washington,
and Beijing (all caused by bureaucratic delays in issuing our
visas), Sharon Kay, my husband, and I finally managed to leave
for Hong Kong on October 1. Although we spent two weeks in Hong
Kong and Japan, I'll limit my remarks in this short column to
a brief summary of our seven days in China.
On October 8, after seven days in Hong Kong, we flew to China
on Dragon Air, landing in Beijing after sunset. The dim light
at the airport gave us an eerie feeling, leaving no uncertainty
that we had arrived in a truly foreign country. After waiting
an hour for our luggage, we proceeded into a waiting room where
we were greeted by three representatives from the China Conservatory
of Music, including Hong Wei, a young musician who would serve
as our charming, inseparable guide for the next week. After
arriving at the dormitory for foreign visitors, we were given
the week's schedule, which included four hours of "lecturing"
each morning. Only after several conversations involving many
mistranslations, did I discover that lectures could mean what
we call "master" classes.
Since we had a concert on Monday evening, we had hoped to use
Sunday for rehearsing. But Sunday morning we found ourselves
traveling by car to the Great Wall. We had a marvelous driver,
skilled in negotiating among the cars, trucks, bicycles, flat
bed bicycles, pedestrians, mules and carts. Despite several
hours in traffic jams, we eventually climbed the Great Wall,
experiencing a moment impossible to describe. Later in the week
Hong Wei led us to several other remarkable sites: the Imperial
Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, and the Temple
On Monday we practiced in the recital hall and confirmed that
the recital began at 7:15. Since the hall was only a three-minute
walk from our rooms, we left our dorm about 7:00 p.m. As we
entered the back of the hall, we were greeted by cheering students,
a standing room only crowd. We quickly discovered that we had
been given the wrong starting time: the recital was to begin
at 7:00. We gathered our wits, tried to communicate with our
page turner who spoke no English, and proceeded onto the stage.
Although it was a challenge performing before a Chinese audience
(they tend to talk and move around during a performance), the
recital went well and the audience became progressively more
attentive. They particularly enjoyed Michael Moores' arrangements
of American folk songs.
The next four mornings I taught eight students chosen by the
conservatory, working with each student in two sessions. They
were wonderful students, with gorgeous voices and all responsive
to new exercises. It was exciting to hear the progress they
made with only one lesson. Communication was occasionally difficult,
but we had a marvelous translator, Prof. Yaxiong Du, a musicologist
and renowned expert in traditional Chinese music. Since he has
lived in the United States (he studied Native American music
in Wisconsin) and is married to a professor at the University
of Illinois, his English is quite good.
After my last class, Wang Bing-Rui, the vice-president of the
conservatory and the head of the opera division, invited us
to a special banquet featuring fresh snake. By then we had sampled
dozens of different foods-eel, cow stomach, fish stomach, duck
feet, and many never identified. This final banquet, involving
20 different courses, was a perfect ending to a remarkable week
(though I'm glad only my husband was called upon to drink the
A special highlight of the China trip was the evening we spent
with the family of Ai-ze Wang ('89), a Coe voice student who
has recently graduated with a Masters' Degree in Opera Performance
from Temple University. Ai-ze had performed several miracles
while making this trip possible, and her sister had proven invaluable
in assisting with our visas. It was a lovely evening, meeting
Ai-ze's parents in their Beijing home.
As I finish this narrative, I'm sadded by how little I've managed
to communicate. I know it's futile to suppose names of people
and places will capture any significant portion of an experience.
This trip was one of those rare instances in life when everything
worked beautifully. And while I enjoyed Hong Kong and Japan,
it was in China that I felt a special closeness with the people,
perhaps because the teaching situation enabled me to work more
intimately with their young singers. The Chinese are eager to
learn new ideas about singing, and there are great opportunities
for the future. Needless to say, I'm already making plans to
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|A Trip to the Newberry (Spring
|Now in my 17th year at Coe, most of my professional life is
confined within a few familiar rooms: my studio, the department
chair's office, and two auditoriums, D-K and Sinclair. One unexpected
pleasure of this past year's sabbatical was the opportunity
to work in new rooms, most notably in three libraries: the Newberry
Library in Chicago, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.,
and the Pierpont Morgan in New York.
For several years I have been wanting to visit the Newberry.
While reading one of Ned Rorem's essays, I encountered a reference
to Janet Fairbanks' collection of music manuscripts housed in
the Newberry. Fairbanks was a well-to-do singer who lived in
Chicago and had the money, plus appropriate social/musical connections
to commission composers in the 1930s and 1940s to write songs
which she would sing at her recitals. The manuscripts she donated
to the Newberry include pieces by most of the pre-eminent American
art song composers of this century. I've always had a strong
interest in contemporary art song literature and thought it
likely that she had manuscripts of some rarely performed songs.
Using the Internet's wonderful resources, I obtained a catalog
listing the collection's holdings, which convinced me it was
time to go see the Fairbanks collection for myself.
So this past June my husband and I drove to Chicago and spent
several hours looking through four heavy blue boxes of manuscripts
in the Newberry. We leafed through dozens of songs, some printed
(often by obscure, long-forgotten publishing firms), others
handwritten. It was exciting to hold John Cage's manuscript
of the "Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs". The
manuscript, quite unexpectedly, was easier to read than the
published version, enabling me to answer some unresolved questions
I had about the text. Although our one day at the Newberry didn't
provide enough time to read through all the manuscripts, the
trip confirmed my hunch concerning the unique value of this
collection, one which will certainly provide the foundation
for one or more future vocal recitals at Coe.
While I had long been contemplating a trip to the Fairbanks
collection, my other two library visits resulted from an accidental
convergence of recent reading with personal travel plans. This
past winter I was reading Margaret Cobb's The Poetics of
Debussy, which reprints the texts of Debussy's songs in
French and English translation. Included in the volume is the
text for "La fille aux cheveux de lin" (The girl with
the flaxen hair) which attracted my attention because I was
familiar with Debussy's piano prelude of this title. Cobb's
notes indicated the unpublished manuscript was on deposit in
New York's Pierpont Morgan Library; she referred to two other
manuscripts of unpublished Debussy songs, both housed in the
Library of Congress.
While I lack the time and financial resources for cavalierly
flying into New York or Washington, D.C. just to examine song
manuscripts, my summer schedule required trips to both New York
City (to pick up my daughter from a summer dance program) and
Washington, D. C. (where my son was receiving an award for having
won a writing competition). Although I had a long and nervous
wait while at the Library of Congress--the librarians could
not find one of the manuscripts--eventually they found both
manuscripts. And so, for the next hour, I enjoyed the wonderful
privilege of examing an original, unpublished Debussy manuscript.
I spent most of my time quickly transcribing the songs, since
photocopying was not permitted, in the hopes that eventually
these pieces would also have their Iowa premiere at Coe.
Alas, once the school year began, my teaching and departmental
responsibilities have required that I place on hold any further
research efforts. And I must admit that, though I have enjoyed
these research opportunities granted by the sabbatical leave,
I would never want to be a musicologist. Music libraries are
wonderful rooms, but I still prefer the pleasures of singing
and teaching. But having a few moments in those bigger rooms,
makes the confinement of my studio and office much less confining.
It does help occasionally to open the windows and breathe in
new air and new ideas.
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|My Office Door (Fall '96)
|According to the Oxford English Dictionary the phrase "commonplace
book" first was used in print during the 16th century:
"A studious young man . . . may gather to himselfe good
furniture both of words and approved phrases . . . and to make
to his use as it were a common place booke." This idea
of gathering "good furniture both of words and approved
phrases" into a common place was expressed in Latin as
locus communis. To use a common location for recording important
passages from reading was a valuable protection against the
inadequacies of memory. But I also enjoy reading others' commonplace
books, anthologies of prose and poetry where the dross is washed
away, leaving for the reader nothing but pure gold.
Over the years I have been assembling my own commonplace book,
collecting quotes on music and teaching, or passages ostensibly
on other topics but made relevant to music by my ways of reading.
While many of these passages are hidden in desk drawers or miscellaneous
notebooks, one commonplace book I see every day is my music
studio door. Indeed, the second floor hallway of Marquis Hall
is a 100 foot long commonplace book, with faculty doors and
bulletin boards as large collages for various cartoons, sayings,
jokes, and inspirational advice.
For those of you unable to visit Marquis and read what we have
been collecting, I decided to bring my door to you. What follows
are a few quotations that are on my door--or have been "published"
there some time in the past 18 years. Perhaps a few of them
will bring as much pleasure for others as they have brought
This first text is the reminiscence of an 85-year-old Welsh
horseman Fred Mitchell. The words are used in a lovely vocal
piece by Steven Sametz, "I Have Had Singing," recently
recorded on a Chanticleer CD.
The singing. There
was so much singing then and this was my pleasure, too. We all
sang: the boys in the fields, the chapels were full of singing,
always singing. Here I lie. I have had pleasure enough. I have
Several months ago the following quote mysteriously appeared
on my door, an anonymous gift for my collection. The text comes
from the final paragraph of Anne Lamott's book on writing, Bird
Writing and reading decrease our sense
of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of
life: they feed the soul. . . . We are given a shot at dancing
with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life,
instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like
singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't
stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and
spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
Perhaps my favorite quote on teaching is the following little
story that has been on my door for many years. The dialogue
is from Anthony de Mello's One Minute Wisdom, an anthology
of over 200 parables.
"I wish to learn. Will
you teach me?"
"I do not think that you know how to learn," said
"Can you teach me how to learn?"
"Can you learn how to let me teach?"
The next three quotes were copied from a book on teaching vocal
techniques in small voice classes:
Only the bright
human beings breathe through their heels . . . the less intelligent
breathe through their throats. [Tschuang-Tse]
speaking is half the singing. [Johann Adam Hiller]
We may take our personal inspiration from the text, but when
it comes to the transmission of that text it's work gloves,
overalls and sweat. [Robert Shaw on performing vocal music]
In the summer of 1973 I spent six weeks studying voice in Paris
and had the opportunity one afternoon to travel to Fountainbleau
and meet the great French teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Although
she was at the end of her long and influential career (having
served as the mentor for such composers as Leonard Bernstein
and Aaron Copland), my brief encounter with Boulanger was certainly
one of the great moments of my life. I have since had a special
fondness for the power and precision of her comments on music,
on teaching, on life. Here is one small example, from her book
The only thing you can do
is try to understand a person and then discuss with him what
he has not done. Really, you cannot develop or change anything
in anybody. You can respect what he is and try to make him a
true picture of himself. . . . As a teacher, my whole life is
based on understanding others, not on making them understand
me. What the student thinks, what he wants to do--that is the
important thing. I must try to make him express himself and
prepare him to do that for which he is best fitted.
Here are a few other miscellaneous quotes, including one
"ghost" whose author is momentarily lost.
You may be sitting in a room reading this book. Imagine one
note struck upon the piano. Immediately that one note is enough
to change the atmosphere of the room--proving that the sound
element in music is a powerful and mysterious agent, which it
would be foolish to deride or belittle." [Aaron Copland]
It is proportion that beautifies everything, this whole
universe consists of it, and music is measured by it. [Orlando
There is delight in singing, though none
hear / Beside the singer. [Walter Savage Landor]
Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted.
The real voyage of discovery consists in not
seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. [Marcel Proust]
Alas for those that never sing but die with all their
music in them. [Oliver Wendell Holmes]
which lies ahead of us and that which lies behind us are insignificant
compared to that which lies within us. [Ralph Waldo Emerson.]
And finally, no commonplace book on music would be complete
without a few examples from the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham,
the master of the sarcastic put-down. Here are three of my favorites:
On the harpsichord: Sounds like two skeletons copulating
on a corrugated tin roof.
On the public and its music: Music is something that
people can get on without, and if it costs too much they will.
On sopranos: Most of them sound like they live on seaweed.
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|An Ensemble Tour in
Time and Space (Fall '97)
|When the Coe Baroque Chamber Ensemble received notification
that our lecture/recital proposal had been accepted for the
1997 MTNA convention in Dallas, our original intention was to
fly to Texas and borrow a local harpsichord. None of us thought
we wanted to spend over thirty hours in a van driving to Texas
But as we talked about the trip, we discovered that we really
wanted to perform with Coe's harpsichord. We all love the instrument
and Dean enjoys playing it. And, of course, we had no guarantee
that we would find a borrowed instrument with an appropriate
temperament and tuning. So Dean Karns, Anita Bullard, and I
decided we would rent a 15-passenger van, a vehicle large enough
for three musicians and one harpsichord.
Once we decided to drive, it made sense to perform at appropriate
sites along the way. After many letters and phone calls and
e-mail messages, we organized a five-day tour through Kansas
and Oklahoma, with the performance in Dallas as the pivotal
While the tour's primary mission was sharing our program of
Baroque religious music, the trip gained another, more personal
dimension for me, an unexpected but pleasant juxtaposition of
various people who I have known and worked with in music. During
my 40 years as a musician, most of my musical life has revolved
around a high school and four colleges: Clay County Community
High School and Kansas State University in Kansas; Washington
State University in Pullman, Washington; Sam Houston State in
Huntsville, Texas; and Coe. In a short span of five days, I
found myself reunited with friends and colleagues from all those
different lives, all mixed together at various moments in the
tour. It was great fun, though occasionally a trifle disconcerting.
Here is a quick introduction to the various people I met again
on this tour:
· Linda Selig Marshall was my "sister"
whose family I boarded with from 1959 to 1962 when I was attending
high school in Kansas. She currently lives in Michigan but by
chance was in Overland Park, Kansas, and attended the worship
service at Knox United Presbyterian Church where Coe Baroque
performed on April 6.
· Joyce McCready, who attended
our concert in Wichita, was my roommate for two years in college
at Kansas State University. We last saw one another at my wedding
· Loran Olsen--a friend, piano teacher,
and my graduate advisor at Washington State University (1967-1973)--attended
our presentation at the MTNA national convention.
Also at the MTNA recital were Angelica Lopez and Corre Berry
Brusse, good friends and colleagues when I taught at Sam Houston
· Two former Coe colleagues also
were in Dallas: Kris Denton and Bev Avery-Smoker.
In addition to Coe Baroque's performances in Overland Park,
Wichita, and Dallas, we also managed to wedge in programs at
Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and at St.
Peter's and Paul's Catholic Church in Clay Center, Kansas. The
final performance in Clay Center was for me a real homecoming,
since I grew up on a farm 26 miles from Clay Center. Although
during the school year week days were spent in my one room country
school, my parents drove me twice monthly on Saturday for piano
(and later violin) lessons in Clay Center. Music was highly
valued as an educational experience in this small town, and
the high school during my era produced an extraordinary number
of students who continued to study music at the college level.
For the final performance of the tour, it was gratifying to
see Coe Baroque so warmly welcomed by family members and friends--and
those curious about our beautiful harpsichord.
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|Another Night in My Office
|It's a Saturday night in January. I have just returned to
my office after supper, to once again be surrounded by piles
of forms, letters, memos, budget reports. As I sit at my desk,
I see a short quotation someone sent me last week: "The
Lord respects me when I work, but He loves me when I sing."
This will be another night in the respect column.
Everything in my office seems to have a deadline--someone somewhere
waiting for something. But in January a Saturday night in Marquis
is a lovely opportunity to do some office cleaning. My vocal
literature class doesn't meet for another 36 hours.
The memo that currently absorbs my thinking is from our new
Academic Dean, a request for all departments to submit a five-year
plan describing their major budgetary needs. I struggle to think
in terms of the next millennium. What do we want to accomplish
by 2003? How much will it cost?
Fortunately we have found assistance--at least with the second
question. Because the Music Department is accredited by the
National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), we have access
to information from the NASM's database, constructed from annual
reports required of all members. This fall I requested that
the NASM send us data that would clarify how our program, particularly
on budgetary matters, compares with 20 other small liberal arts
colleges in the Midwest with a similar number of music majors.
As I had expected, the NASM's data reveal substantial differences
among institutions in the amount of money spent in educating
music students. Among the 20 schools, one college (no school
is identified by name) spent an average of $3,741 per music
major; that total includes faculty salaries and all other program
costs. In contrast, several schools averaged over $25,000 per
year and one reported an annual expenditure exceeding $31,000
per music major.
An expense I was particularly interested in examining was the
amount that other schools set aside for student travel (ensemble
tours, etc.). Although we want our ensembles to travel off campus,
we have almost no money set aside for such purposes in our budget.
To pay for these trips, we are always "borrowing"
funds from line items intended for other purposes.
Among the 20 schools in the NASM report, the smallest expenditure
for student travel was $2,550 per year. At the other end of
the spectrum were schools with budgets exceeding $94,000 per
year. The average for the 20 institutions was just under $10,000.
Since that average is substantially more than what we have been
spending, I suspect we will be using the NASM's figures to bolster
our case for a new line item to cover student travel expenses.
I doubt that the NASM's charts will automatically convince the
Dean to add huge piles of fresh money to our annual budget.
But I do hope the data will demonstrate that because our program
has expanded so dramatically in recent years, we need additional
funding--including, we hope, authorization to hire one or two
more full-time faculty.
We have been blessed with a string of successful recruiting
years. It is gratifying to witness such a marvelous improvement
in the quality of our students and our performing groups. I
recall, however, that it took many trips to Coe on Saturday
nights for us to make these advances. Apparently it will require
more Saturday nights to make sure we don't lose the ground we
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|A Trip to Syria (Fall '98)
|In the March 1995 Alumni Newsletter I recounted some of my
experiences from traveling in Hong Kong, China, and Japan, experiences
impossible for me to have foreseen as a young girl growing up
on a Kansas farm in the 1950s. Life continues with unexpected
opportunities and this past April my husband Bob and I traveled
to Damascus, Syria under the sponsorship of the United States
Information Service. This wonderful experience came through
the efforts of Ann Struthers, a professor in Coe's English Department,
who has just completed her second year as a Fulbright Professor
in Syria. Bob and three Coe students spent two weeks working
with students and professors in two Syrian Universities before
I arrived in Damascus at 4 a.m. on April 4.
On the trip I had an eleven-hour layover in London, where in
1966-67 I had my first experiences living abroad in a large
city. It seemed an appropriate departure point for the last
leg of trip to a city which I knew only through Biblical references.
Landing in Damascus was not unlike our landing in Beijing in
the fall of 1994. Both arrivals were at night, at dimly lit
airfields, with no other air traffic.
My arrival coincided with a week of Muslim holidays when universities
would be closed--so my first week consisted primarily of social
engagements and traveling. My first obligation in Damascus was
a farewell party for the three Coe students who were returning
to Iowa the next morning. At the party I met several Syrians
who had excellent English skills and were very eager to converse.
Their enthusiasm was an accurate preparation for the remarkable
friendliness that we encountered throughout the entire trip.
Although the Syrians may not be pleased with American foreign
diplomacy and our support of Israel, we never encountered any
My second day in Damascus Bob and I spent five hours walking
around the city. The challenge of finding things is magnified
by the absence of street signs and the few we saw were usually
in Arabic. We did find the Street Called Straight and eventually
located St. Paul's Chapel, where St. Paul was lowered over the
city wall in his escape from the city. The souqs (markets) sold
everything imaginable from spices to wedding dresses. Most unusual
and unexpected perhaps was the long neck and head of a camel
(still covered with hair) hanging in one of the meat market
The week of religious holidays provided us an opportunity to
travel in a hired "micro" van with Ann Struthers,
her husband Mel, another Fulbright family from Harvard, and
our friendly but non-English speaking driver. We traveled to
Bosra, 140 km south of Damascus, to see a wonderfully preserved
Roman theater, which our Lonely Planet guidebook says could
hold 15,000 people. Equally fascinating were the remains of
the old city, many of which have been claimed by inhabitants
scratching out a meager, subsistence existence.
Our next two days were spent in Palmyra, which required a three-hour
trip over a bumpy highway through the Syrian desert. Our driver
was stopped twice by the police; the first day he paid a fine
of 500 Syrian pounds (equal to about $10) for speeding; the
second time we think he escaped with a small bribe. We suspected
the police were trying to earn a little extra holiday money.
As for Palmyra, the ancient Roman ruins were amazing, as was
a deserted 17th-century Muslim fortress that overlooks the city.
The castle--atop of a rugged, rocky hill--offered us an exciting
attraction, full of many rooms and narrow passages. Returning
to the Roman ruins, we spent some time sitting in a restored
theater and I did fulfill my desire to ride a camel. In the
evening we went back to the castle and enjoyed a perfect Syrian
sunset. The road up to the castle was quite narrow and crowded;
we watched several drivers lift parked cars and move them so
that a bus coming down the mountain could pass by.
The next morning we visited several funeral towers. The best
preserved, almost 2000 years old, had been designed to hold
about 300 bodies. We were able to climb to the top, sharing
the small and dangerous pinnacle with a busload of French tourists.
On this day we also did some shopping. At one funeral tower
I purchased a one-stringed instrument, made by local Bedouins.
We also discovered several shop keepers eager to sell us table
cloths, jewelry, saddle bags, and rugs (including ones from
Iran that Americans can not legally bring into the U.S.). We
eventually discovered that our driver was earning a commission
for some of these sales--and he also used the trip to buy potatoes
and some goods that he deposited in a metal canister. During
our return to Damascus, he stopped in the middle of the desert
and unsuccessfully tried to sell something from the canisters
to a Bedouin shepherd.
On our fourth day of traveling we had three additions to our
group: Phil (a young Ph.D. student from Princeton), his Syrian
wife Ragda, and her father. This trip began with a journey to
the small Christian village of Maalula, where Aramaic is still
spoken. Because Phil's father is a Syrian Orthodox priest in
the US, he knew the town well and took us to the Convent of
St. Teckla, where we had a private audience with the convent's
mother superior, a friend of his family's and someone who immediately
revealed herself as a skilled, dynamic invidual. She served
us little sweets and Syrian coffee, a thick brown liquid whose
charms we never learned to appreciate. After our brief audience
in the convent, we visited the shrine at the grave of St. Teckla,
a disciple of St. Paul.
We then walked through a dramatic crevice in the rocky mountains,
a split in the rocks that, according to tradition, had miraculously
appeared so that St. Teckla could escape Roman soldiers who
were seeking to capture her. At the top of the mountain was
another convent/monastery with some ancient icons. We ate dinner
at the hotel on top of the mountain--a wonderful meal although
quite expensive by Syrian standards. During my two weeks in
Syria, I only had one bad meal. The food, whether in simple
homes or the finest restaurants, was consistently excellent.
Most meals consisted of a series of dishes (hummus, yoghurt,
tabbouleh, kibbehs) eaten with large flat disks of unleavened
bread followed by a main course that was usually chicken or
After our meal in Maalula, we traveled to Saydnaya to visit
another convent, including another audience with a nun and another
round of sweets and strong coffee. At this convent we were invited
into a small shrine which supposedly houses an icon of the Virgin
Mary and Jesus that was painted by St. Luke. At the shrine we
also saw an oil which miraculously seeps out of the rock walls.
After four days of traveling, we decided to spend our next three
days in Damascus. On Friday and Saturday we visited the National
Museum (where we came upon a wonderfully restored Jewish synagogue
with ancient murals retelling stories from Biblical literature),
an Artisan's Market, the Omayyad Mosque (which has a shrine
covering, according to tradition, the head of John the Baptist).
What we most enjoyed was simply the hours walking through the
souqs and observing the daily life.
On Sunday, which happened to be Easter for Roman Catholics (the
Syrian Orthodox Easter would be celebrated on the next Sunday)
we walked into the Christian section of the city in search of
a Catholic church across from the French Hospital. Although
we were frequently lost, we eventually found the church, just
as a service was beginning. During the 45 minutes we stayed,
we understood one word --Alleluia!--though at one point I thought
they were reciting the Apostle's Creed or a comparable declaration
of faith. The church was full of congregants, with a constant
stream of folks entering and leaving the worship service. Everyone
was dressed in their best clothes, many young girls adorned
in fancy white dresses and carrying decorated white tapers.
After leaving this church and walking by another Catholic church
(so packed with people that the service was being broadcast
by loudspeakers outside the church building), we decided to
find the Chapel of Ananias--the cellar rooms that were reputedly
the house of Ananias (Acts 9:11). Searching for this Chapel
led us through an endless series of narrow, twisting streets
with high walls on both sides. After asking for directions twice
(Syrians were always generous in attempting to help us find
our way whenever we sought their help), we actually stumbled
upon the Chapel. Needless to say we were amazed to discover
that the person looking after the Chapel and the souvenir shop
was an American priest raised in Chicago.
Coming out of the Chapel, we heard what sounded like a band
and eventually, as we wound our way through the city streets,
we came upon a drum and bugle corps. They were staging a festive
Easter parade and we soon found ourselves walking along in the
parade. At a juncture with the Street Called Straight, our band
encountered another band. This second processional included
four young people carrying a giant Easter egg, covered with
aluminum foil, that had broken open to reveal a large yellow
Easter chick made of a soft, fuzzy cloth. This was certainly
a celebration of the Resurrection that we would never forget.
Our week of holidays, however, was over and it was time for
work. During the next two weeks Bob conducted a series of workshops
and presentations at the two national universities in Homs and
Damascus, as well as workshops for employees of the U.S. Embassy
and the American Cultural Center. We also presented a recital/lecture
program on American folk songs at the residence of the Foreign
Affairs Officer for invited guests from the diplomatic, educational,
and musical communities in Damascus. Because we did not think
that a keyboard would be available for this program, we chose
songs that could be performed without accompaniment. The program
included a mix of folk songs reflecting several traditions and
themes: "Go Tell It on the Mountain," "The Riddle
Song," "Barbara Allen," "Shenandoah,"
and "The Deaf Old Woman." Later in the week Bob and
I gave a similar presentation at the American Cultural Center
as part of a special ceremony honoring Syrian students who participated
in a writing competition. At both events we were honored by
the enthusiasm of the audience and their gracious offerings
of dinner invitations, gifts, etc. I have been giving solo recitals
for over 30 years, but I have never had such warm and responsive
Although I could continue this report with dozens of further
memories, let me conclude with a brief recollection of a dinner
party my second night in Damascus. Bob and I found ourselves
in the home of the British ambassador and his wife for tea and
dinner (yes, the silver was engraved ER). In attendance this
evening were a group of friends who have informally organized
themselves into a Dead Poet's Society. The gathering included
an English vicar, several ex-pats in a variety of positions,
a diplomat from India and his wife, an American writer and her
Syrian husband, and Juliet Wurr, our USIS host. We spent the
evening with everyone sharing some of their favorite poems and
songs (the common theme was that each text should in some way
refer to plants or flowers). We heard excerpts from Milton,
Roald Dahl, Shakespeare, Homer, American folk songs, the Bible,
W. H. Auden, Lawrence Durrell, William Blake, Kathleen Norris
(Bob read about grasses of the Great Plains), ancient Arabic
poetry, and dozens of more examples. As Bob and I were leaving,
we both had the same thought: we would never have an evening
more fascinating and enjoyable.
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